Thursday, 24 April 2014

A career in housing anyone?

From: Inside out

I’ve been reading Sarah Webb’s speech at Harrogate in which she makes a passionate defence of our sector and challenges some of the attacks being made upon social housing.

If, like me, you have been reading some of the reports from Policy Exchange and other think tanks which link our sector to “Broken Britain” then you may be wondering if your career in housing has been a waste of time.

Sarah describes her reasons for entering the profession – a geography study trip to a slum area of Glasgow “where kids with no shoes ran about the streets showered in broken glass and disused needles”. At the end of the trip the kids started pelting her coach with stones.

In my case it was a university study trip to Brixton where we visited some terrible private rented properties being renovated by Lambeth Council. We spoke to some of the residents who described how the new homes had transformed their lives.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in the sector about their reasons for working in housing and the vast majority “fell into” it after trying other things. Is this because we don’t sell ourselves properly, or because the sector has such a poor image?

The CIH charter talks about the “art and science of housing” and this elegant phrase sums up its appeal for me. Housing has something for everyone, from nerdy technical stuff at one end of the spectrum to creativity, design and psychology at the other. All human life is here and we often deal with people at crisis points in their lives. Housing staff can face anger, tears and heartbreak, but they also see the improvements that good housing can make to people’s lives.

In other words, housing is a profession suffused with drama. Which set me thinking about the portrayal of housing professionals on TV and in the cinema.

I remember when “Cracker” first appeared and the number of students wanting to study forensic science soared. I’ve always felt the CIH should invest in a good script for a TV drama that would show housing in a positive light with all the light and shade that the profession can offer. It could be a better recruiting tool than a mountain of glossy leaflets.

I can think of few positive portrayals of our sector on TV. Michelle Fowler in Eastenders springs to mind, and there was an awful housing officer in a  Mike Leigh film. Perhaps Inside Housing readers can come up with some others? Has the recent documentary “Neighbourhood Watched” had any impact upon recruitment to the sector?

I don’t know, but perhaps we should commission a survey to find out why and how people entered the profession in the first place. At Harrogate last week it was suggested that we need a Jamie Oliver for the housing profession. But cooking is theatre; housing is drama.

Wanted: a Cracker for the housing profession.

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