21 Aug 2023

A day in the life of a head of resident engagement

Our head of resident engagement, Lorraine Gilbert, takes us through a day in her role.

Why and when did you join Notting Hill Genesis?  

Notting Hill Genesis has always had a strong reputation and was known as an innovative, dynamic housing association. My background is in youth and community work so when I saw job advert for a community development officer role in 2001, I knew it that this was an organisation I wanted to be part of. Throughout my time here I have had lots of job roles and have been extremely fortunate to work with some amazing residents, communities, and colleagues in various locations.  

What is your role?  

My job title is head of resident engagement. I work across various departments, Notting Hill Genesis communities and stakeholders (such as local authorities). I manage a fantastic team who are passionate, and resident-focused which is the foundation for delivering diverse opportunities for residents to get involved in various projects. 

What can a typical day(s) look like?  

On a usual day, the first thing that I do is check my emails and phone messages and speak with the Resident Involvement team. I work very closely with housing management colleagues, so they are next on my ‘hello’ list. That is a great way for me to identify if there are any involvement or engagement opportunities that my team need to be aware of.   

Later, there is likely be some meetings that I need to attend such as our inclusion steering group. After that, I might attend a community event or a resident meeting which is always a good way to build relationships and hear about local concerns.   

How did the lockdown or Covid-19 conditions change your job?

I thrive on having face-to-face local contact with our residents, so that was a momentous change to how I normally work. During Covid and the lockdowns I was working on Aylesbury regeneration. We drastically changed the way that we worked and shifted to carrying out welfare calls to residents, supporting local community groups and charities with food deliveries and moved our engagement activities online.   

What do you find the most rewarding? 

The most rewarding thing for me is when residents tell me that they enjoy and love where they live. That is what we are here for. I find listening to residents and working with them to make a positive difference exceptionally rewarding.  It does not have to be huge - it can be a simple as listening and hearing their suggestions about how we can improve services or a local neighbourhood, and when possible, applying that change. This is fundamental to our corporate and customer strategies and I am confident that it will make a difference.   

What are the frustrations? 

As a landlord we know that a ‘home’ is not just the bricks and mortar and that a neighbourhood is part of a community. It should be a safe place to enjoy and a platform for whoever lives there to reach their full potential in life. But sometimes they need a little help and we can only do so much. So, one of my main frustrations is the reduction of support services for residents of all ages.  

Charities, voluntary organisations, and local authorities often do a good job, but more people would be able to flourish if there was a lot more help and support available.    

What do you do in spare time? 

I use my spare time as ‘down time.’  It is my time with my family but also my time to relax. So, as well as pottering around my home (doing my best to keep the fauna and flora alive), I enjoy listening to music and cooking. Most of all I love going to exhibitions particularly anything to do with photography and political history.  

Is there a situation that you were able to resolve that stayed with you?

Yes, when the horrific 7/7 terror attacks happened in London, I was working for us in north Kensington. Like the rest of the country and indeed the world, I was saddened and shocked. What followed afterwards shocked me even more when racist and anti-Muslim comments and incidents began to increase. I worked alongside the local community, voluntary agencies, faith groups and the police to provide safe sanctuaries for residents to talk and feel protected and supported. It did not resolve the horror of those events but the compassion I saw in others, particular residents, has always stayed with me.  

One thing you would like residents to know about resident involvement? 

That all residents’ experience of our services are important. We actively want to work with residents to continually improve.   

Funniest thing a resident has said to you?  

The funniest thing said to me was ‘when I met you Lorraine, I thought that you were one of us. I didn’t think you were staff.’  It was not that I thought it was funny that a resident said that to me. Far from it. I was extremely flattered and honoured that the person thought that I was a neighbour; after all I grew up and still live in social housing. Sometimes people think that staff do not fully understand the challenges and triumphs that residents face on daily basis. But it is part of who we are, it is our history and it has helped us to become the people that we are today.  It makes me proud.