Hello and welcome to the third instalment of our Rochdale sprint notes. Sprint notes are a short recap of what we’ve been doing, learning and what we’re going to be doing next.


Too long; didn’t read — a short summary for busy people

While covid-19 has pressed pause on our testing activities, some prototypes have been accelerated into implementation as conditions change.

We’ve also been thinking about our learning across the prototypes and what that means at the scale of the service, specifically how we can increase engagement with the private rented sector.

Since we last shared our sprint notes, the world has changed as a result of covid-19. We’d like to share what this change has meant for us as a project team, the housing service and Rochdale as a council.

Responding to change

Right in the middle of testing concepts with residents, attending multidisciplinary meetings and shadowing new tenant visits, the UK went into lockdown.

In a matter of 24 hours, the research and testing schedule was scrapped for urgent service redesign to meet user needs within these new constraints. Multidisciplinary team meetings went online, meal drop-in services went to takeaway and group activities became 1-1s to reduce risk to service users and staff and deliver a reduced service.

Whilst services quickly adapted, people across the council and the third sector were being deployed to do different roles or meet new demands. Consequently and understandably, they did not have the headspace for the conversations we’d planned about reimagining a service.

Even though our plan B to undertake testing virtually or over the phone was possible, it was not appropriate until the people we were speaking with had a sense of stability in their lives.

For the team in Rochdale Strategic Housing, as for all other local authorities, resources immediately shifted to meet this emergency. The team were suddenly handling a tsunami of urgent phone calls and emails triggered by the daily changes to Government advice.

Covid-19 introduced a new set of challenges to a service already under stress and facing increasing demand. Housing and homelessness services around the world are frantically responding to the implications of shared accommodation, large scale hospital and prison discharge, tenants unable to pay their rent and domestic abuse.

Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

Milton Friedman

This Friedman quote has felt fitting for what we’ve experienced over the last few weeks. We were faced with a crisis, and the ideas laying around happened to be those that were the result of the prototyping work.

We’ve now arrived at a point where covid-19 has created the conditions to speed up delivery of some recommendations. The team and head of service sees the opportunity to move the work forward, quickly. Our initial testing of a co-ordinated crisis response, multidisciplinary teams and an accommodation panel have accelerated into implementation.

This crisis has generated a range of opportunities and one of those has been to build on the deeper working relationships that have developed through prototyping. These relationships built around a shared future are now becoming a shared present as strategic housing and adult social care work closely together to solve these shared issues.

Mindsets for a future service

The shifts caused by covid-19 have also given us a moment to take a breath and reflect on our findings. Over the last month, ad hoc conversations and dedicated synthesis time surfaced common components across the prototyping areas.

To recap, we’ve been prototyping new parts of the homelessness and housing allocations service in five areas:

  • Friday night crisis: better solutions and a joined-up approach to ‘Friday night’ crisis cases where a person needs to be placed in temporary accommodation over the weekend
  • tenancy sustainment: a dedicated officer that works closely with people to sustain their tenancy
  • early intervention: a new process or team that uses data to identify people at risk of becoming homeless and offers proactive support
  • multidisciplinary working: testing the value of adding a ‘housing expert’ in a multidisciplinary team
  • strengths-based working and evolving the PHP: strengths and asset-based approach and a new approach to using the Personal Housing Plan (PHP)

Whilst we were arranged in prototyping teams, it’s been helpful to come together to consider the commonalities and think about what this means across the whole service and related provision.

A set of paradigms and mindsets surfaced that synthesise our findings across all the prototypes, and show how we want to move from the current experience to a future service in the next phase.

Shifting mindsets in a future service

A key component of this shift is engagement with the private rented sector. The private rented sector was a common thread throughout the prototypes, yet it’s fairly periphery to the current experience for service users. We’ve been exploring what the system looks like if housing in the private rented sector is as equally encouraged as social housing as a viable option for service users.

We see multiple opportunities to build on existing relationships with the private rented sector. From supporting landlords and agents to identify tenants at risk along with the Bond Board, to extending tenancy sustainment support to private tenants to ensure vulnerable residents will be supported in their tenancies.

Increasingly, we’re conscious that the vision of a Connected Services Model cannot be realised without changes in the wider system beyond housing and homelessness and beyond Rochdale Council. Looking forward, we’re focused on building sustainability in this work towards a shared system responsible for the services in Rochdale.

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