All posts from: February 2011
Thames Reach’s Mike Nicholas got more than he bargained for on a recent visit to his local off licence.
The communications manager was on a reconnaissance mission as part of the homelessness charity’s campaign against super strength lagers.
After a lengthy browse of the merchandise, Mr Nicholas approached the till with a selection of six cans. Clearly assuming that he was dealing with a problem drinker whose custom should be encouraged, the shopkeeper swiftly offered a deal - 30p off.
Surely a tale to warm the cockles of efficiency-loving communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Lord Richard Best is a man of many hats - crossbench peer, chair of Hanover Housing Group (plus at least four other boards), vice chair of this, that and the other and trustee of several charities to boot.
When Closed Circuit saw him speaking at a debate on the future of housing in London at the Royal Society of Arts last week, according to his nameplate he’d come as plain vanilla Lord Best. Or so we thought. He’s only treasurer of the RSA as well.
And it turns out that austere Britain is forcing the 250-year-old society and and ‘cradle of enlightenment’ to become less choosy about its membership. Joining the likes of famous fellows Benjamin Franklin, Marie Stopes and Nelson Mandela has never been easier, according to Lord Best. ‘All you have to say is, “I want to be a fellow” and I’ll give you the forms.’ Simples.
Chan Abraham did more than roll up his sleeves when motivating 15 male staff to raise £1,500 for Children in Need at the end of last year.
Recently uncovered photographic evidence shows how the chief executive of Luminus Group shed his whole shirt to reveal what one housing association PR described as a ‘surprisingly buff bod’.
The charismatic leader of Luminus pistoned his way through 77 of the 610 press ups the team collectively pulled off in the 10-minute sponsored sport off for the November fundraiser.
Housing’s best paid are used to getting a hard time for their phone number wages.
But for the best paid of all, Anchor boss Jane Ashcroft, handling media criticism and fat cat jibes was nothing compared to confessing her earnings to her mum.
At last week’s CIH presidential dinner, Ms Ashcroft was overheard telling a fellow guest that she only told her mother about her £290,000 annual pay so that she could beat the media to it.
Officials were left red-faced after a senior housing professional spotted a glaring error in one of the Communities and Local Government department’s impact assessments for the much-heralded Localism Bill.
A mistake on the first page of the report suggested that reducing the number of quangos and, therefore, cutting ‘unnecessary regulation’ would save every housing provider £200 million every year.
Landlords could be forgiven for rubbing their hands in glee - until the department confirmed that the figure should have read ‘£200,000’.
‘I always say my dramatic training has come in very useful in housing,’ Michelle Reid, TPAS’s chief executive and a theatre graduate, confided to Closed Circuit recently.
The most dramatic moment? ‘When I was a supported housing officer in Manchester, I got a call at 2am from the police. Two of our young people had driven a car into these flats. They’d clubbed together, £35 each, for an Austin Allegro and then done almost half a million pounds worth of damage to these flats that Princess Diana had just opened.
‘I’ll never forget turning up and seeing this car embedded in these buildings.’
Ms Reid’s performing skills were certainly on show at last Friday’s TPAS Northern Awards in Manchester. She was first to jump out of her seat to dance to X Factor contestant Laura White singing Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
Despite it being a daytime event, others soon followed her onto the dance floor. Staff from Salix Homes and South Liverpool Housing began celebrating the weekend particularly early, busting their moves before the clock struck five.
Closed Circuit managed some quality surveillance in the lobby of London’s City Hall this week.
Newsnight Rottweiler Jeremy Paxman was spotted pacing the floor impatiently, accompanied by an increasingly edgy researcher. With Mr Paxman evidently unused to be being kept waiting, the atmosphere took a turn for the worse when an oblivious receptionist approached to ask, ‘Sorry, where did you say you were from again?’
Fortunately, the hapless staffer was saved from the newsman’s full wrath by the timely arrival of London mayor Boris Johnson bellowing, ‘Jeremy, how are you?’.
Could the housing sector be harbouring the answer to the nation’s - perhaps even the world’s - economic woes?
Care and repair guru Keith Simpson, business director of consultancy Just Housing, told Closed Circuit he was paid $900 (about £560) by a hedge fund manager seeking advice on where to invest in social housing.
During a two-hour meeting Mr Simpson counselled the financier to avoid Connaught shares, then trading at around £4 each. Alas he ignored this expensive advice, bought into the soon-to-fail contractor, ended up selling his share for a £70 million loss and was promptly sacked.
So the government is to rename the ‘shared room rate’, a form of housing benefit, as the ‘shared accommodation rate’.
Announcing the change at last week’s British Property Foundation residential conference, welfare reform minister Lord Freud got all misty eyed about his salad days. ‘I had an apartment so I slept on the sofa and my chum slept in the bedroom,’ the Tory peer revealed.
By pure coincidence, Closed Circuit unearthed the following BBC interview with Richard Blakeway in 2008. ‘I spent three months sleeping on a mate’s sofa in the summer of 2001, after I graduated from university,’ said the London housing tsar. ‘He’d just bought a first time buyer’s flat in Limehouse Basin and I colonised the living room. There were no curtains, and the balcony was above a 24-hour bus stop.’
Clearly his mate wasn’t much of a ‘chum’ or he’d have got the bed.
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John Bercow has drawn his fair share of flak over his height.
Even prime minister David Cameron got into hot water last year after repeating a quip which compared the speaker of the House of Commons - believed to be 5ft 6in tall - to one of the seven dwarves.
Last week Mr Bercow sought to set the record straight at a reception held in his Westminster rooms by homelessness charity Centrepoint. ‘I am not the shortest speaker ever,’ he said, listing three predecessors he said were shorter than him - after they had been beheaded.
Last Friday was a glamorous occasion for 25 influential women in housing who spent the morning posing for an Inside Housing photo shoot at the top of Millbank Tower in Westminster.
But for Julie Fadden, chief executive of South Liverpool Housing, it was just the beginning of a thoroughly glitzy day.
Closed Circuit discovered that the Ask the Experts panellist followed the event with an afternoon of pampering at shopping channel QVC’s Beauty Bash in north London along with colleague Julie Marsh, head of regeneration and service development at the housing group.
The ‘two Julies’, as Closed Circuit affectionately knows them, had conveniently already booked the day off work to attend the beauty showcase, tickets for which were only available to QVC’s most loyal viewers, whom, it transpires, include Ms Fadden.
Meanwhile back in Millbank whatever could Pat Ritchie and Claer Lloyd-Jones have been chatting about that caused the rest of our ladies to maintain a respectful distance?
Whatever it was kept the Homes and Communities Agency and Tenant Services Authority chiefs huddled deep in conversation for some time.
Fans of Secret Diary of a Call Girl - a TV show in which Billie Piper plays high class prostitute Belle du Jour, which began its final run on ITV2 this week - will be tickled to learn there’s a housing connection.
The location for Belle’s ‘flat’ is none other than an Octavia Housing property. The west London housing association agreed to filming in return for a small donation to its charitable foundation as a thanks. Programme makers assured the landlord that tenants would not be affected by proceedings.
Could the world of a busy press office in east London be any more different than a Buddhist retreat in the Highlands of Scotland?
One person who can answer that question is Gillian Enlund, the new head of communications at homelessness charity Crisis. After leaving her role as head of media at the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Buddhist spent a year meditating at a retreat in the Scottish Highlands before joining Crisis at the end of last year.
Closed Circuit wonders how long the calming effect this must have had will last after a few months dealing with housing benefit cuts and rising homelessness. Hopefully the power of meditation will help her through.
While housing associations are scratching their heads over the new flexible tenancies, housing lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee as they anticipate a wave of new cases (and fees).
Renowned barrister Jan Luba QC told a recent conference that housing briefs now have ‘a job for life’ untangling the new system and taking disputes over tenancy agreements to court.
He said: ‘When this was mentioned at the breakfast table in my house, my two teenage daughters realised that they could now have iPods after all, after years of living on grant funding.’
As news of the completion of Britain’s priciest block of flats - the £6,000 per square foot One Hyde Park in London - hit the headlines, the price tag on another uber-des res was revealed last week.
Developers revamping a university former hall of residence into swanky apartments in the home of golf St Andrews hope the penthouse will fetch at least £5.1 million for a 99-year lease. Its buyer will enjoy views of the 18th hole on the town’s famed Old Course.
At £51,515 a year that’s a whopping 1,450 per cent increase on the £3,324 student residents paid for room and board there before the hall was sold in 2009. Get its price and it’ll be a hole in one for American owner Kohel Co. Miss and it’ll be double bogeys all the way to the bank.