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Community Engagement: How Property Managers Can Promote Happy Neighbourhoods

Estate management extends far beyond standard property management services; it must be integrated into the community fabric. Jonny Holmes, Operations Director – Estates at FirstPort, explains the difference a specialist Property Manager can make in engaging diverse communities for a happier home life.

Going Beyond Property Boundaries

An average residential estate can encompass affordable homes, shared ownership, private ownership, tenanted properties, first-time buyers, second homeowners, downsizers, upsizers, relocators, and everything in between.

Because every customer’s property is unique, we must look beyond boundaries and focus instead on the holistic environment – its sights, sounds, and the people immediately surrounding our homes. This proves crucial to our feelings of safety, security, happiness, and general wellbeing.

Reflecting on my early career, working on Community Initiatives for a Housing Association in the South-West of England, I gained firsthand insight into the value of placing communities at the heart of our activities. One of my first projects required engaging and consulting with residents to construct a low maintenance sensory garden for the benefit of the community. The residents threw themselves into the project over a 12-month period and also assisted with the build. Witnessing their huge pride in their achievement was a fantastic example of the importance of community, working together to achieve a common goal, selflessly for everyone’s benefit.

I brought this insight into my role at FirstPort by creating resident communication and engagement plans early on for all sites under my remit. These plans outline various communication and engagement opportunities with our customers and communities, fostering a positive atmosphere among residents. When collaborating with Resident Management Companies (RMC), this approach is a great way to develop a shared understanding and strengthens the community we are serving.

Early Engagement

Engagement ideally starts upon notification of a property sale, with a welcome letter and introduction. Early contact with homeowners is essential to establish trust from day one.

For all newly mobilised management schemes, we aim to hold homeowners’ meetings within six weeks of the handover. These meetings provide an opportunity to explain our on-site activities, familiarise homeowners with our processes, and explain the service charge, including how their funds are held in trust. These meetings not only establish initial contact but also provide comfort and reassurance that we are committed to ensuring a happy community.

We encourage customers to join our estate walkabouts with our Property Managers, held pre-season in Spring and at the end of each Autumn. These walkabouts facilitate seasonal planning and enhance understanding of the managed environment and habitats. Surprisingly, many residents have not fully explored their own estates, and this gives them a wonderful opportunity to do so, guided by someone who knows their estate well and can answer any questions.

During a recent homeowner walkabout in Dorset, a customer expressed disappointment that a five-meter section of maintained land along one boundary had not been strimmed by the grounds maintenance contractor. We were able to explain that the site hosts special habitats for Hazel dormice, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To preserve their habitat and ensure protection, a 5-meter corridor is left uncut. This reassured the resident and cemented in their mind our abilities to manage their estate to a high standard.

Misconceptions surrounding estate management sometimes arise, which I encourage my team to address proactively to promote transparency and understanding. For instance, clarifying the distinctions between the role of the property manager and that of the local council helps residents appreciate the value we add in areas that would have otherwise been unadopted.

Giving Back

We take pride in the communities in which we live and work. Our Property Managers undertake various community projects and initiatives, such as beach cleaning and litter picking in areas local to the estates they manage, as a means of giving back.

Volunteer events serve as opportunities to unite the estate and foster community pride. Planting days in particular promote collective pride and achievement while enhancing the natural beauty of the area for residents to enjoy.

While core services remain central to the role of a Property Manager, my overarching ambition is to harness the power of community fully. By building lasting relationships and integrating into the estate culture, we aim to cultivate a positive environment that can have a remarkable impact on residents.