Category: testimonial, What Our People Say, Staff Testimonial, PA Housing, COVID-19, covid
As we continue to meet team members from across PA, John Orton join us via Zoom to tell us what he and his team will be doing to support customers through the economic fall-out from Covid-19, why he doesn't like working from home, and how he nearly became known as "Johnny Roch" [pronounced 'Rock'].
What is your average day usually like?
There are three of us in the Community Investment Team – although we can be working with a delivery team of up to 20, depending on how many projects we're delivering at the time. We work with customers and communities, and come up with ideas for projects, bringing external partners on-board to deliver the initiatives, which we project manage.
Not all, but many, of our projects are employment-focused, and we rely on colleagues working in frontline teams like tenancy sustainment, tenancy solutions, income, home moves and neighbourhoods to refer individuals to us, so we can get in touch with them about the support they need, much of which will be provided on a one-on-one basis.
Sometimes residents can be far away from the job market and they need help to improve their literacy and/or numeracy skills, or to learn English as a second language. We have a number of open-ended partnership projects to address these needs, which means we can support as many residents as are referred.
One of the initiatives I particularly enjoy being involved in is "Be your own boss", through which we've helped around 50 customers start their own business in everything from cake making to carpentry, IT to photography. We provide financial support, as well as ongoing business advice.
Another rewarding part of our work is helping residents with charitable applications to supplement other support such as hardship funds. Last year alone, we secured £35,000 in funding.
What has your average day been like during the Covid-19 crisis?
In January – before coronavirus – we decided to expand the number of foodbanks to which we are recognised referrers, and we added more than 70 within three weeks, taking the total to 123. During lockdown, I've been part of PA's deliveries of foodbank parcels in Surrey and London. I'm one of the few people who have been regularly visiting Case House, which is 15-to-20-minute drive from my house, in order to pick up supplies to deliver to residents. These are all kept in a room away from the main part of the building.
As time goes on, my attention is increasingly moving toward the challenging time many customers are now facing. A significant proportion of our residents are employed in the service industry, and it is going to be hit hard when the government's furlough scheme is reduced and eventually stopped.
To date, my team's busiest year was 2015/16, when we supported residents living in 9,000 properties, but I think we're about to experience major demand from people who have previously always been in work. We will be there to help individuals with interview skills, updating their CVs, and completing job applications – we're currently planning how to provide all of this support online.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned during this unusual time?
Especially through making deliveries of foodbanks parcels, it’s clear our customers' realities can be very different to ours as members of PA. Some residents haven't been able to sustain their lives through this crisis and it's something which we need to address going forward. PA Housing has always been a community housing association, but I think that we'll be even more community-focused from now on.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Being out there, working with residents, and getting projects off the ground. I have to be around people, and I get my best ideas from random conversations. Working from home, you have to plan meetings instead of being able to walk a few metres to speak to someone. I'm looking forward to being back in the office, because I find our current way of working frustrating.
What would you say makes you unique?
I'm one half of a PA Housing couple – my wife is Marie Roch, who works in the Development Team. We have been together for a long time and finally got married last year. I toyed with the idea taking her name, because that would make me "Johnny Roch", but I chickened out in the end. It would have been the coolest name, though.