Guest article by Tom Bassford*
I work in a sector that’s committed to making places better; we own 3.9 million properties across England and provide homes to 17% of all households. We built 26% of all new homes across the country last year. And we reinvest all our profits in homes and communities.
Despite having many shared objectives, the social housing sector has had little to do with the Institute of Place Management – until now.
One Manchester & place strategy
My organisation, One Manchester, became IPM members earlier this year and the Institute’s expertise is helping us to deliver our Place Strategy, which aims to create places that develop, grow and thrive.
We own more than 12,000 properties and 450,000 square metres of green space across Manchester. But our ambitions go beyond simply providing homes. We look at the issues specific to each of our communities and provide services to help people manage their money, find work, start-up businesses and stay healthy and well. On a more strategic level, we are actively working with others across the city and Greater Manchester to address issues relating to homelessness, poverty and health.
Unlike city centre, market or destination management, our Place Strategy is focused on large, mainly residential areas that incorporate District Centres of varying sizes. However, we are discovering that the principles of the place management sector are hugely relevant to shaping our approach.
Place marketing and branding
We recently commissioned a research agency to conduct 72 in-depth interviews with our customers to find out what is needed to help them and our places to thrive. Among the findings, we discovered that our customers are less likely to identify with (and be motivated to invest time and energy into) an area they perceive negatively. That means our most deprived areas are likely to see the least involvement from local people.
Social media activity backs this up. Chorlton – a popular Manchester suburb that’s among the least deprived in the city – has more than 20 hyperlocal Twitter accounts dedicated to connecting local people around shared interests. Plant-swapping, drama groups, coffee, news, comedy and even a dating service are all available at the click of a button. Over on Facebook, a dedicated Chorlton group has 31,000 members, with at least 13,000 specifying that they live in the area.
It’s a different story six miles north in Clayton, east Manchester. An area that struggles with higher levels of deprivation, it has far fewer local groups visible online. The only Twitter accounts I’ve discovered that are dedicated to the area are run by local councillors and Manchester City Council. The trend continues on Facebook.
I recognise the limitations of social media analysis and that much community activity happens without fanfare or online publicity. However, the findings do seem to match our experience on the ground and the insights of our researchers.
This is replicated across the country. From the numerous active online groups of Crowthorne, Berkshire, home to the least deprived area in England and Wales, to the near-silence of groups in Jaywick, Essex, the most deprived area in the country.
In January I will join the part-time Place Management and Leadership programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. I will learn about the principles of place marketing and branding, but I’m confident this will be just one of many elements that I can apply in a social housing context. And if the result is more thriving communities, the benefits could be applied on a much greater scale.
So the journey begins to change perceptions – and remove barriers – to help our areas to thrive. Can the place branding and marketing principles usually applied to city or town centres be applied to our largely residential areas? And will this lead more people to invest time and resources in their local area?
*Strategic Lead for Place, One Manchester
 More information on One Manchester’s approach to social investment is available here: https://www.onemanchester.co.uk/who-we-are/social-investment