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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

‘I’d encourage everyone working in housing to join CIH, I only wish I’d done so sooner.’


Ellie Thomas, planning and business development officer for Riverside Group talks about climbing the housing career ladder and how she became more involved with CIH.

I’ve worked for a housing association for just over seven years, starting my career a few months before my 21st birthday. This was my first ‘proper’ job having done part time work in retail and the catering industry whilst in college.

I began with admin roles for the first couple of years, this then led into project work in the programme management office as I started to become more interested in the world of housing. I now work within a brand new business development team which is super exciting.

The variety of roles I’ve had from finance to the customer service centre to the programme management office gave me great exposure to the business and the housing sector. It also enabled me to build some fantastic working relationships that I maintain to this day. It is such a bonus to have a good network of peers who you can call upon for advice and support, something that CIH membership certainly unlocks for you!

When I began at The Riverside Group, I was wide eyed and eager to learn, the first role as admin assistant for a finance team of around 80 colleagues was no easy way to begin but I loved it. I indirectly reported to the chief financial officer at the time, a woman to be highly admired although I’m not afraid to admit I did find her terrifying in the beginning, but her high standards and those of her PA (my line manager) gave me essential skills and a fantastic foundation to build on my career. I took so much from this role, including a keen eye for detail and organisational skills that I still use every day.

After a couple of years I knew I was ready for a new challenge, and was successful at securing a secondment working on a major IT project based in our customer service centre. I really enjoyed this type of role and so continued to pursue opportunities in the programme management office. Initially I was the project administrator whilst also supporting the Programme Board, our Governance Board for all projects. I was fortunate in this opportunity to gain exposure to our executive team, many of whom have supported me from day one and watched me grow. I think it’s so important to young professionals to have senior support and managers who support your growth and development. I would encourage anyone at the top of their organisation to invest in the junior staff, as speaking from experience, it really drives progress, and we can learn so much from you!

I developed my career in the programme management office up to project officer level. It was an interesting time for the organisation as we began a massive transformation programme. It meant that my role adapted and I had many different hats! I was involved in a couple of massive IT projects and had fantastic opportunities to learn from some seasoned project managers. My time in the programme management office helped me build resilience, strength of character and greater understanding of the business.

I am now a planning and business development officer in Social Housing Business Management which means I support colleagues in operational business planning and identify opportunities for service development of the social housing business. I had huge respect for colleagues leading this team so it felt the perfect opportunity to work with them again. I have definitely been spurred on to progress my career within Riverside due to the support and encouragement of my peers and management. I have been able to work on some exciting projects since joining the team, most notably for me I have piloted a Move On Accommodation process enabling our supported customers to move into our general needs properties. We’re currently working towards rolling this out across the group.

I found an informal mentor within the group who I discovered was a member of CIH, and she has been a wonderful support to me over the last six months. She encouraged me to join up explaining the numerous membership benefits, explaining how it would help me in my career. As I was keen to find out more she secured me an invite to our Regional Board meeting, so I could meet my local representatives and learn more about CIH. I was blown away and didn’t even realise this was possible. I got stuck in with the Board and contributed to discussions in their sub-group, focusing on us under 30’s and encouraging more of you lovely folk to join up. That was my lightbulb moment. I thought perhaps this was something I could become more involved in so I started to look at opportunities to help get more younger professionals involved.

Stephanie Kelley, the regional manager encouraged me to become a member champion so that I could be more involved with regional activities and help promote the work of CIH to my peers, but I wanted to do more so I applied to be on the CIH Futures Board – and I’m thrilled to say I was successful. It’s so exciting to be part of this amazing group full of talented professionals. Since joining CIH Futures I have been asked to focus on promotional events and member engagement opportunities for younger professionals or those who are new to housing. I want to spread the word about how many fantastic opportunities you can unlock just by being a CIH member. Keep a look out for more information as it’d be great to see some new faces at our upcoming events. I’d also love to hear any ideas you may have on what type of events and activities we should develop.

I’m someone who despite having quite an outgoing personality, has always struggled to network. I like my comfort zone! But since joining CIH I’ve realised it’s not such a scary thing and it’s actually opened new doors for me. I took the plunge with creating a professional social media profile and straight away made some connections (it’s easy behind a keyboard I know!) but then a month or so later made an effort to meet my new online friends face to face, as a result I am now sitting on a Board with several of them planning to further develop my career and hopefully encourage you in yours. Being part of a network of like-minded professionals has so many benefits, from peer support, to access to the latest information to first class mentoring. I’d encourage you to check out the #hellomembership top ten membership benefits online and see for yourself.

I’d encourage everyone working in housing to join up, I only wish I’d done so sooner.

There’s a saying, “If you want to invest in something with minimum risk and a guaranteed return then invest in yourself”, and this is so true of CIH membership. Plus, under 30’s get all of the membership benefits for just £60 a year! What’s not to love about that?

If you want to find out any more please get in touch with me. I’d love to hear from you or alternatively your regional manager Stephanie Kelley is always on hand to help, you can email her at

Ellie Thomas is the planning and business development officer for Riverside Group.

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