Brockhill sheltered housing closure risks increasing inequality

The proposed closure of Brockhill, an extra care sheltered housing scheme in Woking, Surrey, has highlighted significant challenges in maintaining safe and compliant housing for vulnerable populations.

The impact on the clients, community, and staff sounds unimaginable – yet it’s a story being played out across the UK as the Local Authorities are forced to retrench to statutory funding requirements only, to avoid bankruptcy.

The challenge on paper: Ensuring safe and compliant housing

Brockhill, constructed in the late 1980s, comprises 48 self-contained apartments, 32 of which are currently occupied.

The building now requires urgent fire safety remedial works and a heating upgrade, with estimated costs amounting to £2.75 million.

Over the next decade, the capital investment required to maintain the building is projected to exceed £5.5 million. According to Woking Borough Council, this level of investment is unviable and disproportionate for a facility that no longer meets modern standards.

Government statistics highlight the pressing need for investment in safe and modern housing for vulnerable populations. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, as of 2020, there were over 2,000 sheltered housing schemes in England, accommodating approximately 400,000 residents.

Many of these buildings, like Brockhill, face similar challenges of aging infrastructure and the need for costly upgrades to meet modern safety standards.

The human impact

The council’s portfolio holder for housing, Ian Johnson, acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, stating,

“This was very hard news to deliver especially as some residents have lived at Brockhill since the scheme opened in 1990.”

The emotional and practical impact on long-term residents underscores the importance of supported housing schemes as it rips people from their homes and communities.

Effective communication and empathetic leadership is vital during such transitions to minimise layering on additional trauma in an already devastating situation.

Leadership and Decision-Making in Crisis

Effective leadership is crucial when navigating the complexities of housing inequalities. The decision to propose Brockhill’s closure, despite its financial and logistical challenges, is being portrayed as a commitment to prioritising resident safety and regulatory compliance.

It might tick all the boxes for a press release, but people need to see the feet move, not just the lips. No amount of strategic communications can reassure people who are losing their homes – unless that communications comes with a set of keys from which the residents can have an active choice in where they are going to live.

Johnson’s assurance that residents, along with their families and carers, will be consulted and supported in finding suitable alternative accommodation is a testament to the council’s intention to mitigating the impact on affected people, but they still need to know that’s it’s not an empty promise.

Trust in their housing provider has been built over years, and is in danger of being destroyed in an instant.

Behavioural communications in stakeholder engagement

Incorporating behavioural science into the consultation process has the potential to mitigate the stress and improve the outcomes for displaced residents against the current dire situation.

Research suggests that clear communication, involving stakeholders in decision-making, and providing consistent support can reduce anxiety and resistance to change. According to a study by Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis (2011), effective change management involves addressing emotional and cognitive responses to change (DOI: 10.1177/0021886310392856).

It is essential to keep residents informed and involved, and to involve them in informed decision making. Through approaching this in a collaborative way, the council can foster a greater sense of control and agency among those affected.

The importance of organisational culture

A strong organisational culture that prioritises transparency, empathy, and proactive support is essential in managing transitions like the closure of Brockhill.

Ensuring that residents feel heard, respected, and supported throughout the process is not only a moral imperative but also enhances trust in the organisation. This approach aligns with findings from a study by Schein (2010), which emphasises the role of organisational culture in effective leadership and change management (DOI: 10.1002/job.722).

The impending closure of Brockhill sheltered housing highlights the critical need for strategic decision-making and strong leadership in addressing housing inequalities.

By prioritising resident safety, engaging in transparent communication, and providing robust support systems, the council could have turned a devastating situation into a model of effective crisis management – through avoiding the crisis in the first place.

The goal should always be to ensure that all residents have suitable and safe alternative accommodation, thereby addressing the immediate inequalities they face and setting a precedent for future housing initiatives.

With a greater focus on housing and economic inequalities in our communities, we should be able to build a fairer future for the most vulnerable in our communities – before it’s needed.