Connecting communities, supporting customers

A new team of Community Connectors is helping Orbit customers to access free services that help them to maintain their tenancies and personal wellbeing.

Over the next three years, Orbit will be investing in its Better Days programme, which offers free universal services to every customer, designed to support financial inclusion, mental health, employment and skills and digital support.

Regionally-based, the Community Connectors engage with customers within their local areas to increase access to this support. Orbit has already engaged 1,300 customers in this way over the last 12 months through estate walks, door knocking and community events with support and guidance provided not only from Better Days but also from other local external organisations and third sector partners.

Community Connector, Joanna Judge who works with Orbit customers in Norwich and surrounding areas commented: “I’ve been in post for 6 months and started this role at a really crucial time when many of our customers are facing significant pressures on their finances and wellbeing.”

Research from Orbit involving over 800 representative tenants and owners recently revealed that more than 60% are living in relative poverty, with over 50% of people saying they worry regularly, most of the time or all of the time about meeting everyday costs. 27% said the cost-of-living has impacted their physical health and 50% said it has impacted their mental health.

“Part of my role is to engage with and listen to our customers to have a good understanding of the issues that are affecting their everyday lives,” continues Joanna. “Using this feedback and working closely with third sector partners and local organisations, we can build a strong local network of support, co-design initiatives, provide grants for projects and help shape policies to improve the lives of our customers.”

And whilst lots of support is available to people online via Orbit’s customer website (including a recently launched cost of living hub), having a local presence and meeting customers face to face is still really important to increase accessibility and engagement. That’s why Orbit has invested in community hubs and the Better Days teams have been utilising them, Independent Living Schemes and partner organisations to meet customers face to face at events within their local communities.

“Having the hubs enables us to build up trust with our tenants,” continues Joanna.

“It gives them a safe place to build friendships and support networks, with their neighbours, and empowers them to get involved.

“By being on site we are starting to build better relations with tenants and can myth bust, offer advice and guidance and signpost into our Better Days support or external services - empowering communities to put their words into actions and signposting them to practical support such as identifying unclaimed benefits, providing job coaching and introducing them to mental health support.

“My favourite part of my job is helping people. Seeing them start to trust me and have confidence that I can help them. Encouraging people to help themselves, watching them grow in confidence.

“One resident who I have built up a trust with in our Gorleston hub recently sent some feedback in on the service we are providing there. She told me that she has trouble with her mental health, faced poverty, debt and social isolation and didn’t have the confidence to leave the house or get involved in the local community.

“Now, she attends the hub every week to make new friends and is spreading the word around and looking forward to our future plans, and how she can get involved.”

At Joanna’s local hubs in Gorleston and Newmarket, customers can currently access weekly advice sessions, parent and toddler groups as well as monthly craft sessions.