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My life in housing - Christine Kiwanuka, Scheme Manager

08 June 2021

Christine is a Scheme Manager in Haringey and her key role is housing management at one of our older persons schemes.

Tell us about your job?

Many think that working with older people in a sheltered scheme is making cups of tea and eating cakes. Well gone are those days…At the moment making wellbeing calls are the core of my daily duties. This is through our intercom system which goes through to my work mobile and involves calling all 63 residents to see if they have any issues (repairs etc) that concern them. I usually smile as I say my good morning and sharpen my ears.  Sometimes when the tenants don’t sound ok, I call again later and find out the details. I can be the only person they talk to during the day. 

Other duties are varied. I inspect empty (void) properties, carry out sign ups and inductions for new residents. I sort out invoices, oversee repairs and maintenance, supervise contractors, maintain statutory and regulatory fire safety measures as well health and safety.  I work with teams across the business on various tasks such as letter translations, neighbour disputes, anti-social behaviour and upgrade projects. I also work with GP’s, social workers, mental health teams, ward counsellors and liaise with parking enforcement. I hold residents’ meetings and encourage good community relations.

The scheme I manage is very diverse with around 25 nationalities! As a result, this has prompted me to learn a few words in different languages to enhance inclusivity. To some, I greet them in French, Spanish, Lingala, Swahili, Turkish and Portuguese.  A greeting and a thank you in a different language can help you connect with someone. 

Sounds like lockdown has been a challenge?

Well there’s been some positives. I’ve given residents the chance to showcase their talent during lockdown (following the Government’s guidelines) as they played their musical instruments. I also encouraged tenants to be good neighbours and many cooked and did shopping for the residents who are shielding.

Why did you want to work in housing?

Everyone needs a roof over their head and to me the people behind the bricks and mortar mean a lot. Making sure that our residents enjoy living in their environment is important and as we say at Network…..good homes make everything possible. I’m there to make that difference to our residents.

What does a good day look like?

A good day would mean being able to follow through residents’ concerns like chasing repairs etc. I also love seeing them display their talents whether they be musical, gardening or storytelling. Plus being able to catch up with my paperwork and emails.

And a challenging one?

When I fail to get hold of a resident after making my wellbeing calls then the search begins. Some stories end well while others don’t. I’ve walked in a resident’s flat and found a them dead on the floor.

On a day-to-day basis, residents with mental health issues relapse and fail to engage with the services.  Also, mediating neighbour disputes and anti-social behaviour can be a challenge. But in these situations I remain calm and in control and as we say in Network I stay in the black.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of the job are those moments when I can’t effectively communicate to some residents because of the language barrier. Often, I use Google Translate to explain issues and this can take some time. Sometimes residents with mental health issues don’t engage with the mental health team. I was once strangled by a resident who was in a phase of her mental illness.

Also, when death strikes we lose a member of the community.

What would you change about the housing sector?

We need to encourage our older and marginalised residents to become digital savvy. We have to find and develop digital solutions that are inclusive for older persons with low or no digital skills and increase literacy levels. This will encourage their full participation and ensure they get better services.

What’s your dream job?

To sit at the table where I can influence decisions for the voiceless residents and the marginalised. Make things happen for them.

What advice would you be willing to give to your colleagues?

Take time to get to know your residents and work collaboratively with all departments as a team, pulling resources together as we put them at the centre. Your best work with residents is when you get to know them.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in housing?

There is more to bricks and mortar; the buildings and the people who live in them matter. Therefore, listen to hear and hear to listen to all residents.  

If you were prime minister for a day, what would you do?

If I was Prime Minister for a day, I would ask the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to come up with a strategy to strengthen families as this is where most social problems are rooted. For every split family, there is need for new homes leading to a shortage.

What’s the most private thing you’re willing to admit to your colleagues?

I never put my family pictures on social media.

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