15 May 2023
When I was 16 I decided I wanted to be an architect, but I was told, straight to my face that it wasn’t a job for a girl. So instead, I joined Glasgow District Housing Department over 43 years ago and indulged my passion for all things housing in a different way. It became clear to me very early on that my main interest was construction and repairs, or as we now know it, asset management.
I ended up working in the repairs section at head office. In my role, I was required to train people to use the new computerised repairs system and I realised that I was quite good at sharing my enthusiasm. Shortly after that, CIH was looking for someone to deliver repairs training at their offices in Edinburgh and I was recommended for the gig. I realised that one of my favourite things was when I see that “aha” moment when the penny drops and the learning dawns on the student.
I was working with East Renfrewshire Council recently, providing training around damp, condensation and mould. By the end of the course, two of the delegates approached me about a specific problem they were having with a house. I could see that they were fairly sure what the remedy was, but the training had given them so much more confidence that they were ready to go and talk to colleagues about getting this persisting problem sorted.
Improving confidence is a major feature of my training. Very often trainees have prior learning and knowledge, but as it was acquired casually or “on the job” they have not appreciated its full worth. Confirming the learning in a formal training environment is extremely useful and is a great way to boost confidence. Similarly, I will always encourage learners to go and test their knowledge and build on it by job shadowing or mentoring from a colleague. Many members of staff who are in a customer service role greatly enjoy getting out and about and visiting tenants, getting a look at property defects and seeing what is being described to them over the phone. All of this helps to reinforce learning giving it a structure and framework.
One of the other things I love about training is changing attitudes. I’ve recently been doing a lot of sessions on damp, condensation and mould. As everyone will be aware, this has been labelled for many years as a “lifestyle” issue and the tenant has been blamed. Explaining the science of water vapour, humidity and mould growth, while describing the history of houses has led many delegates to completely change their attitudes and see the whole problem as more complex.
Hopefully, I’ve still got a few more years of building confidence, changing attitudes and getting that “aha” moment.
East Renfrewshire Council have recently undertaken a redesign of its housing services. As part of this design, a team of generic housing officers was created to deliver high-quality estate management of its 3,000 homes. The officers in the team have a range of experiences however, with being a newly formed team, ongoing training and development is a key part of delivering a high-quality housing service.
We particularly wanted to look further into damp and condensation-related issues within the home following the tragic circumstances in Rochdale that led to a child's death due to a repository condition, caused by exposure to mould in the home. Alongside reviewing the process of addressing a damp and mould repair, we also wanted to ensure all staff were confident in dealing with such issues and addressed this with current and practical training. For our housing officers in particular, we wanted the focus to be on solutions for those living with excess condensation in the home, reducing the impact of this on families in light of the current cost of living crisis. This was especially prevalent in the west of Scotland where we see much harsher winters.
With the help of the CIH team, we were able to discuss the ethos of the council, what our ambition is and then discussed what topics we wanted to cover. For a subject that can be dry, it was important that this was pitched at the right level and covered the practical solutions to reduce the impact of condensation and mould growth, but also providing the staff with the knowledge to establish what is condensation-related issues versus a rising damp issue.
The training was well received by the team and has been put into use. The team has been able to support residents to address issues with a practical solution, rather than merely suggesting the age-old help of "don't dry your clothes on the radiator". It has provided the housing officers with the confidence to challenge technical officers in the repairs team, and also spot the early signs of an issue to stop the situation from worsening.
Eileen McCallum is an independent training consultant and Bex Astin is housing services manager (Strategic Change, Planning & Support) at East Renfrewshire Council.