Scotland’s Housing Festival

From virtual reality, to smart homes and digital tech to help us do so much more with less, working in housing is pretty amazing right now. Whatever your role, wherever you come from – there’s something truly special on the horizon as CIH Scotland takes over the SECC in Glasgow in just two short weeks’ time for the very first Housing Festival.

We’ve got four themes this year: Build, Live, Grow and Change – but essentially they all go under the banner of creating a strong future for housing in Scotland. It’s about delivering affordable housing, increasing innovation and strengthening communities.

This year’s event will also have the Fringe – two days of excitement, inspiration and intrigue. No smoke and mirrors here, simply great people with great chat, there with a sole mission to help aspiring professions and future leaders from across the country (that means you!).

Chaired by myself and this year’s Bob Allan Young Achiever, Emma McShane – give us a follow on Twitter please – we’ve got some of the biggest names in housing coming to take 10 minutes out to talk with us outside the hustle and bustle of the conference.

We’ll be welcoming this lot over the two days:

All this – plus your chance to be involved too! You can SOAPBOX about loads of things over the course of the two days. We’ll kick things off by sharing housing journeys and views on how the sector as a whole is tackling homelessness. Day 2 will see us talk innovation and problem solving.

Prepare yourself for fresh ideas, to get involved and to think something new. Not hard, just different. We’re here to inspire and motivate you – this is the game changer.

If you do one thing today, talk to your manager, ask them for a tenner to train you and I’ll see you there.

Rising Stars entry

Since we’re almost at the time for the award – and my reintroduction into the world of blogging was so positive, I thought I’d take a leaf out of the fabulous @AliceSmith‘s book and share my entry too.

You could argue that Octavia Hill’s individualised, person-centred approach is the most important lesson for modern housing professionals. But perhaps, the wider lesson is that without the legacy of her – and others – millions of people would not have had a decent, affordable place to call home.

That ‘hand-up’ for those most in need has shaped an entire sector. We still want to improve lives; our core business is still to rent homes. We’ve simply evolved – and now we must use our commercial head more to make sure our social heart remains intact and effective.

We’ve continued the pioneering legacy to go above and beyond: quality homes and broader services as our customer base changed, just like 100 years ago, only smarter.

Policy changes over the coming months are set to force additional strain on organisations up and down the country who exist to support and house those most in need. The capacity to merely exist is suddenly top priority as government austerity measures begin to really bite.

The governments who followed World War I and II took huge responsibility for the welfare of citizens. Government-funded build programmes started across the UK and for the first time, quality housing was available to low income households.

For the first time in several generations, there was no shortage of housing and the quality was better than ever. Council housing was king and it was available to everyone. In 1980, the UK was cemented as a national of aspirational homeowners with the introduction of the Right to Buy – which, despite its catchy title, was only a right to those who could afford to exercise it.

A failure to replace the stock sold led to a housing shortage which we are still feeling the effects of today. The last 30 years have seen social housebuilding at an all-time low as efforts were instead invested in home ownership. For every £1 spent on social housebuilding, £5 is spent on rent and mortgage subsidies, compared with £1 to £1 back in 1979.

The UK Government opts to boost home ownership while council and RSL waiting lists creak with millions desperate for homes . Housing associations in England must cut social and affordable rents by 1% each year for the next four years. As a result of these cuts and other efficiencies, experts estimate 14,000 fewer new homes will be built due to financing difficulties.

The commercial head needs to take control and respond to the demands of the modern marketplace. Offer choice. Who knows more about what a tenant wants than the tenant themselves.

In Scotland, arguably we’ve already learned the lesson of 100 years ago, providing a mixed economy of housing on albeit a less grand scale.  Quality social rent is available for those who opt for it. A mid-market rent scheme is in place across the country, the Scottish Government even offers low cost home ownership for as little as 60% of outright purchase cost.

The Scottish Government is set to abolish Bedroom Tax and aims to build a 50,000 new homes over the next five years – with a high provision of social housing and affordable homes.

The Right to Buy ends this year, in a move dubbed by Nicola Sturgeon as ‘safeguarding Scotland’s social housing stock for the benefit of citizens today and for our future generations.’

Since the birth of the sector, our door has been open to anyone. Housing management solutions have grown in complexity as society changes and more gaps are plugged by housing associations up and down the UK. Some of the most socially marginalised in society are living in our homes – and sometimes, our teams are the only thing keeping them successfully living independently.

Even at DGHP, we’ve had to radically adapt the way we deliver frontline services to help us prepare for future challenges. Support services have evolved into a huge arm of the business, with sustainment officers delivering intense bursts of assistance, housing support workers for the vulnerable and now even pre-tenancy teams to give tenants the very best start when taking on a new home.

Tenancy failure is not only bad for our tenants, and for business – but the impact on morale of our teams is massive. We can’t underestimate the part that our people have to play in the sector in the future.

Investment in their skills and development is vital to rise to the challenges of the future. This year at DGHP for example, we will all become ‘dementia friends’ to help us best understand our customers of the future.

The passion to do what’s right for the people we serve will be a key attribute of the housing professional of the future. This value on the wellbeing of our tenants originates from the days of Octavia Hill – ultimately a great relationship with customers and a localised presence is something we still strive for today.

Social housing will forever remain a vital part of UK housing – but is our brand outdated? Our challenged aren’t the same as Octavia Hill’s, or George Peabody’s, or Joseph Rowntree’s for that matter. You might even argue ours are harder. Housing in 2016 is not in our favour – but with challenge comes opportunity. This is our chance to turn the tables.

100 years ago, the pioneers of social housing helped society’s most in need by providing them with a quality place to call home. Their sole aim was to improve lives, working on the understanding there was a direct link between good housing and good health – a correlation we maintain today.

While the desire to own property is an individual one, it is partly responsible for the existing housing crisis across the UK and has placed massive pressure on supply.  The recognition of individual choice and aspiration – whatever that may be – is an important one, and one which will help us safeguard a high stock of social housing for those who need it for the future.

Aspiration should simply be a quality place to call home – regardless of cost.

#UKHousingFast

Food should never be a luxury. No one in this country should go hungry. Not now, not ever.

The most frightening thing about food poverty is that it can happen to anyone. I live in a fairly big town in south west Scotland – there are daily reminders, even outside of work, of the difficulties families and individuals are facing.

It pains me that I live in a world where people around me are regularly going hungry, that food parcels are dropped from vans to people on my street and that people I grew up with, now parents themselves, are starving just so their children don’t go without.

For some unfortunately, this is life.

We need a new normal.

@AsifChoudry and @AmyNettleton have taught me lots over the last few months, but the most recent lessons about Ramadan and #UKHousingFast have by far been the ones I could relate to most.

Amy, I’ve nicked this because it was lovely:

‘Ramadan is a time to empty your stomach and feed your soul.’

Nothing feeds my soul like people.

Food banks, soup kitchens and community veg gardens have popped up all over our region – places to help those in the greatest need. As wonderful as their work is, the fact that these places exist is a heart-breaking reminder of that state of the welfare system in the UK.

Nonetheless, they are a lifeline to those most in need – and #UKHousingFast is an opportunity for us to do our part to help too.

@MarkFrankland, a friend of our organisation, is a truly wonderful human being. A heart of gold, he is not only responsible for some of the best provision for former servicemen and women in Dumfries and Galloway, but also the creator of one of the region’s first food banks.

Mark wrote a blog in March 2014 about rural poverty specifically in Dumfries and Galloway. He focussed on a pocket of deprivation in the north of the region, a former mining village called Kelloholm. (Forgive me Mark, I’ve pinched some of this too – my mum even quoted it to me the other day – she won’t forget either)

Each week 15 food parcels are delivered to this area: come wind rain or shine.

Number of emergency food parcels per year. 52 x 15 = 780

Population of the village – 2074

Those lacking work face a long list of challenges just to receive money to get by. Kelloholm is a ghost town. There are empty properties on almost every street and anyone receiving benefits is left with around £30 a week to clothe and feed themselves.

Above and beyond the issue that £30 isn’t a lot, the bigger problem in Kelloholm is the fact that there is only one shop in the village. A controlled market, a monopoly if you like – because people absolutely need what it sells, then they can charge whatever they like…making an already bad situation even worse.

At least 26 miles down the road in Dumfries, competition exists – supermarkets and shops strive to sell their goods at the cheapest price while still turning a profit. In Dumfries, as Mark rightly puts it, you’re a lucky punter.

But to our brothers and sisters in Kelloholm, where there is only one seller, you are going to get well and truly ripped off.

Mark tested the water with this. His project provides four day food parcels to people in need. He shopped for the 17 items which make up the parcel in both Dumfries and in Kelloholm.

The results are shocking. In Kelloholm, at £18.46 that same 17 item parcel costs three times more to buy than it does in Dumfries for £5.69. These are by no means luxury items – in fact, they will hardly fill your cupboards. They’ll get you by – just.

Next week, I get the keys for my very first home. I’m moving out – and for the first time, I will be someone’s tenant. I’m going to do exactly as our politicians expect of our vulnerable – I’ll spend the first two weeks of my tenancy living on that £30 where possible.

#UKHousingFast is not only an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the fantastic work of the Trussell Trust and food banks just like Mark’s but surely a chance for us, united, to make a real change.

This is about more than housing, and more than welfare – fair trade is equally important to make sure those in need have as much access to food as the rest of us.

I’m ready to give time, food, energy and commitment to make a change, are you? #NoOneShouldGoToBedHungry