04 Mar 2021
Heather: So what is your role with Newington Housing?
Jacqui: I’m responsible for general needs and sheltered housing, working with housing staff on all operational housing matters. My communities role focuses on community engagement and community investment, again working alongside Newington staff and community partners. My strategic role involves working with the senior management team and board to develop policy and set the direction of the organisation.
Heather: What collaborative working has Newington developed to better support tenants during the coronavirus pandemic?
Jacqui: Tenant support through collaboration is central to our work at Newington. That was true before the pandemic and has become even more so over the last year. We have strong links with the local community and voluntary sector in North Belfast. For example, in January 2020, working with the North Belfast Advice Partnership (NBAP) we developed a welfare advice post which is funded by Newington HA and the Nationwide Trust and managed by NBAP. The independent financial advice it gives has supported not only Newington tenants during the pandemic, but all residents in the area. As well as this, Newington staff have provided daily and weekly telephone support to our more vulnerable tenants. Newington’s board provided funding to local food banks and community organisations. Staff have continued to be there to support ‘general needs’ tenants who require additional support: this can range from crisis intervention referrals such as food parcels and gas and electricity cards to ongoing support for families due to additional pressures of being at home, like home schooling. Staff have also given of their own time at weekends and after work to volunteer in the local foodbank.
Heather: How important is welfare and tenancy support to the role of housing officers in your organisation?
Jacqui: Extremely important! It is crucial that we maintain effective contact with tenants, so that if support is needed our housing officers and property service officers who are out engaging with tenants can provide or signpost tenants to this. Early intervention is critical to tenancy sustainment, as is building trust and a relationship with tenants. We have seen some very positive outcomes from this and our housing officers act as a conduit to offer tenants the support of local Family Support Hubs, as well as mental health referrals when necessary.
Heather: Being a housing professional is so much broader than just allocating homes. What other services does Newington provide to tenants?
Jacqui: Newington is very much a community-based housing association. This means stepping up and working with a range of community, voluntary and statutory organisations in the area, to support and deliver better outcomes for Newington tenants and residents in North Belfast. Through Newington’s Community Investment Fund we support a range of local projects every year; one of which is the student bursary scheme, which provides funding to support third-level education for the duration of the course. Of particular importance is the work of Newington’s Tenants Forum which encourages tenants to become involved in our work and have their say. We are very conscious that we work in an area that suffers from deprivation and legacy issues. In Newington we continually work with others to help address the most challenging issues, from interfaces and peace walls to food and fuel poverty and stigmatisation.
Heather: What advice would you give someone who is considering housing as a career?
Jacqui: There are so many opportunities for anyone who wants to work in social housing. My advice would be look at the roles and decide what you would be most suited to. To work as a housing officer or property services officer you need to have the softer skills of understanding and empathy for the tenants you would be working with as well as the necessary qualifications. I have spent my career working in social housing: at times it has been challenging, but the job satisfaction for me has always outweighed that.