Our homes have become the centre of our lives over the past two years: the gym, the cinema, the office and the social hangout all in one. We rarely pay the outside of our homes as much attention as the inside. “Community” is often batted around as a sales pitch, but how important is community engagement? How do you even begin to build a community? One star player does not automatically make a winning team, and whilst those legendary moments of a hat-trick score can turn the tide, they are just that: momentary. Long-lasting success lies in stability, reliability and the cohesion of a multitude of important factors, which are unique to every development. Expert property managers understand what it takes to build a community that works for everyone and have a vision to support its residents for the foreseeable future.
What this pandemic has shown us is the importance of community support. How many vulnerable people were supported by their neighbours? Plenty of kind neighbours stepped up to buy groceries, dropped off necessary medication and checked in on each other throughout the extended isolation. During a time when we perhaps became more cut-off from the support groups we had cultivated, as distance, restrictions and safety concerns kept us apart, we were forced to rely upon our neighbours, who provided the care which sustained us through months of lockdown. As undoubtedly we have now returned, albeit cautiously, to our pre-pandemic lives, even if we continue working from home, how many of those community engagement initiatives have we sustained?
Having experienced a real positive benefit to community engagement, the argument for proactive community outreach has been made. The dialogue between organisations such as ours and the communities we work in, enable positive results, where both sides can envision a bright future, improving the lives for all residents, current and future. Even away from the property sector, big brands are looking at how influencers can market products to communities – as research has proved that this creates an emotional connection with a brand. People want to be recognised and understood by their communities, so property managers need to understand what their residents stand for, what they need in order to thrive and engage authentically.
Values-based communities embody emotional satisfaction and can empower people to participate further within a community, when they might not have made their feelings known before. This is especially important in our industry; homes are vital to people – every resident has the right to feel safe and listened to within the community. If something is not working for one person, there are likely more people who feel the same way. Providing people with a safe forum and a clear way of raising their concerns is a key responsibility of a property manager. The pandemic has shown us that we need to value all the people around us, and also that we need to be able to translate the positive societal changes into the post-Covid era.
Community engagement is a special skill in that it involves so much more than just stringing together local events. We have a responsibility to ensure that residents are fully supported and updated regularly on vital developments. For instance, growing initiatives amongst property managers up and down the country include holistic wellbeing programmes for residents and creating vibrant urban spaces that both inspire and enable people to maintain a healthy working life whilst at home. In fact, large developers in particular expect this input from their property manager – a commitment to customer service and outreach, like any professional team.
It can be hard to begin establishing these links, especially if community has been neglected before. From the outset, aligning with the developer is vital. This means that the property manager has to step out of the day-to-day role and engage on an intellectual level with what the developer wants and then deal with the practicalities of that vision. Property managers can breathe life into the visions and objectives of developers – they are the representatives of communities and full engagement and understanding of the people who form these communities are vital to a successful partnership.
At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many more eyes on management companies other than those just of the developers and residents. There are a variety of invested parties who are watching the important work that property managers do. Local boroughs, councillors and even the neighbourhood watch all pay close attention to developments and, as property managers, we are essentially helping to seed and create individual microcosms with unique needs and attributes. Engagement with these stakeholders is therefore an essential part of the work we do.
Community engagement puts the focus and the incentive on our clients. Ultimately, it is fully within our own interest to help create a positive community, attracting plenty of new people to the neighbourhood. A strong and unified community should not be a luxury, it should be a necessity. There is an onus on property managers to create solid community sentiments and to act in the best interests of residents.
Daniel Harrison-Cox is a director at Lee Baron – one of the UK’s leading property management firms.