Housing conferences? Aren’t they just mini-breaks by the seaside?
We're just two weeks away from Total Housing 2020, and here's the chair of CIH's policy advisory committee Clare Powell to make the point that housing conferences are certainly not about paddling and sandcastles.
I work from home most of the time. And like many people in that situation, I spend a bit of time on displacement activities such as Twitter, which I justify by the fact that Twitter is genuinely useful for the horizon scanning that’s part of my work. Pictures of other people’s pets, not so much.
One of the striking things about Twitter is that quite a lot of people simply don’t hold back when it comes to judging others and their behaviour. It’d be easy to just ignore this stuff (don’t feed the trolls), but there’s one area that does give me pause. In the corner of Twitter where people talk about social housing, you come across some pretty negative views about conferences. This is often a variation on the theme that housing professionals are drinking champagne at tenants’ expense.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I’m a housing professional – have been for about 30 years – and I’ve been to a fair few conferences in my time. Reflecting on that experience and looking ahead to the up-coming Total Housing conference in Brighton, I’ve been asking myself whether the time (2 days) and cost (varies) of housing conferences is really justified.
The first thing to say about this year’s Total is ‘my goodness, there’s just so much content!’ Opening with the Regulator of Social Housing who’ll be outlining her expectations of us all, the programme covers the breadth and depth of what housing professionals, and housing providers, do. There are opportunities to bring yourself up to date on the new standards and regulation on building safety, as well as tips on how to get day-to-day repairs right, and how to innovate for affordable warmth and environmental sustainability. On development, there are sessions about how to achieve both volume and quality; whether cross-subsidy can really work; and how planning can be used to achieve thriving new neighbourhoods. And there are several opportunities to discuss how housing management should evolve to meet people’s needs, including hearing and respecting the voices of our tenants, residents and other customers.
As a policy wonk myself, I’m pleased to see that there’s also new research to share: Savills’ always-excellent housing market analysis; Altair’s research on how we could be better at innovation; and CIH’s work on re-thinking allocations. We’re not on Twitter here, so don’t judge me, but I’m particularly excited at the prospect of the 2020 edition of the UK Housing Review, with its unrivalled coverage (and unique analysis) of social housing data.
There’s space for some self-reflection too – on the meaning of being a housing professional, on the relationship between housing and mental health, and on the strength that organisations can achieve through diversity. Running alongside all this, there’s a packed Fringe programme featuring new technology, career advice, and people putting the world to rights on important issues like furniture poverty, the role (or not?) of shared ownership and how private renting could be improved. Topping it all off will be food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe. Colleagues who’ve heard her speak tell me she’s moving, inspiring and not to be missed. If she speaks as well as she writes, then they’re definitely right about that, and people will leave the conference with a renewed sense of purpose and the energy to carry through their good intentions.
So are conferences worth it? On the basis of this one, I’d say yes! We all need to be exposed to new ideas, hear about things outside our specialist areas, and keep up to date on the bigger picture that we and our organisations are part of. A conference with such a packed programme is a great way to do that at the same time as meeting new people and learning from diverse experiences.
And what about the seaside mini-break? Well after all that content, if delegates have the energy for a drink, they’ve probably earned it. And it might just be me, but in the brief moments when I’ve left the conference venue, Brighton has always seemed to have horizontal rain driving in off the sea. Sunbathing and promenading opportunities have generally been limited. But you never know…
Total Housing 2020 is 25-26 March in Brighton. See more details and book your place here.