Nine months after the first NW Housing Camp, the CIH board responded to the call for a second one to be held – what a lot has changed in our world! A new Conservative Government has continued in its aim to reduce the welfare bill by cutting funds available for social housing, decreasing spending on Housing Benefit, including capping rents and reducing the household benefit cap. Add to that the introduction of Right to Buy for Housing Association tenants, changes in regulation and Mr Osborne’s statement in the Spending Review “ I am clear: in this Spending Review, we choose housing. Above all, we choose homes that people can buy” – do we need it spelling out any more bluntly?
Themes running through the day
Given this economic and political context it is not surprising that Campers pitched sessions such as “How can the sector get back control of its future”, “Social housing – no one cares. Why have we failed to make our case?” and “Developer or landlord – what is our role?”. These were themes which were discussed in depth and with real interest, with a sense of the sector having reached a turning point. In one session I joined I heard the view that we have to stop moaning and face up to reality. New options and ideas were mooted, for example moving towards social enterprise as a model for housing organisations, greater partnership and collaboration with health and social care. Regional economic and employment trends were debated, as were the politics and ideologies underlying some of the policies we are wrestling with.
Aside from these “existential” themes, there were sessions which covered more specific topics, including procurement, Choice Based Lettings and allocations, digital and technology, welfare reform, home ownership, resilience, leadership, and one of my favourites, “Why are we so obsessed with award ceremonies?”!
What makes it different and why it works
Housing Camp is an “unconference”. This means there is a lack of hierarchy, with no titles or organisational ties. I get the feeling that people feel free to say what they think, without worrying about how their views are interpreted, or who might be listening. We don’t have any speakers, no presentations or powerpoint. There are just genuine opinions, a professionalism that comes from experience and knowledge, and everyone’s voice matters. For me this means that we can learn from others, and there is a diversity of thought and experience, where challenge is welcomed and respected.
Because we hold the event on a Saturday, it’s informal, people want to be there, and they don’t need anyone’s permission to attend. It also frees people from checking their emails, receiving calls from work and feeling pressurised by unattended meetings or tasks. It also got a couple of participants out of doing the cleaning at home!
We had 20 varied sessions throughout the day, the “Rule of two feet” means you can dip in to more than one topic per session. The content is generated by the participants, so it is relevant to them.
On top of all this we held it at a great venue in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with constant drinks and snacks, a fab lunch, and beer and wine to round the day off. There were no delegate packs or unnecessary freebies, and we had unobtrusive but supportive sponsors. The only remaining question is – when do we do the next one?