Pete Davies, Community Empowerment Manager at Knightstone writes about the important work this housing association is doing to not only build homes local people want and need, but also actively empower residents. Creating thriving, empowered communities.
Knightstone is a leading housing association in Somerset and the West of England, committed to building vibrant, stable and safe communities people can make their homes. Established in 1975, we provide services to over 23,000 people in 11,000 homes, and build around 300 new homes a year.
Our story in the community
Our Individual and Community Empowerment (ICE) team was formed four years ago as a response to the expected impact of the financial recession and austerity felt in our heartland. One of our main objectives at the time was to prepare and support residents ahead of the changes in government legislation expected to affect them.
Our communities average 53 homes – we call them ‘microhoods’ – and are mapped based on stock size. Our Community Empowerment programmes are resident-led with our people the driving force behind them. We don’t act in a way that’s top down, we start the conversations in our communities and adopt our own method which has recently benefitted from an injection of asset based community development practice. We mostly work in our newly developed mixed tenure communities and in our micro-hoods located within some of the South West’s lowest income neighbourhoods to enable both social and business impact.
Inner city community development
In Bristol’s inner city, we work alongside community-led agencies, like Ujima Community Radio and Full Circle, to build organisational capacity to deliver community development initiatives. Across Easton and St Pauls, we run a sports project which develops local people’s skills to lead their own health activities and have very recently been commissioned by Bristol Ageing Better to support older people deal with the impacts of gentrification.
Mixed tenures in rural west of England
In newly built schemes where there’s mixed tenure types – affordable rent, our shared owners and privately owned homes – our intensive community development work ensures there’s harmony amongst residents living there, and that site infrastructure issues are dealt with quickly. As a result, we’ve seen groups set up with a shared interest in maintaining the neighbourhood areas and conserving it for future generations. The Houndwood Environment Group is a resident-led group that takes ownership of the area, resulting in increased resident satisfaction and reduced local anti-social behaviour.
A key element of our approach is to offer a bi-yearly accredited training programme for residents who want to learn more about community development, take ownership and move forward with the work that they’ve already achieved in their neighbourhoods with us. In summer 2016, our Connected Community course resulted in 12 tenants securing an accredited NVQ Level 2 in Community Development. The pilot ran over eight months and saw our staff team supporting learners in their communities to develop and deliver community building projects ranging from estate improvements to sporting and social activities. Those who were part of it enjoyed meeting each other and learning about the progress of community building work in areas all around the south west. Our second course started in January for 16 new learners.
The overall concept of our community empowerment offer is based on realising the skills, aspirations and potential of tenants who see themselves as community connectors so as to take on and sustain much of the work that our team brokers, facilitates and enables. Leading by stepping back is a key aspect of our sustainment method, offering support to residents living across our communities, at the same time as establishing an interconnected network of qualified and invigorated community volunteers taking action together to achieve what matters.
In 2017 we’re aiming to strengthen the link between how our work impacts on our wider business without compromising our approach whilst targeting empowerment resources where they’re most needed, and in increasingly enterprising ways. What’s needed in inner city Bristol is remarkably different to a rural area of Somerset.
I applaud the housing associations that in the face of the challenges of rent reduction, have retained their community investment portfolios, especially community building work. We feel hugely proud of the progress and work that our Community Empowerment team has delivered with our residents since our conception, and look forward to our programmes in 2017.