21 May 2021

Digital gains

In my role as innovate project lead at Cartrefi Conwy, I support delivery of strategic priorities. These can range from our frontline services, to our decarbonisation plans, to our agile working approach. What is clear to me is digital tools will be a key enabler in ensuring these priorities succeed and how we shape the future. As we take the next steps out of COVID, it’s safe to say that the way we work and how we all interact with each other has changed forever. The prominence of digital is now on everyone’s agenda.

Over the past few years across the sector, there has been a lot of talking and planning about digital technology. Trying to understand how we move forward and make good use of this in an efficient and effective way. Then overnight in early 2020 all that talking and planning immediately got thrown into action. COVID created a ‘burning platform’ that forced us all to adapt at speed. We had to keep our day to day lives going both at work and home, which is now the same place for many of us.

At Cartrefi Conwy the launch of our new business plan coincided with the first lockdown. Key strategies within that were to transform our use of technology and develop an innovative workforce. These have accelerated at a pace that no-one could have predicted, and I am consistently impressed by what my colleagues deliver.

In addition to that, the way we all adapted across the housing sector in Wales this change has to be applauded. There were many innovative approaches across the housing sector that supported connectiveness. We maximised the digital tools and solutions available to us and it is right for us to celebrate these positives.

But against those positives, and of greater significance, COVID highlighted the 'digital divide'. Within Wales, a nation that I feel strives to be progressive and inclusive for all, some of the stories we heard were not good enough. Virtual home-schooling for children with little or no access to a computer. Elderly people shielding alone without devices to order online shopping and prescriptions. Families trying to get by with little to no data or broadband. I could go on.

Early into lockdown the Housing Futures Cymru panel met with representatives from Welsh Government to feed into their COVID response. We took this chance to emphasise the struggles we saw the tenants living in our homes were facing. We raised frontline issues but also the opportunities we could offer with the connections we have with those communities. Within housing the way we deliver services can make a real difference to people’s lives and we are at a point in time where we need to take the right approach.

So, what next? What new approaches do we keep and what do we refine? Moving services online may make some sense from a financial perspective with a cheaper transactional cost, but at what cost will this be to those who aren’t able to interact with us in that way? How can we move forward in a flexible and inclusive way for our tenants and customers, and colleagues alike? What does the digital future look like? So many questions!

And this is why I’m looking forward to chairing the digital gains session at TAI. We have a couple of inspiring speakers lined up who will help steer us in the right direction. They will cover viewpoints on how to minimise the impact of the digital divide on people’s lives, and how embracing technology can improve the services tenants receive. It will be a great opportunity to learn from others, spark new ideas, and get involved in the digital debate.

Head over to the TAI 2021 page to secure your member-exclusive place on the event.

Written by Gareth Leech

Gareth is innovate project lead at Cartrefi Conwy and chair of Housing Futures Cymru.