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Our Response to the Pandemic

The last year has been a time like no other and the pandemic has changed people’s daily lives. It highlighted more than ever that the most vulnerable people and charitable organisations in our communities need our support.

As the impact of the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, our priority was to divert much-needed resources to support our customers, colleagues and the community-based organisations that had been hit hardest. Our Resilience and Hardship Funds provided essential resources, and we worked closely with local authorities to develop emergency response provision.

Resilience Fund

Recognising that community groups and charitable organisations needed help, we set up our Resilience Fund which was shared out over two rounds. This made £130k available to enable vital community service provision to continue throughout the Covid recovery. Following an overwhelming response of applications, 32 well-deserved groups and organisations from across our five regions received a share of the fund.

The 32 partner groups that benefited from the cash injection supported our guiding principles for the Fund, ensuring our customers had access to the support they needed. Each of the organisations targeted one of the following key themes:

  • poverty reduction including fuel, furniture and food employment;
  • training and volunteering opportunities;
  • financial and digital inclusion;
  • organisational resilience.

The Fund would not have been possible without the generous support of our partner organisations and suppliers (including Countryside, Connelly, Truline and Emanuel Whittaker) who together donated a staggering £85k, in addition to our £45k contribution.

Hardship Fund

Many of our customers and colleagues were severely impacted by the pandemic, falling ill themselves, shielding, taking on additional caring responsibilities, suffering bereavement or losing their employment.

In recognition of this, we contributed £35k to support the co-ordination of customer referrals to Local Authority Support Response Hubs.

We also:

  • set up a Great Places Emergency Fund, managing in excess of 100 applications from customers facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic;
  • delivered anti-poverty initiatives in partnership with third-sector organisations, such as furniture and fuel support. This included an energy-switching service with National Energy Action, helping customers to make savings on fuel bills;
  • secured a further two years of European Social Fund grant for the More Positive Together project in Lancashire, helping customers with complex needs to progress into work;
  • changed to non-contact sign-ups at our properties to ensure we could still re-house the most vulnerable people without the need for face-to-face contact including ‘virtual’ property viewings. We re-let approximately 1000 homes to our customers.
  • provided new tenancy customers with a range of essential household items to furnish their new accommodation;
  • made over 4000 welfare calls to our most customers;
  • helped 86 customers in financial difficulty through the Money Advice Service. The service generated over £35k for affected customers between April and November 2020.

One of our customers who we were able to support was someone we will call Rita, to keep her identity protected. Read Rita’s story here.

Business Continuity

During the pandemic, we operated a Gold and Silver Command structure, ensuring strategic and operational preparedness and management of our response to Covid. This enabled us to work to Covid-secure guidelines, continue to carry out repairs, complete investment works and allocate properties to those in urgent need of re-housing.

We also:

  • funded support services to help those shielding;
  • made our community assets available for support, testing and vaccination services;
  • helped community organisations with funding, ensuring they remained in place to support our recovery strategies.

Communicating Through the Pandemic

It was essential that our customers, colleagues and stakeholders were kept fully informed of changes to service provision and the support available to them throughout the pandemic.

In addition to regular website and social media channel updates, we sent a weekly e-newsletter to over 12,000 customers to ensure they received the latest advice and guidance. We updated non-digital customers through letters, and provided leaflets and posters in communal areas and digital screens in our Independence and Wellbeing Schemes.

A dedicated area on our website included FAQs, Government guideline updates, risk assessments, changes to services and information about organisations providing employment, food provision, fuel support and befriending services for those feeling isolated.