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REALLY?

That’s what you would’ve replied to anyone on New Year’s Day if they’d said a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) would be announced by the World Health Organisation for a coronavirus outbreak.

And you’d be even more startled if they then said this would in turn close down large parts of the world only weeks after that announcement.

But as you were toasting in the New Year, preparing for the big night out and thinking this was unfathomable, China was reporting a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

David Bolton, Director

We all know what came next and I won’t dwell on that here.

We’ve probably only just started out on our new journey, one which we didn’t predict. It’s true there’ll be business continuity and recovery plans everywhere that list a pandemic as a possible disruptor, but in reality I don’t think we really envisaged this.

Two things stand out for me: Firstly, at Yorkshire Housing, our response as a landlord, business and employer, and secondly, things we all need to prioritise going forward.

Response

From the outset, we were clear we’d work hard to do the right things. For our customers and those with vulnerabilities, we introduced almost overnight welfare and support services, ranging from a friendly check-in phone call through to food parcel deliveries and the collection and delivery of medication.

Essential services are even more important during times of crisis – so we designed processes and safe systems of working to ensure emergency repairs could still be carried out along with safety checks.

All of this and much more had a communications strategy wrapped around it offering reassurance, clarity and support.

As a business, we were already evolving our operations. Yorkshire Housing’s chief executive, Nick Atkin, had a vision for working in a truly flexible and agile way and that journey had already started.

This got supercharged when the government announced lockdown. The business was fully agile in no time at all. Devices and systems were put in place and the psychology quickly followed.

We aim to be a business people want to work for and with. A big part of this is equipping our people with the tools to carry out their roles to the best of their abilities.

In this context, yes, there was the need to get personal protective equipment (PPE) issued and get our new processes off the ground.

But the standouts for me have been and continue to be how our people have come together – sharing the good stuff, recognising individual and teams efforts to continue providing services to those who need them most.

Providing reassurance and encouragement to those colleagues on the frontline and thanking those in the background making it all possible has also been important.

For the not so good days, encouraging openness about mental health and the pressures we are all facing, juggling personal and work lives and everything in between, has greatly helped colleagues.

Priorities

I’m sure we’ll all be revisiting business strategies and plans round about now, assessing the impact of coronavirus and considering our priorities going forward.

We continue to see the very best of customer service and support shine through during this crisis. Examples I’ve come across are too numerous to list here. But what I think it comes down to ultimately is we’ve shown our customers we are here for them and that we care and understand.

Going forward, we need to do what we can to preserve and build on what’s been a real collaborative effort between us and our customers, creating even more trust and loyalty and building a relationship that matters.

We’ve also seen an almost Back to the Future-like acceleration of the use of digital technology, but without the DeLorean car!

Digital connectivity and smart ways of living and working are now the new norm and this is cross-generational. To truly create the homes and places of the future, we need to continue investing in innovative solutions and smart technologies.

We need this for us to continue connecting with our customers in this new world. And it will help us manage and maintain homes in a different way – being pre-emptive and being accessible in real time.

Lastly, there’s never been a more important time than now to respond to the climate emergency.

There’s a risk that as governments reel from the economic impacts of the pandemic and are distracted, that the focus on climate change and its effects may shift or at least temporarily subside.

It can’t for us because domestic properties make up about 27 per cent of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions and social housing accounts for 10 per cent of that.

We need to continue removing fossil fuel burning appliances from homes. We need to promote the use of alternative heating and power sources and we need to design, construct and refurbish homes to protect them and the people living there from the profound and long-term effects of global warming.

This is certainly a year we won’t forget. We need to take the best from it, learn and look to the future – yes, really!