Posted 07/10/2022

People of Swan - 5 questions with Leah Douglas

This month we spoke to Leah Douglas, Community Development Manager at Swan Housing Association, as part of our new series ‘5 Questions With’. In the series, we will be talking to various people across Swan to hear their insight into the amazing work they do.

Q: Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Swan?

I’m Leah Douglas, I work at Swan Housing Association as a Community Development Manager, and I’ve been here for about three years. My role involves managing a team of five people to deliver a range of community initiatives. I’m also responsible for four of our community hubs, located across Essex and London. Our community hubs are always busy! From these centres we run a host of community activities. Sometimes we run and promote community events ourselves to residents by posting flyers and reaching out over social media, while there are other activities that we commission out to other groups.

We deliver all sorts of projects, whether it’s supporting individuals with their mental health or our Winter Warmer sessions to help older residents to stay warm in winter. Most recently, we completed our Holiday Hunger Clubs, which provide activities and a free meal for children during the school holidays. (If you have tried to work at any of the centres, you will know it can get a bit crazy with all the noise!) We also work with our Community Involvement colleagues on resident consultation, where we often organise community events to pull people in and get their perspective as a resident.

Q: How does the work you do impact communities?

I don’t think people always fully understand what Community Development is about. Sometimes we can be seen to be doing the ‘fluffy’ or ’cuddly’ work. But after 30 years of delivering Community Development, I’m absolutely convinced the initiatives we do, where we help break down social isolation and give people opportunities to interact or learn, can change people’s lives.

Some of the residents we come across are really socially isolated, or even frightened to leave their homes. After we post a leaflet through their door, welcoming them to join us at one of our events, they often leave with their lives and sense of community completely changed. Suddenly, they know someone from their community and have made friends they didn’t even know were there. For me, whether it’s giving older residents social interaction or helping an individual with their mental health, connecting people is the beauty of it. 

Another example of how our work impacts people is our adult education programmes. We have groups of adult learners come away with accredited qualifications, sometimes those certificates are the first formal qualification that they have achieved.

Another aspect of our work is the support we give people to make funding applications to the lottery or the local trusts at Blackwall Reach and Beechwood. Whether it’s just helping individuals with a grant for £500, or with a partner for thousands of pounds, we know that it will be put it to good use in one of our communities.

Q: What are you most proud of working at Swan?

I’m proud of so much we do. The team is fantastic, it’s all of us that help make a difference to people’s lives. We are all in love with our jobs.

I think one of the things that has resonated with me most over the last couple of years is our anti-knife crime and anti-gang project, called ‘Challenging Life by Knife’. I lead it and we work on the project with other housing associations, such as One Housing, Clarion and Tower Hamlets Homes. Recently we ran ‘Virtually There’, a new project that we pioneered ourselves. Following a chance conversation with a young film director, we’ve used VR technology to deliver a 25-minute film that immerses young people in the story of a fatal stabbing. The film explores the knock-on effects this has on every person involved with that situation. It traces the impact of knife crime from the surgeon trying to save a teenager’s life, the police officer knocking on the parents’ door, a teacher breaking the news that a classmate has died to the perpetrator’s journey in a prison cell as they come to terms with their actions.  

This experience has had such a profound effect on the 100 young people we’ve put through the programme. They come in noisy and bolshie and leave like lambs, because the impact and discussion around the film will stick with them forever. Using new technology is unbelievably helpful as a medium to get the message across, because the young people really buy into it and stay engaged. It’s a fantastic project that we’ve worked on in Basildon and East London. Another session is coming up in November, for young people on our Exmouth Estate in Tower Hamlets. We also worked closely on the project with charity partners like the Osmani Trust and local schools to help get cohorts of young people involved.

Q: How rewarding is your role?

If you do not have it by now, I Iove my job! You need to be a people person to do this kind of work. I’m so lucky to be in this position, where I can put new ideas forward and engage with people in their communities. To do things that impact and improve people’s daily lives is so rewarding.

Q: And finally, what are your thoughts on pineapple on pizza?

I have pondered this question. Personally, I don’t like pineapple on pizza - I love it!