A trainee's view from Northern Ireland
Matthew Malcolm, a graduate trainee with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, has been spending February in the CIH office in Northern Ireland as part of his training programme. Here are his thoughts after a month shadowing Jennie Donald, CIH NI’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs.
As a graduate fresh out of university with a science degree, housing might not have been the move most people would consider making; however it seemed like a good move for me personally. I can’t stress enough how much of an impact I feel housing, and having a home, has on everyday family life even when many people take it for granted.
As an employee with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive I have gained a huge insight into the social housing sector in the last 15 months, benefitting from a fantastic graduate programme that has allowed me to move between all of the key landlord functions and spend a month in CIH NI.
A person’s individual views can change as they work in a sector for a prolonged period of time; but as a relatively new housing professional my views are still idealistic but rough around the edges so I thought it may be interesting to share them. The fundamental aim of housing organisations and of policy makers should be ensuring that everyone has access to good quality housing. However, the current housing market, public sector funding restrictions and changes to the welfare system will mean tough challenges for everyone involved in housing.
I believe that a continued drive towards new build is vitally important; we need to meet the demand for houses and we need to continue improving the housing stock, despite financial hardship. New build pushes lots of money back into local businesses and allows for the replacement of older houses that are not as easy to heat and repair or estates that were initially poorly planned. It is at this point that we can actively plan for the future proving houses that are flexible homes for life and that will continue to be inviting, efficient homes. Despite the often negative media coverage mixed income and tenure developments should be the norm and smart planning legislation should seek to eradicate polarisation; leading to the establishment of role models and aspiration in society, and allowing insight for how people from all walks of life live. We need to eradicate the short term gain mentality and look towards our children’s generation, think carefully before jumping at an unsustainable funding models, and keep in mind that uncontrolled financial risk can have serious consequences.
Looking a bit deeper I believe very strongly in a drive towards energy efficiency and sustainability of housing but not at the compromise of housing provision; we may not have cheap plentiful energy soon and how can we prepare for increased fuel poverty. Recently a South London co-operative funding a series of photovoltaic panels was set up, financed by selling shares - could, or should, social housing suppliers be considering something similar; producing green energy and using revenue on energy sales to fund housing or community projects? We have enough roofs after all… It is important to note that green energy has long payback times and is rarely the most effective use of money but are our current energy sources or lifestyles sustainable and what will the cost of electricity rise to?
Using new green technology, to look green, is not a valid solution and it is important to look at its long term performance; insulation can’t be seen on the outside like a PV roof panel but it’ll make a lot more of a difference inside where it counts. Housing is a long term investment, and not one that can be easily altered so it is vital to get it right first time; at least within financial and technological means. From a scientific background I also believe that advances aren’t made without risk and experimentation; if you want to provide innovation in housing you need to take risk, albeit calculated, analyse your results and use the information for future innovation. It would be exciting to see the UK lead the field in housing developments, in partnerships with landlords and academic institutions, collecting information that can be helped to build for the future.
Housing spans all sectors and yet is often overlooked; it is an economic enabler, not just for our generation but for future generations. It can lead to improving people’s opportunity and it can be a lifeline for those who haven’t got it. When carrying out your daily routine it might be good to think about the physical results of your work and the unseen; how it improves peoples lives. I hope I haven’t been too optimistic.