Launching a Corporate Plan in a Pandemic (short Version)

Our new Corporate Plan was due to go live on 1 April 2020 giving direction for the next five years. However, just at the exciting point of sharing our new Vision, Mission, Aims and Values, we found ourselves responding to an unexpected event that wasn’t mentioned in our planning – a global pandemic.

Amidst such uncertainty, the timing we felt was all wrong to be launching a new plan. However, as we learnt more about the pandemic and its impact through 2020, we decided to launch some key aspects of the new plan internally – the elements that we felt most unlikely to change.

The new plan was an evolution from the 2015-20 version, which was already a game changer for the organisation. We had ventured beyond the boundaries of our core Castle Vale heartland, to Stockland Green and Falcon Lodge; responded to the housing crisis by delivering housing growth and set up a group structure that facilitated our ambitions to sustain regeneration and play a full role as an anchor organisation in our communities. We had also diversified with an early year’s nursery and Castle Vale football stadium.

Our immediate assessment was that we would continue to work through our partnership of people and organisations to make people’s lives better and ensure our communities are places where people can thrive. In fact, it became very apparent very quickly that this WHY and the newly crafted VISION to make lives and communities better was going to be more important than ever.

In March 2020, we triggered our business continuity plan, and started to respond to the immediate challenges of the pandemic. Looking back, our organisational values played as crucial a role as the structure and leadership in place.

The Covid Response team was important, but there were equally countless examples of colleagues (and partners) feeling #EMPOWERED and trusted to make decisions in our communities. Our #COMMUNITY values are in our DNA and that paid off hugely. We were able to rapidly develop a Covid Community Offer – from food distribution to online learning, we quickly had a plan to cover our tenants’ and residents’ most pressing needs. This was done with our traditional partners and with a raft of new ones including small charities, faith groups and volunteers. This was built on #RESPECT and the sense of being #BETTERTOGETHER.

Even now with a Lockdown 3.0 feeling tougher than ever and with staff fatigued and flagging under the strain, our organisational values continue to help. We have created a welfare offer for colleagues that has helped build resilience and empathy. Our own mental health first aiders reach out and help each other.

Delivering our aims for great safe homes, strong vibrant communities and business excellence

When looking at the new Corporate Plan afresh, we needed to understand if the WHY, VISION, MISSION, VALUES and the three new AIMs remained valid.

Our AIM 1 is to provide GREAT SAFE HOMES. This still feels right. However, we will be looking at our development design standards and considering space and communal spaces as we continue our ambition to complete 250 new homes by 2025.

The plan will continue to address the climate emergency. Our approach over the next five years will be focussed on addressing financial exclusion, in particular fuel poverty – for many of our tenants spending a winter home schooling this has been brought into even sharper focus. Equally the digital divide has been highlighted, and I am pleased the plan will continue our work on digital skills, after all laptops, devices and cheaper access to the internet are crucial as well as the skills to use the technologies.

AIM 2 in our plan is a commitment to continuing to create STRONG VIBRANT COMMUNITIES. We are committed to investing £2.5 million through our ‘community pledge’ which pays for services identified as most valued by our tenants and residents. There is no doubt that by continuing to listen and act on the voices we hear in our communities, we will be well placed to shape and flex this offer as we understand more about what a post-pandemic recovery looks like and the demands it places on us.

Certainly, we recognise the growing evidence of the impact of the pandemic being felt disproportionately and most harshly where existing inequalities were already pervasive. We will not shirk our responsibility to play our role as an anchor organisation.

The plan understands that for the Aims 1 and 2 to succeed we need Business Excellence and that is the focus of Aim 3. We have ensured that the basics are solid, with a focus on helping tenants pay their rent – arrears are on pre-pandemic target and we have largely managed to continue to let our empty homes. We secured a £35 million through Scottish Widows that will help us deliver the new plan, and consolidated much of our remaining debt portfolio for added certainty.

However, we recognise there are huge challenges to come for our tenants and communities. We have a strong record of engaging in skills, employment, and support through our charitable subsidiary Compass Support. Going into the pandemic the charity and third sector was already feeling the strain of a decade of austerity, many funding streams had dried up and the funding available tends to be short term. The annual strain as Compass faces the challenge of annual deficit sadly shows no sign of easing.

Our youth service faces its biggest challenge particularly amongst the most vulnerable, young people who are facing a huge range of issues as we respond to and recover from the pandemic. We are also aware of the alarming rise in domestic abuse and safeguarding concerns that need to be addressed.

The work of BVSC (Birmingham Voluntary Services Council) and an array of partners in this sector has been awe inspiring. Partnerships are a legacy of The Pioneer Group’s journey to this point and are set to be more important than ever moving forwards.

Whilst we have attempted to deal with the pandemic, we also had sight of the government’s vision for the social housing sector in the form of the long-awaited Housing White Paper. Safety and compliance rightly feature heavily but also a strengthening of consumers standards, and a recognition of good quality ‘neighbourhoods’. These are areas already firmly on our agenda.

With reflection on post pandemic recovery, and the government’s new housing White Paper and economic challenges ahead, we had to decide if the new ‘Pioneer Corporate Plan 2020-2025 – Making Lives and Communities Better’ was ready to be launched this week. The conclusion was yes – it sets out a clear and compelling Vision and Mission that still feels relevant, arguably even more relevant than it was last March. As ever it will be the delivery that matters and the ability to flex and be agile in the months and years ahead. The challenge is on.