The power of many: why collaboration is key to social value

By Sarah Maguire, Social Value Manager at Fusion21


20 02 2023


Tagged by:


There’s so much talk about green skills, labour shortages and unlocking future growth as the UK catapults towards net zero targets. But what does it all mean? We know decarbonisation is a top priority for the housing sector but how do we link building homes and doing things differently to the world of work, addressing the skills gap and boosting education and learning for our communities?

We think the answer lies in partnerships and collaboration – what we see as the cornerstones of good social value.

Work, more importantly secure ‘quality’ employment paying a living wage, is consistently highlighted as a way out of poverty for many working age people. Seen as a way of alleviating many of the underlying challenges of food and fuel poverty it makes sense to get as many people living in, or at risk of severe financial hardship, into work.

Research from Learning and Workforce Institute shows there are over 1.7 million economically inactive people in the UK who say they want to work. With 63% of people in their 50s who left the workforce during the pandemic saying they would consider returning to employment.

Yet social housing residents have more obstacles to overcome than most to gaining employment – challenges such as long-term sickness, disability, and unaffordable childcare. As a result, economic inactivity is double that of any other housing tenure. This is a big problem for the sector so it’s no surprise that the Department for Work and Pensions has economic inactivity as a top priority.

On the one hand we have many social housing residents struggling with the rising cost of living, and the sector facing economic uncertainty and decarbonisation challenges. On the other, a supply chain struggling to meet the demands of retrofit and green construction without the skilled, trained workforce needed to match that growing demand.

What if the two could come together and use these challenges as a catalyst to create opportunities?

At last year’s Homes Conference, this hot topic generated discussions about how housing could capitalise on the opportunities that green jobs like heat pump engineers and retrofit assessors can bring. There was agreement that there’s simply not enough trained people to carry out all the ‘green’ jobs required to get the sector to net zero by 2050.

But what if those economically inactive, often the hardest to reach, long-term unemployed members of our community could be trained, upskilled or redeployed into employment? A disproportioned number of these live in social housing – so could we help get residents into secure employment within the green economy and at the same time help the sector (and the UK) decarbonise?

Yes, we believe we can. This isn’t the first time the sector has faced skills, employment and capacity challenges. In fact, tackling a perceived skills shortage was one of the factors behind establishing Fusion21, 21 years-ago. And we’re part of a growing number of voices connecting the dots and leading the conversation in this space. We think there’s an opportunity for social housing to contribute to a new workforce of the future across our towns and cities.

Yet the challenges are great.

In a single area, public and private sector organisations are doing themselves a disservice by delivering social value, like employment, in silos. Local authorities for example, will deliver social value through their procurement contracts, housing associations will support customers with pre-employment support and construction companies and suppliers will be generating employment opportunities like apprenticeships through their work. The list is endless and they’re all great in their own way and achieving something positive.

Imagine if this were all joined up in a place-based approach. What if there was one strategy that joined all the dots with social value and employment, education and training at its heart, transcending the usual organisational and operational barriers.

There are fantastic examples of where this works really well but it’s piecemeal. What we need are strategies determined by place which build on organisational priorities and direct funding where it’s needed most. Solutions that bring together multiple partners in long-term collaborations that deliver long-term systemic changes. This won’t happen overnight, but if we can start to have the right conversations with the right people then, anything is possible.

We know we can use our position to drive impact and effect change, harnessing the huge potential that exists in the housing sector.

Social housing is already at the forefront of social value, spending every pound in the best way possible for communities. So it makes sense for the sector to front strategies on a local/regional level using their knowledge and close contact with residents to join the dots.

It can take up to one year to get a social housing tenant ready to work and that’s even before they find and start a job. By working together local pathways can be created, whether that’s confidence training with a local charity to health agencies getting residents fit for work. Everything goes hand-in-hand.

That’s why, as a nationwide procurement framework provider, we’re uniquely placed to create social value collaborations, from suppliers supporting members through apprenticeships for young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) to volunteers creating community venues.

Relationships and collaboration are at the heart of our offer. And this year, Fusion21’s 21st birthday year, we’re championing even bigger social impact by connecting the dots across a wider geographical area.

We’re pioneering a new pilot programme in our home in Liverpool City Region, bringing together young unemployed local authority residents with a ‘green’ energy supplier who needs skilled employees to join the team. Add in a local training provider and the dots align. Procurement with purpose – watch this space….


Fusion21 is the headline sponsor for the Housing, Learning and Work Conference 2023

Sarah Maguire, Social Value Manager at Fusion21, said:
We’re delighted to be the headline sponsor of the Housing, Learning and Work Conference 2023. One of our main objectives is to make a visible impact in the area of employment and skills. We work in partnership with like-minded organisations and value the work of Learning and Work Institute and Communities that Work. This conference will provide fresh ideas on creating and sustaining jobs and boosting skills to unlock future growth. I’m looking forward to chairing a panel at the event on the development of green jobs and the role of employers in the future of the labour market as we move towards net zero.

Fusion21 is a national social enterprise specialising in efficient and impactful public sector procurement and social value services.

Proud to help its members to procure with purpose and meet social impact targets, Fusion21’s team of experts support members to deliver social value they can see in every project.

The organisation also gives back through the Fusion21 Foundation, a registered charity working to build brighter futures for the communities that Fusion21 operate in. Since its inception in 2015, the Foundation has given over £1.2 million in grants and has committed £2 million in social investment.

To date Fusion21 has saved its members more than £308 million through the procurement process, created over 9,600 employment outcomes, and generated more than £136 million in social impact.

For the latest news from Fusion21, please click here.

Housing, Learning and Work Conference 2023