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Last week Social had the pleasure of attending the annual Inside Housing Communications Conference in London.

The day was an opportunity for communications professionals in the social housing sector to get together, share best practice and learn from each other. Indeed there were several engaging sessions which looked at the challenges facing communications professionals working within the sector and how to overcome them.

As Martin Hilditch, editor of Inside Housing, acknowledged in his opening remarks, the event comes at a crucial time for the sector. He noted that he struggled to remember a time when the sector faced more outside scrutiny, reiterating the importance of getting communication right. #

Below are some highlights and themes from the event.

The repairs challenge

In the first session of the day, delegates heard from the Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, about the ongoing issue and around housing quality and repairs.

The issue of substandard social housing has been a running story in the mainstream media for some time now, in particular around issues of damp and mould.

Richard revealed that two-thirds of cases the ombudsman deals with now are in relation to property condition and often include a complaint around delays in getting the problem resolved.

In order to weather the storm, Richard said: “Landlords need to manage expectations with customers and communicate honestly about timescales and delays.”

He also suggested there was a need to communicate with residents, even when there is nothing to communicate, as “silence can cause anxiety for residents”.

Building trust

A key theme of the day was about need to build trust both through internal and external communications.

The idea of building trust appeared throughout various sessions. Many panelists noted the need to build trust with reisdents, especially around works pertaining to net zero.

Delegates heard that residents are aware of the sustainability challenge the sector faces but that housing associations need to be better at communicating how this will impact them.

James McLarin, Head of External Affairs at Sovereign, noted that sustainability is one of its residents priorities but suggested that using language such as ‘retrofit’ is not as clear as it could be and that it is HAs’ responsibility to clarify what this means in practice.

Doing so will help build trust between HAs and residents.

Right type of communication

Another feature of the day focused on getting the basics right and ensuring that HAs use the correct method of communication.

One stand out example came from Faye Rimdap, Communications and Marketing Manager at Phoenix Community Housing, who demonstrated how a small change can make a big difference.

Faye and her team redesigned the letters residents were receiving about their rent bills, to include more accessible and colourful template. She said that this small change has helped residents better understand their bills.

Other speakers highlighted how they were using social media platforms in different ways, in order to communicate the right message. In some cases, this involves coming off of certain platforms all together.

Recruiting and retaining communications staff

One of the final sessions of the day focused on the topic of recruitment within social housing communications.

Speakers at this event acknowledged the reputational struggle the sector has endured over the past two years and how this has impacted staff.

Some said that the political environment surrounding social housing has impacted recruitment. It was suggested that the sector still has a strong pull for communications professionals looking to work for an organisation with a charitable focus.

However, HAs need to keep banging the drum about the benefits of social housing, in order to combat the overriding negative perception in the media currently.