Seaside trip brings our vision into focus

In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie considers how a modest community event serves as a reminder of housing associations’ social role.

Discussion rumbles on about the need for housing associations to build more homes whilst rising to the challenges of rent cuts and welfare reforms. It is clear that the commercial imperative has never been greater for social housing providers if we want to continue to deliver our vision and mission.

For all associations, Thrive included, our most fundamental role is to provide homes that give people the opportunity to have a decent life. However, as the ‘Brexit’ vote indicated, people’s engagement with society requires something more than just a roof over their head.

If the government wants people to feel they have a stake in society and have the capacity to really do something with their lives, our wider society needs agencies to help achieve that. This is something housing associations are very good at and have understood since the birth of social housing. Octavia Hill’s ethos was about much more than bricks and mortar – it was about encouraging people to live a good life and play their part in society, a vision which people bought into.

This role of enabling people to aspire was powerfully brought home to me recently when we at Thrive were all touched by the reaction of a young child to the prospect of a family day trip to the seaside, funded by one of our community grants.

The little girl told organisers she couldn’t sleep the night before because she was so excited about going on this seaside ‘holiday’. Many of the families in this deprived area don’t have holidays and some of the children had never seen the sea before. Hearing this moving story made me feel we were living in 1816, not 2016.

Our funding was modest – just £1,000 – to pay for this trip and yet what a difference it made to this little girl and her friends. Aside from having a nice day out with her family, it means that when her schoolmates talk about the holidays they took over the summer she will have something to talk about and be able to join in – something she may well not have been able to do before.

Such an outing also builds children’s interest in seeing different places and the confidence to do new things, as well as encouraging them to aspire to providing similar opportunities for their own children when they have a family.

This story is a simple example of the impactful work a housing association can do, at a relatively low cost. If we operate more commercially, maximising our efficiency, we have the financial capacity to put something back in this way – providing opportunities that enable people to make the most of their lives, aspire and reach their potential.