Come fly with me

So the tweets have hit the fan this week over that eternal angst of the sector –  ‘why does nobody like us?’. Colin Wiles, as ever, makes a solid set of points. We’re not a failed brand, people do like us, we provide a good product. Similar thoughts are echoed by Speye, who in turn notes the dysfunctional and splintered nature of the sector and the bodies that represent it. It does somewhat remind me of the Judean People’s Front ala Monty Python.

Teenage-esk self doubt aside for me the point needs to be made that we are still piss poor at promoting the our work beyond the sector. The product itself is good (by and large).  The selling of it, not so much.  In my interactions with some of the greater good the great and the good I put forward the case that we either need to change the nature of the beast or get better at highlighting the good work it does.  Labels matter little if your product is good but your PR men/women/goats are asleep at the wheel.

Part of the solution to this lies at the feet of our professional bodies. The NHF (Judean People’s Front) and CIH (The People’s Front of Judea).  How many times have they been doing the sofa rounds on morning tv? How many appearances have they had on question time? I appreciate a lot of hard work goes on in the background but frankly the general public doesn’t give a flying fuck about that.  We need a much bigger, bolder and visible presence. As Peter Hall has previously noted we need to go beyond just talking to ourselves.

Being loud works.  Part of the reason UKIP was so popular for the European elections was because Nigel Farage said things stupidly, but regularly. He’s got the old English chap routine nailed down and like Boris ‘gaffaw hurrmph’ Johnson people like them because they have a certain style and personality. More importantly their ‘brands’ are known.  None of that boring, bland comms malark eh Nick Aitkin? (for an interesting counter point on this subject see Rob Jefferson’s blog In defence of #ukhousing comms).

Like it or loath it we are still pretty unknown outside of the sector.  I was born and raised in Worcester we have had no council housing for years. All social housing in the county is owned by social landlords. Yet most still refer to it as council housing. I have lost count of the times I’ve had the conversation explaining this fact, even to those living in social housing.  If we can’t even get our brand right with our own customers we can’t hope to sway public opinion.

So it is not so much that the brand social housing is broken, just that it has never been properly marketed. Half-truths and gossip have run amok in the absence of solid propaganda.  Case and point Orbit and the Apni Hawelli housing scheme PR incident.

A guest speaker I saw last year made a very good, if slightly disheartening point.  It was on the subject of branding, customer satisfaction and profitability. He highlighted Ryanair and Virgin Airways, noting that one was consistently slammed for poor service and satisfaction levels, the other was the darling of the sector. One was recording record profits whilst the other struggled to break even.  Guess which was which? Sometimes being good at your job is not enough.  If people want a rival’s product they will buy it.

We provide a better product, it is cheaper, more secure and in the long run provides a greater public good than our rivals in the private sector. We need to ensure the public knows this, can benefit from this and ultimately buys into the idea of social housing as much as the need for it.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Social Housing and branding – Never knowingly sold anyone?

Excellent blog thoughtful, insightful and generally full of good points.

Big data, big problems

In the wondrous world that is social housing we collect a shed load of data on our customers/tenants/residents/people what live in our dwellings.  However as a general rule we have not been brilliant at a) using it effectively b) keeping it updated.  As Richard Blundell quite bluntly puts it we have historically been bad with data because we have had very little reason to need to be good with it.  As he also notes with the welfare reforms in full swing it is probably a wise move to get to know our customers.

Mr Blundell’s sales-pitch aside the chap does highlight one or two failings within our sector.  Over the years I have heard horror stories over ‘forgotten’ estates or of social landlords finding they have stock registered in places they don’t even operate in.  Having largely worked in roles that heavily use data (both on stock and households) I know how much of a ballache it is to keep on top of things.  Especially when idiots don’t put stock on the housing management system or, my pet hate, use spreadsheets to keep track of things like planned maintenance works.  If you have a housing management system with a planned maintenance module use the damn thing or failing that find yourself a new job.

If you are reading this and thinking that it doesn’t affect your organisation the chances are you are probably a bit too far up the food chain.  One of things that has struck me from a speech by Sarah Cooke, of Midland Heart fame, at last year’s Young Leaders Experience was her statement that the higher up you go up in social housing the less problems their appear to be with you requests, or with the organisation in general.  This is definitely the case in terms of issues around data.  Senior management want figures, not major caveats around why the figures are next to meaningless.  That is not to say that they are oblivious to the problems concerning data, just that they may not always appreciate how messed up things have been.

If you still thinking your organisation is OK tell me a) how many properties you both own and manage (split by tenure type please) and and b) how many of your customers have a disability.  I guarantee you if you ask question (a) to your finance director, director of housing and the monkey in charge of repairs and maintenance you will get 3 different answers (or at the very least two contradictory ones).  If you ask question (b) especially if you want to know the changes over a period of time, you will get a response with more loopholes than your average piece of tax legislation.

It’s not even the case that many organisations have bad computer systems, we just don’t use them properly or effectively.  Most data input will be done by housing assistants or your contact centre because these are the people that either have the most contact with customers or get handed all the crap jobs.  My question would be how often these poor sods get trained to correctly enter the data, probably not that often.  Actually, definitely not that often as my roles have required me to go and clean up the mess that is left in the wake of them incorrectly storing data.  You find that with a little encouragement, a handily designed idiot’s guide and some time and attention people get what is needed to be done.  Failing that a big stick works (joking…kinda).  Often things just need a little light maintenance.  One of my favourite mistakes to find is a new contact that has been made for an expected child.  Great, but the contact was set up in 2010.  Either that is one hell of a long pregnancy or someone has not been updating their records.  Apparently housing associations, like right wing Americans, appear to only care about children when they are in the womb…

Despite Nick ‘two face’ Clegg and co trying to distance themselves from the monumental travesty that is the bedroom tax (how the hell did Iain Duncan Smith keep his job? Is he their care in the community project?) it is likely to be around for a while.  And with things like Universal Credit and the benefit cap sticking about, better knowledge around our customers is always welcome.  All in all it is time we slightly upped our game around customer records, not quite a ‘must try harder’ but certainly a ‘room for improvement’ grade from me.  On a side note I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who spotted the old political trick of trying to bury bad news on a busy news day.  Kudos Jules Birch.  For more info on the bedroom tax take a look at Speye’s blog.  He is as accurate as he is prolific.

As always if you want to follow me on Twitter simply click here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs at https://ngblog2013.wordpress.com.

Get angry, get organised

Real Life Reform has just released its fourth report into the impact of the various welfare reforms.  It is grim reading and if you aren’t already angry about the botched way in which the reforms have been slapped into place, you should be.  Fuck, I’m that pissed I’ve done a second blog in two days #firstworldproblems.  But in all seriousness the harrowing statistics brought forth in this latest release highlight the monumental gap between the expectation of the reforms by those who are bringing them into play and the reality on the ground.

Here’s some of the highlights from the report:

  • Debt payments have doubled
  • Nearly a quarter of those surveyed owned money to loans sharks or payday lenders
  • 12.5% have used a food bank at least once in the last 3 months

What should be utterly shocking is that people are spending less on food i.e. going hungry to put the heating on, or living in cold houses to be able to afford to eat.  This is 21st Century Great Britain, and people are having to make choices that should not exist. However they do exist and as such the horror of the situation needs to be told.  Austerity Bites by Mara O’Hara has already highlighted many of the impacts of the reforms, and the linked mass reduction in government funding up and down the country.  Real Life Reform’s Report hammers home the same messages of anger, despair and desperation.  All brought on because of an ideology that trumps the notion of individualism, of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps of the power of the market above all else.  All well and good when you are white middle class male from a well to do background but sometimes state assistance isn’t just a helping hand it is a god damn lifeline.

I have never understood why those so removed from the realities of deep engrained poverty feel that they have a unique position on how to turn it around.  I have been in the dire straights that the individuals looked at by Real Life Reform have been in.  Counting every penny, turning down drinks with your friends, not going to the gym or even playing 5 a side footy with your mates because you can’t afford it.  Not buying Christmas presents, stressing about every food shop.  These things may sound trivial bit in the midst of it they occupy most of your thinking capacity and drive home the sadness that comes with the social isolation associated of having sod all in the bank.  Let me get this straight poverty is not fun, it is not a choice.  It is dark, depressing and soul wrenching set of circumstances.  Particularly if like me you were working at the time.  I cannot explain the shear pressure that you go under when trying to make sure you have little pleasures like the heating on for an hour in the morning and an hour at night or being able to have pint (literally just one) with friends.  Poverty porn like Benefits Street, like How to Get a Council House don’t show the other side of having f@#k all money, if they did they would be lot more shocking, but for the right reasons.

I am lucky, I have a great family, awesome mates and a good job.  Like many people my experience of poverty was a temporary one.  It could however return, and part of the reason why I so strongly support more social housing and a proper safety net is that I might need it one day. As Mary O’Hara argues state support isn’t about dependency, it is about opportunity, about giving those who have been dealt a beat down from life another chance.  The combined impact of the reforms is taking away that support and bizarrely far from removing itself from the lives of its citizens (as per neo-liberal doctrine) under the Coalition the state is evermore encroaching on our lives.  With things like the claimant commitment and attempting to force the ‘workshy’ into work placements seemingly at odds with letting the individual make their own choices.  Being tough to the poor may play well to the crowd in the home counties but often the state of play is different to how it is imagined.  Peoples’ lives are more complex than we would like to think.

Please take this report and show it to all and sundry.  I have written before that ignorance breeds contempt and mistrust towards the unknown.  Opinion polls have consistently shown that when given greater information the general public is actually rather sympathetic to those on the margins and in receipts of benefits.  It is our job to ensure that they are kept well informed.  Keep up the good work Real Life Reform, I’m just sorry that there is a need for you to do so.

You can get Real Life Reform’s full report from here or go to http://www.lyha.co.uk/documents/Real_Life_Reform_Report_No4_July_2014.pdf.

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity”

#ukhousingfast

Guest blog by James Caspell (@jjcaspell)

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Eduardo Galeano, writer, journalist, novelist.

This quotation may seem immediately provocative, but for me it outlines what Ramadan – and #UKHousingFast – is all about.

For practising Muslim colleagues, friends, and the many residents I meet every day in Tower Hamlets, the month gives an opportunity to refocus attention and practice self-sacrifice. But Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking as an individual.  It is about undertaking the hardship of those who are starving or dying of thirst elsewhere in the world. 

Increasingly, such hardship is not that far away. Over 1 million people in Britain have used a foodbank and 13 million…

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Every little helps…

Being the low level minion that I am I don’t tend to do much of the meet and greet malark. Most of my days involve spreadsheets, pivot tables and reams of data, so much so that the team I work in occasionally has the moniker “the Geek Squad”. We take it on the chin as the good banter it is.  Personally I largely attribute this nickname to the fact that we can competently use Microsoft Excel, or as others in the organisation seem to think of it, “black magic”. I’m not sure how I feel about the nickname because (A) I can talk to women without wetting myself and (B) I don’t know computer coding, I don’t play Dungeon & Dragons and I have certainly never messed around with Linux* so I don’t see myself as much of a geek.  I guess it is all a matter of perception.

This weekend saw me get away from my beloved Excel documents and brave the bright lights of outdoors. My ever patient and long suffering girlfriend dragged me out to help her and her netball team, Scarletts Netball Worcester, complete a Cyclothon for Asha Women’s Centre. I have to admit, my burning quads aside, that it was a lot of fun and helped to raise money for an organisation that can always use a bob or two.  As councils across the country continue to slash spending organisations like Asha, who deal with the vulnerable and those on the margins, are likely to feel the squeeze even more.  Fortunately it appears that Asha at least has a diverse set of funders and will carry on doing the good work that it has always done.

CyclothonSomeone else who appears to need some spare change is Iain ‘why always me’ Duncan Smith.  After claiming everything is tout sweet (again) the treasury seems a little jittery at signing off further funding for the beleaguered project.  I could make a joke about state dependency and government funding here but that would be too easy.  Cheap shots aside it is deeply worrying how much of train wreck Universal Credit has become.  And although the DWP expects its business case to be signed off soon it is all a bit of a mess.  Frankly I am bored with writing about the subject.  Reform of the welfare state is needed, and I do support Universal Credit in principle.  However many of the reforms are crude short-termist cost cutting measures that penalise the poor and vulnerable.  They are also highly unlikely to save the money they were projected to and place ever more burden on charities, local authorities and social landlords.  It is a Grade A balls up and those in power need to recognise it as such.

The gift that keeps on giving aside another interesting development was the announcement of infrastructure funding, largely scheduled for post 2015, for ‘the regions’.  Based on recommendations from Lord ‘right to buy’ Heseltine it is probably the closest we will come (i.e. not very) to an announcement of government funding for new housing before the next general election.  It is a welcome departure from a heavily London focused approach to sorting out our economy.  Though it remains to be seen what impact the funding will have and dollar for housing is (again) heavily focused on getting largely private developments up and running.  That being said the deals do appear to provide for a number of mixed tenure developments and frankly as long as more housing gets built I can’t complain too much.  A point I would make is that if you can fund projects to facilitate private housing developments, you can fund public housing.

A final point.  Some lovely chaps and chapesses at  are holding a day on the 15th July.   The idea is to get sponsored to fast & raise money for a related good cause.  You can follow their blog at ukhousingfast.wordpress.com to find out more, I would suggest looking at Michala Rudman and Rob Gurshon’s guest blogs they are as insightful as they are excellent.  

*For the uninitiated this is not some form of recreational substance but a free/open source operating system that requires a fair amount of technical skill and knowledge to use.

 

 

Making a meal of being angry

A darn good follow up to @MichalaRudman’s blog – A guest blog from Rob Gurshon (@Simplicitly)

#ukhousingfast

A guest blog from Rob Gurshon (@Simplicitly)

Everyone should read Michala Rudman’s (@MichalaRudman) take on #UKHousingFast. http://ukhousingfast.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/do-all-the-good-you-can-by-all-the-means-you-can/

I joked with Michala on twitter about it being such a good piece that I’d give up writing myself because I can’t hope to produce anything that covers #UKHousingFast as comprehensively.  Facing the prospect of offering a few words myself, I still feel the same way.

When I first saw a tweet about #UKHousingFast I was quite angry. This is frequently my reaction to housing-related stories these days. In the wake of welfare reforms and the toll they’re weighing on people who are often tenants of UK Housing, it seemed distasteful to me for housing staff to voluntarily fast to raise the issue of food poverty.

This is because I’m a bit of an idiot. I hadn’t realised that the scope of the fast was to allow those taking part to highlight their…

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