The future has landed
As the contest to find housing’s brightest young leaders hots up, Rhiannon Bury asks the five finalists why they think they have what it takes to win
Take a good look at the five fresh faces on these pages - you’ll be seeing a lot more of them. Those featured over the next three pages are the leading talent unearthed by the Rising Stars competition to find the next generation of housing leaders.
The Chartered Institute of Housing and Inside Housing launched the competition in April when entrants were asked to write an opinion article on the topic: ‘How do we tackle the problem that the word “social” is good when followed by “networking” and bad when followed by “housing”?’.
A judging panel, including some of housing’s current luminaries and Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of The Apprentice, scoured scores of entries before picking the five finalists who will fight it out to become the first Rising Star. Their prize will include £1,000 to further their career and a day shadowing housing minister Grant Shapps.
So who are the finalists and what is their vision for the future of the housing sector? Today, in their own words, they discuss their backgrounds and share the insights that have got them this far. Your support will help decide who wins - so who gets your vote?
Rishi Spolia, 37
Neighbourhood manager, Bromford Living, Birmingham
‘I’ve been working in housing for 15 years. Now I’m a neighbourhood manager, which involves managing four housing officers and the relationship that we have with the local authority. We’re here to make a difference, not just to provide the housing.
‘With the cuts in spending, it’s important to make sure we’re working together with different agencies. It’s about getting people round the table to make sure we’re maintaining the best service for our customers.
‘I think social housing needs to appeal to a different market - social networking appeals to a younger age group and once they got hold of it, it spread like wildfire. I think we should try to put social housing in the same place. It’s a great time for us, with all the changes such as the Localism Bill and the big society, to look at the way we deliver services, allocate homes and the people in our homes. How are we going to help those people make a better life for themselves? We need to give them some aspirations. Combined with welfare reform, we need to be doing things as a whole package.
‘We need people in social housing to be saying: “This is really something that I want to get involved with, to make a difference”. It might inspire their children if their mum and dad are out doing things. We need to be promoting positive attitudes.
‘Outside of work, I really like sport, especially football, and spending time with my wife and kids. I’m also constantly reading - to keep up with all the changes in housing.’
Why vote for me:
‘I am a great team player, full of enthusiasm and passion. I am ambitious to succeed and continuously try to be innovative. I am an ambassador for the organisation, developing superb relationships with other agencies and customers. I make a difference.’
Suzanne Ralphson, 36
Group project manager, LHA-ASRA, Leicester
‘I actually trained as an actor, but then moved into commercial management in 1996. I worked in utilities but I didn’t really like the competitive environment so I moved to the not-for-profit sector. I’ve worked in housing now for three years. My job involves business improvement: making processes leaner and improving the efficiency of the business. I try to put the customers at the forefront of the business.
‘I like my job because I never have two days the same. One day I could be with developers looking at new build, or out meeting people on one of our “resident MOT” days. The variety is the best thing and project completion is very satisfying.
‘I entered this competition because I felt I had something to say about the subject. You’ve got David Cameron talking about the big society and social networking, but social housing still has negative connotations. The question invited so many different ways to answer it and I couldn’t resist. I just wanted to vent my opinions.
‘[The housing sector] needs to carve out our own niche for partnership working and working with communities to improve housing. We don’t embrace the transiency of social housing: it’s not a negative thing if you’re improving people’s lives to get them out of social housing.
‘If we embrace the challenges, we can create a view that it’s a hand up for people, not a handout. We can get people to look at social housing as a springboard, rather than a dustbin.
‘Outside of work I have two children, and they keep me busy. I’m also part of the local karate squad in Leicester, although I’m pretty chilled about it all.’
Why vote for me:
‘I think I represent a huge number of people who work in housing - we sort of fell into it but now we’re truly passionate about what we do. I want to make a difference and at a time when everything is changing; leading change is what I do best.’
Carla Keegans, 36
Head of involvement and policy, City of London Corporation
‘I only applied for the competition a day before it closed because I previously thought it was for people new to housing. I found it very easy to put pen to paper because I live and breathe these issues.
‘I passionately believe that housing should be for everyone, having worked in the sector since 1999, and that it needs to be a national priority in this country. All housing should be affordable and of a decent standard.
‘We should have a range of housing options that suit people at different stages throughout their life. Our sector is in a good position because we can see the impact of good housing on people’s lives. It provides the basis for people to raise a family and get a job. It’s not just about putting a roof over people’s heads, it’s about the wider benefits that housing can offer.
‘We should put this positive case for social housing across, but the term itself does us no good. We receive largely negative attention in the press and it’s a marginalised issue. The government we’ve got currently isn’t interested in ’ social ’ housing. Rather than wait for social housing to be further marginalised we should be proactive and work with private sector organisations to have good rented housing for all.
‘If I was to meet Grant Shapps I’d ask him where he thinks his children and the next generation in society will live.
‘Currently, I look after resident involvement and customer services, as well as policy and performance. It’s a job that combines front line working with policy, which gives me a much broader perspective – I have a chance to put policy issues into practise and vice versa.
‘I’m quite new to London – I’m from the North East - so in my spare time I’m enjoying going to the theatre, live music and comedy nights. I also love travelling and keeping fit – I’ve always done boxing.’
Why vote for me:
‘I would love readers to vote for me because I am passionate about the future of housing! I am determined to make housing the national priority that it needs to be, rather than the private issue that millions of people struggle with. Housing is too important to marginalise.’
Caris Henry, 26
Strategy analyst, MITIE Property Management, Nottingham
‘I have worked in housing for six years, and was the youngest board member of a housing organisation (NCH) in the UK while at the same time being employed by Tuntum Housing Association.
‘My role is to help shape the development of new services and products for the local public sector, including local authorities and housing organisations.
‘I like being able to use my experience and expertise to develop new products, and deliver new services to clients.
‘I moved from a housing association role, where I was doing business improvement, to this job, so it’s interesting being able to shape the services from the other side of the fence.
‘I entered the competition because the opportunity to shadow Grant Shapps is really exciting. To see how policies are actually formulated and to see a day in the life of a minister, his thought processes, would be really interesting.
‘Providers need to move beyond simply focusing on the housing requirement of the individual because people live in communities. It’s not just about delivering housing, it’s about delivering a service that influences the quality of life of everyone in the community.
‘We also need to see new services with wider appeal. There’s this perception of social housing because it does house people most in need. Providers need to be able to offer services to a wider section of society that will broaden its appeal.
‘Providers must extend their reach in this age of austerity by becoming more entrepreneurial and selling what they do best, generating additional surpluses to further develop their role as community anchors. It’s about being innovative and no one’s doing that in the sector. Part of my reason for being involved in this is restarting the debate of what’s possible. Providers are often risk averse, but they could do so much more.
‘At home, I spend time with my fiancée and young daughter, who’s one year old - we’re getting used to being a family. I also like rock climbing and snooker, and I’m a non-executive director at [arm’s-length management organisation] Nottingham City Homes, which keeps me busy.’
Why vote for me:
‘In my current capacities as a strategy analyst at a leading FTSE 250 company, policy and communications officer for CIH east midlands and non-executive director of NCH, my strategic input adds value at the highest level, whilst my practical management expertise saves housing providers money and maximises their returns.’
Chris Hancock, 30
Housing needs manager, Exeter Council
‘I have worked in housing for 9 years and have responsibility for the teams that manage homelessness and we deal with a variety of issues, from rough sleepers to mortgage repossessions to temporary accommodation. I also manage the housing register. I enjoy the range of things that I get to do every day, and I play football with the housing team after work.
‘The idea that I put forward in my Rising Stars entry was something that I’ve thought about for a while: every time you see social housing on the television, it’s really negative and that’s against my day-to-day experience.
‘I find people are really proud and very grateful for their social home: we often get people crying when they are allocated somewhere to live. On the television, it’s always about anti-social behaviour or people cheating their way into a council house.
‘My suggestion would be that for a week, we ask all the television channels to broadcast a positive programme involving a social housing property. It could be showing someone moving to a social home, or downsizing, or moving out to the country.
‘I think a lot of Grant Shapps’ policies challenge the perception of social housing, but it won’t reach as wide an audience as it needs to, not as wide as someone on mainstream television would. If I met him, I would ask him about the removal of the ringfence for Supporting People funding - that would be top of my list.
‘I want to start to change those perceptions because then there will be a greater interest in building new properties and less nimbyism. If the government is letting the affordable rent properties to people who can afford them, then maybe it can channel that money into new properties, which can be rented for less.’
Why vote for me:
‘I am involved directly and constantly in the challenges of meeting housing need, from tackling rough sleeping through to preventing mortgage repossessions and am therefore ideally placed to make the best use of this prize, and especially any time with the minister, to affect some positive change for the sector.’
The Rising Stars poll that was contained in this story has now closed, and been removed. Thanks to everyone who voted.