If you had told me even three years ago that I would end up not only working in Housing, but loving it, I would have laughed my little socks off. Despite the fact that I made a conscious decision some 12 years ago to leave the private sector – because I wanted to use my skills to ‘make a difference’ rather than just making some rich git richer – the idea of working in Housing never really crossed my radar. If you’d asked me why, I probably would have replied that the world of housing just didn’t excite me enough. The very word ‘housing’ conjured up visions of stuff that just didn’t float my boat. Property maintenance. Waiting lists. Rent collections. Tortuous public-sector admin processes. Evictions. I probably would have been hard pressed to come up with any other words to describe the work undertaken by housing associations.
Despite all this, I landed a job with my local housing association a couple of years ago. The job itself came about almost by accident – a misunderstood tweet, leading to my accidentally attending the first stage of a selection process, leading to my interest being piqued, leading to an application and – amazingly – a job offer. The job itself was a fixed term contract on a specific project, which made good use of my experience setting up and running small businesses; it was an amazing opportunity for my first foray back into the world of working for other people after seven years working for myself while my children were small. But still, I didn’t really identify myself as ‘working in Housing’. ‘Oh’, I would say, ‘I’m working on a project for my local Housing Association. Quite an exciting project actually, and not really housing related at all’.
How things change! Just over two years later, I am not only loud and proud about the fact that I work in Housing, but also constantly banging on to the world in general about what ‘Housing’ is REALLY about. It turns out that all the stuff I listed above is such a teeny tiny proportion of what Housing Associations actually do – to be honest I am pretty mortified that I got it so wrong for so many years. Though in my defence, I get the impression that traditionally, Housing Associations have not been very good at telling the world what they do either – and you know why that is? It’s because, generally speaking, we are FAR too busy doing AWESOME STUFF!
Some of the awesome stuff that is going on right here, right now?
- A project that works intensively with local people who are removed from the jobs market – 24 people have gained employment so far this year – and guess what, we do this for free, no whacking great payments like those dished out to Serco and the like for managing the (hugely unsuccessful) Work Programme.
- A project that collects unwanted smart work clothes, so jobseekers can have a tidy outfit to go to interviews in, putting them on a level playing field with other applicants.
- A project that collects unwanted furniture destined for the tip, and upcycles it with the help of volunteers, so that people have a bed to sleep in – the people volunteering on this project will be able to use it as a stepping stone to employment.
- A project working with young people to teach them about money management, and then train them to be able to teach their peers – ultimately a much more powerful medium for what can be seen as a boring and preachy message, however essential.
- A project that supports building and maintenance contractors to create local jobs and training opportunities; and then supports those furthest from the labour market to apply for them, offering continuing support to both the candidate and the employer to ensure that the opportunities are sustained.
- An allotment for tenants and local community members, where they can grow their own food, learning useful social and practical skills that can make a real difference to confidence levels – and offer another step down the road to employment.
- A food co-op, using the buying power of a group to make fresh fruit, veg and eggs affordable and accessible to everyone, especially those on very low incomes.
- Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programmes run for young people living in isolated estates where there are no facilities or opportunities to do anything at all, other than hang out at the bus shelter. These programmes give young people the chance to build their confidence, undertake a more active way of life, complete volunteering assignments – all of these things can and do make a real and tangible difference to their lives and prospects.
- Numerous groups supported by Housing Associations but run by tenants, covering everything from ‘Knitters and Natters’ to ‘Computer Club’…for some people, participating in these groups can be the only time they have contact with other people, and for some, they are the very first step on a journey to developing the confidence to enter work or further training opportunities.
See? All that stuff, and not one mention of all the stuff that I thought Housing was all about. And that’s just a quick list taken from the three Housing Associations that I am involved with currently – there’s LOADS more stuff out there – believe me I could go on, and on, except it would keep me from doing the AWESOME STUFF on my to do list right now. If you want to know more, get yourself over to #housingday on the Twitters, and prepare to have your preconceptions shattered – and in a good way!
So. There you go. My name’s Michelle and I work in Housing. And very proud I am too!