Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being on the same billing as Terrie Alafat, Boris Worrall and Chris Hobson. We were all speaking at a leader’s roundtable event organised by the CIH East Midlands on the topic of unprecedented political change. It was a great event, very well attended with some really interesting debate during the 90 minute session. More importantly, I left the session feeling hugely encouraged; lately, housing can feel like a negative sector to be in, but the senior housing professionals around the room all spoke so passionately about their work. In particular, there was no feeling of a sector that is fracturing, everyone is still looking to work together to provide the housing their area needs.

Below are the notes from my opening pitch, titled as the young leader’s perspective (though I’m not sure how much longer I can get away with claiming to be a young leader!

As we all know, the housing sector has seen huge changes in recent years, which only seem to be increasing exponentially in their scale and number. These changes are challenging our existence and as a result we’re all agonising over who we are, what we do and why.

My perspective is that it’s vital that each housing provider is crystal clear about their vision, objectives and values and stick to them no matter what. And it’s ok for each ALMO, council and housing association to take a different approach. If that means a housing association focuses on purely commercial activity going forward, maybe that’s ok too, do they deserve to be publicly criticised? Doesn’t that just further the Government’s campaign to kill off social housing? At the very least, let’s respect each other’s choices, learn from each other’s successes and failures and focus on making sure everyone has a home they can afford.

It’s deeply ingrained in our sector to compare ourselves to other providers, to make sure we are keeping up with the Jones’s (or the Kardashian’s depending on your generation) but doing it better, faster, cheaper. And now that many of us are dabbling in commercial markets, we have even more comparisons to make.

But I think sometimes it does more harm than good to compare yourself to others, whether they are similar to you or very different. In my role managing market rent properties, I’m often asked what would a private landlord do in a given situation, so that we might follow their example, but given that there are over 2 million private landlords in the UK, there are over 2 million answers to that question! My old landlord sent us a Christmas card every year and replaced our broken boiler in one working day, but I know for sure plenty of other private landlords and even social landlords don’t operate like that!

That’s not to say that comparison is always a bad thing, I think there are definitely some key lessons to learn from private landlords and the wider commercial sector, namely the effect of being financially connected to the activity/company (through personal investment, bonuses, etc) has on innovation, culture and the service customers receive.

So maybe we could all make a late New Year’s resolution to only compare the stuff that matters, that will result in everyone having somewhere affordable to live. And if we all find a different way to achieve that, then so be it, after all, not everyone is facing the same housing crisis.

I think I’m one of a handful of people working in housing that actually sought out this career path, and part of the attraction was to have a positive impact on society and to work for an organisation with strong principles and values, and I think lots of my generation feel the same. So I’ll end by saying whatever your chosen vision and values are, stick to them, don’t let others inside and outside the sector, or the Government, distract or deter you, we’re already facing plenty of change, let’s not create any more than we need to.

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