Neil Clapperton: COVID-19 vs social housing?

In a guest blog for CIH Scotland, Grampian Housing Association chief executive Neil Clapperton shares what his organisation has been doing to support the current national emergency.

Neil Clapperton

Now is the time for associations (and council housing departments) to show what they can really do at a time of national emergency. We are a blessed corner of the third sector with incredible resources; from staff to systems, networks and connections, cash flow to values. So what could we do about COVID-19? In the past three months, I’ve been on a journey from the “it’s only bad flu” denial to incandescent rage at the ineptitude and ideological blindness of medical advisors and political leadership. And now I’m out the other end, realising that I needed to do something instead of shouting at my phone.

Our tenants and people in deprived communities are twice as likely to die, and they will bear the brunt of an economic car crash if we go through a cycle of bodged lockdowns and relaxations. My beef is that government failed to listen to the World Health Organisation or any of the countries with experience of handling the virus well. In a few short months it became transparently clear that mass community testing and tracing is central to the safe suppression and elimination of the disease, but was ditched north and south of the border on 12 March.

Like many men, I can’t hear about a problem without wanting to fix it. Luckily, writing shouty letters led me to a number of conversations, with Callum Chomczuk, national director at CIH Scotland and Sally Thomas at the SFHA and the genesis of an idea that furloughed housing staff could form the first wave of tracing teams in Scotland. University College, London’s Professor Colbourn estimates that we need about 5,500 people working on tracing across Scotland. So what can our staff do that brings something special to the party?

What amazing skills and abilities we routinely apply to the wicked problems of social housing can we bring to the battle with the dread COVID-19? We are a community anchor organisation, trusted by our tenants, the communities and people we work with, trusted by government and connected to the NHS. Grampian and other associations have resources that other agencies may not have, like access to ICT infrastructure, insurance cover, networks of professionals, data sharing protocols, highly trained and motivated staff. Customer facing staff have a unique skill set, able to deal with people in distress, ask difficult searching questions, do detective work, and be consistent around messaging and advice. As a sector, we can move very fast and time is of the essence.

We are working with NHS Grampian now, we have volunteers and a plan, and the training starts next week. This is a defining moment for associations with a connection to the communities they serve. Please contact your NHS public health leadership and call me on 07765 196379. Cometh the hour…

This blog was originally published on the CIH Scotland website.

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.

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