In the historical surroundings of what is now the wonderfully stylish Great John Street Hotel, with an exclusive audience of Housing Association leaders and regional public sector executives, we took the extremely relevant topic of housing with care to the next level. A Housing Futures first, we certainly plan to repeat the experience – never was more attention paid or as many notes taken – all in all a hugely educational morning.
Proceedings opened with Paul Burstow, former Government Minister for Care Services. With eighteen years in parliament and two years at the helm of care for the elderly, adult social care, mental health services, carers and learning disability programmes no one was better qualified to set the landscape for our morning session. And while we would have loved Paul to shed some much needed light on some sensitive topics, I suppose we have to be realistic about what to expect from a politician - better still, next time let’s be braver with our questions.
Following Paul’s session, we planned to go for a short break and ponder that landscape but the audience were amply full with caffeine and wanted to push on. How could we say no to that?
Next up was John McLean, CEO for FOLD Group – the leading Northern Irish Housing Association with a penchant for doing things a little differently. As CEO for ten years, John has seen the organisation rise to support over 30,000 homes across Northern Ireland. The 800-strong team is behind leading ideas such as The Brain Bus and the reinvention of sheltered housing, tele-health and tele-care - and it was at the point that John talked about the need to re-invent and transform that the audience’s note taking became frantic - a real compliment to FOLD’s approach if you ask us!
From here we took a short break before we came back to join Caroline White, CEO of Youth Hostels Association. Caroline’s session took the narrative of the morning on to its next logical stage. We opened with Paul who set the landscape, we heard a contextual representation of the housing sector from John and then Caroline gave us a whole new view encouraging everyone in the room to think like a fully fledged operation by putting the customer (the tenant) first. With a background in the housing association sector, Caroline openly shared that everything she has learnt at the helm of YHA could have really helped her in her previous roles, which given the diversity of the sectors that she has worked in, was a pleasant surprise. Consequently our next event may put this very concept to work…
Finally we wrapped up with an impromptu speaker panel, which was certainly not absent of questions from the audience.
All in all a wonderfully insightful morning, that due to popular demand will almost certainly be repeated.