9 October 2020: Becoming a tenant innovator by Steve Bladen

When I was invited to my first scrutiny panel meeting nearly two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I would never have imagined Stonewater naming me as their ‘tenant innovator’ and putting me forward for an award, or even becoming vice chair of the panel. It has been a surreal journey so far, but one I am immensely proud of.

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I learned last month that no housing provider’s scrutiny model is the same and, in some circumstances, it is not even referred to as scrutiny. From the discussions I took part in, I discovered some find this word too negative and prefer titles like resident audit panel.

Whilst I can understand the reasoning behind this, I personally see myself as a critical friend to  Stonewater – someone who offers new ideas, suggestions and will make it clear when I think the organisation could have done something better. No one is perfect and mistakes are sometimes inevitable, but identifying these issues is necessary to truly better an organisation’s services.

Our panel is made up of 12 customers from all over the country and it is our responsibility to provide Stonewater with a valuable insight into its customers’ priorities and to suggest key areas for change. This can be quite a challenge when considering how many customers Stonewater supports, which is currently just over 70,000 people, but a key part of our work is making sure we collect a diverse range of views and ensuring any recommendations we put forward are truly representative of our customers.

To reach Stonewater’s wider customer base we tend to use SMS surveys, the Customer Hubb and the ‘Friends of Scrutiny’ community, but I’ve also found that my use and presence on social media has been instrumental in representing the customer perspective from a digital angle.

Shortly after joining the team, I set up my first Twitter account to get a better idea of the  discussions Stonewater and other housing providers customers were having online. Using Twitter has really helped me obtain other perspectives I had not considered and inform my own understanding of various issues I am scoping – making it an invaluable tool.

I have also found the platform really useful to demonstrate transparency across the organisation. I always post updates about the latest meeting, but I also use it as a way to encourage any disgruntled customers I come across to use their voice and see how they can work with their landlord to resolve any issues.

I have seen first-hand the value of my involvement and how shining a light on certain issues can positively impact Stonewater’s services. To date and since joining the panel, I have contributed to 130 recommendations, 80% of which have been implemented.

One of the projects I am personally really proud of and excited to launch in the coming  months is the development of the Customer Voice Strategy. Not only did we support the Customer Experience Committee members and other colleagues from Stonewater to finalise the strategy, we also developed the action plan to sit alongside it, highlighting the customer perspective.

Since being a part of the panel, I made it a primary focus to build strong relationships with key areas of the organisation, such as Customer Experience, to develop trust and ensure that the organisation always puts customers at the heart, which is exactly what we have achieved with this latest recommendation.

One thing I think is particularly great about the housing sector is the willingness to share and learn from one another.

By sharing this experience and updates on other reviews we are undertaking online, I hope to demonstrate to other tenants how pivotal their voice can be in shaping their housing services. But moving forward, I also want to use my platform to engage more partnership working; helping tenants from other organisations to launch their own panels to drive more meaningful change.

Steve Bladen is the Vice Chair of Stonewater's Scrutiny Panel

You can read the full article in The Governor Autumn 2020 (page 21)