“My attendance at these meetings is neither a box-ticking exercise or a chance for some sneaky reconnaissance – I’m there because I can bring knowledge and experience of the PRS.” – Bridget Young
One of the most challenging things about being a funder, is working out how involved to become in projects – particularly without making those leading the work feel like they’re under the microscope.
Fair Housing Futures is, for us, undoubtedly a big deal – it promises to be an inspiring and forward-thinking project looking to improve Greater Manchester’s private rented sector for low-income tenants. The project, hosted by Shelter but managed by an independent partnership board, has received almost £1.2m in funding from the Nationwide Foundation. It’s also a first foray for us into place-based funding, in an area chosen to try and harness the collaborative nature of a combined authority with a Metro Mayor.
One thing we’d underestimated was the time it would take to build key partnerships. Greater Manchester’s private rented sector is complicated; experiences are varied and it exists within one of the more complex and politicised settings in the country. This understood, the time invested in building constructive relationships and proving that the project was apolitical was time well spent.
We also knew we had to tread carefully if we wanted to actively participate in Fair Housing Futures. As a funder, we recognised that it would be unhelpful if those trying to make change in Greater Manchester felt overly scrutinised. After all, perhaps the quickest way to kill off any creative endeavour is to have the project funder breathing down your neck.
However, it would’ve been equally unhelpful for us to have taken a back seat and to have hoarded our expertise and knowledge about the PRS and forget any elements of risk management. What we’ve arrived at something of a middle-ground.
On the Partnership Board for Fair Housing Futures we have a strong chair, but we also have a varied board makeup which reflects the context the project sits in. It has key stakeholders from local politics and service providers as you’d expect, but it also has tenant and landlord representation and includes me.
My attendance at these meetings is neither a box-ticking exercise or a chance for some sneaky reconnaissance – I’m there because I can bring knowledge and experience of the PRS. I attend meetings as an ordinary member of the board, with my own ideas and feelings, but importantly, I’m there because I believe I can add value. I’m heartened that my involvement has been viewed positively by other board members, as well as by researchers commissioned by the Nationwide Foundation as our learning partner.
By working in this way, the Fair Housing Futures board can move ahead with the Nationwide Foundation at its side, rather than in command. Just last week, they announced allocations for their test and learn fund – a set of five innovative projects which seek to improve Greater Manchester’s PRS. I’m glad that this project continues to make progress, but I’m also hopeful that as a way of working, this pays long-term dividends both for those directly involved and for the PRS tenants of Greater Manchester.
Bridget Young manages the Transforming the Private Rented Sector Programme at the Nationwide Foundation.