Engaging Tenants Creatively in Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire Housing Services (CHS) are working across the community of Carmarthenshire to engage with tenants and residents, they are keen to build relationships with tenants to support business planning and also build sustainable communities. They have a huge commitment to tenant participation and have been working in partnership with Spice Innovations since 2012 to support innovative approaches, system change and co-production. As part of this work Spice Innovations recently undertook training with Housing Officers who had the opportunity to develop their knowledge of community engagement theory and practice through an action-based learning style approach. During the training all Housing Officers had to plan an engagement activity, the aim was to plan a fun and creative activity to build relationships with tenants and engage with them in the local community.

Dafen Housing Officer Maria Brookfield was keen to build links with tenants across her patch as well as to support tenants to develop pride in their homes through affordable and fun workshops. Maria’s idea was to run a shabby-chic upcycling workshop where tenants could learn more about the art of repurposing old furniture and recreating them into something new. Maintaining a home can be very expensive and can often lead people in to financial poverty. Maria was keen to look at alternative solutions to support tenants in their homes whilst developing positive and supportive relationships.

Maria said

“I know how expensive it can be to keep your home looking nice. I really wanted to look at new ways of supporting my tenants to do room makeovers without the need to get loans or buy expensive items. I know that upcycling is now very fashionable and I thought it would be a great workshop for tenants of all ages.”

Whilst tenants left the workshops with new skills and beautiful pieces on furniture. They also left with new friends who live in the local area, awareness of other things that go on locally and all shared information about their interests and skills. Activities such as this are so important for the health and wellbeing of communities.  Research by Age Cymru and the WRVS respectively reflects worrying figures relating to loneliness and isolation in our ageing population: men of over 75 who live alone in Wales have been identified as the loneliest population group in the UK (WRVS, 2012), while 68% of older women report concerns about loneliness in relation to ageing (Age Cymru, 2012).

One workshop participant said

“I never leave the house as a rule. I was interested in this when my housing officer wrote to me so my friend said that she would come with me. I would come on my own next time as I now know people here.”

Maria said

“It was lovely to spend time with tenants at the workshop for no other reason than to get to know them.  There were no issues that needed to be raised or addressed from either side, just a relaxed fun morning.  It has helped me to better understand the issues they have and also hopefully they will feel far more confident to approach me in the future with any issue they may have.”

 Maria also seen the impact of the workshop during recent tenant visits.

“What a lovely surprise it was to find some of my tenants who attended the shabby chic workshop in Dafen Hall painting their own furniture at home during a recent visit.  They have plans to re-do lots of furniture within their home.  It looked fab as well”

Tenants have also been keen to engage on an ongoing basis, they have already met for their second workshop and are planning to meet in the New Year to develop a sustainable group where they will meet to upcycle donated furniture that can then be sold on at an affordable price to enable them to purchase more paint and resources to keep the group going.

What is really exciting is that putting on more and more activities is possible as our communities are full of incredible skills and knowledge. During the workshop, Maria chatted to the tenants about their interests and skills and how they could support more activity. Planning has already started to run a session at the local Sheltered Scheme where tenants will share their craft skills with the children from the local school.

Maria is also looking forward to the next session and the possibility of engaging with tenants from across her patch. 

“It was an enlightening and fun to spend this relaxed time with the tenants and I learned that we have a lot of skills sitting in our community that could be used to help others and also people who are more than willing to do so”.