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Empowering communities: our Neighbourhood Champions

A blog post by Alexander Stevenson

Ahead of the Wheatley Homes East's Neighbourhood Champion Day later this month, Alexander Stevenson writes about the positive difference people associated with Wheatley take in maintaining their properties.

There’s no doubt the last several years have been tough on people. As we continue to adjust to life after the pandemic, we are faced with new challenges including the cost of living crisis. Our belts are getting tighter, winters grow colder and our pockets are feeling the brunt of this. These issues do not live in isolation. They are intrinsically linked, obscuring our eyes from issues which are clear and present in every aspect of life.

The climate emergency, biodiversity crisis, and litter emergency are very real challenges that threaten life on our planet as we know it. In 2023 alone we witnessed the devastation caused by wildfires across Southern Europe, earthquakes in Morocco and flooding in Libya. Extreme weather events are increasing, and their impacts are being felt across the globe, and Scotland is not separate from these issues: Storm Babet caused serious damage across the country last year. Change is coming, whether we like it or not. How we respond, as individuals, groups or communities is what will make a difference to countering these threats.

When I joined the team at Keep Scotland Beautiful back in September 2022, I was assigned to the work we do with Wheatley Group - Scotland’s leading housing, care and property management organisation. We have been working in partnership together to assess the environmental quality of multi-storey flats and tenements since 2016. With more than 93,700 homes across the country, Wheatley covers a vast amount of territory and the diverse communities of central and southern Scotland. The work we do with Wheatley Group is based on a bespoke version of our National Award for Environmental Excellence® (NAEE) – a framework for continual improvement, recognising and awarding best practice in environmental management, maintenance, waste management and community engagement.

When asked what I did as a member of #TeamKSB, in the beginning I jokingly thought the simplest response was, “How clean is your close?” – think Kim and Aggie’s How Clean is Your House? – but it’s so much more than that. I must admit, it took some time to really grasp the scale of the task at hand and the impact the Wheatley Group’s NETs (Neighbourhood Environmental Teams) have on their housing stock and communities. The audits and assessments we do, in collaboration with them, consider the condition, cleanliness, grounds maintenance and infrastructure of the tenement and muti-storey sites assessed. From these assessments we determine aspects of good practice and make recommendations on how the properties can be enhanced.

These recommendations, over time, have helped to inform and shape the way Wheatley Group reinvests in their properties, and in doing so, the people that form the basis of their communities. The action that the group has taken, off the back of the reporting, has had a tangible impact on the standard of housing for tenants. This has been recognised, and enshrined, in the Scottish Government’s Housing to 2040 Equalities Position Statement, which understands the links between high quality housing, clean, well-managed properties and the connection to people’s physical and mental health and well-being.

It has been eye-opening, and inspiring, to see first hand the passion and pride that the Group, staff, operatives and managers – as well as tenants – take in maintaining their properties. There is a sense of community that is driving these efforts forward in the landings, gardens, and open spaces of Wheatley Group properties – highlighted by the NAEE®.   

The NAEE® focuses on and recognises the aspirations, efforts and work Wheatley Group – “Making Homes and Lives Better” – for their tenants and communities. However, they want to take that a step further forward, and bring it straight into their communities, at a grass-roots level and showcase the contribution of their residents. In recognition of this, Wheatley and Keep Scotland Beautiful have taken steps to create and introduce the Wheatley Group Neighbourhood Champions Award to celebrate the unsung heroes in Scotland’s communities.

The people taking on this herculean task deserve recognition for their endeavours to improve their small part of the world, and in doing so, the fortunes of the people within it. The Wheatley Group Neighbourhood Champions Award will recognise individuals or groups within Wheatley communities and will review how they care for their local area, effectively use green space for community gardens, promote sustainable living, or promote repair and recycle activities. By no means is this an exhaustive list of examples but serves to illustrate a few of the notable activities being achieved by tenants.

Key to the Neighbourhood Champion Award will be the nominations from Wheatley staff members. These people are keenly aware of what’s occurring in their backyard and where people are making efforts that exceed any expectations for; community integration or participation – sustainable practices and a reduced carbon footprint – biodiversity and habitat creation – clean environments and healthy living. The intent behind the award is to raise the profile of the positive things being done by tenants, things that help to foster a community spirit, build climate conscious behaviours or as simple as it may seem, sweep their patch of ground every day.  

The environmental challenges we face at the minute may seem overwhelming, and while the last few years have demanded more of us, it has also brought front and centre the resilience and adaptability of people in the face of adversity. At various points we will all face challenges in life and while it can feel like they threaten to bring us down, challenges are also an opportunity to improve our conditions for the better – to grow, to learn, to develop solutions – and to celebrate the little, unseen victories of everyday life.

We all have a responsibility to keep our corner of the world in order and to come together to celebrate one another’s achievements, no matter how small or large, in making homes and lives better. That is something worth rewarding.

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