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Opinion: Housing associations as responsible businesses

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Opinion: Housing associations as responsible businesses

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: Housing associations as responsible businesses Opinion: Housing associations as responsible businesses

By Catherine Sermon, employability director, Business in the Community

When you ask the public to name a responsible business, they typically name a consumer brand, high street retailer or small local company.

Housing associations never seem to top these lists, yet they, arguably more so than any other sector, are demonstrating their corporate responsibility every day right across the country.

This year we have seen a 62% rise in the number of housing associations entering Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Awards. The awards recognise the best examples of business as a force for good and it has been encouraging to see some great best practice examples amongst housing providers, alongside the initiatives of more well-known brands.

These entries reveal some interesting trends and indicators about housing associations as responsible businesses, helping us to differentiate between common business practice and best practice. 

Welfare reform is ever present

The business case for action ranges from broad social purpose commitments to quantified cashable savings to the business and society. It feels like this is an area of growing focus and attention.

From programmes to support residents into employment, to services to support the management of debt, the implication of welfare reform is a thread through every single housing association-led programme recognised in the 2014 Awards. The sector is unanimous in recognising and responding to the current challenge that faces their residents and, ultimately, the business income.

Many entries show housing providers looking to reach out beyond their residents to tackle this issue on a bigger scale. While Cadwyn recognises that putting tenants in a better position to pay rent is crucial, the organisation also sees the broader benefit of stimulating the wider local economy through employment. Circle Housing have developed London’s first not-for-profit shared apprenticeship scheme, which spreads the costs for individual employers of traditional apprenticeship programmes and will train 500 apprentices over the next ten years.

Considering the actions that can make a long-term difference

Sustainability in the long-term also features as part of a strategic and holistic approach to responsible business. New Charter Housing focusses on addressing the issues faced by tenant families in order to break the cycle of disadvantage faced by many children – helping them to achieve in education and hopefully beyond. Moat’s initiative to install solar panels, not only cuts dependency on diminishing natural resources, but also contributes to reducing fuel poverty amongst their residents over the long-term.

Partners of choice

Most of the entries highlight the opportunities and impact of partnerships, which bring complementary expertise and resource to programmes. Businesses in the supply chain and local service providers are common starting points for these partnerships. But it is also exciting to see more widespread collaboration that looks beyond existing networks and the supplier base.

For example, L&Q partnered with south London training provider Learner2Mentor to offer free training that helps residents find employment in schools; Affinity Sutton works collaboratively with local employers and training providers to create joint partnership bids; and Moat has partnered with us at Business in the Community to access business support to help their hardest-to-reach to overcome the barriers they face and gain the skills and experience they need to get into employment.

Housing associations are not only seeking out partnerships themselves, but are also becoming partners of choice for a whole range of organisations trying to deliver social impact. At Business in the Community, we are actively exploring how we can facilitate closer partnerships within the housing sector and beyond – with our member companies around the country. I would welcome any housing providers interested to contact us to discuss the drivers, challenges and opportunities for them.

But what is crucial in the meantime is that we continue to celebrate and raise the profile of the businesses within the sector who are innovating and making a lasting difference. Whilst there are many challenging issues on the horizon, housing associations have success to shout about. Schemes like the Responsible Business Awards, are just one way that we can learn from and celebrate the housing associations who are leading the responsible business movement.

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