Supply is the priority, Nick Walkley tells PlaceShapers conference
PlaceShapers 10th annual members' conference brought together sector leaders to debate the key issues affecting housing, now and in the future. The conference attracted over 200 delegates and guest speakers included Lord Bob Kerslake.
PlaceShapers have long been campaigning to secure future funding for supported housing and were delighted with the recent news of the suspension of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap, along with the rent certainty delivered by Theresa May last month.
This news reinforces the power of PlaceShapers for creating positive change, but the conference - held at London's Kia Oval - revealed there is still a long way to go. It is clear that the sector still needs certainty from Government on the funding for short-term supported housing and there is an important role for PlaceShapers with the Social Housing Green Paper.
Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service and Chair of Peabody, opened the session with an honest an open discussion with Chair of PlaceShapers Sinéad Butters. Lord Kerslake stressed that PlaceShapers members are getting things right, but emphasised that there is still a lot to achieve to increase the amount of affordable houses available to those who need them, stating that: “The housing story differs dramatically across the country. There isn’t one housing market there are many. We need to recognise different solutions are needed for different places.
“Access to good housing for many has diminished, costs have increased and opportunities have fallen. We have to step up and deliver. Between us we can and should do more. We should not hold back in our challenge and championing of the most disadvantaged.”
Lord Kerslake continued: “We can’t build our way to affordability quickly. We need a lot more housing year on year, decades of more. We need to build more social housing and to do that we need more funding. We need to see housing as an essential part of our country’s infrastructure.”
Lord Kerslake went on to discuss social housing within the political sphere: “Housing is one issue that has a chance of breaking through the smothering Brexit blanket. We should welcome the Green Paper as it’s a positive step for social housing development. You should use this opportunity to embrace the Green Paper, be open to debate and engage with tenants.”
Lors Kerslake’s closing words highlighted the value of the work PlaceShapers members are doing, expressing that, “PlaceShapers is a force for good and long may it continue to be so.”
Tenants were once again at the heart of the PlaceShapers’ conference agenda. Jenny Osbourne, Chief Executive of TPAS, hosted a lively panel debate with guest speaker Catherine Little, Assistant Director of Strategy & Governance at Soha Housing, along with tenants of PlaceShapers members; Matt Bromley, Optivo Housing, Gill Leverton-Taylor, EMH Group and Morgan Eccleston, Trafford Housing Trust.
Jenny Osbourne thanked PlaceShapers and members for genuinely wanting to listen to tenants and commented that: “Having a panel of tenants at the conference speaks volume to the sector and shows that PlaceShapers are taking a leading role to focus on the future of tenant engagement.”
Talking about balancing tenant engagement through both digital and face to face communications, Jenny commented: “We have to give choice and accessibility to all of our tenants.”
Jenny continued: “If we haven’t got social and we’re not committed to our tenants then what are we? Developers? Letting agents? That’s not we want to be. Our tenants should be at the heart of our customer journeys.”
In response to the events of Grenfell, Jenny spoke passionately about next steps: “The spotlight is well and truly switched on and we need to welcome it and use our influence to shine a light on tenant engagement. Shine a bright light now so that we never have the darkness of Grenfell again.”
Catherine Little, commenting on the Benefit to Society campaign, said: “We need to stop talking about ourselves and start amplifying tenants’ voices." She called for members to encourage the adoption of ‘fair press’ to change the stereotypes associated with social housing.
Nick Walkley, Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency, closed the conference with a thought-provoking session considering how housing associations can respond to the changing environment and how partnerships and alliances are critical for delivery.
Nick commented: “If Brexit was the issue in the media, housing is the issue at the doorstep. Housing is a real political issue that has emotional resonance and although it is a national problem all of its manifestations are local.”
Nick discussed improving the way things are done to achieve better results, stating that: “Supply is the priority. We need to think more coherently about places rather than organisations and sites. Homes happen successfully in places.”
Nick concluded by challenging the audience to keep looking at our priorities because opportunities are coming and that it is more important now than ever, in this period of profound change, to keep making the case for social housing.
Hosting the conference for the third year running Chair, Sinéad Butters said: “I am privileged to represent the PlaceShapers members and what we as PlaceShapers stand for. We are, increasingly gaining influence through the rich evidence we provide in all party parliamentary groups, the housing and planning bill, supported housing select committee and most recently in the Shape of the Sector commission.
“We are now 118 in number, owning around 850,000 homes, spanning the whole of the UK, ranging in size and scale, and owning nearly one-third of all social housing stock.
“At this year’s conference our PlaceShapers have shown their commitment to do more and do better. By listening to others, our tenants, by opening ourselves up to hear how we can improve, by engaging, fully, in our communities, and by ensuring our values, our culture and our people align around our core principles. We must now deliver it.”
Angela Lockwood, PlaceShapers’ Deputy Chair added: “As PlaceShapers we unite, working collaboratively and creatively to drive change and improve lives. It was great to see this featured so prominently throughout the conference, with leading figures coming together to debate the big issues the sector faces moving forward.”
Hot on the heels of PlaceShapers’ latest launch, We Build, which shows the impact PlaceShapers have made and will continue to make to solving the housing crisis with 152,000 more homes planned by 2027, members eagerly discussed their views on the government’s revised funding strategy for supported housing as PlaceShapers gears up for its forthcoming campaign ‘We Care’, focusing on welfare reform and poverty, supported housing and integration with health services.