Sally Forth

A shot from one of my improvised comedy shows, wherein I'm warming the audience up for what happens next. Apropos...

Big energy! BIGGER! A shot from one of my improvised comedy shows, wherein I’m warming the audience up for what happens next. Apropos…

The Story

Without wishing to aggravate true believers, I think we all knew that England was going to be leaving this year’s UEFA European Championships without any gold. (I’m not a football person, and even I would have made that prediction.) Many didn’t predict that England would be leaving the European Union, but Brexit happened (or, at least, was voted on – pending Article 50, the country finds itself in a bizarre political purgatory.) Yet there is still one more exit you should brace yourself for.

Are you braced?

Very well.

I’m leaving my full-time housing sector job to work as a professional actor.

My last day at the office is Friday 1st July 2016, which will either be today, yesterday, a while back, or ages ago depending on when you’re reading this. (If you’re reading this yesterday, well…wibbly wobbly, timey wimey?)

What?! Why?! Interrobang?! Read on.

Act I

“There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time.”

Journey to Ixtlan, by Carlos Castaneda (i)

I’ve worked in the housing sector for eight years now. I started off as a graduate trainee, secured a position as a clerk within a local government asset management team, and worked my way up the career ladder to my current position of Business Information Officer. I didn’t climb a very big ladder, I admit – a stepladder, perhaps? (ii) – but progress happened. During that time I continued, as I had always done, to get involved with amateur dramatics.

From 2012 onward, though – not long after a protracted period of major emergency surgery, discussed briefly in a previous blog – something…shifted. I started doing more acting, and getting paid for it. I started writing plays and directing shows, and was successful at both. I performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in their 2012 Open Stages production of Pericles where I played Leonine – “a murderer”(!) – and a nunchaku-wielding Knight of Sparta. I went on tour with a professional theatre company in Dublin. I won awards. And slowly…slowly…the thought of playing this wonderful game of magic and make-believe full time started to form.

It would take another bout of serious surgery before I started to properly wake up to that possibility, and while I won’t go into the full sequence of events that lead to my making such a big decision I came to realise that if I didn’t take a chance on my dreams now, I never would.

And so, I take that chance. Now.

Act II

I’m not done with housing, though. Far from it. While I’m leaving my full time housing job to better pursue professional acting, housing as a subject is still incredibly relevant and important to me. I’ve another year left as a member of the CIH West Midlands regional board which I fully intend to see out (I’ve already let the board know the news, don’t worry!), and I’ll be continuing to maintain my CIH membership for as long as I feel there is value in doing so…which, hopefully, will be a long time yet! I’ll still be commenting on and engaging in discussions about housing on Twitter – follow me at @NDEJackson if you’re not already! – and writing about housing here on Our Castle’s Strength and elsewhere (if they’ll let me!)

It is a mistake to think that you have to be working full time in the housing sector to make comment on or have a valid voice about housing. To think that is to ignore the inestimably valuable contribution of tenants, among others – arguably something LAs, HAs, and RSLs have been guilty of? – and doom the sector to an echo chamber of its own arrogant creation.

If we want to spread awareness, interest, and engagement with housing we must not think that the opinions of people in smart suits, wearing ID badges with “CEO of…” on them, are the only opinions we should be listening to, and that the only things worth hearing are being said at expensive conferences polished with a corporate sheen.

To more effectively tell the housing story we need to leverage storytelling – which is to say, the performance arts (acting, singing, dancing, poetry, actual storytelling, etc.) – and I am working with the CIH West Midlands regional board to start trialling some events that do just that.

There are other valuable possibilities waiting to be mined, I’m sure; let’s commit to digging a little deeper.

Sally forth!

A couple of weeks ago, I was performing as Algernon Moncrieff in a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (which received a rather lovely review, if you care to find out more). I had taken the week off work as annual leave, partly as I had leave to use before I left my job at the end of the month and partly so I had time and energy to properly commit to a week of professional performances.

While at home during the day, a charity doorknocker…err, knocked on my door (where else?!) Our conversation started something like this:

Her: “Oh! I didn’t expect anyone to be in during the day.”

Me: “I’m not working until this evening.”

Her: “Ah. Do you work in a bar?”

Me: “No, I don’t work in a bar.”

Her: “Then what do you do?”

Me: “I’m an actor.”

“I’m an actor.”

I smiled.

Yeah – that feels right.

* * * * *

Neil Jackson, also known by his stage name of Neil Jacks, is an award-winning actor, writer, director, and fight choreographer represented by Inspired Actors. He is also a chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIHCM) and a dedicated martial artist, with over a decade of training, coaching, and competitive fighting experience.

You can find out more about Neil – both as an actor and as a freelance housing professional – on the About: The Author page.


The Importance of Being Earnest – Richmond Ward Productions, Love Midlands Theatre, Online:, Available: June 2016

(i) It is from this phrase that the expression “The trouble is, you think you have time” , a sentence that has falsely – in terms of attribution, if not existential significance – been ascribed to the Buddha. If, like me, you are a fan of etymology (not to be confused with entomology, of course!), you can find out more at Fake Buddha Quotes (Online:, Available: June 2016)

(ii) Stepladders are perfect comedy props in pantomimes, and are invariably accompanied by some variation of this joke – Q: “Why have you brought a stepladder?” / A: “I couldn’t find my real ladder.”



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