A few words this week (and in my next couple of blogs) on a topic that has filled more airtime on BTR webinars over the last two months than almost anything else – Community. We have spent a lot of time promoting community as crucial to successful BTR schemes, both in creating somewhere people want to live and ultimately in financial success. On the other hand, we haven’t always been clear about exactly what we mean by community or how we measure it.
One of the best definitions that I have come across describes the psychological sense of community as “the perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure“
This may be helpful for understanding the concept, and as a geek there is nothing I love more than a precise definition (confession time – my original degree was in Philosophy and Sociology). However, the practical challenge is to understand how to create and manage BTR schemes so that they promote community and thereby improve the sustainable financial performance of our assets.
We have some reasonable output measures – whether qualitative, exemplified by Homeview’s resident reviews or quantitative in terms of length of stay and renewal rates. We also know from the ideas shared on the UKAA operators’ forums about the sorts of actions that are being taken to engender a sense of community in these challenging times with lots of evidence of success. Equally many of know from bitter experience of the negative impacts of a lack of community in terms of anti-social behaviours.
The answers to my challenge aren’t maybe as obvious as you might think and over the next couple of blogs I want to explore some sources and approaches that will hopefully of practical use to those of you who share my interest in the topic. To do this I will be picking the brains of some of the smart people who work in our industry as well as adding my own not very original ideas.
This week though I want to start by pointing to a couple of sources that I have found helpful.
The first is a book recommended to me by Brendan Geraghty of Geraghty Taylor, one of those smart people I mentioned. Headspace – The Psychology of City Living, by Paul Keedwell is full of interesting ideas and experiments in understanding how people react to the spaces they inhabit, (though sadly lacking in those great photos which are the best bit of most property books).
The second is an article by Nicola Bacon of Social Life who have done a lot of work in this area. The most succinct introduction is in an article she wrote in the RSA Journal in August 2019 about belonging. As she says “Only when we can define, measure and quantify our emotional reactions to place can we design interventions that positively affect how we feel.” Download the article here.
Finally, if you come across Karl Kalcher of Mindfolio ask him about Place Attachment. Karl is one of the nicest people I have ever met (and a man with a fascinating career). Place Attachment is Mindfolio’s framework for measuring the emotions of place and is really interesting and practical approach to this subject.
Sadly, neither Social Life or Mindfolio are UKAA members (yet), so I probably shouldn’t be promoting them, and I will therefore finish with an inspiring example of community in action from one of our members.
All of you will know Harry Downes, the MD of Fizzy Living but who once lockdown is lifted has committed to undertaking the Marathon Des Sables. This is a six-day, 251 km ultramarathon that takes place every year in the Sahara Desert. Harry has apparently never run a marathon in his life but his sense of community is driving him to do this for Walking With the Wounded You can support him here
More on community and the relationship with placemaking and sustainability in the next blog – and do let me know what you think.
Until then stay safe and well
 Sarason, S.B. (1974) The Psychological Sense of Community: Prospects for a Community Psychology. Jossey-Bass, London.