The Hackitt Review of 2018 following the Grenfell Tower disaster identified a need for increased resident engagement when it comes to building safety. It recommended that those in charge of a building’s safety have a resident engagement strategy in place, which outlines how information will be shared with residents and how they can be involved in decision making regarding changes that impact the building’s safety.
The Building Safety Bill, drafted in 2020, expands on these requirements. It provides residents with the right to request more detailed information where appropriate and requires the setting up of a complaints system to allow residents to raise safety concerns. In the wake of this increased focus on resident engagement, many are asking how they can go about implementing these new measures. How can you nurture the resident voice and rebuild the trust that may have been lost?
Make it easy for residents to report concerns
Grenfell and the subsequent media coverage of cladding-related issues have been a shock for many residents who have been led to think that their buildings are perhaps not as safe as they thought they were. Suddenly fire safety has become something they need to worry about — and they will be turning to their block manager for answers. To win them back requires them to be more than informed. They must be involved and have their voices heard.
There should be one central contact with whom residents can raise any safety concerns without fear of repercussions. Residents can sometimes be hesitant to report issues because the reporting mechanism is convoluted and difficult to navigate, so making it simple by having a single point of contact is vital.
Educate residents of their individual responsibilities
Another important consideration is the individual responsibilities residents hold for keeping their building safe. Some block managers may share this observation — there are residents who do everything they can to maintain safety, those who engage in unsafe practices without realising, and those who do nothing because they don’t know what those safe practices are. It’s important to reach all of these groups in order to help them understand how they can play a role in maintaining their own and their neighbours’ safety.
Residents may not know why certain safety features exist, and it may not be self-evident. For example, although the self-closing mechanism of a fire door may seem an annoyance, residents should understand that it’s an important tool for compartmentalising the building and keeping any fires that start in their flats from spreading further.
Stop jargonising safety information
Fire safety can be an area filled with complex language and technical jargon. It must be made understandable to all residents. This means considering how to communicate in a straightforward and engaging manner. What may seem to be an indicator of safety to a professional can be off-putting to another person.
Even if a building’s fire risk assessment deems it low-risk, the report itself can create a negative image in the mind of the resident as it points out all the flaws of the building. For this reason, these reports shouldn’t simply be shared on a portal or pinned to a noticeboard because they require context to understand. Share them with a letter or better yet, invite residents to a Q&A meeting so that you can reassure them that whilst the report pointed out certain issues, there is no need for concerns. Should there be remedial actions required, you can also use this as an opportunity to let residents know that you are on top of things.
Customise the resident experience
Many of the principles which apply to good building management, in general, can also be applied to thinking about safety and the resident voice. Residents will compare the experience they have in their building not just with previous places they’ve lived in — but with every customer experience they’ve had. This includes their interactions with on-demand service platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo.
Residents want to be able to live on their terms, with the services they receive oriented around them. This means not having to worry about safety, to be able to sit back and relax, knowing that everything has been accounted for. And if something does go wrong, or if they do need to raise a complaint, they want to be able to communicate this as easy as possible and for things to be resolved in a timely manner which keeps them in the loop.
Just because you have taken steps to share fire safety advice, this does not mean it has been read, and you cannot assume this. So the communication process has to be more than simply pinning it to a noticeboard. Consider the needs of different residents: will somebody who is less mobile be able to see physical notices? Are there people living there who speak different languages? The way you communicate should be adapted around these needs.
Major works of a building are another area where fire safety must be considered and residents informed and involved where appropriate. This means communication should go beyond simply telling residents when works are beginning and ending. Will the work be affecting paths around the building? Will it be disturbing any exits? Are there any personal items that have been left in common areas that will need to be removed? Residents will need to be told these things a reasonable amount of time ahead of any plans.
The forthcoming building safety reform will no doubt put additional pressure on block managers’ capacity to provide property management services that meet safety standards. The smart use of technology can help lessen this load by saving time and allowing its users to work more efficiently, meaning more cost-effective operations and the ability to increase output without having to increase headcount. With the right technologies, block managers can provide personalised and customised services in a scaleable manner, ensuring that the specific needs of a building’s residents can be met.
Joe Goss, Enterprise Sales Executive at Fixflo the market-leading repairs and maintenance management software provider.