I have previously noted that working in housing can often be akin to hitting your head against a particularly unforgiving brick-wall, thankfully joyous sweet relief is here. The hype, some have argued hyperbole, around this year’s #housingday (sorry Matt Leach, I promise there won’t be too many hashtags here) being a welcome change from the normal doom and gloom of working in our beloved sector. Consequently I have given the wall a rest, for a day at least.
Firstly, the bad news. We as a sector have largely failed to get our voice heard, loudly, consistently and coherently. Ask your friend, neighbour, significant other, your Gran, what social housing is and what we do. They won’t be able to succinctly tell you, if at all, because if we don’t know ourselves and if we don’t know how the bleeding hell are others meant to? Do we just provide housing for the poor? Do we regenerate communities? Do we act as a de-facto welfare state? Do we provide housing for all, across their housing journey? The answer is all of the above, yet the public still thinks of us as council housing, backward, an irrelevance. As Mr Halewood wonderfully puts it,
“Joe Public still believes that social housing is full of White Dees laying on the settee hoping to get on Jeremy Kyle whom they adore on their 60″ flat screen TVs and get out of bed to watch.”
Frankly we lost the PR battle a long time ago and we need to make up a hell of a lot of ground to turn things around. We also need to be better at balancing slapping ourselves on the back for a job well done and having crippling paranoia about what the world thinks of us. As some of those on the receiving end of the services we provide have also noted we need to be much better campaigners-in-chief for social housing. For a very good case and point it is worth reading Michael Vincent’s piece in 24Dash.
#housingday is an opportunity to challenge the negative perceptions of what we do and who we work for (ultimately about the people that provide us with livelihoods). And as a result, whilst his blog makes many valid points, I wholeheartedly disagree with Joe’s viewpoint that #housingday is an inconsequential campaign. Because anything that raises the profile of what we do in a positive manner (even if it is with hashtags largely only known by our own sector) is a good thing. More importantly anything that enables us to work a bit closer together, and less like the herd of cats we tend to operate like, gets my vote. It is true that there are a large number of different campaigns going on at the moment and I am running out of room on my lapel…might have to invest in a Wilderness Explorer-esk sash. A bringing together all the disparate campaigns into one, largely homogeneous entity wouldn’t be a bad thing, if not just for my clothing choices. Less of the Judean People’s Front bollocks would also be a nice occurrence.
I blogged a while back that the main reason why UKIP do so well is that yes they say dumb things, but they do so repeatedly and very loudly. They have bullied their way onto the political sphere and into the public consciousness with a “we’re here, were a bit posh and want to be out of Europe, get used to it” approach. The package is well presented, works wonderfully with the masses as it hits a nerve and is easily identifiable. Until we nail our own version of the ‘guffaw, f@*k Europe’ brigade’s method of campaigning life will continue to be tricky politically as we won’t be able to secure public backing. You can’t back what you don’t know. #housingday is an real chance to start getting the message out there, winning friends and influencing people.
So if you haven’t already joined the Housing professionals, amateurs, Twitterati and people who wondered along by accident I strongly suggest you do. You can participate by tweeting using #housingday or the including the Twitter handle @housingday in your tweets. When doing so for the love of whatever god/goat you believe in Tweet someone who knows nothing about social housing. Because what is the point in keeping this in the large extended family that is social housing if we are trying to spread the word? Viva la revolucion…or something similarly uplifting and rabble rousing.