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Helping housing associations offer better services, training and support

Impact case study for REF 2021: Education (UoA 23)

Residents living in properties run by three Housing Associations are benefiting from better service, training and support brought on by fresh thinking from Brunel University London.

Help to find jobs, manage money and learn basic skills they may have missed out on at school are just some of the ways associations are now helping improve the lives of people they house.

Dr Wainwright drew on research on the geographies and sociologies of education, training and welfare to help A2Dominion, Catalyst Housing and East Thames (now L&Q) design smarter services for their residents.

With people living in social housing twice as likely to be jobless, sweeping housing welfare reforms in 2016 led the Government to start looking to social landlords to help fix long-term unemployment. There was a strong sense that Government was not offering opportunities and that job centres didn’t have time to offer meaningful help.

Dr Wainwright studied new training-for-work programmes offered by the three associations, highlighting barriers residents face in considering work, and made recommendations to help steer future employment schemes.

Depression, anxiety, low confidence and lack of qualifications are residents’ biggest obstacles to seeking work, while the best way to improve training programmes is to tell more people they are available. Crucially, a lack of local, entry-level jobs that pay enough to live on was another major obstacle, the study revealed. However, unlike Job Centre Plus, research showed Housing Associations have good staff availability, give friendly, personalised, constructive advice and offer hope.

Residents with property group A2Dominion found help to manage their money in the association’s DOSH programme – standing for Debts, Overdrafts and Savings Help. Evaluated by Dr Wainwright, the one-to-one mentoring and smartphone app aimed to enhance resilience and wellbeing using techniques similar to those used by the NHS, such as brief interventions. The Ask David app, piloted as part of the programme, offers a newsfeed of information and links, together with a direct messaging hotline to a DOSH mentor.

The programme started in the London Borough of Ealing in 2013, and with support of the Money Advice Service's What Works Fund expanded into Oxford and Spelthorne in Surrey, with a mentor working in each of these three areas. During this expansion period, in which Ask David was developed and introduced, 900 residents were referred to DOSH – 32 of which were surveyed by the Brunel team in 2017/18 to assess how effective the programme is, comparing them with a control group of 24.

The research findings showed a strong, statistically significant improvement in financial capability for residents on the DOSH programme, which worked to help residents keep up with their bills and credit commitments, boost their confidence in budgeting and managing their finances, improve their financial knowledge and in doing so their wellbeing. Most residents were positive about the support, with 68% feeling their DOSH mentor gives them helpful financial advice.

Dr Wainwright’s research has also been used in the wider social housing sector. Yarlington Housing in Somerset used it to increase its investment in training for 80,000 residents and Northwards Housing in Manchester modified its business planning and invested an extra £30,000 to extend services for hard-to-reach residents.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Emma Wainwright
Dr Emma Wainwright - Emma is a Reader and a Geographer with expertise in the geographies of education, training and welfare. She is co-lead of the Human Geography: Space, Place and Society research group (with Nicola Ansell and Monica Degen). She is also a member of the Centre for Health and Wellbeing Across the Lifecourse, and Education, Identities and Society, and Embodiment in Academic and Professional Practice research groups. Emma studied Geography at the University of Aberdeen and, after completing her PGCE (Secondary) at the University of Edinburgh and a brief period of secondary teaching, was awarded a scholarship by the University of St Andrews to undertake her PhD in Social and Historical Geography. Prior to working at Brunel, Emma was a Research Executive in the Social Research Institute at MORI (now Ipsos MORI). Emma's interdisciplinary research interests focus on education, training and welfare-to-work. In particular her works explores higher education and student experience; social housing and resident engagement; family, parenting and care; embodiment, body work and emotional labour. Emma's work engages low-income, marginalised and 'hard to reach' groups. Research has been funded through external grants awarded by the ESRC, the British Academy, the City of London Corporation, Barclays, the Froebel Trust, the Learning and Skills Council, and the Money Advice Service. Emma has successfully collaborated with various social housing providers across London and the South East including A2Dominion, Catalyst and East Thames (now L&Q) to deliver research and evaluation projects. The impact of this research was captured in a REF 21 case study. For six years, Emma was editor of the British Educational Research Journal (Jan 2018- Dec 2023). She has recently been external examiner at the University of Hertfordshire (BSc Geography), University of Newcastle (BSc Geography) and Cardiff University (MSc Education and MSc Childhood and Youth), and acts as a regular reviewer for various academic journals. In 2006 Emma was awarded the Newbigin Prize by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for her paper published in the Scottish Geographical Journal. Recent work has been published in Area, Educational Review, Education 3-13 and Population, Space and Place.   Emma has worked at Brunel for 20 years, nine years as part time. She currently works 4-days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday).  Qualifications PhD, Geography, University of St Andrews PGC in Higher Education, Brunel University London PGC in Secondary Education (Geography and Modern Studies), Moray House, University of Edinburgh MA (Hons) Geography (1st Class), University of Aberdeen Awards and Prizes BERA Conference Award for Best Paper in the Educational Policy and Educational Research SIG, 2023 BERA Conference Commendation for Best Paper in the Alternative Education SIG, 2021 Brunel Teach Award for Innovative Assessment, 2018 University's Student-Led Teaching Award for Outstanding Feedback, 2017 Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Newbigin Prize, 2006

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 11/12/2023