Category Archives: Work

My name’s Michelle and I work in Housing.

Housing. Housing?

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!

A face for radio…

I was up at stupid o’clock this morning for a BBC Radio Wales chat about how the St David’s development has impacted Cardiff city centre, specifically the independent shops and businesses around the arcades and the market. It’s the kind of thing I’ve done before a couple of times, either for Rules of Play or on behalf of an employer, so I knew the drill.

Everything went as usual – they fed me coffee and papers while I waited, I earwigged interestedly on the person next to me preparing the day’s newspaper review, then I went in and I did my bit (managed not to swear – phew) – and was just about to head off when one of the production team stopped me. ‘Have you done that before?’ she asked, and I explained that it wasn’t my first time but I’m not a radio regular, as it were. ‘Well, you seemed pretty comfortable – would you like to try out doing a newspaper review for us sometime?’

Wow! Exciting or what? Of course I briefly entertained delusions of adequacy and said yes…I’ve been panicking ever since that I won’t be able to think of anything clever to say, or I’ll Spoonerise entire sentences, or they’ll make me mention something in the Daily Mail, and then I probably will swear live on air…

Still, I’m a great believer in taking the chances life throws at you and I figure this one might be fun, so I’m going to give it a whirl…More news as I get it, so stay tuned!

Getting towards a healthy work life balance…

I’m wary of breaking the spell by blogging it, but September has brought with it a new order in our life, and for the first time ever, I feel as if we may be on the way to achieving a work life balance that works for us all!

This is due in no small part to the fact that the children are finally all in the same place all day, every day. I did shed a tear when my littlest boy started Big School proper – and I still don’t like to think too much about how quickly time is marching on for all of us – but I can’t pretend I didn’t heave a sigh of relief as far as practicalities are concerned. No more juggling nursery/school pickups three times a day, no more extortionate wrap-around for the days when we couldn’t juggle, and no more guiltily trying to work at home in the afternoons with a bored pre-schooler who would much rather I was in the park with him.

Another new change in our routine which seems tiny on the face of it, but makes a HUGE difference to our family balance, is that the kids now go to a free breakfast club at school (thank you, Welsh Government). We drop them in at 8.10am which means on my work at home days, I can be at my desk for 9am sharp AND have had time for breakfast/getting the washing on/a quick tidy round beforehand. And getting to my desk for 9am, and working till 3pm, means that I get loads done so when the kids come out of school, I can actually be with them properly. The same applies for the Husband on his drop off days – getting into Rules of Play at 8.30am rather than 9.20am means a whole load of admin, internet sales etc can be sorted before opening time – which does take the pressure away at the other end of the day.

So home life feels like it has shifted to a more manageable pace. And in a highly unusual feat of moons colliding, I also feel as if I’m in a good place with work at the moment. This time last year I was just starting a new job, which I was unsure about for a number of reasons, not least the fact that I was out from 8am-6pm four days a week. I had a sense that I would be tipping the balance too far as far as my personal ability to be a half-reasonable mother  was concerned; and ability aside, I also want to enjoy my kids, and them to enjoy me, while we’re all young enough to do so!

I was right about four days not working out – but a year later and my role has happily morphed into 14 hours a week. Well, probably 17-18 in truth, but as I only need to be in the office two days a week it’s manageable.  I’ve also picked up some freelance work that is keeping me busy for another 10 or so hours, and of course there’s always a couple of hours on shop stuff that needs to be squeezed in – but here’s the thing – I can get all of that done while the kids are in school! Whoop! Working from home three days a week also really helps with planning the House Project , and I am hopeful that I might be able to squeeze in a teensy bit of blogging time too…

Weekends are another newish treat for Family Davis. Back in the days when we owned a coffee shop, the husband worked every Saturday and Sunday. It’s hard work being home alone with three kids all weekend – and sanity-saving play dates are harder to set up as most normal people are enjoying family time.  It also meant that if one of the kids did an activity, the other two had to come along whether they liked it or not – cue much fractiousness. Then we started Rules of Play and for a long time I worked  there on Saturdays (as well as the day job), while he worked Sundays in the coffee shop. Even after we sold the coffee shop, I carried on working Saturdays – it’s only in the relatively recent past that we have managed to drop all weekend shifts from our schedule, and boy has it made a difference! Weekends are now something we all look forward to, as opposed to a tag-team negotiation and competitive tiredness  arguments – you’ll know the score… ‘I’m exhausted, I’ve been working ALL WEEKEND’ ‘Yes, well at least at work you get to have lunch and coffee and go for a wee by yourself and GO FOR A BEER AFTERWARDS – you’ve practically been on HOLIDAY’ – and so on and so forth…

Yes. Life feels good at the moment. Here’s to a good work life balance, and long may it continue!

*awaits disaster of meteoric proportions to bugger it all up completely*