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Our Staffordshire area, along with The Marches, was the first to adopt the localities way of working back in July 2016. With a full complement of neighbourhood coaches now operational, we grabbed head of locality Suzanne Shead for five minutes recently to ask how things were going so far.

Hi Suzanne. Thanks for talking to us. How have things fared operationally across Staffordshire since our new way of working went live?

Housing has never been a quiet sector to work in, and considering the different things we’ve had to juggle, it has actually gone pretty well so far. We had all bums on seats by the summer which means we’ve recruited 33 neighbourhood coaches, four locality managers and one locality co-ordinator. Ten of those were recruited from outside the business whilst also giving opportunities to existing colleagues.

We’re now focused on building a strong team that encompasses our supported accommodation such as MyPlace, our temporary accomodation and our retirement living properties like Beacon Park Village. We’re also working to cement great working relationships right across Bromford – looking at how we all link into each other to deliver great service, improve the opportunities for customers and produce great business outcomes.

Talk us through what happened when a colleague was recruited to the Staffordshire patch?

The first three weeks was the induction period and consisted of a range of classroom and online-based e-learning as well as being out on patch so there’s a good mix. After that period, they spent time shadowing neighbourhood coaches and meeting other parts of the business such as our lettings team, income team and customer services. We felt it was really important new colleagues understood how different teams work in unison and whilst our general philosophy is ‘do the right thing, not the rule thing’ it’s also crucial they gained a good grasp of the various processes and elements that may inform their coaching approach out in their neighbourhoods.

So what are the initial findings on the doorstep so far?

You have to remember that for the very first time we’re asking our neighbourhood coaches to go into these communities without an agenda – it’s a blank piece of paper – whereas before our interactions have largely been reactive when we’ve had a task to complete. This means we truly don’t know what we’re going to find until we open that front door and we’ve already found that it isn’t always easy to get past that first hurdle. Sometimes customers are suspicious about our motives so it’s important to stress that it’s an approach for the long-term – we’re not going to instantly change relationships with each and every customer overnight. External factors such as welfare reforms also play a part although slowly our neighbourhood coaches are starting to make inroads.

And are the patches coming together as you imagined?

Every patch is different and that means varying challenges – for example, a patch with a lot of new build homes won’t have nearly as many issues with damp and condensation as a patch where there is a greater number of older properties.

This presents perhaps our greatest challenge because there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ any longer and the spectrum of coaching is pretty vast. Not every conversation is going to be a coaching conversation depending on a customer’s circumstances but every conversation can be an adult conversation. For example we were recently forced to go to court for an injunction on a property where the gentleman had simply stopped engaging and under the old housing management approach he’d have probably been evicted. But when we served the papers we framed the conversation in a slightly different way and slowly we started to unpick the issues which had really started to overwhelm him. We’ve still got a long way to go with this gentleman but we managed to connect him back to his old mental health worker and significant progress is now being made.

In your view, what makes a good neighbourhood coach?

In the same way as we want our customers to have resilience, that’s arguably one of the most important qualities for a neighbourhood coach too. They are dealing with such a mix of situations that we expect them to have that ability to bounce back from difficult and distressing scenarios. Tenacity and a genuine interest in people are also really valuable skills. We have such a great mix of colleagues that we all bring something different to the table – adapting and responding to situations in the best way we can.

What’s been the big takeaway for you so far?

We expect each neighbourhood coach to be ‘patch-ready’ three months after recruitment and then it’ll take a few years before they progress through the job-ready pathway. Through this time, l expect to see more positive change in our communities, greater resilience and ability to handle whatever challenges come their way. Everybody is very excited to now be out on patch so that we can get to know our customers and better understand the needs in our communities.

We know that our performance is likely to be steady – and some of the business outcomes will take time to come to fruition. Uncovering so many new, complex issues may impact on our performance short-term but we’re absolutely adamant that this coaching approach will pay dividends in the long-run and that’s why we’re focused on sustained improvement, not necessarily doing it fast. Coaching takes time to build rapport and trust.

And, finally, what’s coming next?

There are big changes coming for customers over the next year with Universal Credit rolling out across Lichfield and Tamworth this November. We cannot prepare our customers enough – linking them into support, helping them to understand what it means for them and how to prepare. Our message is that getting into work will ultimately reduce the effects of these Government welfare reforms. Our job is to not only get to know our communities, but also the other services within them, before identifying how they can aid us in building more sustainable neighbourhoods.

The coaching approach is something that takes practice and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally – we are pulling together how we will be delivering coaching right across every area at Bromford.

Fascinating insight, thanks Suzanne!

Don't know who your neighbourhood coach is? Find out here. Fancy becoming a neighbourhood coach? Visit this page.

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