Friday, 30 March 2012

What Do Housing Associations Stand For?

This week I was at the retirement of one of the housing world's longest serving leaders. Tom Murtha of Midland Heart has been around in housing for even longer than me and we worked together for a number of years in the late 80s and early 90s. As he said farewell to assembled friends and colleagues it was good to see that his passion for a cause was undimmed. Tom wears his heart on his sleeve and lives for fairness. He had a voice, and wasn't afraid to use it, and what he stood for and his contribution to the sector should be remembered.

At Trafford Housing Trust we like to think we live our values and they are certainly deeply embedded within the organisation. But that's not quite the same as standing for something - and for people knowing what that something is. I've called before for the sector to have a new relationship with customers, government and communities and that would be a good start in making a stand for something. But we could do more.
What should we choose to make a stand for?

The positioning of the sector under the National Housing Federation's "In Business for Neighbourhoods" brand might have worked, if all housing associations had been signed up and delivered it. But because a brand has to describe what you actually do, not what you hope you do, the fact that some high-profile organisations shunned the concept, it therefore failed the "does what it says on the tin" test.

Always fraught with problems such as those faced by InBiz, the possibility of a single sector "brand" has now gone forever. After all, the Audit Commission has lost its role of homogenising the sector through the stifling of local innovation, so can we really expect that all housing associations will stand for the same thing - let alone expect private and for-profit providers to stand for it as well? The conclusion is that housing associations need to find their own voice; they need to be more overt about the things they stand for; they might even take that as far as campaigning for change.

Where would I start? Well, for once in this blog I will speak with my own voice - not one that can be associated with Trafford Housing Trust - at least not at this stage. Personally, I'd start with speaking up about the damage done to individuals, neighbourhoods and communities from inadequate support to those with mental ill-health. I'd promote the benefits that investment in simple and low-cost services can bring and I'd campaign for people with mental ill-health to get a realistic package of support to enhance their employment chances.

But that's just me - whether it's mental health or something else, associations must know what it is they stand for - and if they need some advice on how to get their voice heard, they could do worse than entice Tom Murtha out of retirement and get him to help!

No comments:

Post a Comment