Esther Wilson: Reflecting on my time as chair of the CIH Scotland board
In her final blog for CIH Scotland, Viewpoint Housing Association’s director of housing and support Esther Wilson looks back over her time as chair of the CIH Scotland board between 2018 and 2021.
It’s natural that when something draws to an end, you reflect, and I have been doing just that, as my time as chair of the CIH Scotland board and indeed my membership of the Board comes to an end after four and six (and a bit) years respectively. I have indulgently been allowed to commit some of my highlights here.
Scotland’s Housing Festival
Scotland’s Housing Festival is an annual highlight. We all take our own key messages away from these events, but I wanted to share some of mine, which stay with me to this day.
In 2018, in preparing the programme for the event, I first heard the term VUCA. VUCA is a concept that originated in the US in the post-Cold War period to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the world – the term made absolute sense in the national and global environment in 2018 and it absolutely reflects our environment now.
I listened to Alistair Campbell talk at the Festival within this context and he asked us to reflect on whether we were allowing our politicians, and in turn ourselves, to normalise things which are unacceptable e.g. not to have a home. I left that Festival with a reminder of why I came into housing in the first place and to ‘refuse to accept that something is ‘normal’ when it is unacceptable’. In 2018, our Festival was also significantly disrupted by the Beast from the East – as this was my first event as Chair, I hoped this wasn’t a bad omen!
In 2020, we gathered just a week or so before our world turned upside down and we entered our first ‘lockdown’. My highlight of the 2020 Festival was listening to Katherine Trebeck, advocate for economic system change – the ‘Wellbeing Economy’. Scotland is a member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments Partnership (WEGo) and is founded on the recognition that ‘development’ entails delivering human and ecological wellbeing. I know from speaking to others that she gave many of us lots to think about both then and indeed now.
We didn’t know it then, but that was the last time we would be able to gather in person until our Excellence Awards at the end of November this year. I remember talking to a colleague at the time, and saying that on my return to the office I would be continuing to work on business continuity plans related to Covid-19. They didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about…
Our Presidential appeals have been incredibly powerful in recent years. Former Presidents Alison Inman and Jim Strang ran one appeal concurrently for two years, supporting Women’s Aid. As part of this appeal, the Make a Stand campaign was created and asked housing organisations to make commitments to provide support for people experiencing domestic abuse. In Scotland, 84 organisations have signed the Make a Stand Pledge, covering 389,000 homes. This campaign has been incredibly successful and CIH Scotland has been at the forefront of policy work to drive change. Callum Chomczuk, national director of CIH Scotland, and I got our running shoes on in 2019 and ran the Edinburgh marathon, raising over £1k for Scottish Women’s Aid. You can read my marathon training diary here.
In 2020, Aileen Evans launched her Shine a Light campaign, focused on helping housing organisations raise their game on mental health – little did we know that during 2020, mental health would be at the forefront of our thoughts both as individuals and organisations.
The CIH Excellence Awards have continued to grow, with a record number of entrants for our most recent awards. Judging this event is always a joy, with the breadth and depth of talent in the sector on full display. It was fitting that our first in-person event in 20 months was a celebratory one. Given where we are now, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see and speak to as many of you as I did at that event. Every year CIH publishes details of the entries from all of the finalists to share good practice across the sector. You can download the Good Practice Compendium 2021 here.
Policy and Practice
Our team in Scotland work incredibly hard to ensure they continue to influence housing policy and practice, with notable success. As a sector we must continue to speak with conviction on the matters which are important to us, to drive the change we want to see. During my time on the board, housing colleagues in England have looked on with some jealousy at our policy environment and political operating context. While I agree that it is markedly different and more progressive, I have been keen to point out that we continue to have a lot to do! As we look forward, the agenda is growing, not shrinking.
I’ve been particularly proud to be part of the Housing and Dementia Framework and have spoken to promote the Framework on many occasions. I would love to see more organisations using the Framework to help support people to live well with dementia.
I’ve always been proud to be a housing professional and the renewed focus on professionalism with the recent launch of the CIH Professional Standards is to be welcomed. The online resources available to support continued professional development (CPD) are much improved and I look forward to using them to inform my CPD journey.
One of my favourite takeaways from this year’s Housing Festival related to professionalism and was attributed to Elsa in the film Frozen 2 - if you are the best housing professional you can be, you will always ‘Do The Next Thing Right’.
Finally, I would like to encourage anyone who is thinking of getting more involved with their professional body to do so. Volunteering just a little bit more of your time will see you reap the rewards. I have been so fortunate to meet many fantastic people, none more so than those on the CIH board over the years, that I would not have otherwise, who have enriched my knowledge and understanding in a wide variety of areas. I wish them and the CIH Scotland staff team all the best going forward.