Exciting project to combat poor health as a result of indecent housing launches in Oxfordshire

Author: Alexandra Steeland 28/01/2015

At a launch event on Friday 30th January, campaigners and supporters from across the world of housing and health will meet to recognise the launch of a new project for the county of Oxfordshire – Better Housing, Better Health.

The Better Housing, Better Health (BHBH) project, already award-winning for its effort to benefit vulnerable residents across the region, will be launched by the National Energy Foundation in partnership with its collaborators – including Oxfordshire local authorities, Oxfordshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, the Oxford CAB and community groups throughout the county.

BHBH is something innovative for the area. Building on the work of the Affordable Warmth Network – a collaboration designed to improve the resilience of residents to the costs and impact of fuel during the winter period – it has recently been piloted through a project called ‘Home Energy Checks for Oxfordshire.’ The checks were conducted on ten residents’ properties, including a full review of the building fabric, its current use and the circumstances of those living in the house. As a result, the project has been able to identify individual specific requirements for improvement – handed back to the resident and those that support them as a series of recommendations.

BHBH will build on this. For this project, recommendations will be followed up by advice and support and, in some instances, funding to ensure that the resident gets what he/she needs.

The principle at the core of the project is that every resident should have the ability to live in a warm home. This responds to a challenge within the current provision of support to residents: that targeted interventions at both local and national levels – from the Green Deal right down to local cashback schemes – don’t work for everyone. As a result, many of the residents for whom the checks have worked live with unique circumstances which policy and practice are not helping to alleviate. The principle says that, just because these interventions don’t suit their circumstances doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have help available to them.

A central question for the partners has been, ‘What are the barriers and why aren’t the broader approaches working?’ Research has helped us to be effective in designing the project as a response.

Firstly, we’ve learnt that communication is key. Residents don’t respond equally to all messengers, and so getting the issue through the right channels is critical. People who are both close and trusted by the resident are crucial. As a result, BHBH works in collaboration with community groups, friends, family and others to ensure that an ‘energy conversation’ is positive and productive – not underlined by apprehension.

Secondly, and linked to this, the engagement of ‘supporters’ is crucial. We’ve chosen this broad title for those that can refer residents to BHBH because it reflects the wide range of possible backgrounds and roles that someone referring a resident to BHBH might have. The project is creating a supporters’ network – principally to get the message out about what’s available and to ensure that no warning signs go unnoticed. As the project develops, we’ll provide training and advice to supporters so they can be as informed as the residents they work with – at the same time, boosting the uptake of our offer.

Finally, clarity and consistency of messaging to residents is crucial. We understand that, working with vulnerable householders, we need to be as sensitive as possible in how we approach all aspects of our interaction. We’ll ensure that the resident signs a form to confirm their involvement, and that they have the process explained to them by someone that they trust. Anyone who visits the property will be authorised to do so by the project management team – coordinated by a single point of contact within BHBH. When recommendations are presented to residents, they’ll have a long opportunity to review and consider what’s in front of them – with input from supporters and the project team wherever necessary.

Preparing to bring the project together has been a long process and the National Energy Foundation’s partners should be greatly thanked for the approach which has been taken. What’s encouraging are the findings of recent research that show how effective collaborative approaches are in dealing with this challenge. More are needed across the UK and the hope is that projects such as Better Housing, Better Health provide blueprints for success which others can emulate.

On that theme, we’ve been pleased to find organisations approaching us during the process of project development to enquire about establishing similar projects in other areas. We always welcome these approaches – and believe that the Foundation can have a significant role to play in facilitation between partners, building on expertise gained running numerous similar projects across the country.

This Friday, we’ll be looking to ensure that all the project’s beneficiaries – supporters and health professionals, and particularly vulnerable residents, as well as the wide variety of organisations and individuals who might make a referral to us – hear about the project. Public health in 2015 is all our business – Better Housing, Better Health aims to make it easier for everyone to make a difference to those that need it.