Counting the number of affordable homes we build has been the sole yardstick for the social housing sector for too long.
It is critical that we are held accountable for delivering new homes, as well as quality services to the people living in them, but if that is all a housing association does then it is only fulfilling one part of a broader social purpose.
For our customers, a home represents more than just a roof over their heads: it acts as the foundation upon which they can build, or rebuild, their lives. For this reason, we believe that housing associations also have a duty to empower their customers to tackle the challenges they face, whether through equipping them with the skills to find employment or supporting them with their mental wellbeing.
Being able to quantify our effectiveness at delivering this social impact is becoming ever more important as we look to support communities battling the cost-of-living crisis.
It is essential to understanding where we are getting it right and where more investment is needed. This means being more sophisticated in how we quantify the added value we contribute.
Earlier this year,we at Aster Group enlisted independent research group Development Economics to conduct an in-depth review of our economic and social impact. This went beyond how we build and maintain our homes, and used data on our turnover, profit, salaries and procurement to calculate our holistic contribution to the UK economy.
Working with our social impact team, Development Economics also found ways to quantify key elements of our community impact. The exercise highlighted where we were being effective but, more importantly, helped us to pinpoint areas where further investment was required for us to have the impact we aspire to.
With the right measurement in place, it becomes vital that our sector looks at how we deliver social impact and gives an agile and data-driven structure to the work we do in the community.
This is why after three years of operating as a department within the Aster group, we registered Aster Foundation as an independent charity.
Separating the foundation from the rest of our group gave it the focus, autonomy and leadership structure needed to grow, at a time when its work has never been needed more. The foundation has a clear business plan with bold targets, including improving the lives of at least 40,000 people by 2030.
Narrow homebuilding targets are no longer enough of a benchmark for our sector when there are so many challenges facing our communities. By holding the social changes we can implement to the same standard, and building a far more sophisticated framework for how we measure this work, we will be able to provide our customers with the range of services they truly deserve.
Cam Kinsella is director of social impact charity Aster Foundation