What does ‘Amazing place to live, amazing place to work’ mean?

Developing Soho Housing’s vision and direction.

The Issue

Coming out of the pandemic, Soho Housing was having a mini-identity crisis (as were a lot of us!).

More than other organisations, it was challenged by the post-pandemic (r)evolution of cities for communities who live and work there. It had also experienced a larger than normal turnover of staff, and had a new chief executive, Barbara Brownlee, who had joined in the middle of pandemic mode and wanted to lead the organisation beyond that.

The organisation is also preparing to celebrate their 50th anniversary in June 2023, and it was recognised that the vision and direction required some ‘oomph’ (a technical term) among staff and residents.

The scope involved listening to residents, and supporting the board and staff to work out what Soho Housing’s vision should be, and how it should be implemented.

How did we fix it?

In true 4OC style, we believe the best way to delve into an organisation is through co-design and speaking to the people directly involved. Our specialist Housing team facilitated conversations with a broad range of stakeholders from Board level through to residents, adapting our approach to each group.

The phrase ‘Amazing place to live, amazing place to work’ had previously struck a chord with everyone, but on its own didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t grounded and embedded in strategic and day-to-day decision-making. At the core of a powerful vision is a common understanding of what an organisation constantly strives to achieve.

We engaged with Board members via one-to-one and group sessions, including founding members, which gave us unparalleled access to the organisation’s legacy and history. With Directors and Head of Departments, we spent time in one-to-one sessions to really understand the challenges Soho Housing has. We held group sessions for all 25 staff members, a resident workshop and worked with our partner, AKOU, who are supporting Soho Housing on a resident consultation project.

To support our qualitative work, we produced a number of deliverables including identifying key activities that would drive the vision and setting Design Principles to help how strategic and day-to-day decisions should be made.

What Soho thought...

“After Covid, we discussed new ways of working and how to get closer to our residents. Performance was not where it needed to be and it did not feel as if we were working as one organisation, all pulling in the same direction. The work with 4OC gave everyone the chance to have their say about Soho Housing and reflect on what was important and what to change.

4OC were great, they were flexible about how and when they met with everyone allowing maximum participation and seemed to understand the essence of Soho very quickly. This really helped us agree a vision and more importantly how we are going to work to achieve it.”

Barbara Brownlee, CEO

"... understood the essence of Soho very quickly"

The 4OC magic

With the guidance of the staff and residents, 4OC co-designed the new vision and strategic direction for Soho Housing. It built on the strong connection it has to its communities, residents, and the provision of affordable housing and excellent services in the heart of London. In doing this it acknowledged the role that commercial lettings and activities play in facilitating this vision.

‘We support the unique communities that sustain diversity in the heart of London by providing affordable homes, commercial lettings, and excellent services for our residents’.


We agreed  a set of Design Principles to embed the vision through its work and decisions – Resident and Community Catalyst; Know and be close to our residents and communities; Social and commercial together; and, Improve, innovate and be nimble

These principles helped to create a clear articulation of what working and living in the community will feel like. Into the future, they will continue to help to bind the organisation together and enable plans and activities to be aligned and purposeful.