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PlaceShapers Annual Conference | A Written Review

PlaceShapers Annual Conference saw 300 attendees meet for sessions ranging from new consumer regulation to preventing cyber fraud. 

Run digitally over Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th November, it was a mixture of key note speakers, plenary sessions and practical ‘learning’. 

Sessions

Day One 
Opening Plenary 
Keynote Speaker: Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman
Lunch and learn - Our New Brand 
Seminar One - Disruptive Innovation
Seminar Two -  Levelling Up 

Day Two 

Seminar One - Working with residents to get to net zero 
Seminar 2 - Cyber Security 
Lunch and learn - Diverse Voices 
Keynote speaker – Peter Denton, CEO, Homes England 
Closing Plenary - Fiona MacGregor, CEO, RSH

Day One

O
pening Plenary
 

Peter Hubbard, Senior Partner, Anthony Collins Solicitors was in conversation Chair Matthew Walker and CEO Rachael Orr reviewing the last year and future plans. Matthew took up the international two minute challenge to update members on the previous year. 

Keynote Speaker: Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman

T
he first keynote speaker was 
Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, in a session with Joe DeVille, a resident of Coastline Housing and Vice Chair of the TPAS Tenant Advisory Panel. Together they highlighted the importance of partnerships between landlords and residents in resolving complaints. In particular they highlighted the need for empathy, speed of response and extracting learning from complaints to improve future customer experience. PlaceShapers Board member Carol Carter, CEO Origin Housing, chaired the session. 

Lunch and Learn -  Our New Brand 

This focused on PlaceShapers new brand, developed over the preceding months with members and stakeholders. Nicola Winn, CEO Creative Bridge, took delegates through how feedback and challenge had shaped a new narrative and created a new visual identity. Pritti Allen, head of communications at emh Group and Joanna Charlton, PlaceShapers communications lead will bring in the member-led approach that  to where we are now. PlaceShapers Vice Chair Claire Higgins, CEO of Cross Keys Homeschaired the session. 

Seminar One – Disruptive Innovation 

Ian Wright, Chief Executive of the Disruptive Innovators Network explored what innovation means for the sector, how we can benefit from it, implement it and what could it mean. It was chaired by Kate Wareing, CEO, Soha. 

The Network was created for members to make sense of disruption, be more innovative and grab the opportunities to maximise their social impact. 

He said that in hearing about the foundation of PlaceShapers he thought with was disruptive innovation, the creation of an organisation that occupied a gap nobody had filled. 

Giving examples of disruptive innovation from John Lewis and Lloyds Bank as they enter the social housing sector - he said they are able to disrupt as they have no issues with legacy policies and procedures. The challenge to existing social housing providers is the speed of how we can respond to challenges. Regulation should not be a barrier to innovation; so long as we meet the bar that is set we can do more. 

Ian introduced Gemba, a Japanese term meaning the real place, and asked how often we go out and see where things really happen. This can include the workplace, sites, and spending time with customers. He stressed that customers themselves do not want innovation, the want to see the results of innovation. That means we need to think where to head next for the customer experience, employ service design engineers, and listen for weak signals. We should be measuring customer expectation, rather than customer satisfaction. 

Describing innovation as insurance against irrelevance, Ian advised that development of new ideas must allow for failure, and that as innovation cannot be measured with traditional KPIs, thought needs to be given to alternative measures of success. 
To conclude the seminar, Ian said organisations need employ curious people and think about what we could do to “wow” our customers, giving the example of food shopping in cities now being available within 10 minutes and the change that makes to customers expectations in that sector. Are there changes we can make that have a similar impact in the housing sector? 

Seminar Two: Levelling Up 

This focused on the role, opportunities and challenges for housing associations in levelling up communities. It featured Paul Howell MP, Karbon Homes resident Ann Potts and Manningham Housing Association vice chair Abdul Ravat. Placeshapers Board member and Karbon CEO Paul Fiddaman chaired the session. 

Paul Howell (MP for Sedgefield in the North East) opened with a government view on levelling up aims and delivery, highlighting that success means delivering changes which benefit generations to come. He shared positive examples from his local housing associations Livin and Karbon Homes of estate regeneration and community support. 

Abdul Ravat stressed that addressing ingrained inequalities, particularly racial, and building cohesive communities was vital. He also highlighted the need to make tackling disproportionate housing challenges for BAME communities a necessary focus for housing associations in their delivery of quality, affordable, homes of the right type in the right locations.   

All speakers acknowledged that levelled-up communities mean place-based approaches and devolved decision making. Ann Potts spoke passionately how instrumental community involvement in effective regeneration is – they understand local challenges, know hidden strengths and recognise opportunities. 

The discussions concluded with a call-to-action from Paul Fiddaman for housing associations to ensure they have tools in place for meaningful resident involvement and resources remain focused on tackling inequalities and creating truly levelled-up communities.  

Day Two  

Seminar One - Working with residents to get to net zero 

Following the PlaceShaper and Tpas Resident Voices in Net Zero Report this session gave great insight into what this may mean for residents and housing associations. 
Jenny Osbourne, CEO of Tpas, chaired the session and highlighting the 3 key areas that came from the report 

1. Motivation 
2. Engagement 
2.Trust and Communication.  
 
Clive Betts MP  highlighted that as a country we need a framework and engagement at local level; with lots to do to ensure that it doesn’t fall on the poorest families. Housing associations have many competing pressures with building new homes, net zero and fire safety gives lots of challenges. 

Resident Karen Igho from Cross Keys Homes stressed the importance of engaging staff and residents and again how making it fair on the transition for all. Little things make a big difference and not to lose sight of this, be honest around distribution. 

John Kiely, Director of Housing and Public Sector at Savills, talked about how there are so many different properties and every home is not the same. Even if we address those homes that need to be above SAP C nowaround 62% of homes will need something in the future. focus on fabric first without this any other heating will be pointless; this makes a difference to bills now but we need to be careful of the unintended consequences as damp and mould could rise without the correct ventilation. What we do needs to be good and done correctly for some a whole house’ approach is not right. 

The discussion was around how do we make heat pumps and new technology appealing, a fabric first approach, heating rural homes, educating residents of the futuregetting into school education programmes and upskilling the workforce and contractors. It can be done but needs long term plans and needs to go back to that government clear framework and be a cross party objective.

Seminar TwoCyber Security and why it’s so important to the sector. 

Flagship Group agreed to share the lessons learned when it was victim of a cyber-attack . Laurie Brown, Director of Information Security, told the session that threats from cyber-attacks are an ever increasing problem, with highly organised crime groups targeting personal data This session contained a strong message that we should all be planning and developing contingencies for what to do if an attack happens – assess critical systems, who needs to be involved and keep the relevant authorities – and most importantly residents – up to date. Chaired by Cath Purdy, PlaceShapers Board member and CEO of South Lakes Homes  

Lunch and learn: Diverse Voices | One Year On

This series was launched at last year’s conference, primarily in light of the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement. Since then we have held eight sessions exploring a range of diversities. In this session, chaired by Mushtaq Khan, Chief Executive, HDN and featuring Sandra Skeete, CEO of Octavia, Angela Lockwood, CEO of North Star and Josh Cliff, Partnerships and Programmes Manager, Positive Footprints reviewed and reflected on the year and look forward to the year ahead, identifying topics for future session and future challenges we face.  

The session kicked off with Mushtaq Khan saying how the series had brought diversity to the fore, that 2020 was a game-changer with Covid-19 highlighting inequalities as well as Black Lives Matter.  

The first of the panellists to share reflections was Angela Lockwood who was involved in the Women’s session, talking about the power of storytelling: It’s your story, no-one can disagree”. Sharing experiences and listening was valuable – there was huge learning to be derived from this and the untapped energy. She felt that this was the beginning of the conversation and not the end. 

Josh Cliff had led a Young People’s session and said having discussion with young people, and not about them, made a big impact. He explained that it’s really difficult for young people to navigate the world today and that we shouldn’t be having discussions about wanting to provide opportunities for them but instead needing to. “We need to harness the lived experience of young people in our communities and make them believe they can make a difference” – examples were Marcus Rashford and Greta Thunberg.       

Sandra Skeete felt much ground was covered in the inclusive leadership session, aspects around understanding vulnerability and sharing lived experience as being important to leadership. Getting a sense of how your people are feeling, how you are doing and building trust should also be key elements as well as a corporate strategy that reflects commitment around EDI. She shared the experience of another panellist at the leadership session who shared his experience from a perspective of having Dispraxia to raise awareness of leadership qualities that are necessary, such as empathy and taking the time to understand: “what disabled people bring to an organisation rather than focusing on what they can’t do”. 

Keynote Speaker – Peter Denton, CEO, Homes England 

Peter Denton, Chief Executive, Homes England, was in conversation with Matthew Walker. Peter’s summer appointment as Chief Executive of Homes England marks a new phase for the agency. He has come to the conclusion that housing associations have four customer groups to serve

1. The people PlaceShapers and others house today
2. The people we should be housing now if there were more homes for them
3. Those who we will house in future
4. The customers of other housing associations 

The default mechanism has to be partnership (“1 + 1 can = 3”) and Homes England’s mission is to encourage collaboration – whether that’s on the building of new homes or on the decarbonisation agenda. With the target of 300,000 new homes to be built a year, Homes England under Peter Denton has to ensure that the rush to build doesn’t mean that ‘anything goes’ regarding standards for affordable housing, which can often be the case. The aspiration is to net zero, architecturally interesting homes which contribute to vibrant, mixed tenure communities and Homes England can support this PlaceShaper organisations are exactly the kind of local stakeholder with on-the-ground knowledge ought to be right at the heart of the new ‘Places not Programmes’ agenda – and Peter alerted members to expect more on this in  the Levelling Up White Paper in December. 

Closing Plenary - Fiona MacGregor, CEO, RSH

The closing session of the conference looked at customer and consumer regulation. Chair, Andrew Van Doorn, Chief Executive of HACT, was joined by Fiona MacGregor, Chief Executive of the Regulator of Social Housing, and James Temple, a resident from Broadland Housing. 

After a year of the Social Housing White Paper, which was published in November 2020, Fiona began the session with an update on the work the RSH has done in the past 12 months. She updated on the work that’s been done on reshaping consumer regulation, reviewing and updating consumer standards across various theme, and from that, the development of a set of tenant satisfaction measures that will help both tenants and the RSH hold landlords to account.  Fiona thanked PlaceShapers for facilitating sessions with tenants on the standards and praised a good practice guide that PlaceShapers had created as a result

The RSH has set itself three tests for proactive consumer regulation; it must make a meaningful difference to tenants, it must be deliverable by landlords; and it must be able to regulate it effectively. 

Fiona’s presentation was then followed by a lively discussion between Andrew, Fiona and James. The panel discussed the importance of raising the regulators profile amongst residents, to ensure people are aware of the work they do and the role they play, as well as what accountability looks like to each of them, especially in the wake of the ITN investigations into social housing landlords, which James expressed has left tenants feeling disappointed and nervous.  

The session was wrapped up this a final comment from PlaceShapers chair, Matthew Walker. He reflected on the success of the two day event and thanking attendees for their engagement and support.