A drop of water…..

Elisa Faulkner is one of the co-ordinators of CouncilHomesChat




In preparation for our upcoming workshop at TAI15 – CIH Cymru’s annual conference – I came across the email Cheryl Tracy, the founder of CouncilHomesChat, had sent, calling to arms those of us that wanted to get involved. As she put it:

I think it’s about time we came together to show everyone what is so good about social housing, to combat some of the negativity and ignorance

I’m so glad I got involved. It’s changed my life. That might be a tad dramatic but it’s true. We haven’t gained national media attention or won any awards but that’s not what we set out to do. The aim was to give people a space to tell the story, air their views and get the message heard and I think we’ve achieved that. I’m really proud of CouncilHomesChat and although the initial flurry of activity has quietened down I believe it still has an important role to play in the social housing story.

Next week, I will be joined by Alison Inman from the SHOUT campaign as we lead a workshop on how to use Social Media for Social Housing. I’m really pleased to share this with SHOUT because our two aims are so integral to each other. The first key request on SHOUT’s manifesto is that 100,000 new social homes should be built annually in the UK, as part of the wider target of 200,000. That is a staggering number but it’s what is needed and it’s not a figure you’ll only hear from Housing campaigns anymore.
The General Election is looming and Housing is a key issue that all of the parties are talking about. This is an excellent time to get the story out there and to change Joe Publics perception of social housing. But why? Why bother?

Joe Public needs to buy into the idea of building new homes on a mass scale so that it can actually be achieved. If everyone has a suitable and affordable home I believe that no one will care what tenure it is. Private landlord, housing association, council? Who cares? Built on a big enough scale and affordable housing becomes a reality for everyone so who will care what the tenure is?

One of the criticisms sometimes levelled at SHOUT and CouncilHomesChat is that we are just housing people talking to housing people. I think that’s unfair although I understand the point. As it happens we have plenty of followers across our various platforms that are not “housing”. But closer to home, my childhood friends are South East women, with good jobs and intelligent brains in their heads. They work in a range of industries and don’t much care about social housing. It has very little impact on them, they don’t need it, they don’t envisage their kids needing it and they are (and I mean this in the nicest possible way to the women I love the most in the world) they are a bit ignorant to the whole thing.

When I first started talking to them about social housing and CouncilHomesChat, they were a bit non-plussed, a bit disinterested. But now they listen to me and maybe, just maybe I’m changing their views and opening their eyes and ears to a story they wouldn’t have listened to before. The old saying goes that “A waterfall starts with a single drop of water”. Well this is my drop of water.




More than bricks & mortar….?


I am 35 living in Somerset, working voluntarily within my community. I have two children and one has special needs. I suffer with mental health but do not see that as a barrier to achieve.

How long will it be before the government put more time, money and resources into mental health?

We have, as a nation, been horrified and extremely upset by the apparent suicide of a young mother and her new born baby. I do not know the story and not sure I could cope with hearing it to be honest, but there were obviously alarm bells ringing. The speed at which her details were published shows that enough concern was shown of the potential for this to happen. So why were they not kept safe?

I have been through the mental health system on many levels and although the staff on the front line are excellent in their roles, they have not been given enough by those elected to care for us to protect those that need it. Mental illness is NOT a dirty word nor contagious, so why do so many people shy away from talking about it? I am very open about my afflictions. The only way forward is to remove the barriers that have been present for decades and restrict those that do suffer.

I ask… What has any government really done to improve mental health care?
Charities and some very well known people are very vocal about conditions and campaigning for better services and provisions. But what of those that are asking for our vote? Having been in the system for close to 10 years, I have seen many changes…

• Loss of beds on inpatient wards
• Less support services in the community
• Services tailored more to addiction than mental health
• Massive increase in those suffering milder forms of mental illness, that have gone on to develop significant problems, due to lack of attention from relevant medical professionals
• Children being sent hundreds of miles from their families, just to receive the care required
• Mental health crimes increasing
• Police being used as ‘baby sitters’ for those that are deemed too ill to be in society at that time.
• Anti depressants being handed out more freely, with no follow up counselling or support

I have not seen any real significant increase in companies changing their view on employing those with mental health problems. Nor have I seen any huge Government plans to ease or aid the situation. However, I have seen a change in our communities.

People now have the confidence to stand with their head held high and declare they have mental health issues. Communities are rallying around to support each other, with self made peer support groups. Face Book forums popping up, with people from all over the country coming together to support through the dark times.

Yarlington Housing Group have employed a ‘Well Being Coordinator’ with the aim of reaching, signposting and assisting those with mental health issues to become who they could be, with the right support and direction. But again, I question why this is the job of housing associations?
Ken Comber, Head of Communities for Yarlington Housing Group, is very passionate about community and has a special interest in mental health. His view is one shared by many across the company, “Significant numbers of residents in social housing experience mental health issues. Cutbacks in government funding mean that it is harder and harder for those people to receive the services they require. Social landlords like Yarlington are trying to bridge the gap by employing a Wellbeing Co-Ordinator to help support vulnerable residents. To work in partnership with organisations who provide professional support and also local community groups like the Watch project who provide invaluable services to those who need peer support. ”

WATCH was set up by a remarkable lady, Julie Matthews, who was shocked when her local day services were stopped. After suffering herself, she felt that those with mental health needed somewhere to go, free of judgement to get support and a helping hand. She was so passionate about it that chains and a protest were involved until she got the vital space she needed to help others. It is humbling to visit and see the change of the patrons after just one visit. http://watchproject.org.uk/

I have visited many housing associations and read many tweets from all over the UK and am amazed at what the housing sector is now assisting its residents with. Does this distract them from the business that originally is all bricks and mortar? Or is it right that the way of housing associations should be the entire welfare of their residents?

Whatever the ethical debate over whether housing associations should be picking up the shortfall from the government, I applaud them for taking the action. A generation being supported by their landlords now have the potential to improve their lives and that of their children. This in turn redevelops a whole nation of upcoming citizens.

I have been one of those residents, too afraid to leave my house. Thinking the world had forgotten about me and I had no worth. Yarlington Housing Group gave that back to me. They have empowered and supported me to continue a life that I had long left behind after severe mental illness.
Like many of the stories we are hearing in the media today, I have been held in a prison cell awaiting mental health involvement. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of despair and fear, trapped in a tiny cell being constantly watched by a man in uniform. Being looked at like an alien specimen that has just landed. And at that point wishing my mother ship would come and beam me up.

I still suffer badly with mental health and cannot work but with Yarlington holding my hand, they enable me to attend meetings and recently take up a lead role on the tenant panel. As much as I thank them for giving me back a life and showing my children that disability does not restrict me, I am one of thousands, and I was a lucky one.

How many residents are sat with their curtains closed afraid of the world? Never venturing out or engaging with another human being? Where day and night merge to become a living nightmare? Does someone like this live next door to you? Do you cross the road to avoid someone that looks a little odd or acts slightly strange?

Mental Health is a fact of life and over a quarter of us suffers from this at some point in our lives. So why the taboo? Talk to us and you will find that not only are we ‘normal’ but actually quite interesting. We also have a sense of humour which is very important when you suffer any disability. In fact I was only talking to my voices the other day and they were in stitches…

My experiences…

Guest blog by Emma Leigh MBE

Emma is currently a Public Engagement and Communications Manager for NHS South Cheshire CCG.
Previous roles have included working for Public Health, in particular working with veterans and offenders for which she was awarded an MBE.
When not chattering, Emma enjoys reading and going to the theatre.
Emma is married to Glen and has 2 grown up children.

My experiences…

I offered this blog post some time ago, I was excited to share my thoughts, then got an attack of nerves, how do I really feel about reliving some of my teenage years?

So where do I begin, I guess a bit of back story. I was born into a fairly typical working class family, homeowners and proud to work all the hours that god sent to pay the mortgage. I was lucky in the sense that I enjoyed school, but lacked any longer term goals, aspiration wasn’t really promoted at home.

Like many families, my own had it’s resident skeleton in the cupboard, in the shape of one of my parents problems with alcohol and while it didn’t put me on the path to ruin, it hardly helped me enjoy a normal upbringing at times. Anyway, I thought I was rather grown-up, and found myself both married and pregnant (yes in that order) at just 17.

Sadly my intelligence didn’t quite stretch as far as working out somewhere to live, looking back I rather think I was in denial, hey there was a lot happening at the time, so I started married life and subsequently brought my baby home to my parents home, which was certainly not ideal.

After much cajoling, our names were added to the councils waiting list for a house. At first it seemed fruitless, 24 years ago the lists seemed just as long, but the squash at home meant I was soon motivated enough to press for action.

When our daughter was 4 months old we we’re finally allocated a house, an end terrace with a typically huge garden, which many council homes enjoy. Ah the joys of our very first house, the coal fire, the single kitchen unit and not a great deal else. But that didn’t deter us, with some begged and borrowed furniture, we set up home.

So what did my council house do for me and my family? It taught me the sense of community, memories of Jessie the old lady two doors down still make me smile now, it gave me the responsibility of paying my own bills and learning how to budget, it taught me how a myriad of families can rub along together when the drains block. The council and latterly, the housing association also provided me with a valuable back-up, like the time all our pipes froze and water came crashing through the ceiling, support was just a call away. The repairs team we’re always practical and and came and sorted problems out.

Over time, the house became a home. It wasn’t just a council house down a council street, it was where my family belonged. In 1999 we we’re lucky enough to be able to purchase the the house, meaning that I could afford to finish my education as well as keep the house going. I hope that by gaining not one, but two degrees and now working for the NHS I am able to repay, in some small way, the support I received over the years.

So there it is, actually I think I can look back and feel quite proud.


Simples ….


Tamsin Stirling is an experienced housing researcher with 25 years in housing practice, policy and research. She has worked within and with Welsh Government, local authorities, housing associations and third sector organisations. She was editor of Welsh Housing Quarterly (www.whq.org.uk) for more than 15 years and specialist policy adviser on housing, regeneration and planning issues to Welsh Government Ministers Huw Lewis AM and Carl Sargeant AM between April 2012 and April 2014.

Tamsin’s specialties are research, evaluation, policy analysis, strategy development and information dissemination. Her areas of interest include housing, social policy, governance, tackling poverty and inequality, devolution and policy divergence.


I didn’t grow up in a council house – for most of my young life, we lived in tied accommodation linked with my Dad’s job. He was, to use the terminology of the time, a ‘special schools’ teacher, working some evenings and weekends, as well as in the classroom, with accommodation provided by his employer. By the age of 12, I had had six addresses – no particular hardship, but not great either.

Work-wise, my first encounter with things housing was as a Community Service Volunteer in a bail hostel in West London. There were two main reasons for people being in the hostel – some had committed pretty serious offences and the court wanted to see them somewhere with a curfew, various other rules and an element of supervision. But for others, it was simply a lack of a settled home that meant weeks, or maybe months, in the hostel. I remember one young man who had been sleeping rough – he had stolen some bread and milk from a shop doorstep and was remanded to the hostel as ‘NFA’.

Skip forward a few years and I got my first job in housing as a housing officer for a housing association in south Wales. 25 years later, I still work in housing – thoroughly hooked!!

For me, the case for government investment in social housing comes down to a few basics:

• housing is a fundamental human right – Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living
• some people cannot meet their housing needs within the market – this may be particularly so given the way housing markets are working in many parts of the UK
• emotionally, we all know how important a safe, secure home is
• economically, the case for capital investment in social housing with rents affordable to people on low incomes is sound, particularly when compared to pouring in revenue subsidies to support ever higher rents which are not necessarily invested back into the homes or related services (see LSE and IPPR for example). Investing in a collectively owned asset certainly makes sense to me

Having just worked within Welsh Government for two years, I am proud that our national politicians remain committed to investing in social housing – linking this both to tackling poverty and to the jobs and growth agenda. However, our politicians, and in particular, our Minister, Lesley Griffiths, along with all of us involved in housing,have a significant challenge to find ways of building more social housing within what it a very hostile emotional and political environment at a UK level, as well as a context of decreasing budgets.

We live in an affluent country in the 21st century – it should not be beyond our collective capabilities to house our people at least adequately. Those of us who feel angry that we are not doing this can direct this anger positively – to counter stigma, unapologetically keep making the case for social housing and work with others to find ways to build more. Council Home Chat is a great example of taking such action, an initiative being driven by young Welsh housing professionals.


I’m on benefits and I’m not proud to be on them…


Zoe Rooney

I am 35 living in Somerset, working voluntarily within my community. I have two children and one has special needs. I suffer with mental health but do not see that as a barrier to achieve.

I am on benefits and I am not proud to be on them, but I also acknowledge they are a support for which I am thankful for. There may be many who abuse the system but isn’t that the way of life? A few give the majority a bad name. The vast majority of people on benefits are in low paid work or retired. I never expected to be on benefits for so long, nor did I expect to find that I was unable to work due to health issues. I had worked for many years, in good positions, but overnight that all changed. If it weren’t for our country’s safety net, I hate to think where I would have ended up.

I try to give back and do voluntary work to justify earning the ‘wage’ that my community pays into. However, I refuse to be seen as a scrounger or a leech on society. Iain Duncan Smith announced his idea of prepaid benefits cards. I really question why the people with all the money decide what is best for those who have nothing. Have they ever had to wonder where the next meal is coming from? Had to make the choice to eat or heat? Searching for pennies to buy bare essentials? While the prepaid cards seem a good idea in regards to helping those with addictions, what of the thousands that do not have addictions and are forced into the same bracket?

The theory being that without cash, drugs cannot be bought… well I hate to burst your bubble Mr Smith but surely those with addictions can easily buy a product and sell it cheaper to get some quick cash? So now they are receiving less benefit money as they are trading down. So what happens next? How long before petty theft increases as they try to feed their habit? If you give me all my money on a prepaid card then how am I to pay for a loaf of bread? Give the children a couple of quid pocket money? My children do not take cards. All this is going to do is once again take more ownership of their lives away. We already have a nanny state and the whole premise in the last few years, with Universal Credit, is to give power back to the people and encourage them to manage themselves, so why now are we back tracking? Give with one hand and take with the other? Is there going to be a minimum spend in shops for these cards? What if a card is lost?

Those with mental health problems struggle at the best of times but giving them a card that is so easily abused is simply farcical. When will the government come down out off the pedestals and hit the streets and really see what is happening? Food banks are being accessed more than ever. Children are going to school hungry and relying on funded dinners. Parents choose to go without meals in order to provide for their loved ones. “This is a change for those families that we as a Conservative government will be proud of.” I am sorry but I do not need you to feel proud of me… I need you to be realistic when you decide these short sighted changes. The bedroom tax is forcing families out of their homes where generations have grown up. I understand the housing shortage but perhaps if the government gave housing associations more money and backing to build new homes, which in turn would put money back into the economy, then a start would be made to really changing lives for the better. Why is the housing crisis not significant in any party’s main pledges?

Maybe the way the housing shortage will be resolved is to have more desperate people sent to prison, as they steal to feed habits or feed their family. Funding is being taken from all NHS budgets, including mental health. Beds are so few and far between. With the poorest in society already being stretched to their limit, when they are forced into depression and despair, there will be no where for them to go for help. We need greater opportunities, a decent living wage, adequate pension provision and more affordable housing for all of society, not just a select few.

Gary Orr (Chief Executive of Yarlington Housing Group) has ideals that sound far superior to the damage control being ploughed out by the government- “an affordable warm home in a community that offers opportunity for people to realise their hopes and dreams, for themselves and their children is a fundamental right. Today too many are excluded that’s why we must back the Campaign to build more homes and create opportunity for those that face our nation’s housing crisis. Yarlington, like many other organisations, provide a raft of employment, training & education services to actively assist local citizens. We are in the residents’ corner; we are on the side of the vulnerable; we demonstrate our independence by championing our residents rights.

For me we need a welfare system that is on your side, that starts from the premise that you have hopes and dreams and recognises that you are not the problem but an opportunity in what is a challenging and competitive environment ” This kind of opinion on a political stage would get my vote. Forget the way you pay people and provide more housing and better facilities and funding for mental health. In my opinion the major problem is that those at the top of the food chain, have forgotten those who are going to food banks to survive.

Status update: Feeling Determined


Note: I work in #ukhousing , all views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent my employer. I tweet under the name @RHoneyJones

After completing her MScEcon at Cardiff University, Rachel started her career in Housing with the Vale of Glamorgan Council where she supported both the Housing Stock Transfer programme and OneVale Programme. Rachel then joined the i2i team at CIH where she held the position of i2i Coordinator for South Wales and Powys. She worked on the Caerphilly Stock transfer ballot as an independent staff consultant and delivered support for community benefits and tenant engagement across her region of work. In May 2013 Rachel joined NPT Homes to work within the Community Regeneration team, focusing on the added benefits the housing investment can make to communities. In her role as Development Officer she has written NPT Homes Community Benefits Policy and is currently focusing on major regeneration plans in priority areas. Rachel is also a Board member of Family Housing Association in Swansea

Council Homes Chat Guest Blog – Rachel Honey-Jones

Status update: Feeling Determined

The last week has been filled with emotions in both my professional and personal life – the majority have been fantastic but, as always when balancing things out, some have been not so brilliant. I followed Nick from National Housing Federation’s speech on twitter and felt motivated….this followed into the wee hours after I’d had a soap box rant. I have been trying to write this post for about 3 months and, finally, had an epiphany at silly o’clock this morning when reading a post on Facebook that one of my dear friends had put up – more on this later ….

I had a privileged upbringing aboard with self-made middle class parents. They both work in education and both have worked their way up the ladder through their careers to the top of their game. However, they were both the first people in their families to go to university. Both were Council estate born and bred. Dad is from Penlan in Swansea; one of 6 children and they all lived in a 3 bedroom council house. My grandfather was in the army during World War 2 and met my grandmother when she was evacuated from London to Swansea during the blitz. My mother also lived in a 3 bed council house in Hendy, Carmarthenshire with her parents, sister, grandmother, step-grandfather and uncle until she was 18. Everyone in both households worked from the age of at least 13 but most from about the age of 10.

I did not realise growing up the absolute devastating poverty faced by individuals in other nations; my parents reminded me frequently how fortunate I was to be from a first world country however with rose tinted glasses, it was only when revisiting the countries I grew up in did I truly understand that the lady sitting on the side of the street would not be eating today, nor would her very young baby. My extended family didn’t struggle – far from it, it was a time when families and communities pulled together and learnt to be frugal.

I suppose, due to this upbringing when I was a teenager, I was what is known as silver spooned Tory..(stay with me here!) I went to boarding school at 16 and was surrounded with some very blue affiliated individuals who had absolutely no idea of the value of money – students would drive their brand new BMWs and Mercs onto campus straight after passing their driving tests, only to write them off a few weeks later without so much as an “oh well”, knowing they’d be bought another.

If you’re rich that’s fantastic – you have worked your a** off to be a success and I applaud you for it – or it’s family wealth so someone has worked their a** off. However, PLEASE, I urge you to use this for good. Shop local, support your independent retailers; this will bring more money into YOUR local economy, which creates more jobs, more wealth for the area and everyone benefits. The local multiplier effect is amazing – if each of us spent £100 a year more on local businesses instead of national chains it would put and extra £3m a year into OUR economy….and would create thousands more jobs in return.

If you own a business then try and ensure that vacancies are advertised as widely as possible to the local community and give someone a chance – you do not know their life story or why they are currently unemployed, in a low earning job or are facing hard times- bringing up children, caring for parents, mental health issues, general bad circumstances, a domestic violence victim; the list is endless. This extract really struck a cord…..“Millions of low-paid workers are trapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty and are even turning up at food banks in their lunch breaks asking for help to feed their families” 5.2 MILLION people or 21% of all working individuals are being paid below a living wage – forcing them to food banks. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/working-poor-trapped-in-unbreakable-cycle-of-poverty-turn-to-food-banks-in-their-lunch-breaks-9117820.html

Back to my original point. One of my oldest and dearest friends, who I have known from about the age of 6 months, lived around the corner from the house my mother grew up in. She is my age, was in the same year at school and we would spend hours and days doing everything that kids do – falling in the river, building forts, playing the price is right, making perfumes from flowers – we did it all! I only ever got to see her during school holidays when I came back to Wales but it was like I’d never left. She grew up on a Council estate; she was bullied severely at school and lost all confidence in herself. I saw one of my best friends crumble. She decided to do something about it and I witnessed one of the most amazing journeys I think I will have ever witnessed in my entire life. She is a constant inspiration to me; her determination and attitude to never give up has got her where she is today and she deserves this a thousand times over.

This friend now owns an extremely successful business; she works all of the hours god sends and cannot do enough to help her customers. She wears her heart on her sleeve and has a huge smile on her face no matter what issues she is going through. She utilises social media extensively as her products’ target market is teenage girls and she is very successful at doing this. She also asks her customers what they think of certain campaigns she plans on running and, last night, she asked what everyone thought of offering a 10% discount for those on benefits ………………………Now I’m sure you can all imagine the stereotypical comments that were being made; how dare “they”, “they” should live within their means, why should “they” get special privileges when “they” get enough and won’t get off their backsides to find a job, “they” “they” “they”– one customer even said she would boycott the shop if this campaign went ahead….but then an amazing thing happened, people were fighting back. Saying “they” were not “shirkers”, they were not work shy, they were either in low paid jobs or had personal circumstances (as I have mentioned previously) that meant they were on benefits and “they” hoped that the initial individuals never had to face the eating or heating dilemma that so many do on a daily basis.

That made me start to process my thoughts on the media’s portrayal of those on benefit with the likes of Poverty Porn that is ever so popular. Can you honestly say that you nor a member of your family has never received any form of benefit? Just to test the water here’s a quick list off the top of my head:
• Working Tax Credit
• Child Tax Credit
• Child benefit
• Maternity Grant
• Maternity Allowance / Statutory Maternity Pay
• Paternity Allowance / Statutory Paternity Pay
• Benefits for Adoption
• Guardian’s Allowance
• Child Trust Fund
• Winter Fuel Allowance
• Attendance Allowance
• Carer’s Allowance
• Disability Living Allowance
• Housing Benefit
• Income Support
• Jobseeker’s Allowance

Not all of these are means-tested. Should they be? In my humble opinion – yes, yes they should be. Why aren’t they? Well, things like the Winter Fuel Allowance would affect the stereotypically named “Grey vote” – those who have retired or are close to retirement. Why does this matter? Because that generation usually always exercises its right to vote; some would have even fought for that right during their lifetimes – why would a government shoot itself in the foot by changing any of the “Grey Vote” entitlements?

Same goes for social housing and welfare reform – it only affects those of a working age AND YET the majority of “spare bedrooms” reside in households of a retirement age. The “spare room subsidy” or “bedroom tax”, whatever you prefer to call it, has been proven through the pilots to increase rent arrears and, therefore, debt for Social Housing providers. It’s a lose- lose situation.

We CAN change this. We need to ensure that social housing is on the upcoming Government’s agenda for the national election. We need a vast increase of house building for our future generations, homes for those on low incomes and support for those not in work. We need a Right to Buy policy that works and replenishes any homes that are bought. . We need to stop the working poor and non-working poor and challenge these whenever we see them. We need a government that sees Social Housing for what it is – HOMES for PEOPLE. We need politicians who understand the complexities of everyday working life – not Eton & Oxbridge graduates making the decisions which they have no idea how they will pan out on the ground (but they sound good!). We need more politicians who are firmly embedded within grass roots if anything is going to change. Carl Sargeant, who was Minister for Housing & Regeneration until last week’s shock reshuffle, is an excellent example of the type of character we need in government. Those who actually care and understand the issues.

One main criticism I hear about the Social Housing sector is that we are insular. I agree; we’re great at talking to each other but not so great at getting those conversations outside of our sector. We need to SHOUT more about the amazing work we do. When we hear someone with an opinion that is stereotypical – challenge it and educate them on the reality rather than just nodding and allowing stereotypes to continue. It’s the only way we will prove that benefits street is the minority and that more people are on benefits than you think.

I am, first and foremost, a realist – yes, the system will be abused – we are all human and I’m not going to go onto a political theory rant but read for yourself what our forefathers – Aristotle, Hobbes, Plato et al had to say on the matter. There are some factions of society that will always find a loophole to gain from, however, you can’t base a system on this – you have to base it on those in the greatest need. There was an excellent article by Andrew Rhynam on the benefits of social housing versus the Private Rented Sector and I would urge you all to read it:

Thank you Kylie, my oldest friend for being such an amazing and inspiring person. Thank you Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht) for his speech at the National Housing Federation Conference for motivating me and getting my mind focused, and finally thank you Cheryl (@Ctracy861) for reminding me why we do this.

I vow to not get angry – just to do something about it. I hope you join me.

– Rachel

Amazing campaigns to follow on twitter:
SHOUT for Social Housing – @4socialhousing
SOCIAL HOUSING UNDER THREAT – The Campaign for Social Housing. England.
Yes to Homes – @Yestohomes
“We say Yes to Homes and want our Council, councillors and MPs to commit to delivering more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right price.”
Council Homes Chat – @Councilhomechat
Busting myths about Council Housing by providing a platform for people’s stories/experiences
#HousingDay – @HousingDay
#HousingDay celebrates the positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK. Stories by #ukhousing landlords, staff & tenants. 12-11-14.

Tackling Perceptions


Marty Downey 22 years old from Northern Ireland, Co Down, Magheralin, about to start my final year of Housing Management at UUJ having almost finished a 15 month placement with South Liverpool Homes and hopefully will be seeking full time work in housing in May 2015, optimistic that my views will be shared by others and spark some debate on pressing housing issues. Please feel free to contact me.

Twitter -@MartyD21
Email -Downey-M5@email.ulster.ac.uk or m.downey@hotmail.co.uk

With two years of my undergraduate Housing Management course and a 12 month placement, which turned into 15 months along the way with South Liverpool Homes under my belt, I am still on training wheels so to speak in terms of housing. However with so many positive experiences, along with meeting many passionate people in the sector I felt I could convey some of my observations in-spite of recent media portrayals of the social tenants and indeed social housing providers.

First of all I think that the general public and the current government at their own peril, severely underestimate the role that most housing associations perform for the most vulnerable people in society. Front line staff for associations up and down the United Kingdom will testify that when many of these people have issues be they trivial or of the highest importance they contact their housing providers first and foremost. Providers are sign posting these tenants, offering advice and truly going above and beyond. The same goes for the loneliest people on the fringes of society who depend and cherish the services and contact that many associations offer ‘as standard’, including; Benefit advice, help with debt, schemes for children, utility bill help, computer classes, and food bank vouchers just to name a few. This is indeed a far cry from the depictions constantly cast out by the media time and time again. One group of people that the current government neglects are those working class families just above the threshold of state help yet fall desperately short of attaining an affordable mortgage, if not for social housing many of these people would be pushed into the private rented sector which is not always affordable, however this is argument for another day. In short many associations are carrying out work that is really going unnoticed at a governmental level, anti-social behaviour and supported housing for those who need it including things like furniture packages affordable options along with adult and child safeguarding I would include on this list.

In regards to how many of these television programs represent social tenants I would​ like to think most people could look past this complete and utter misrepresentation. These production companies and tabloids are first and foremost in the entertainment business and with technological advances along with almost everyone having the internet in their pockets, unfortunately mean these people must constantly find new ways to shock yet intrigue to capture viewers. This is where the folly of these programs takes shape as many of those given a spotlight are highly individual case of people in real need who do not directly benefit from the way they are depicted. Worst of all is the potential backlash this leaves other tenants open to in social housing, it is unfair on them to have to deal with passive judgment based on a handful of families put under what effectively is the entertainment industry’s blurred microscope.

Social housing in my opinion is the most underrated area of welfare and somewhat of a social backbone in the United Kingdom for many reasons, it is the most malleable resource of the public sector constantly flexing to the changes around, be it ground-breaking welfare reforms or some trivial matters that arise day to day, the good organisations seem to take all of this in their stride. The reason behind this is that housing is driven by some extremely passionate individuals and leaders that can be found in most social housing providers from the bottom up. I think those of us currently within housing owe it to ourselves, our continued good work and our tenants not to let an untrue typecast even attempt to define us. Thankfully positive and innovative responses such as Council Homes Chat which is characteristic of true housing professionals rising to yet another challenge posed to our tenants and our services.

Hidden Talent: Behind Closed Doors

Zoe Rooney
Single mum 2 kids, one who has special needs. Live in Yeovil Somerset. Have mental health issues.


When we are little we all dream of owning a big house, married to the perfect man, with beautiful kids and perhaps a dog. The hard truth of life is that this is unlikely to happen. I would never have thought that I would one day be on benefits as a single mum in a housing association house. Suddenly I am faced with the ‘council house’ label. On every form, we tick the ‘council box’ like it is some measure of who we are and what we are all about.

While many do conform to the stereotypical image of a council house tenant, the majority do not. I am typical of the stereo type. Two kids, single, benefits… but does anyone really look past that and see the person behind the label? I had the perfect life. I had everything. I looked down on others as if I was superior to them because I had the 2.4 family. Then one day my world came crashing down and life as I knew it would never be the same.

Luckily we do live in a country where there is a safety net, although this is far too often abused. Like a performing dolphin, I jumped through the hoops, endless form filling and many temporary accommodations and finally got my Holy Grail… my own little 2 bed for my children and me. Life was hard and I settled into an existence of housework and coffee mornings. As my children grew, I realised that I was existing and not living. Many people fall into this trap. Looking around at the people I mixed with, it shocked me to discover that I had now become a stereotype. The bi-weekly Costa mornings, being the highlight of my week. But at 30 with two pre-teens, could I change my life? Could I teach my children that anything was possible if you tried hard enough? The biggest challenge is having the confidence to start your journey.

Today, most housing associations are not just landlords. They have many departments to aid with training, employment and even starting your own business. I have only ever been with Yarlington Housing Group and until 2 years ago had never interacted with them. If I saw my housing officer coming, I would take a superman dive into the nearest bush just to avoid them. I had no interest in engaging with them… I mean why would I? My rent was being paid, the house was in a good state, so like the weird uncle at Christmas, you put up with them but avoid at all costs.

Yarlington look past the label and actually want to help the residents, which I found to be an alien concept. From benefit advice to a well-being officer, they seemed to have it all covered. Perhaps the label assigned to housing association residents is soon to be a thing of the past. But does social standing and employment responsibility lie with housing associations? With so many government cuts and hope at an all time low, maybe the social landlords could challenge the future for those who are resigned to council homes. Could improving the options for today’s generation significantly change those of the future? All the research shows that children with at least one working parent, vastly improves their chances of succeeding life. I cannot work. I have significant mental health issues that restrict employment. For years I accepted that the future was sitting down with a cuppa, watching Jeremy Kyle and letting the money enter my bank account with no effort from me. What was this teaching my children? With employment being seemingly impossible, my options were limited. Then came the light bulb moment. I was getting a ‘wage’ but I was doing nothing to earn it. The community around me was paying me to do nothing. I decided that it was payback time. I had skills. If no one would employ me then I would ‘earn’ the benefits I was receiving in any way that I could.

I joined forces with my landlord, Yarlington, and threw myself into improving my community and helping other residents. Two years on, I am now heavily involved with a large cross section of not only residents but all in my home town. I am still not employed but I work harder than ever. Everyone needs a helping hand out of the rut they are in. Showing someone the way forward and holding their hand to do so, can give them the confidence to achieve beyond their dreams. Mental health may still carry a stigma and limit life options but it is not the barrier it once was. For those who look down on council house residents, I feel pity. Everyone has a skill and some of the poorest people on earth are the most caring and give more back then they can ever expect to receive for themselves. The old saying ‘You never know what goes on behind closed doors’ is never more true than now. A wealth of talent and skills are lying dormant behind council house doors and is just waiting to be tapped… and perhaps our social housing landlords are the key to doing this?

More than Bricks and Mortar: A lived experience of a Liverpool Council Estate



Jon Daley

Neighbourhood Officer for Regenda Group, working hard to cut stigma in social housing and making the a North West a better place to live.

As an academically minded neighbourhood officer, it is easy to get lost in ‘patch trends’ and national statistics in search to better understand the housing sector. However, I can’t be grateful enough for social housing for more than just giving me my dream job.

I grew up in an area called Dovecot, in Liverpool. An area although associated with a high crime rate within a largely deprived geographical ward…I fondly remember. I spent the first 12 years of my life in a Local Authority owned home with my Mum, Dad and Brother. Although statistically there was ‘nothing down for me’, I feel that social housing gave me a way against the grain of the stigma that it is associated with.


I couldn’t have asked for a better youth than what I experienced. All of my school friends lived within a quarter mile radius (thank you state schools), our neighbours would help us more than just a Ned Flanders-esque borrowing of power tools and of course my parents would never let me want despite hard times financially (it was the 90s). What this experience taught me was a strong sense of community, despite the negative press. Sure there was antisocial behaviour and it wasn’t a Makkah of living standards, however It taught me that people would be cooperative beyond measure when affluence didn’t stand in the way of others.


It was at this time that I developed a near innate urge to invest in community. One of my earliest memories was telling my Mum walking to school that despite living in a run down area, if there was any way to make my area a better place to live in which not just my Mum but others told me “the sky is the limit if you put your mind to it”. With this, I noticed that the stigma lied in bricks and mortar and nothing else, that social housing is judged by its cover rather than its content. I felt that the area needed to be as beautiful on the outside as much as the inside. It was at this time that I gained an interest in housing, community and urban regeneration, I just didn’t know the practice of it due to both my young age as well as a limit of academic education with in my community. However it wasn’t just the physical area that was my dominant interest, it was the people I cared for and still do today, years after living in social housing,


This sense of community provided for by Social Housing helped me with a lot of things over the years. I never forget the opportunities it gave me including the confidence in joining a local football team, starting my martial arts journey and the strange sense of communal accomplishment when someone done well. My own experience came when I obtained a school place at the prestigious Bluecoat School. I don’t know if it was because I was the first to achieve the feat or if others were happy to see one of their own progress, I knew it was the time to make it a mission to stand up for social housing no matter what. Despite seeing first hand that social housing contained tenants who were benefit reliant or in low paid jobs, it provided a platform for people to focus on what really matters. My own experience led me to feel that the removal of financial complexities brought out the best in people and to be proud of their community.

You can take the man out of community…

Even now, away from the community I grew up in, the community stills lives inside of me. As I never saw the stigma of social housing due to being raised in it, I seen an equality that is sadly declining due to ideals of ownership. Even when moving to a privately owned home at age 12, those values never left. I spent each waking moment committed to gaining skills that one day make a difference in the community. Whether it was organizing a play out day with my friends, helping my brother with his homework (he helps me now!) or supporting people through difficult times, social housing provided an experience that I wouldn’t have gained if my family was wealthy from a young age. 20 years after having that first conversation with my Mum around urban regeneration, I still have that fire burning inside of me. As a neighbourhood officer, I aim to use my skills to ensure the same loss of stigma in other communities to provide a similar experience for others even if that means doing this by changing one opinion at a time.

Everything is coming up Roses…

Everything is Coming up Roses.

Guest Blog: Dave Bainbridge.
Group Manager – Enabling Customers Wigan and Leigh Housing

The power and benefits that come from volunteering and helping others can not be underestimated. Its value to the giver, receiver and community is priceless.

The public perception of social housing and council tenants as portrayed in the media is often negative and does not reflect the often vibrant communities and significant contribution made to those local communities by residents . Thanks can be given to the repeat sensationalisation of bad news stories by Television and Papers.

The positive contribution most tenants and residents give far out weigh the negative minority that can disrupt estates

We have many examples of the great things going on in our communities but I would like to talk about just one brilliant example of this. As I write this BLOG @DIYSOS are busy improving a property in the Hindley area of Wigan, This isn’t a Council or Housing Association property its not a private rented or RTB it’s a privately owned property not even on one of our estates.

So you may well rightly ask what is this to do with @CouncilHomesChat …..

Well some of our tenants heard that @DIYSOS where in town and THEY OFFERED THEIR HELP.

They arranged for plants to be donated free from a local Nursery (Mossbank) and are now busy helping the crew to plant them.

Look out for the programme which will be broadcast later in the year