Future gazing & future shaping: Awakening the sleeping giants

Housing Associations are experts at tackling on a wide range of local issues, and other sectors would love to collaborate more closely with them – including social investors. Four housing association ‘giants’ have launched a new social investment fund – the Community Interest Partnership – that will provide funds for charitable organisations and social enterprises that create positive social impact within their communities. But other housing associations have not been so proactive. Are housing associations really sleeping or just not well understood by social investors? What opportunities are there for collaboration and innovation?

From mental health care to domestic abuse support, the work of Housing Associations to develop local communities extends much further than providing a roof over people’s heads. So, it makes sense to partner more closely with other sectors – including the social investment market. Some of this work has begun – but there is still a long way to go.

Housing Associations: 

the local experts

Housing Associations have the knowledge and experience to address a range of social issues – from healthcare to homelessness – from a local and personal level. And this ability is something that other sectors, including the social investment market, would love to tap into.

The Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) and the recently formed Community Interest Partnership (CIP) are examples of Housing Associations building links across sectors. The CIP is an investment fund created by four of the UK’s largest Housing Associations (Orbit Group, Clarion Housing Group, L&Q and Peabody Trust) to enable social enterprises and charities to grow, while HACT – which aims to develop more efficient UK housing practices – has been building more links between social housing and healthcare.

Dozing off

However, there is still much work for Housing Associations to do to escape their own echo-chamber. While “sleeping giants” may be an unfair generalisation, some have perhaps “dozed off” where building collaborative relationships both between each other and outside the sector is concerned.

And strengthening ties between the social investment market and Housing Associations is one area which has great potential to greatly increase impact.

“There is a real desire from social investors and Housing Associations to work together, and they often have the same goals,” said Futures Programme Director at the National Housing Federation James Green – but, he continued, “we haven’t quite cracked how we can work together to do that”.

“Everyone finds collaboration hard,” added Green. “Not just Housing Associations. Taking the right partners to identify shared problems on ground and work out practically how to collaborate is really hard to do.”

Key Actions:

How can the social investment market and housing associations work together more closely?

Through finding shared values.

James explained “It’s about falling in love with the problem – what’s the shared problem these organisations want to solve? That’s what we find has been most helpful in collaboration.”

By making it worth each other’s while.

“It should be values AND value,” added one investor. Housing Associations and social investors should also work out how they can further each other’s development, and be valuable to each other in more ways than one.

Becoming more visible on both sides is also important.

- Firstly, many social investors don’t understand Housing Associations, and the breadth of services that they offer. One investor said: “Housing Associations have suffered as being seen as different things to different people, they are both connectors and service providers, so where do the investors fit in?”

- On the other side, Housing Associations might not realise how diverse social investment can be. Another investor commented: “From small social enterprises to million pound investments, social investment is very diverse. How do we make that transparent and accessible to Housing Associations? Maybe not another leaflet or guide… but what’s an effective medium? There are things working, but how do we talk about it?”