Continuing with our series of interviews during Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked the same questions to Catherine George, neighbourhood management officer, South Liverpool Homes and CIH Futures Board Member.
What stories of kindness have really impacted upon you personally?
As awful as this pandemic has been, it has also opened so many different avenues of connection. We have delivered lunch packs to tenants in both our general needs housing and sheltered schemes. I have helped to deliver lunch packs to children’s centres. Our local community garden, GROW Speke, has started teaching people how to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as giving out fresh food to the local community.
We have undertaken weekly well-being calls to our most vulnerable tenants. Everyone wants to help each other in some way. We all have time to talk to one another properly now, cut through feelings of isolation and identify what is important. It is amazing the types of conversations that are being had.
When we are through this, what can we learn from it with regards to how we need to be kinder to the people around us?
Open and honest conversations have been important. We need to continue to encourage this, even in cases where it may be hard, both internally and with our tenants. Without regular catch ups when working from home, it is easy to see how people can start to feel isolated. We must continue our efforts to stay connected with each other, both in our personal and professional lives. We can only overcome adversity if we do so together.
What do you want to see from the sector coming together and how can we collectively show kindness, compassion, and support through these difficult times?
There are two things I feel are important. Now more than ever, we have been shown the power of community. Our communities, our tenants that we serve, are the most important thing. Yet, a hurdle many of us have had to overcome is that not everyone has access to the internet or to smartphones, so some tenants have not been able to access the services they need. Oftentimes, community groups have been able to reach out to those we could not. We need to reach out to these groups, learn from them, work with them, and help fund them where we can. As our world moves increasingly online, and we look to more tech-based solutions, we must be conscious not to contribute to inequality. We still need that front-facing, human touch that has been so vital to showing kindness, compassion, and support so far, and to help identify what we can do to plug the gaps.
The best support and compassion we can show will also be to ensure that we build genuinely affordable housing. By this, I mean social rented housing. These homes must make people feel safe and not be built to rabbit hutch size standards. It is not enough to house people in converted, overcrowded office blocks and call it a day. We must give people access to green, open spaces and ensure we are aware of, and mitigating, our environmental impact. When people talk about ‘surviving lockdown’, they often reference having access to a garden as being a lifesaver. I am not saying anything new – I have worked in the sector for 4 years and, for each of those years, I have seen the same articles and blog posts published discussing these very things. It is important to keep them in the limelight. It is also important to act on them.