#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

AirBnB as an antidote to the Bedroom Tax?

photo by Raj Kumar

Yesterday, I was at HouseMark‘s Digital Futures Club. This is a regular event that I am part of with a number of others, and it has become a growing club with more housing providers who want to explore the world of digital technologies joining all the time. Check it out here if you want to be part of it.

At this event, Paul Taylor and I kicked off with a joint presentation about what members had told us they wanted from the Club, and the kinds of meaningful activities we envisaged being facilitated to ensure that members could implement digital technologies in their own organisations. I was struck by something that Paul said during this session, namely that “there are no stupid ideas”.

So, after the event, a number of us congregated in the pub round the corner, the pub, of course, being the place where most great ideas are fostered. This is so true that I am thinking of launching an ideas generating app called Pub, except that it probably already exists. Anyway, after most other people had drifted away, Paul and I were still kicking ideas around, and I mentioned that I had stayed in an AirBnB apartment the previous night. And quite quickly, this thought got linked with another we had been discussing about the Bedroom Tax. So, I asked the question, why couldn’t we organise an AirBnB for Bedroom Tax; i.e. something which allows people subject to the bedroom tax, but who need to keep their “spare” room to rent it out for short periods to cover the gap in their Housing Benefit payments?

Photo by Duncan Morrow

Now, go on, I can hear you shouting already about all the reasons why this is impracticable, impossible, and even immoral. But, as Paul said, sometimes you have to act as if there are no stupid ideas. Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. And, as we repeatedly said and heard yesterday, and at other times, the UK social housing sector has no choice but to change radically, so all ideas have to be considered.

Could we do this? Why not?

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Unlocking important stories

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Yesterday I ran my 4th Digital Storytelling session with the Riverside Group. The first three sessions were with Marketing and Communications staff in Liverpool. Yesterday I worked with a group of managers who are closer to the frontline at their North East Office in Gateshead.

As I often find,  in this workshop as in others, people frequently preface their remarks with disclaimers along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to say”, or “no one is going to be interested in my story”. And you’d be surprised how often they then go on to prove themselves wrong. My point is that everyone is unique and every individual has something to say which will be of interest to somebody.

The latter part of yesterday’s session focused on getting participants to have their first stab at making a video with their smartphones. Again, people were very self-deprecating about their prospects, “I’m not at all creative” being the most common complaint. And then they all went away and made really good films.

Everyone has a story in them. Often it is just case of giving them the confidence to express it.

I made some of these points in my Social Media Masterclass at the CIH Scotland Conference in Edinburgh last week. And here is a video interview I did at that session. If you’d like me to help your colleagues unlock their stories, please get in touch.

Preparing for the #HousingDay NewsRoom

I am really excited and grateful to Lewisham Homes who will be sponsoring the #HousingDay Newsroom.

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And I am even more excited that I will be joined in the NewsRoom not only by the guys from Resource, who, of course, are the people who bring you CommsHero, but also by Social CEO, Lisa Pickard from Leeds & Yorkshire HA, founder of #HousingDay, Adrian Capon, of Yorkshire Housing, Jenny Osbourne, CEO of TPASCaroline Chapman, from InCommunities, Beckie Kinsella from Plus Dane, and Hannah Jowett from Leeds Federated HA. But don’t worry, there’s probably room for you, if you still want to come along.

We’ll be curating and amplifying the best content from the day, as well as regularly live streaming news bulletins. And, of course there will be regular live linkups with our sponsor, Lewisham Homes.

I have been particularly impressed with Lewisham Homes’ Humans of Lewisham project, which has taken its inspiration from the world famous Humans of New York to celebrate tenants and their lives in photography with accompanying text. We’ve been discussing this in the Digital Storytelling sessions I’ve been doing recently with Riverside Group, and we’ve agreed that this model provides a fabulous format for telling positive stories about tenants.

And, as the theme of this years #HousingDay is #proudtenant; celebrating the lives and achievements of social housing tenants is exactly what we will be doing.

Announcement: – The #HousingDay NewsRoom

Sponsored by Lewisham Homes

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#HousingDay is approaching fast. The annual opportunity for people who live and work in social housing to celebrate what they do and show the world the positive sides of their lives and work is now in its third year, and, in 2015, it falls on Wednesday 18th November.

This year’s #HousingDay theme is “Proud to be a Tenant”, and social landlords are being asked to work with tenants to celebrate the positive aspects of being a social housing tenant and provide a platform to counter all the negative mainstream media stereotypes.

For #HousingDay last year, I ran the #HousingDay RoadTrip when I drove over 700 miles visiting social landlords from Leeds to West Kent and South Wales to highlight some of the great work they were doing. The trip was sponsored by Documotive, software supplier to the sector.

The RoadTrip was great, it was invigorating, inspiring, and educational. But it was also exhausting. So, this year, my plan is different…. and static.

For this year’s event, I am planning the #HousingDay NewsRoom. I am going to get together with some other social media users to run a news room which will curate, highlight, and amplify some of the best content coming out of the day. There will be an hourly, live-streamed news bulletin running through the events so far and providing a high profile platform for great stories emerging on the day.

I am already very grateful to the support of Comms Hero founders Resource for agreeing to provide the base for the NewsRoom at their offices in Leeds. What I need now is other social media users with an interest in social housing to come and join me on the day to help run the NewsRoom. It will be a lot of fun and we will all learn a lot. Come and join me in Leeds on 18th November.

A momentum is building from year-to-year and each #HousingDay can be more prominent and high profile than the last. Help me make the NewsRoom a success and contribute to the best #HousingDay yet.

“Non-Core” – An Urgent Call to Save Social Housing’s added value services

The last few months have not been good for social housing. Or at least not good for those who believe that low-cost rented accommodation provides people on low incomes with a vital bit of stability in their lives. It has become clear that the current government doesn’t share this view, and, indeed, as Jules Birch pointed out recently, it appears that their view is that social housing actively contributes to people’s poverty by diverting them from the aspiration of owning their own homes. Whether you share this latter belief or not, you cannot ignore that major changes are happening in the sector, with funding being shifted away from subsidising rents to encouraging low-cost home ownership, a 1% rent cut being imposed across the board, and Right-to-Buy being extended to housing association tenants, albeit the latter now being arranged via a “voluntary” agreement brokered by the National Housing Federation rather than by legislation.

And now housing magazine “Inside Housing” has produced a survey [paywall] which suggests that 72.1% of social landlords are cutting back on “non-core” activities as a result of the changed situation. They have decided that reduced funding and an uncertain policy environment mean that concentrating on managing the bricks and mortar is their best chance of survival. And so, community development, employment generation, and digital inclusion are just some of the activities which are being jettisoned as the hatches are battened down.

But if social landlords are not going to deliver these services who is? It can be argued that people who live in social housing need these services more than ever in the current climate, and, certainly in the case of digital inclusion, cutting back on such services is classic cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face territory, as the advent of Universal Credit will severely threaten landlords’ ability to collect rents if tenants are unable to manage their finances online. And I can tell you this is happening as I am experiencing loss of work myself as organisations disinvest from such actions.

Local government is hardly in a position to step in and pick up these services as it has experienced its own series of drastic cuts since 2010. And, despite the current Prime Minister’s early championing of the Big Society, it has always been clear that unpaid voluntary activity thrives in leafy suburbs and villages, not necessarily on social housing estates. So, activities which aid tenants’ well-being, incomes, and ability to pay their rents are starting to disappear. This will surely exacerbate the situation.

Something needs to be done about this. I am therefore starting a “Non-Core Watch”. If you know of a social landlord cutting back on activities which improve tenants’ lives beyond the provision of a house then please describe it in the comments below, and raise awareness on social media using the hashtag #noncore. We need to understand what is happening and begin to organise action to save such services before it is too late for our communities.

Where are the tenant digital leaders?

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What did you do last Saturday? Well I got up at 5am, hopped on a train to London and spent the day at HousingCamp with, what turned out to be a relatively small, but very engaged, bunch of housing professionals. It was a great day, with lots of interesting discussion, and I left feeling, as I did at HouseParty in June, that, events like this provide spaces where those who retain a sense of optimism, despite the turmoil the social housing sector is going through, can come together and find common cause with others of a similar mindset.

I shot the video below of the final session where those who had stayed to the end expressed their thoughts on what they would take away from the day. It includes my assertion that the day had provided the opportunity to launch a nationwide network of digitally savvy tenants.

This is something I’ve been working on for some time now. I firmly believe that one of the most effective ways of countering the negative propaganda put out by some of the mainstream media, and some politicians, about the people who live in social housing is to ensure that tenants are empowered to tell positive stories about their lives and their communities, and to use digital media in doing so. So far, in the work I have done on social media with tenants I have tended to work with the existing tenant representative structures. I’ve met some lovely people doing this, and have seen a number of lightbulb moments as they have “got” social media. But, by and large, it is not the traditional tenant activists who are going to provide digital leadership. There are lots of, possibly younger, tenants who are active on social media, but they probably tend not to associate themselves with tenants associations and the like.

I have met a few digitally savvy tenants. Some face-to-face, and some online. But, as far as I can see, they don’t generally organise around housing issues. There are, of course, some very notable exceptions to this rule, some related to the causes embraced by Russell Brand in London. But I really want now to start on creating a national network of digitally savvy social housing tenants to provide a social media voice for tenants and their daily concerns. If you are such a tenant, or you can help with support, money and resources in getting the network going, please get in touch.

Digital Inclusion – are the corporates joining the party?

My attention was drawn on Twitter yesterday to this story about Uber. In case you’ve been on another planet for the last year or so, Uber is the company which is using apps and the internet to shake up the taxi industry, and this story is about how an older woman is using Uber to continue to be mobile after having to give up her car. From my point of view, the most important part of the article is the revelation that Uber itself is getting into the digital inclusion business by assisting older people to use its service.

This led me to ask myself if this is part of a trend, and whether something can be done to encourage it further. The trend, I think, is that more companies which deliver services online are getting into the business of helping those who struggle with the online world to be able to access their offers. One well known example of a British company doing something similar is Barclays with their Digital Eagles initiative. I have spoken to a couple of supermarket retailers recently who are thinking of dipping their toes in the waters, and Argos has run their own programme which included enabling people to buy a tablet for £20. Is this a trend?  If it isn’t I think it should be.

The GoOn Campaign has its corporate backers, and, there has been a growing recognition of the issue in the public sector, with the social housing sector in particular, and now the NHS beginning to make digital inclusion more of a priority. To me, it makes perfect sense that if organisations, whichever sector they are in, want people to use their services online, they need to get involved in helping those who have difficulties in that respect.

Do you know of any interesting initiatives by private sector companies? If so, please let me know in the comments. If you are a private sector organisation who’d like to work with me on these issues, please get in touch.

The Social CEO – The Future of Leadership

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One of the highlights for me of the brilliant HouseParty event last month was the Fireside chat on being a Social CEO by Lisa Pickard, Chief Executive of Leeds & Yorkshire Housing Association. I was fascinated to hear Lisa’s journey, through using social media to becoming one of the best known UK social housing Chief Executives on Twitter. Of course, it is true of a chief executive, as it is true of anyone else really, that their online presence basically reflects their everyday personality, and it is pretty impossible to graft a sociable online presence onto a antisocial person. But it is equally true that not every sociable person understands the importance of a social media presence, or of making it more than just a link farm.

The advent of social media is changing what it means to be a leader in the 21st Century, and Lisa is just one example of a leader who has grasped this fact and is making use of it. In the modern world leadership does not come about through status, it comes from what a leader says and does, and how this is conveyed to others. Thus there are many examples of people who have come to be seen as leaders even though their position in traditional hierarchies might not suggest such. And social media can be scary for senior managers, used to being deferred to because of their status, who have to start from scratch with zero followers and take time to build online influence.

There is no doubt in my mind that this investment in time is worth it however, and that people who embrace social media are better leaders. Lisa herself said that she now felt that her small housing association was punching above its weight because of her profile on social media.

Inspired by Lisa, and some of the other leaders I know such as Nick Atkin, Shaun Tymon, and Jen Barfoot, I have for some time been putting together a programme for a workshop on being a Social CEO. Having formulated the programme, I then approached a number of organisations which run seminars to see if they would be interesting in collaborating on it. The response I got surprised me. It was, in effect, that they were not prepared to take the risk on it as they didn’t believe that a group of chief executives would ever sit in the same room and admit that they didn’t have all the answers. If this is true it is disappointing. Maybe it illustrates the point that some make that traditional hierarchies are threatened by social media, and that the people at the top are threatened more than most. But those, like Lisa, Nick, Shaun and Jen (sorry to those I am missing out), who have embraced it are reaping the benefits. Those who are not yet on board might well find their position being undermined, both by other, forward-thinking organisations, and by those within their own institutions who get it.

So, what do you think? Is the idea of a workshop for SocialCEOs a non-starter. Or should I just go ahead and do it?

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Digital Inclusion – The Eleventh Hour is Here: Take these 7 Steps Now

As part of the brilliant HouseParty event, organised by Matt Leach of HACT and Esther Foreman of the Social Change Agency, I recently live streamed the second Housing Question Time. During the discussion, Nick Atkin, Chief Executive of Halton Housing Trust said something I have heard him say before, namely that social housing providers should be very worried about how they are going to collect the rents which currently go directly from Government to landlord when these payments are rolled into Universal Credit and made to the tenant not to the housing provider. See Nick say this below:

Nick points out that 75% of social housing landlords’ income is thus potentially at risk, and that, unless landlords find ways of ensuring that their tenants can transact with them online, they will have to employ a lot more staff to collect rents.

This is a key reason why Halton has been at the forefront of both shifting its transactions online and encouraging the digital inclusion of its tenants through its Digital First initiative. Here is the archive of the live streamed video from one of the Digital First open sessions http://tmblr.co/Z7HaYy1S5WHo7.

Digital Inclusion Strategy

I am often asked for what I think should be the key elements of a Digital Inclusion strategy. My first answer to this is that, although the end game of digital inclusion is to ensure tenants are able to transact online with their landlord, as well as claiming benefits and seeking work online, that should never be the route into the online world. If it is, they will see the internet as a chore not a benefit to their lives. My approach is very much to demonstrate that the internet brings a lot of joy and increased human interaction into people’s lives, and that those who are not online are missing out.

Social Media

The first element of any digital inclusion strategy should be for the organisation itself to be active and effective on social media. I often ask why organisations expect their customers to do digital when they don’t do it themselves. A good social media presence on the part of the organisation gives their customers reasons to be online, to keep in touch with what is going on around them. And if that social media strategy includes (as it should) online coverage of community and social events, people will want to join in, share your content with their friends, and get active in the social media sphere themselves.

Digital Champions

A lot of organisations make the mistake of making digital inclusion the responsibility of a small group of staff in a dedicated unit. The biggest potential digital inclusion resource any organisation has is its staff, in particular the staff who have day-to-day contact with tenants and residents. One of the big issues I come across is that sometimes frontline staff can act as a barrier to digital inclusion as they are not comfortable with digital tools themselves, so they are fearful of the implications of letting the people they work with loose on them. Thus (as I outlined here) it is essential that frontline staff are both enthusiastic about digital tools themselves and imbued with a passion to pass their skills and interest on to others.

Of course, staff are not the only potential digital champions, and it is vital that tenants / customers are included in these efforts. The great benefit of enrolling tenants as digital champions is that they can act as informal support networks for their neighbours. It also breaks through that “this is not for the likes of me” barrier.

Connectivity

Much digital inclusion activity falls at the hurdle of connectivity. Having a telephone landline can be a minority status in some social housing areas, and, although increasing numbers of tenants access the internet via mobile devices, many don’t have smartphones, and many of those who do run them on Pay-as-you-Go deals which can have minimal or no data allowances. There are some deals which offer cheap, basic broadband connections, but these can still be out of the reach of some tenants, and, of course, they usually rely on the property having a landline connection. Increasing numbers of landlords are implementing free or cheap wifi networks which can blanket areas with coverage and offer access at home as well as on the move. This is being recognised as a vital tool in the drive to increase online transactions.

Devices

Halton Housing is one organisation which has been experimenting with giving devices to tenants, on condition that they use them to conduct transactions with the landlord rather than face-to-face or telephone contacts. They have researched which cheap Android tablets work most effectively and have concluded that it is cost-effective to give away the tablets with the cost being more than met in savings on transaction costs. There is growing evidence that tablets are the device of choice, particularly for people who have never used a computer. There are other sources of low cost IT equipment, particularly recycled computers, which can be an important resource for digital inclusion.

Particularly when working with older people, I have found that the more you can present the internet through familiar equipment, the more likely it is to be accepted. A low-cost tablet connected to a TV via a device such as a Chromecast (which only costs £30) can help them explore the online world in a familiar environment.

Normalising the Internet

Walk into any city or town centre cafe or coffee shop and you will commonly see people tapping away at laptops and tablets. Walk into any community venue on a social housing estate and it is most unlikely you will see anything similar. Many social housing tenants can live their lives isolated from the day-to-day use of the internet that others take for granted. This is why we ran the Our Digital Planet project which toured shopping areas in cities around the country and, by means of a giant photography exhibition, put uses of the internet in front of people’s faces. And it is why the HUGO Bus arrives in Leeds neighbourhoods with a (metaphorical) fanfare and broadcasts free wifi to the locality. We have to find ways of demonstrating the centrality of the internet to modern life to those who have not yet caught on to its importance.

Breaking down fear and suspicion

This is not just about allowing people to have fun online and talk to their distant relatives on Skype. It is not even solely about encouraging them to pay their rent via an app or use Universal Jobmatch to apply for employment. It is a much, much wider agenda than that. Great advances are in prospect to people’s wellbeing through the use of telehealth and telecare equipment which can help people be healthier for longer and to stay in their own homes rather than in hospitals or care homes. And smart meters and energy systems can greatly reduce people’s bills as well as contributing to the fight against climate change. But the use of such technology greatly depends on people’s acceptance of them. Many non-internet users are reluctant in the extreme to share any data, even anonymised data online. They have to be shown how to keep safe online, and that sharing data doesn’t bring the world crashing down around them. These are essential steps towards achieving acceptance that sharing the data which telehealth, telecare, and smart energy systems require is a good thing, not a social evil.

Making it stick

Far too many digital inclusion initiatives rely on short term interventions which are assumed to have done the trick. But this often leaves people high and dry with no support and seemingly little incentive to take their internet use further. People need to be supported long term to ensure they can continue and progress with their online activity. That’s why Digital Champions’ networks are essential. It takes time to develop a fluency with internet use, and that is something which is often missing from short term initiatives.

The good news is that there is growing recognition that these steps are vital to the long term financial health of social landlords, as well as to the wellbeing and prosperity of tenants. The bad news is that there are still far too many who are not taking actions in these directions, and time is running out to get it right.

If you’d like to talk about how I might help your organisation in these areas, please drop me a line at john.popham@johnpopham.com or tweet me @johnpopham