Is there an expert in the house?

Lucy McGovern, Head of Thriving Communities for Orbit shares how a new team of in-house experts is helping the affordable house provider to offer sector-leading support to its customers through the cost-of-living crisis.

“Here at Orbit, we’re committed to being responsive to the challenges that customers are facing and offering the right help at the right time to support their tenancies and personal wellbeing,” says Lucy. “When we launched our new Thriving Communities Strategy – Better Me, Better Place, Better Home, it was very much with this commitment in mind.

“We started in a good place, with around £3m per year already being invested by Orbit into our successful Better Days programme, which offers free universal services to every customer, designed to support financial inclusion, mental wellbeing, employment and skills and digital support.

“However, with the numerous competing and costly demands facing the housing sector as well as a growing number of societal issues such as Brexit, Covid-19, rising energy costs, changes to the benefit system and an unstable labour market putting increasing pressure on our customers, we knew that we needed to retarget our investment to ensure it was having maximum social impact.

“In response, we’ve recruited and implemented new thematic specialists to ensure that our work under each of the Better Me, Better Place, Better Home pillars is led by current best practice and industry specific knowledge. These thematic leads are contract managing our Better Days services to ensure Orbit’s approaches are sector leading and deliver impact, whilst assuring quality and compliance. They’re also exploring opportunities to extend provision through partnerships with external providers and funding.

“Joining our existing Health and Wellbeing lead is a new Impact and Performance Manager who is utilising customer data and frontline knowledge to influence policy around the welfare agenda as well as working with partners, think tanks and housing trade bodies. We will also target investment opportunities in this space, particularly around the Levelling Up agenda.

“A new Better Days Hubs Lead is ensuring that our community spaces are developed as key focal points within our communities which allow us to engage with customers in safe spaces, whilst brokering direct customer access to services.

“As part of our support to help customers manage their finances, maximise their income and reduce the pressure of cost of living increases, our new Financial Inclusion Lead is managing our new Welfare Advice Service which has already unlocked over £500k of unclaimed benefits and grants for customers since its launch in October.

“Meanwhile our Employability and Skills Lead and Children, Young People and Families Lead are working closely with customers and local organisations to develop new strategies for people to unlock their employment aspirations and to implement the support families need to live happy and fulfilled lives.

“At a local level, our new Regional Place team structure ensures we engage with customers within their communities and increase access to Better Days support. Over 1,300 customers have been engaged in this way in 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 agencies.

“With the pressure of cost-of-living showing no signs of decreasing we expect the demand for extra support via our Better Days services to continue growing. However, with the help of our new thematic experts, we’ve been able to respond with agility to issues as they have emerged, introducing a raft of new measures to support customers through their current challenges as well as developing and identifying future improvements to our services.”