What do you do again?

“What did you say you do for a living?”

I work for a Housing Association. We build homes and we house people.

And I dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work in the same profession, or any other that doesn’t instantly ignite animated conversation , you will know The Tumbleweed Moment.

That moment , those uncomfortable seconds of silence , when you can see in people’s eyes that they are desperately trying to comprehend what you actually DO.

They begin searching around in the filing cabinets of their minds, knowing they have heard the phrase somewhere.

If they find it  – its likely to be right at the back of the brain , along with other discarded items – like “Credit Control Supervisor” and “Biomolecular Engineering Assistant “.

If you are lucky – they will locate it , associate it with the context in which they last heard it used and , in the case of Housing Associations, come up with “Ah yes – Council Housing!”

If you are unlucky  – it will be “Ah yes – Jeremy Kyle!”

In most cases they will simply look blank and confused.  You will attempt a couple of lines to explain further, and then you move on – swiftly – to talk about anything other than housing associations.

I’m incredibly proud to work in Housing. Passionate even. But the world won’t listen. Why is that?

Well, let’s skip past blaming the media for stereotyping.

And let’s leave the Politicians out of this as well.

Let’s take a look at ourselves – the people who make up UK Housing,  and the stories we tell about what we do.

As part of some incredibly scientific research, I set Google Alerts up over the past two weeks to search the web for stories written by us, about us.

By the way – If you don’t know what a Google Alert is – it’s a search parameter that trawls the web for relevent content and generates an email with the best results. Kind of like a 21st Century version of fishing. You usually get a load of crap in your net , but be patient and there are some real keepers.

Here’s what we generated – based on 120 search results. Statistics fresh from the back of a fag packet:

  • 25% of items were about about income and funding
  • 22% were about welfare reform
  • 18% were about new builds and site development
  • 15% were “Look how good we are stories”  – Typical example: “We’ve ensured 100% of our homes meet gas safety requirements”  – That’s like British Airways issuing a press release saying all their planes have landed safely and their pilots failed to kill anybody.
  • 12% were about Anti-Social behaviour or complaints
  • Just under 8% were about the people living in our homes and communities.
So lets look at why the world won’t listen.
Less than 8% of the stories we tell were directly about the very people that we were set up to help in the first place. 

This seems completely at odds with the Social Media output of the various Twitter Feeds in UK Housing – which do a pretty good job of celebrating the difference made to customers lives.

But we need to do more than just circulate the good news to each other.

We need to get our stories into the mainstream news feeds.

We need to promote what we do and the difference we make. In the new world. Not the world of print media.

And each and everyone of us needs to look at our output to see whether it celebrates OUR successes , the things important to US.

Or whether it celebrates the achievements of those we are here to help.

The things the real world might be interested in.

It’s not about us.

I work for a Social Business.  I try to help people change their lives.


21 thoughts on “What do you do again?

  1. Paul – don’t you find that the people working in housing are so diverse that you can’t really stereotype any aspect? Some CEOs are amazingly switched on to social media (see Halton’s Nick Atkin for a perfect example), some are great ‘marketers’ (Harvest’s Ian Perry), and others appear to shy away from publicity whilst still doing a bloody great job (our own Brian Cronin – rarely, if ever, appears in publicity, which I think is a real shame).

    And the rest of us below C* level, I never tire of meeting others working in housing as almost everyone has so many tales to tell, so many ideas, so many passions.

    Contrast this to my stints in Financial Services, and I know exactly where I’ve been most happy and content!

    1. I absolutely agree that there are some passionate and really diverse people in UK Housing – some of best people I’ve ever met. But as a collective we appear boring (to other people). I think it raises the question of how effective national forums have been. Perhaps they have a dumbing down effect. Perhaps consensus won’t push us forward.. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great blog and great points raised. I am going to give some thought to the information we put out in the media. Your point about the 100% gas safety was a very sobering one. I hate to (now) admit it, but wouldn’t like to count how many times i have probably written that in different publications.

    1. Thank you! The point about 100% gas safety – come on – we have ALL done it! We were talking yesterday about (very recent) presentations we have done. All begin with how many homes we have , how many we build…..

  3. Hi Paul,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve only just joined Northwards Housing, an ALMO in north Manchester, as their new media and communications specialist. My background is in the media – I was at the Manchester Evening News for five years.

    I only started mid-April, with no real background in housing. I did spent a lot of time covering the people of north Manchester though, and agree that there are some beautiful human stories of people in the city who happen to live in our homes.

    I’ve also found that weird glazed over look that you mention when people ask you what you do. Before, when I was a reporter, people would get very excited about that. I suppose in its own way it’s quite an exciting job.

    But I feel that this is even more worthwhile and yet, people’s reactions are exactly the opposite. It’s like I’ve stumped them for something to say.

    Anyway, I’m now following you on Twitter and look forward to reading what you have to say!

    1. Thanks Pamela and welcome. Northwards are a great organization. I would say keep hold of those “beautiful human stories” and keep telling them rather than talk about bricks and mortar. See you on Twitter!

  4. Love this. You’ve captured my sentiments exactly. I just started working in housing 7 months ago and ever since have been educating people (friends, family, strangers) about what it is exactly that housing associations do. It’s been a challenge, but once people get it they recognise the profound importance of the work we do. If only, as you say, the sector were able to more convinvingly communicate its message and publicise its accomplishments. I think we’d potentially see a different public dialogue occurring, especially around changes to welfare, austerity and more generally about the nature of sustainable communities.

    1. Francesca – you have 100% nailed it. The sector has failed to engage the public and politicans in an effective dialogue precisely because feel they have had to “convince” people of its importance. Paul Diggory made a comment about this on Twitter this morning. He said – “when I talk about what I do I always try to be enthusiastic. And always talk about people.” Enthusiasm + People. It’s the only combination that matters.

  5. great blog – great passion. Housing is underrated and little understood – try telling someone that you are a project and enabling officer for an LA that has no housing stock and hasn’t ‘done’ housing since LSVT 20 years ago! What could you POSSIBLY do then??? I know exactly what fills my day and almost every waking hours – the plight of others and what to do about it

    1. I think you are right Carmel – housing in the eyes of the public largely means build , the bricks , – not people. Describe what we all do and what we do if for….

      1. i think the public perception of the people side of housing is also just focussed on street homelessness and sofa surfers rather that all the very ordinary ‘you and me there but for the grace of God go I’ people that could indeed be any of us tomorrow or indeed was – well erm yesterday. I try to help people to help themselves – empower empathetically and practically – but I do not shy away from pointing out the error of their various ways – because they need to know and understand and own their problem. No one owes anyone a duty to do anything other than to be kind and respectful but both those qualities so often just ‘leave the room!’

        1. Thanks Carmel – agree. It also doesn’t help when the media (who I let off in the blog) only mention someones HA tenure in a negative context. Past 24 hours – one story referencing an Obese Teenager “cut out of her housing association home” and then one about a family “on benefits of 50K per year – living rent free in a housing association home”. If it was a story about a teenager who had successfully battled obesity or a family who had all entered work you can bet the fact they lived in HA home wouldn’t get a mention.

          1. Having worked in ‘the media’, I completely agree, but I would insert the caveat that it’s mostly national media who do this. Regionals shouldn’t get off lightly, because those stereotypes are still there, but inevitably, it’s the papers with the agendas that do this the most.

            1. Pamela – you are correct to insert caveat. Me generalising about the media is the same as sections of that profession generalisng about the people of #ukhousing. Consider me told off.

    1. Thanks Catherine – we do. I’ve had some great feedback on this blog and a lot of discussion. The one takeaway is – lets all stop saying we work in housing.

  6. I have really enjoyed reading this article.

    I am not from a Social Services background, but know of, and know, people that have been made homeless. If The Sponsor Socket can help this sector, and as you say Paul “..promote what we do and the difference we make. In the new world. Not the world of print media.” Then do contact us. Like you we are interested in helping people change their lives, because although we come from a professional background, we have walked in their shoes.

    If you have five minutes to spare, via The Sponsor Socket ‘About Us’ webpage, have a read on who we are, and our life experiences.

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