Giving social housing customers a voice through volunteering

As part of National Volunteers’ Week, LiveWest has delivered a heartfelt thank you to its 40-strong customer scrutiny group for helping set the future direction of the housing provider. 

With the recent launch of the Government’s housing white paper – The Charter for Social Housing Residents – which calls for social housing residents to be at the heart of shaping services, LiveWest is celebrating the members of its InFocus group for volunteering their time to develop their services.

The 38,000-home landlord has sent out volunteer certificates to its more engaged residents, including members of InFocus, Estate Service Champions, Shared Ownership Virtual Panel and those that have been involved in procurement exercises this year.

Liz King is a member of LiveWest’s InFocus group and has been volunteering her time to help review LiveWest’s performance, services and any issues, ensuring customer priorities are heard and acted upon. 

Liz has lived in a sheltered housing scheme in South Devon for the past seven years, retired from roles in education in the private sector and then started teaching people on how to improve their computer skills for work and leisure.

Nowadays Liz helps neighbours with their technology issues to help maintain those valuable skills she learned in her career – and also volunteers her time to the InFocus group.

Liz said: “I joined the InFocus group because I liked the idea of customers being given a voice. I have experienced varying levels of customer service and so I was interested in finding out why things had gone wrong, and whether changes and improvements could be made.

“Being a part of InFocus is giving me the opportunity to delve into where and why there are issues. 

“By scrutinising and reviewing the evidence we can help LiveWest improve their services for all customers.”

Barbara Seacombe, another InFocus member, said: “I love being part of InFocus as it’s a great group of people with a real mix of interests.

“It has helped me learn so much about housing and I get to meet people from other housing associations from all over the UK online.”

Eileen Farnham moved back to Portishead, Bristol, in 2007, after spending 28 years in London where her last job was as a Facilities Manager for Citizens Advice.

Having served as a volunteer for the last eight years, Eileen said: “I have been part of the scrutinisation of the businesss and had experience of supporting the re-procurement process for new contractors.

“I have also attended many workshops and groups on subjects which have been particularly informative and great fun.”

As soon as it emerged that our nation was in the grip of a pandemic, LiveWest launched an emergency effort to provide further support to our customers.

Thousands of welfare calls were made to check on our most vulnerable customers’ wellbeing to deal with a host of queries and referring them to an appropriate team for most specialist advice. 

Outside of work hours, LiveWest’s Community Investment colleagues have been giving up their own time to volunteer in neighbourhoods.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, Community connector Keri Millar signed up to Volunteer Cornwall, a charity dedicated to developing active and engaged people through volunteering.

The move saw Keri regularly doing food shopping for customers who were anxious about leaving their homes.

She also collected medical prescriptions for its customers who were shielding in their homes. 

Keri said: “It was a pleasure to be able to play my part in helping our communities.

“The volunteering effort was phenomenal with so many people signing up to support the most vulnerable in society. 

“I have been helping our residents at Rosehill Gardens and they still ring me now to collect prescriptions and parcels. It’s the least I can do.

“Volunteer Cornwall did a fabulous job in directing support in an effective way and after restrictions started to be eased as they supported people with a befriending service and set up walking buddies for people nervous about going out.

“People were so appreciative and what struck me was how frightened some people were about leaving their own homes.

“Volunteers’ Week is a great way to recognise all the selfless acts people have made, especially during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Sara Sollis – who is Customer Engagement Team Leader for LiveWest – is brimming with pride at being able to play a part in the largest vaccination programme in British history.

Sara has been volunteering every weekend, and during her annual leave, at the vaccination centre at Taunton Racecourse.

She was keen to be part of the monumental national effort to vaccinate the British population and bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sara was alerted to the volunteering opportunity via a twitter post by Spark Somerset, a charity which runs the county-wide volunteer service.

Sara said: “I wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem.

“I do a lot of volunteering in my village, but I felt compelled to be part of our vaccination programme given the suffering and pain this virus has caused.

“This is the first time that I have been able to volunteer for something that has national significance.

“For selfish reasons I had become fed up with being at home and not seeing people for weeks on end.

“I now get to see hundreds of people every time I volunteer. It has helped me learn a lot about the virus and I am now knowledgeable about the vaccine part of the conversation.

“I absolutely love it and look forward to every shift I do at the centre. It lifts me because I can see the benefit this will have for so many people.

“I get to meet so many types of people and everyone is so friendly. 

“What I have found is that the centres attract a broad range of volunteers from all different ages, from those that are retired to chief executives. 

“The staff who are getting paid to be there are really thankful to the volunteers that have signed up.

“And those that are being vaccinated bring in cake and chocolate as a thank you which always goes down well.”

LiveWest gives its colleagues up to four days paid volunteering a year so that extra support can be given to its communities.