BLOG: Responding to the challenges of coronavirus

By Sarah Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, Catalyst

It’s hard to describe just how much impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the housing sector, and indeed wider society. It sounds hyperbolic to say that our whole way of life has completely changed almost overnight, but this may well be true.

The way that people at Catalyst have dealt with these sudden changes to our working life has made me appreciate the enormity of the strength, resilience and goodwill of my colleagues and has made me feel both proud and humble to work for this organisation. We often talk about “living the values” in an organisation – it’s quite something else to see people demonstrating these every day, en masse. In our case, delivering on promises, being accountable, giving respect and showing kindness. The latter such an important value to help all of us get through all of this.

Our priorities

We agreed early on that our response to the pandemic would be to focus on three main commitments:

  • To protect the health, wellbeing and financial security of customers and colleagues
  • To maintain essential services to our residents
  • To play our part in alleviating an economic crisis

Catalyst has around 1,200 colleagues overall, spread across our two main offices in Ealing, west London and Houghton Regis. We also have a number of satellite offices across London and the wider south east. In the space of a week, we had to enable every office-based worker to work from home. This was a mammoth task yet nevertheless accomplished by a determined IT team.

Our people in the field have also been incredible, delivering the essential services that our customers rely on. Our estates services team is delivering enhanced cleaning to thousands of homes and sanitising all hard surface touch points like lift buttons, handrails and door handles to keep our customers safe.

Supporting our customers and communities

Our communities team has switched focus to proactively call our most vulnerable residents to see if they need help, and to make sure they have access to the benefits that they are entitled to. They have also launched our Wellbeing Project, where residents can access a whole range of services designed to help make self-isolation a little bit easier.

We’ve been able to offer some financial support to the smaller charitable organisations that we often work with. We’ve set up a £30,000 fund to offer small grants to organisations that are struggling during the crisis, and we also donated £20,000 to the Oxford based community charity, Leys CDI, as part of their future-proof fund.

We’ve been sharing some of the many good news stories internally, after launching an initiative called #CatalystKind where colleagues can share the uplifting customer feedback they’ve received as well as some inspiring examples of people caring for one another.

So far, I think we, and our sector, have demonstrated that the dedication, drive and kindness that housing and its people are known for has only strengthened during this time of crisis and anxiety. That gives me hope that after the immediate impact, we will be able to rebuild, relaunch and contribute even more to our society.