Powerlifter, strength coach, and all-round strong guy Dave Tate has stated he has two speeds: blast and dust. For a period of time you are operating at 100%, taking on and completing multiple projects at a furious pace before a period of nothing inevitably emerges – either as a result of completing everything for the time being or because you’ve run yourself into the ground doing so – and you settle into an emptiness, like dust.
If this is true, I am presently in blast mode.
Aside from a busy day job, my role as an actor (forgive the pun…) has seen my evenings taken up with rehearsing for upcoming political satire Sweet Rockall and writing the script for Tamworth Pantomime Company’s next…er, pantomime.
Shameless self-promotion aside, my blasting pace meant I couldn’t attend the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Housing 2014 conference in Manchester last week. Still, social media has made the world smaller than ever before, and I found myself able to dip into the three-day event via the medium of Twitter. As I ‘watched’ events unfold in 140-character sound-bites, I thought on the final day that it might be interesting to blog about observing #Housing2014 in this way…
… by the time I returned home that evening, of course, a greater mind had already thought alike: Rob Gershon – or to use his Twitter handle, @Simplicitly – has posted a rather excellent and well-observed blog on this very subject. I’ll pause here so you have a chance to follow this link and read it.
Go on. I’ll wait.
Good, isn’t it?
Rob has suggested he would be interested in hearing the views of other people who were looking in on #Housing2014 from the ‘outside’ – rambling introduction aside, these are mine.
Housing 2014 – The Stories
My commentary will be different from Rob’s. Firstly, I did not follow the exploits of House Party 2014, an event that ran concurrently with Housing 2014. Whereas Rob included a comparative analysis of these two events, this article will focus solely on the latter. Secondly, my commentary will review the specific content and messages that I felt were highlighted in following #Housing2014, rather than a wider analysis of what this event did and didn’t do right. I’m interested to explore whether what stood out for me on Twitter were actually the key messages of the conference, or whether certain issues were ‘lost in translation’…or simply lost altogether.
So, what was my ‘out here’ experience of #Housing2014?
- You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry… (But You Might Pay Attention)
The conference kicked off with CIH Chief Executive Grania Long stating:
“Given what’s at stake, there’s absolutely no room for politeness.”
This call for direct, frank, and honest discussions was taken up and expanded by others: Gavin Smart called for social landlords to annoy the government until they paid attention to the demands of the sector. In the aftermath of the conference, a few tweets caught my eye imploring the sector to get angry – and stay angry – at the state of things until change was implemented. Tweets themselves, I am pleased to report, were cordial, cogent, and controlled, but there was a strong sense from many that ‘enough was enough’.
Speaking of anger…
- Bedroom Tax: Under-Occupying the Event?
The bedroom tax is a bitter subject at the best of times, and anger about the controversial policy was palpable – indeed, there was even an anti-bedroom tax protest at the event
Anger also was expressed in the direction of those not talking about the bedroom tax; there was a sense that something which many believe should be scrapped entirely had instead been accepted. It seems that the bedroom tax is an uncomfortable subject whether you talk about it or not.
- Pop Goes The Pickle?
Much of the anger about the bedroom tax was directed at Eric Pickles, who managed to draw further ire from the resident twitterati when he proclaimed:
“We are as far from a housing bubble as you can imagine.”
Wait…what? Hasn’t the Bank of England just proposed to cap riskier mortgages in an attempt to insure against an overheating housing market? Haven’t the IMF warned that our economy recovery balances precariously on the surface tension of a UK housing bubble?
If Pickles felt he had got himself into a pickle (see what I did there?) with this remark he didn’t let on: housing professionals meanwhile are still ringing Manchester Central’s lost property department to enquire if anyone has handed in their dropped jaws.
- Blame It On The Builders
This was not the only ‘Wait…what?’ comment I picked up from #Housing2014. Another remarkable…er, remark was that a lack of builders was to blame for the current housing shortage, rather than a lack of finance or political will.
There might be some grain of truth in this; I saw a tweet where someone revealed, having spoken to a builder at the event, that it was not within the financial interests of construction companies to satisfy more than 40% of demand (frustratingly I can not locate that tweet now, highlighting a problem with referencing ‘live’ social media). Still, if supply shortage lies with building firms I imagine it has more to do with issues surrounding land and finance rather than companies simply being too few in number. I don’t hear the construction sector reporting a drop or lack of building firms – do you?
- SHOUT (if you’ve got a badge…)
SHOUT’s campaign for social housing had a strong presence on Twitter during the conference – given the launch of its recent manifesto (which I blogged about only last week) and that many of its proponents were present it was not unusual to see it occupy my timeline as it did. Quite right too – the message of the campaign is worth hearing, and was echoed by many in attendance.
As an amusing aside, I saw a few worries expressed regarding insufficient supplies of blue SHOUT badges for delegates; I presume this was a deliberate and symbolic ploy by the campaign, designed to highlight their frustration with the lack of social housing supply.
- Kris Hopkins – Housing Mini(mum Impact)ster
The annual CIH housing conference attracts many high-profile speakers – and #Housing2014 was no different – but being high-profile does not necessarily mean you have high impact. The address from housing minister Kris Hopkins was reported as…well, a bit dull. The impression I got was that he played it safe, and didn’t portray much passion for the sector he represented.
I saw comments questioning why, if the current government supposedly cared so much about housing, the position of housing minister was not a full cabinet position. I agree with the sentiment, but the lukewarm approach adopted by the housing minister wont help convince anyone of this – if Mr Hopkins wants to sit with the big boys and girls, he’s going to need to start acting like one.
- Something Old, Something New
There were speakers, however, more favourably received that Hopkins and Pickles (which sounds like the title of a bad 70’s cop show…). Incoming CIH President Steve Stride was received well, and immediately caused waves by announcing a Diversity Commission; in his words, UK housing leaders were “too white, old, and male – look at me.” In a week when Inside Housing reported how the proportion of new social lets to black and ethnic minority families has noticeably dropped, this announcement couldn’t be more timely.
Another new face to make an impact was CIH Rising Star James Caspell. Twitter reported a overwhelmingly positive response to his appearance at the conference and James seems to have settled into the spotlight well, being noticeably active, outspoken, and passionate on social media – traits that Kris Hopkins might which to bear in mind given his lacklustre reception.
So, was my experience of #Housing2014 through Twitter a true and accurate reflection of the event? I’d like to think that I’ve picked up on a lot of the key stories, but research has already revealed that I have missed some: according to Inside Housing’s website, for example, the government’s affordable homes programme was the topic of much discussion, but this was not obvious to me.
Now, to a certain extent what you as an individual derive from Twitter depends on your personal set-up – the number of people you follow, who they are, etc. will determine what information is available to you. Maybe I’m not following the right people? I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who did attend in person (you can leave a comment below) – are my observations an accurate reflection of what transpired? If not, what does this say about live ‘crowd-reporting’ as opposed to official event summaries?
And where, as Rob Gershon notes in his blog, is the active involvement of the tenants? The event may not be for tenants, but all at the conference serve tenants in one way or another. If we expect tenant representation to be present and to play a hand in decisions made by social housing landlords – social landlords often have tenant representatives on their boards – what can we do to increase tenant representation at #Housing2015? Not just as a token gesture either, but as a valuable resource in designing effective policies that are ‘in touch’, rather than ‘out there’.
One thing that was made clear was how #Housing2014 felt significant, that it could serve as a catalyst to make some real changes to the housing landscape. Lots of issues were raised; now we need to see whether the sector can respond by blasting through them in the increasingly short time leading up to the General Election in 2015.
Because if we don’t take action now, by this time next year all that was talked about will be left in the dust.
An Interview with Date Tate, T-Nation, Online: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_interviews/an_interview_with_dave_tate, Available: June 2014
Ethnicity and new social housing lets, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/analysis/ethnicity-and-new-social-housing-lets/7004259.article, Available: June 2014
IMF warns UK government over the housing bubble risk, BBC News, Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27731567, Available: June 2014
Mortgage cap ‘insures against housing boom’,BBC News, Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28016952, Available: June 2014
Opinion: A Tale of Two CIHties, 24Dash, Online: http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2014-06-26-Opinion-A-Tale-of-Two-CIHties#.U6xe_LS9KSM, Available: June 2014
Sweet Rockall: A worryingly believable political satire (or should that be farce?) about an uninhabitable rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean…
AE Harris Warehouse, 110 Northwood Street, B3 1SZ; 19:30-21:30; £8 / £6 concessions