Changing perceptions is key to the future of the Social Housing Sector


Gill Payne, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the National Housing Federation (NHF), spoke candidly about the challenges faced by the housing sector and how changing perceptions of housing associations is key to the future of the sector.

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Pictured L-R: Derek Long, Deborah McLaughlin,
Alistair Fletcher, Gill Payne, Matt Jones
& Paul Wainwright

Sharing her thoughts with over 200 delegates who had gathered at the annual North West Housing Conference, Gill explained there are differing views of the sector across Government; at a local level relationships are usually very good but at a national level the social housing sector needs to build relationships with ministers at the centre of Government. She urged the sector to concentrate its efforts on changing perceptions and promote the role of housing associations in society and the positive work they do.

Gill advised the sector to look for ways to promote its proud history, adaptability and resilience, its strong local relationships, its ability to deliver over the long term, its core charitable purpose to house people in need and how it supports aspiration. In addition, she said there are real opportunities for housing associations within the areas of localism, devolution and the development of the Northern Powerhouse.

Gill also touched on the impending changes to the housing landscape following the recent publication of the Housing and Planning Bill. She told delegates how the NHF want to rebuild a relationship with Government based where possible on delivering a shared ambition on supply and opening up ownership but she warned that there is a long journey ahead and that the full picture on Right to Buy won’t become clear until the end of 2016.

Speaker Matt Jones, Director of Customer Operations at ForViva, focussed on the need to establish better links between health and housing when he addressed the region’s housing community at the event. Due to the increasing need to cater for an ageing population, he said social housing providers have a real opportunity to put strategies in place which protect the future of the social housing environment. He spoke about housing associations having access to the areas of greatest health inequality and how there needs to be a shift towards services in the community with more emphasis on prevention and self reliance. Matt then went on to say that housing associations have to be more than landlords and it makes business sense to see health improvements which will result in asset protection, income protection and income opportunities. He suggested collaboration between health, social care and housing could see the housing sector become the partner of choice for the health sector in the future.

Attendees also heard a local perspective on housing from Deborah McLaughlin, Chief Executive of Manchester Place, a unique collaboration between Manchester City Council and the Homes and Communities Agency formed to accelerate the pace and quality of housing development in the city.

Deborah spoke about how Manchester Place’s role is to create a pipeline of private and public sector schemes and work with developers and funders to identify new opportunities to help the city meet its target of creating 55,000 new homes by 2027. The initiative will also collaborate with housing associations to develop a programme of affordable homes/shared ownership. It will support developers and house builders to access public finance, including the £300m Greater Manchester Housing Fund which is available as part of the Manchester devolution agreement.

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Pictured L-R: Derek Long, Natalie Pryor,
Chris Fray, Alistair Fletcher,
Danielle Sheldon, Ben Osu & Paul Wainwright

The conference included a panel session called "Foundations for the Future", which featured up and coming young housing professionals Ben Osu, Community Project Officer, Your Housing Group; Natalie Pryor, Customer Involvement Officer (Co-Regulation), Liverpool Mutual Homes; Danielle Sheldon, Neighbourhood Team Leader, The Regenda Group; Chris Fray, Business Intelligence and Customer Insight Manager, ForViva; and Michael Arndt, Corporate Project Manager, The Riverside Group. Delegates heard the panel’s ideas for the future of social housing and their opinions on whether social media is a way forward for interaction with tenants, how housing associations can provide in an era of austerity and how they can make a positive impact in order to benefit their customers.

Housing specialists also presented a programme of workshops, offering practical advice on a range of topics specific to the sector, including improving the links between health provision and housing, catering for an ageing population and empowering communities.

The event was chaired by Derek Long, Director, arc4.

Mitchell Charlesworth and Brabners hosted the conference at Liverpool’s BT Convention Centre with support from a project group made up of ForViva, Liverpool Mutual Homes, Riverside, Symphony Housing Group, The Regenda Group and Your Housing Group – and additional sponsorship from Procure Plus and PSL Print Management.

Social housing specialist and Mitchell Charlesworth Partner Paul Wainwright said: “We have heard speakers talking about the significant changes that the sector is currently experiencing.  Despite the pressures this will inevitably bring, it was pleasing to hear the young speaker panel and their confidence in the sector’s ability to react to the changes and continue to be a major player in the construction and management of affordable housing in the future. It was good to see the strength and depth of personnel from the various housing providers on the panel.”

Alistair Fletcher, Partner at Brabners, which has one of the largest housing and regeneration specialist legal teams in the North West, said: “This was a very timely conference. The Government has made clear its intentions for the sector and this conference provided delegates with an opportunity to consider how they should respond. There are, as everyone acknowledges, many challenges that lie ahead but there are also opportunities for those who are willing to grasp them.”

Twitter: @NWHousingConf (#NWHC2015)
www.northwesthousingconference.co.uk

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