Why celebrating tenants must always be a PR objective

As governments have come and gone, and ideas for national tenants’ organisations have been exalted and faded away, thousands of residents have carried on regardless, working on behalf of their communities.

Across the UK, these individuals put huge amounts of time and energy into improving their schemes, streets and neighbourhoods, often impervious to what politicians and the like have to say about it.

These tenants – or residents, customers or service users – are the heart of UK housing. Their role, working between their neighbours and their landlords to deliver changes that improve people’s lives, helps individual social landlords and, indeed, the sector as a whole to do what it is here to do.

As PR people working in housing, we must hear what these individuals – who know most about our employers and clients’ reputations on the ground – have to say. We should also make the most of every opportunity to share their stories both internally and externally.

Later this month, the annual Housing Heroes Awards take place in Manchester. Over the years, these awards, among others, have consistently celebrated tenants’ contributions ­– providing recognition that can, in See Media’s experience, come as a huge surprise to the often-modest individuals who have never sought or expected any applause.

Last year, for example, we worked on Housing Heroes Award entry for the winner of the Tenant Lifetime Contribution Award on behalf of Fortem, one of our clients, and one of their clients, Birmingham City Council.

Joan Goodwin, then 84, had spent 35 years tirelessly representing tenants living in the Yardley Wood area of Birmingham. “Why did I get involved?”, she asked when quizzed over what inspired her to dedicate so much of her life volunteering on behalf of the people of Birmingham. “Because I care – I care very deeply,” she answered.

“I care about the young families who are working so hard to have the money to keep a roof over their heads. And I care about the elderly people who don’t see a soul.”

After decades representing tenants across her city, Joan – who was this week recognised on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List – was neither nostalgic or self-congratulatory. “I do what I can,” she stated.

While Joan was blown away by receiving her Housing Heroes award, win or lose, she would carry on the job she saw needed doing.

Award nominees, finalists and winners – like Joan – are the human faces of the difference UK housing can make; and the ceremonies are reminders of the importance of providing people with a decent home and safe neighbourhood to live in.

We must value these opportunities to engage with those who live in our organisations’ homes and use their services, and who care most deeply about their successes and failures ­– they are our most important stakeholders.