Is expecting a contribution to community such a bad thing?

Yesterday ,on the  Guardian Housing Network , I asked whether it’s right that a Housing Association should expect a resident to make some sort of contribution to the community they move into.

That we expect , as the default position , that everyone makes 5% extra effort to help their new community be the best it can be.

Is setting out this expectation inherently unreasonable?

Stating explicitly that there is a “something for something” around here. That the community expects a code to be followed.

Is that unfair? Or just common sense?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he describes a study of a small town, which for some unknown reason started bucking the health trends occuring in the rest of the country.

Basically people had stopped dying. They just kept going until they died of old age. No-one could find any explanation.

Then one day two doctors doing a study finally figured it out. They found that the things that contributed to this phenomena were:

  • Families looked after each other
  • Different generations mixed
  • There were lots of social organisations – people were very engaged and volunteered time to help others
  • And people looked after the poorer members of society with encouragement and support

And this had resulted in people living longer and stopping dying.

That sounds like a pretty cool deal to me.

I’d live there. Imagine the Mission Statement.

“We create communities so good that our customers refuse to die”

It’s obvious that any community that cares about its other members is going to be happier and healthier. That’s not rocket science.

It’s why we worked with our customers to make it part of the Bromford Deal. We expect people to contribute to the community.

So why is it that every time that I’ve mentioned this over the past few weeks that some people have taken a sharp intake of breath? Saying it sounds like Big Brother. A Social Housing Stasi.

What’s the problem in overtly saying you expect a contribution to the community? Surely most people would agree?

It’s early days but we are finding that most tenants do agree. They don’t want to be passive recipients of a service. They actually get a kick out of the fact someone is interested in them.

People we are speaking to are not trying to avoid contribution – they actually like it that someone asks them what skills they have.

Examples of what people are doing? Setting up a community Facebook page, helping out at a mother and toddler group, learning how to get online. Every little helps.

As one of our customers said to me last week:

“ I wish I’d have had the Bromford Deal. I’d have welcomed someone asking me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life”

I don’t think we will ever be able to claim that we helped people stopped dying.

But I reckon we will be able to tell some pretty good stories about what people did with the rest of their lives.


13 thoughts on “Is expecting a contribution to community such a bad thing?

  1. The Gladwell story follows Robert Putnam on social capital – the thesis that strong bonding and bridging social capital make you healthier, wealthier and happier. I don’t disagree with the notion that people should be encouraged to get involved but making it part of a contract strikes me as a tad patronising. If I buy a house or rent a house from a private landlord I expect to be left in peace and to do as much or as little as I want in the local area. As a social tenant, I would not take kindly to some busybody telling me that I have to do certain community-based things in order to sustain my tenancy. Why should social tenants be treated differently?

    1. I don’t think Social Tenants should be treated differently. Although you could argue that if social tenants are more at risk of digital exclusion, benefit dependency etc it would be the obvious place to start. The issue for me is if Social Housing is not willing to begin these conversations who will? We may as well be Private Landords

  2. Nice piece, Paul. Interesting thought on a potential new mission statement, can’t see that one taking off but it packs a punch and certainly highlights the message of what it is we’ve set out to achieve.

  3. Make a contribution in what way?? It sounds like it would work…in an ideal world. But in a society that does not even bat an eyelid when someone is being robbed in broad daylight, is it possible? This brings a question in my mind of, who exactly is my neighbour? Shall I only treat people with kindness because they live in the same vicinity as I, but as soon as I turn a corner I no longer contribute?

  4. Sorry that I missed the online debate, Paul ,sounds like it would have been right up my street! Enjoyed the Blog, though, very thought-provoking.
    If I may suggest, like Colin, everybody ,whatever their housing status, wants to “be left in peace”. However, whose responsibility is it to provide this peace. Perhaps, just perhaps, a little bit of it is down to me.
    Yes, Kimini… ,I wish it was an ideal world – wouldn’t everybody ! But until that day arrives, should we not be encouraging everyone to make a contribution to making it so ?
    Just do what you can !!
    Finally ,Paul, I cant leave you without a spot of Philosophy – so remember, don’t be afraid of strangers, they are just new friends that you haven’t got to know yet.

    1. “I wish it was an ideal world – wouldn’t everybody ! But until that day arrives, should we not be encouraging everyone to make a contribution to making it so?” You said it all there Mike….

  5. This is great thinking. Often people lack the confidence to speak to and get involved with their communities. If you’re introducing it as the culture and the way people do things in your communities right from the beginning, I imagine that will give them the courage to play their part. And whilst I can see where Colin is coming from, in terms of some people might find it patronising, I think it’s important we do what we can to try and make the world a happier, healthier place. What harm can having the conversations do?

    Dawn Irvine, Marketing & PR Manager at Guinness South

    1. Thanks Dawn – I think as you say – what harm can the conversations do? And if we don’t who will? I should also point out we are introducing same for colleagues as well. It’s not telling people what to do -it’s unlocking potential

  6. I see a world of difference between using the landlord’s power/influence/leverage to give tenants positive nudges towards making a contribution and using the same to seek to enforce communitarian behaviour. In any case positive reinforcement is – so it is alleged – six times more effective. So let’s not conflate ‘unsociable’ with ‘antisocial’, nor contemplate sanctions against tenants who want to put up a wall and just get on with their private lives – instead use the many skills and resources that as social landlords we have at our disposal to nurture and grow those who are prepared to support the community. Hopefully it’ll reach a point where the walls start to come down on their own and community spirit becomes more nearly self-sustaining.

    1. Paul thanks for the comment. I absolutley agree that positive reinforcement is what we should be about – not enforcement. I think that has been borne out in initial conversations. Prospective tenants are actually enthusiastic about it – even asking why previous landlords have not been more vocal in encouraging this.

  7. This is an interesting read Paul. looked at what social landlords are doing to promote their residents’ wellbeing and a key finding is that they’re not really doing enough to promote the notion of ‘give’, whereby residents are supported and encouraged to give of their time or skills to others. What you are proposing sounds like a great step in the right direction.

    1. Alison – thanks for this. Let’s keep in touch as things progress and see how things go. I’m sure both our organisations can help each other

  8. If “something for something” is the ideal (and I disagree it is ) then what does the landlord do for the tenant comes under much greater scrutiny as this bargain or Rawlsian contract works both ways. Do social landlords really want this becomes the question that needs very careful consideration indeed ahead of proposing such a bargain.

    The upsurge in tenant mobilisation and using SM to promote and vent tenants spleen (rightly or wrongly) is very much in evidence at the moment and will not go away or reduce as the rest of the welfare reforms will see to that.

    Direct payment from October is a seismic shift in rent payment terms and for the first time the social landlord has to pay very close attention to risks to its reputation, for the first time ever. Those social landlords perceived as NOT giving something to the community or ‘guilty’ in the tenant eyes of heavy-handed approaches to rent collection or even because their livery is red and not blue will see reputational risk translate into reduced rent payment.

    Despite Blair’s “New Labour” project being all about the contractual balance of rights and responsibilities – the exact same thing that Cameron now calls ‘something for something’ – and therefore being 16+ years old, whether social housing is ready for it I strongly doubt and especially not with the current reforms of bedroom tax and benefit cap ONLY reducing HB and in reality an attack on social housing as well as the social tenant.

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