A drop of water…..

Elisa Faulkner is one of the co-ordinators of CouncilHomesChat

 

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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.

 

 

I admit it, I’ve never been a social tenant..

Catrin Lewis is a Tenant & Resident Involvement Support Officer; aspiring journalist & CIH Rising Stars Cymru finalist 2014

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When I first learned of the Council Homes Chat campaign, I knew that it was something I wanted to get on board with. When I gave my first presentation at CIH Cymru’s conference this year, I spoke of wanting to help change the image of social housing, its tenants, and the successes that we are all a part of. I told all those delegates about how I wanted to alter perspectives and show the country what we are all made of, and who we are.

However, when it came to writing this blog, it turned out that it was incredibly difficult to put into words how I feel. I admit, I have never been a social tenant, and probably never will be. Yet I feel incredibly strongly about the benefits it brings tenants, communities and the country as a whole. Despite three years studying it and a lifetime of a Neighbourhood Officer mother talking to me about the Right to Buy, I still have never understood why government deemed it an excellent idea to sell off one of Britain’s greatest assets. I despair at the prospect of having to choose between living with my mum for what feels like the rest of my life, or being at the mercy of a private landlord who won’t see me as a person, but as a series of numbers and figures that will be filling their bank balance each month. Mostly, I’m disappointed that I will probably never be a part of the communities that the South Wales valleys used to be filled with. Strong, vibrant communities which cared for each other, came together in time of hardship, and worked to make their neighbourhoods better places to be. These are now fractured, limping along, a shadow of their former selves.

Even when I applied and gained my job at a Housing Association, I think even my perception of council tenants was a little skewed by whatever popular scrounger story was in the newspaper. Quickly, I met tenants who worked hard to support their homes and household, wanted to make a difference in their community and most importantly, were sick of being told that they were akin to the scum of the earth because of their tenure. These tenants were from all walks of life, held different jobs, held different values. They were, I realised, wanting to smack myself in the face for being so daft, just like everyone else in the world.

As I’ve come to meet more of those involved with social housing in one way or another in the last year, I’ve realised one major problem. People see housing as a necessity and everyone would agree that each person deserves somewhere to call home. Yet, unlike roads, hospitals, and schools, previous political figures and those in authority have done a fantastic job in trying to downplay the amount of responsibility the government should have towards it. Everyone knows that a decent home with a secure tenancy provides the basis for improved educational attainment, employment opportunities and health, yet we are essentially told that we do not deserve homes unless we are at the very bottom of the rung. We have been told this until it has become a part of the British psyche, that social housing is for the scrounger, the teenage mother, the person with disabilities, the elderly.

So what does social housing mean to me? It’s security. It’s safety. It’s something that we’re in danger of losing; renamed and rebranded on the sly until it no longer means what it meant to. I may never live in a council house, but I will defend the right to it, and the reputation of those who live within it. I will fight for more to be built, helping to create jobs, restore communities, and solve this housing crisis that we are all a victim of.