Culture & Determination to Get Through the Crisis

Leaders at Housing Associations. People leadership through the first wave of the coronavirus crisis

Leaders are facing the greatest challenge of their careers. As stated by McKinsey & Co: 

“The goal for digital leaders is to emerge from this not having just “managed” the crisis but being stronger because of it. 

For this reason, it’s important…to keep a steady hand on initiatives and programs that can help the business become tech forward.”

In the first of our housing association Futr Spotlight, we caught up with Andrea Malcolm, Executive Director at Bernicia, to share her thoughts on the crisis and how her teams were responding to the needs of their tenants and employees, and more broadly the initiatives they’re working on at Bernicia.

Please could you give a brief intro to yourself and Bernicia?

“Of course – Bernicia homes is a leading social housing business in the North-East, with over 550 staff and around 14,000 properties under management.

“With our extensive insight and experience in this region and its diverse property markets, we focus on investing our income and expertise here.

“Me personally – I’ve been in social housing for coming on 30 years, and have seen Bernicia expand significantly over recent years, which led to the opportunity for me to recently take on a leadership role spanning people, homes and communities.”

What was your initial response to the current pandemic, during the short build up?

“Our initial focus was all about people and prioritisation. We defined all services as either critical, essential, or desirable, and went about ensuring we had enough staff trained to deliver critical and essential services during the impending lockdown.

When it came to our people and finishing enabling agile working – over the few day period we all transitioned to it – priority was on both those staff that deliver critical services, and those who either are more vulnerable themselves or live with others who are. Our staff were really supportive of this.”

What was most important to ensure Bernicia could continue to serve its tenants?

“In two words: our people. They are incredibly dedicated and team-focussed, so when it came to accelerating our digital journey toward agile working for example, the transition has been aided greatly by the attitudes of our staff.

On top of this, our staff have a lot of trust in our leadership team, and vice versa we listen to our staff and tenants closely when deciding how best to respond.

Beyond the above, we’ve also taken proactive measures to contact our tenants who are vulnerable, either by age or medical condition, which has enabled us to provide assistance before critical moments were reached.”

How have your tenants found the last few weeks?

“A lot have been appreciative of our need to prioritise, so the volume of more general repairs, for example, has declined.

That said, we’re having to provide more advice and guidance for those now facing financial difficulty, typically as a result of loss of income, and there is understandably some nervousness in general.”

What do you have planned for the next couple of months?

“Building on our service priority definitions and ensuring we have staff trained appropriately, we expect to need to add additional resource in some areas, before the current measures are gradually relaxed and we can resume more desirable services – getting this balance and timing right is crucial.”

And beyond, when we’re back to more normal times?

“This difficult situation does have some silver linings, particularly when it comes to the adoption of agile working practices and new technologies – I know I’m not alone among our staff in being much more open minded now than previously with new technologies!

Part of our broader strategic initiative is a big piece on raising social inclusion. As we all get better versed at socially interacting through digital means, those who otherwise may find themselves generally excluded will be much better placed to partake in activities and feel part of the community.

So when this pandemic is over, we certainly aim to take the useful lessons learnt and skills adopted well beyond and into the future.”

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