Inside Housing and the Chartered Institute of Housing can today announce the candidates who are through to the final five of our Rising Stars competition.
The five remaining candidates (left to right): Natasha Jones, Eden Bailey, Oliver Harling, Jess Page and Ian Patterson
Eden Bailey, quality team manager at WM Housing Group; Oliver Harling, trainee neighbourhood surveyor at Irwell Valley Housing Association; Jess Page, tenancy support programme manager at Notting Hill Genesis; Ian Patterson, housing services manager at Sovereign; and Natasha Jones, engagement manager at Monmouthshire Housing Association, all progress to the next stage of the competition.
This followed a public vote over the last three weeks during which 10 candidates carried out tasks, including writing blogs for Inside Housing and taking part in a live Twitter chat.
The final five will take part in a roundtable discussion with current sector leaders on the challenges and opportunities facing the housing sector, before the winner is announced at the Housing Heroes Awards on 25 June.
The winner will have the opportunity to guest edit an edition of Inside Housing and gain a year’s worth of mentoring from a sector leader.
See below for more information about each of the five remaining candidates and links to their blogs.
The Rising Stars competition, now in its eighth year, showcases the talent and commitment of up-and-coming housing professionals across the industry.
By her own admission, Eden “stumbled across a career in housing”. She was looking for a job closer to where she was living, and saw an opportunity to become a housing assistant at Cannock Chase Council. She applied, got the job, and quickly discovered she had an appetite for a sector in which she finds “no two days are ever the same”.
A promotion to estate management officer followed – dealing with anti-social behaviour, tenancy management and estate inspections – along with a chance to complete a degree in housing through Birmingham City University.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of working in housing is knowing I can make a difference to people’s lives.”
After a spell as neighbourhood housing manager for Midland Heart, Eden became operations manager for YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire before recently taking up her current post.
She says mentoring schemes have supported her rapid career progression, and is keen to ensure others can benefit from something similar. So Eden volunteers as a mentor within her own organisation and has ensured customer service advisors are able to shadow senior colleagues to get a sense of possible career avenues.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of working in housing is knowing that I can make a difference to people’s lives, dreams and aspirations,” she says.
Ask Oliver to describe himself and he offers a simple summary: “I’m a 23-year-old Salford lad and trainee maintenance surveyor.” Ask him a little more, and it turns out that he just happens to be a tenant of Irwell Valley – something he thinks informs his approach to his work.
“Being a tenant, with skills in customer care and with technical knowledge, I strike a unique balance between delivering excellent customer service, managing our assets, delivering value for money and meeting organisational needs.”
“Housing is such a significant part of your life; it’s where it all happens.”
He joined Irwell Valley Housing Association immediately after leaving college, as a customer service apprentice. From there he secured a full-time position as a repairs service advisor, quickly moved on to a role as a planned maintenance administrator, and then transferred to his current role (“no mean feat with more than 50 applicants!”)
“Housing is such a significant part of your life; it’s where it all happens,” he says. “And we have the privilege of playing a part in that. For me it’s all about making a difference.”
He continues: “As a local lad, growing up in social housing, some may have written me off. But my drive to learn and improve has seen me succeed. I’m really excited about my future.”
It was after volunteering at a day centre for homeless people in Derby that Jess decided, in her words, “to go all in and move to London to find my dream job”. It arrived in the form of a housing officer role at Notting Hill Housing [now Notting Hill Genesis], working in temporary accommodation in Newham.
After a year, she had become a welfare benefits advisor in the policy team and was splitting her time “between leading the welfare reform strategy and helping tenants at tribunals”.
During a secondment as welfare reform project manager at L&Q, Jess says she found a passion for “designing and implementing projects that directly impact tenants’ lives”. In June 2016, she was headhunted to create Notting Hill Housing’s tenancy support programme.
“[I found a passion for] designing projects that directly impact tenants’ lives.”
According to Jess it was far from an easy programme to build. “Notting Hill Housing is an outlier in terms of housing management models, so I couldn’t pick up best practice and make it fit. I also operate completely from charitable donations, so the budget I have is minuscule compared to other organisations.”
So she built her own database system – a set-up which other associations have asked to buy. “Each successful outcome we’ve had costs almost half as much as our competitors,” she reports. “I’m so proud of the programme, and people’s lives have improved because of it.”
Ian’s career has had a Sovereign ring to it since 2012, when he joined the company as a housing officer. Only six months later, he had been promoted to the role of housing services manager for lettings.
It was an exciting opportunity but a challenging one, too. “I had to recruit and build a new team, and getting the right mix of people was going to be crucial to the team’s success.”
“With more than 1,000 lets a year, I’ve achieved record turnaround times.”
It seems he pulled it off, because within a year it had become the top performing lettings team in the business. Following the association’s 2016 merger, Ian’s remit was extended to include another team and some 4,000 homes in Dorset. And then last year he took responsibility for 8,000 homes in Berkshire and two more lettings teams in different locations. This, he says, is Sovereign’s first hub model “and our footprint for future service delivery”.
“With more than 1,000 lets a year, I’ve achieved record turnaround times, void costs and customer satisfaction.”
All of this is a long way from the start of his working life, as an engineering apprentice. “I never dreamed one day I’d be working my way up the housing ladder with one of Europe’s largest housing associations,” he says.
When Natasha Jones became an admin assistant in the housing business and strategy team for Blaenau Gwent Council, it was the end of years of uncertainty about what she wanted to do as a career. As she puts it now: “This was the turning point in my life.”
She says her “enthusiastic nature” meant she quickly took on additional responsibilities. “The role adapted and I became the marketing and business officer. This was it: I loved working in housing and from that point on I have carved out a fantastic career in the sector.”
“I am passionate about ensuring those I support can be the best version of themselves.”
She joined Monmouthshire Housing Association in 2015, tasked with developing a new team and transforming what she reports was an underperforming community project called Dads Can. Natasha led a review of the service, which aims to support men in being the best fathers they can, and it was recently shortlisted for a UK Housing Award.
Her new approach to engagement, meanwhile, “tripled the number of tenants engaged with Monmouthshire Housing in the first six months compared to the previous model”. She says the new approach has also broadened the diversity of tenants who are engaging.
“I am passionate about doing what I do well, and ensuring those I support and work with can be the best version of themselves,” she concludes.