Covid-19 & the new “normal”​


Covid-19 & the new "normal"

15th June 2020

The coronavirus crisis has had, and continues to have, a devastating impact around the world. Despite the challenges, many companies have adapted what they do to meet these. As a new start-up company without entrenched working arrangements it has been a real learning opportunity, causing us to question some of our assumptions about the most effective way to provide our services and enabling us to live up to our commitment to be agile. We are not alone in this; many organisations are thinking about what working in the “new normal” looks like and how we can #GoBackBetter.

To quote a well-worn phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”, and that is certainly the impact that COVID-19 is having on most businesses as they reframe what they do and how they do it.

At Capital Letters, we work to prevent and relieve homelessness across London by procuring accommodation from private landlords and managing agents on behalf of our 17 member boroughs enabling them to meet their responsibilities and find homes for homeless households.

As a new not-for-profit company, we are still finding our feet and the current pandemic has required us to change the way we work very early in our lifecycle; however, it’s also taught us a few things.



Collaboration is the key to the future

Capital Letters is built on collaborative working. Our mission is working in partnership to solve the homelessness crisis across London – creatively, innovatively, collaboratively and relentlessly. This is what we do every day but during this pandemic collaboration has become even more important. There needs to be a consistent, joined up and holistic approach to solving homelessness generally otherwise nothing will change. In response we have extended our collaborative partnership working beyond our usual partners and activities and continue to explore new opportunities for collaboration.

We’ve extended our service, with the support of MHCLG, working as part of the pan-London Rough Sleeping Task Force by specifically procuring safe, self-contained accommodation for our member boroughs enabling them to move rough sleepers from hotels into homes. It’s a small but vital part in achieving the overarching ambition of keeping #EveryoneInForGood. This is a phenomenal achievement and has taken a lot of work to get all the organisations involved working together in a concerted and consistent way, without tripping over each other or competing for scarce resources.

The key takeaway from this is that such collaboration and partnership working can’t and shouldn’t be a one-off in response to a particular issue or crisis. We can’t go backwards; this has to be part of BAU in the “new normal” as only in this way can we harness the skills and experience of our respective organisations to maximise opportunities to achieve an impact and a greater good that is beyond what individual organisations can achieve on their own. And the added value is better use and targeting of resources, joined up working and ultimately efficiency savings.


Trust is reliant on social interaction – usually!

In the normal world, pre-CV-19, our procurement team (some 60% or our workforce) work remotely (away from the office) and are constantly in contact with landlords and managing agents arranging meetings with them or viewing and inspecting properties. This has been traditionally a key element of the way in which we provide our services: building relationships and rapport based on social interaction and trust so the team can procure enough properties to meet the demands of our member boroughs.

Even as a new organisation it’s easy to fall back on the “we’ve always done it this way” mantra. And in terms of procurement of homes in London this is certainly true; there is a way that it is “usually” done.

However, in response to CV-19 we have had to rethink how we continue to meet this fundamental service requirement. Our member boroughs still need good quality properties for homeless households over and above those we’re procuring to support the rough sleeping initiative; people becoming homelessness hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic. Therefore, our team has had to adapt, finding properties using new and different tactics, which are interestingly proving to be more effective and efficient.

Working remotely and from home does require higher levels of trust from organisational leaders – you can’t “see” what your team are doing, you have to trust that the results and outcomes will be achieved. And our team have to trust what our landlords tell them – the team now “inspect” properties using photos and videos, and whilst it hasn’t all been plain sailing, it is working well and is proving to be a more cost effective and efficient use of our time and resources. Pre-CV-19, the team spent a good proportion of their days travelling around London, time which they can now spend finding more properties from the comfort of their homes which is far more efficient and cost effective. Our productivity is on the up despite relying on these digital resources and this increase in trust has helped us build key relationships both

internally and externally. We are consciously coming back better as a result of this experience. We will be adapting what we have learnt as a result of this experiment to change permanently how we work in the future, with some tweaks to introduce some inspections and quality auditing of our properties to ensure standards are maintained.


The benefits of agile working

From the day we started operating, we have consciously set out to have an agile, inclusive working environment. However, we’re seeing agile working in a whole new light. None of our staff have been furloughed and we are actively using all the tools available to us to continue to grow and develop. We, like many other companies, use technologies such as Teams and Zoom for all of our meetings – including Board meetings – and for regular social events to keep connected with each other. We have developed our virtual induction programme so that we are still able to recruit which is our life-blood and are actively using Yammer as our team communications tool. However, we’re still only learning about the capabilities of these tools – particularly Teams and the way it links to SharePoint – and therefore the way we construct our internal operating model. Throughout lockdown and beyond, we will continue to explore, proactively develop and improve how we use these tools for the benefit of our business, our team, members and other stakeholders.


And what of the future?

So, bringing this together, whilst the lockdown has been very difficult in some ways, the silver lining has been the opportunity to rethink, recalibrate and improve.

It has also caused us to consider whether we need an office in the future, and if we do, what type of space we really need. We still need to get over the barrier of public transport, as many of our team are reliant on this to travel to work which will remain a challenge. However, the other reflection is that the social connection and interaction between our colleagues is also a vital part of our make-up; we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose the intrinsic elements of what makes us a great company. And so some of the money we’ll be saving on our office costs could be reinvested in staff engagement activities, whilst continuing to drive and achieve greater value for money. These are all things we are thinking more about as part of our lockdown-easing post-CV-19 future planning.

By Sue Coulson


Three new London Boroughs join Capital Letters

Capital Letters Cityscape

Three new London Boroughs join Capital Letters

5th June 2020

Capital Letters’ membership now consists 50% (16) of London Boroughs.

Capital Letters, a not-for-profit company, set up to prevent and relieve homelessness across the capital, welcomes Enfield, Hackney and Newham to their membership.

All three London Boroughs joined Capital Letters from April with plans for them to become fully operational by June whilst we work through the implications of COVID-19 on our service.

Chief Executive, Sue Coulson said: “We are delighted that 50% of London Boroughs are now members of the company, giving us a much stronger foothold in the market and therefore the ability to drive benefits for our members. Capital Letters mission is to work in partnership and collaboratively to solve the homelessness crisis in London and working with as many members as possible is how we can achieve this ambition – encouraging new members to join the company is an essential part of this.

“These new members are fundamental to our growth and our plans to procure and manage over 20,000 properties for homeless households over the next three years. One of our guiding principles is to assist member boroughs to reduce the costs of homeless provision – the more members we have, the greater the opportunity to control the market and drive down costs. It also means that our tenancy sustainment service will be extended to more households who need it, supporting more families to stay in secure homes

“We are continuously working to increase our membership and aim to have 26 London Boroughs by 2022 to continue to reduce councils’ costs and keeping families close to their communities and successfully maintaining their tenancies.”

If you are a London Borough and would like to know more about Capital Letters or how you can become a member, please email: or contact us


Capital Letters announces two new senior appointments

Capital Letters Cityscape

Capital Letters announces two new senior appointments

5th June 2020

Capital Letters, a not-for-profit company, owned by 16 London boroughs to prevent and relieve homelessness across the capital, has appointed a new Director of Operations – Elizabeth Harper and a Head of Acquisitions – Roy Dunbar.


Over the next three years, Capital Letters plans to procure over 20,000 properties for homeless households, reducing member councils’ costs and keeping families close to their communities – something which has often been very hard for London boroughs to do.

Elizabeth Harper has been appointed to lead Capital Letters’ operations, including procurement of homes for homeless households and our vital tenancy sustainment service as well as the development of our housing management and customer services. Elizabeth has a background in social and supported housing and joined Capital Letters in March as part of the Executive Team led by Sue Coulson, Chief Executive.

Director of Operations, Elizabeth Harper, said: “Having spent the majority of my career working to deliver excellent outcomes for homeless people I am very pleased to be part of this innovative company and to assist our member boroughs to address some of the intractable issues facing them. I am focussed on leading the team to bring the best experience for our borough members, the landlords we work with and – most importantly – supporting households to sustain their tenancies in our endeavour to house London’s homeless families.”

Head of Acquisitions, which is a new position at Capital Letters responsible for the procurement service, has been taken up by Roy Dunbar. Roy, who joined the team in April, has extensive experience of procuring accommodation for homeless households having worked in this area for a number years and for a range of London Boroughs. We are delighted that he has joined us at an important time in our development as we welcome 3 new London borough members to the Capital Letters family and step up our activities as a consequence. Roy’s timing couldn’t have been better as we are also now supporting our member boroughs to procure homes to enable them to house rough sleepers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Executive, Sue Coulson said: “With Elizabeth and Roy now in post, we will be able to accelerate our procurement activities and provide the best possible service for our members and the people they house. I am delighted to have them both on our team. Both have a wealth of experience which is essential to the growth of Capital Letters and essential to ensure we achieve our targets and that our tenancy sustainment service is best in class, enabling families to successfully secure their future and put down roots in their communities.”