Dorry McLaughlin talks to SHN about the history of Viewpoint, her priorities as its chief executive and the varied career opportunities for women in housing.
Viewpoint is Scotland’s oldest housing association – founded by women in 1947 as a result of the post World War housing shortage. Miss Jane Cunningham, the daughter of a local minister, bought a flat in Rutland Square and let out part of her own apartment to give homeless women a safe place to sleep. It proved so successful that a committee was formed to help manage her growing range of properties and the Viewpoint Housing Society was born.
The first committee was formed of eight like-minded women. As its original tenants aged, the need for a variety of housing schemes designed to meet the requirements of older people became more and more apparent. Viewpoint soon began offering everything from sheltered housing to 24-hour care and introduced amenity and general needs housing for people below retirement age.
More than 70 years after it was formed, Viewpont Housing Association is as strong as ever with a commitment to diversity at the heart of the organisation. It was recognised by the National Centre for Diversity with an Investors in Diversity Accreditation for its ongoing drive for equality.
At its helm is Dorry McLaughlin, who is keen to see the organisation and the wider sector continue to provide opportunities for women to thrive.
“At Viewpoint our learning and development isn’t just about housing or related topics but it involves coaching and mentoring new leaders. For women in particular this develops confidence and resilience.”
“Women are very well represented in social housing in Scotland, however there are still some difficulties recruiting to the housing and property side,” explains Dorry. “For me it’s about the available career pathways within housing – we need to make sure that available courses are accessible, well promoted and taken up. There is a wealth of opportunities in housing management, housing support and asset management, as well as trades and support services such as ICT and finance.”
Dorry has been chief executive at Viewpoint for eight years and has worked in housing and services for older people for some 25 years, following spells in local government and with the housing regulator in England. Since 2014, Dorry has also held a seat on the Board of Age Scotland and became vice chair in August 2016.
Before joining Viewpoint Dorry was chief executive at Central & Cecil in London. Also providing care and support for older people, Central & Cecil developed innovative services for those living with dementia with a particular focus on creative arts.
Dorry’s passion for creating joy in later years has led Viewpoint to develop innovative services and accommodation, including Edinburgh’s first Craft Café in partnership with Impact Arts. Viewpoint has also carried out dementia awareness-raising road shows with Alzheimer Scotland and is currently working with the NHS to develop a telecare health hub.
“Working in social housing you can make a difference wherever you are in your career, helping some of the most vulnerable people,” she adds. “Housing associations provide not just the bricks and mortar but also add value building communities and creating a place to belong.”
“At Viewpoint our learning and development isn’t just about housing or related topics but it involves coaching and mentoring new leaders. For women in particular this develops confidence and resilience. We were recognised Leaders in Diversity in 2017, which demonstrates our commitment to equal opportunities for all.”
“People may regard maintenance and development as ‘jobs for men’ but there are many routes for women to challenge this perception and explore career opportunities.”
On the routes available to a career in housing, particularly for women, Dorry believes Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) offer many varied opportunities for those opting to work in the sector
She said: “People often think of housing as bricks and mortar or housing management. In the case of bricks and mortar people may regard maintenance and development as ‘jobs for men’ but there are many routes for women to challenge this perception and explore career opportunities. Many RSLs offer modern apprenticeships and technical and leadership skills are often in short supply.
“Work experience in RSLs can open up career options. Housing management is not just about collecting rent and letting homes although that is an important part. Frontline Futures by CIH shows that the role of a housing officer is about tenancy sustainment and engagement requiring skills often closely but not exclusively associated with women.
“Again there a number of paths into housing management and Viewpoint supports staff to obtain the relevant qualifications and learning. We are looking at leadership development programmes to equip both men and women to explore their potential across the whole range of services we offer.”
When asked if the unique history of Viewpoint played a part in her decision to join eight years ago, Dorry replied: “It possibly did but not consciously!”
“The caring ethos of Viewpoint, its breadth of services across care and housing, its ambition to care and support older people (demographics means that it accommodates more women than men) most certainly did,” she added.
And her proudest achievement during this time?
“Leading Viewpoint to achieve some of its ambitions with staff empowered to explore new innovative services – telehealth hub, @Home service, 12 beds for people with dementia, craft café and community kitchens………too many to mention!”
Catch up with the rest of the Scottish Housing News International Women’s Day feature here.