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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Why attend The Big Conversation 2018?


Gemma Stockdale, senior project business partner at Thirteen Group and member of CIH Futures talks about how the last 12 months have been an absolute whirlwind and how visiting the Big Conversation last year opened up many opportunities for her.

Last year, I was nominated to attend an event in Leeds with a handful of my Thirteen colleagues. It was all a little last minute, so I didn’t know much about it in advance - the programme, speakers or set up. And I certainly didn’t know how much of a game changer it would be for me, both personally and professionally.

CIH’s The Big Conversation is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a day’s worth of discussion, debate and chatter with a little bit of structure thrown in for good measure. Expect fishbowls, unconferences, world cafes, visual minutes and soapboxes. It’s not your old school conference where you listen to grey men in grey suits talking at you from a stage that’s half a mile away from your seat. Those events have their place too, but TBC is worlds away from that and, dare I say a lot more enjoyable!

If you’re anything like me, conversations are where I get my best ideas. I’m lucky that my work is heavily based around helping colleagues to share information, thoughts and perspectives, and bounce them back and forth until the magic happens. This meant that the TBC format got my brain firing on all cylinders. Combine that format with lots of really feisty debate on some of the hottest topics in housing – welfare, budget cuts, homelessness and domestic abuse, and some incredible, inspirational speakers like David Tovey and Julie Fadden and I left that building wanting to go out and change the world. Like, now.

The Big Conversation was also the launch platform for CIH Futures a group of 15 younger CIH members from all over the UK. At the time of TBC, I had let my CIH membership lapse, having found it hard to feel like I was getting value for money in my membership after I finished my housing degree in 2014. Seeing that CIH acknowledged that membership needed to be improved for younger housing professionals made me realise I had an opportunity to help make that change, and use my own experience to add value to the work.

I re-joined CIH specifically to apply to be part of CIH Futures. I was nervous and excited in equal measure boarding the train to London for the first meeting, but it’s given me so much. Now we’re a year old and we’ve made inroads we never expected. Launching the Human Library, a fortnightly session on Instagram-live with interesting and inspirational people from all around the sector. We all love what we do, so we launched the first CIH Careers Week in March, to promote housing as a career of choice. We’ve spoken at events all over the country and set up the Housing Cup, a nationwide rounders tournament to raise money for Women’s Aid, Alison Inman’s presidential charity. We also moved from being an advisory committee, to a fully-fledged CIH board. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and there’s loads more planned.

One of our biggest achievements recognised that the cost of professional membership can be a huge barrier for young people, especially in lower salary jobs at the start of their career. So we did some maths, asked some questions and I went back to London with our Chair, Elly Hoult to present the proposal for the £60 under 30s membership to the CIH boards. I freely admit that I shook like a leaf during that presentation, but the experience, and getting the right result was worth every second!

So, tying in nicely to The Big Conversation – its £120 for non-members and £60 for members. So, if you’re under 30, and haven’t joined CIH yet, you just doubled your money. Because, for the price of a ticket to TBC, you can now get your £60 membership into the bargain! Why wouldn’t you? Even if you’re over 30 (yes, me too!) make sure you go – it’s so worth it. The last 12 months have been brilliant, because TBC opened a huge door for me. By being part of CIH and CIH Futures, I’ve now got a huge network of friends and colleagues all over the sector. I’m better informed and making use of my membership. The experience of presenting the under 30s proposal gave me the confidence to go for a more senior role at work, and I’m more determined than ever that housing is the place for me, and that I genuinely have a chance to make a difference, with CIH to back me up.

Gemma Stockdale is senior project business partner at Thirteen Group.

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