Everyone associated with Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) is saddened by the passing of our former Scotland director, Alan Ferguson. Alan personified CIH in Scotland during 21 years with the organisation. His drive and enthusiasm for change were an integral part of leading the sector to support the end of the right to buy and increase professionalism for the entire housing sector in Scotland.
Alan became director of CIH in Scotland in 1993, although his contribution began at grassroots level as an ear-ringed community worker. Seeing the fundamental importance of housing, he moved on to his first spell at CIH Scotland as a policy and practice officer where his first legislative impact was on the 1987 Housing Act.
Alan wanted better services to be delivered by greater numbers of trained professionals and so became a lecturer on the Housing Studies programme at Stirling University. There he enthused countless students who went on to successful careers, which for Alan, ultimately meant improving tenants’ lives. He made the case uncompromisingly for why the needs of tenants had to be at the heart of every practitioners’ priorities.
When he returned to CIH Scotland as director, Alan used his great ability to engage in conversation with anyone and put people at ease. He was eager to debate, argue and challenge decisions no matter who you were and where you were from. This contributed to the enormous respect in which he was held, by ministers, national and local politicians, tenants, professionals, sector bodies and so many others. Alan led CIH Scotland to work with a variety of organisations to develop successful national campaigns, policies, and projects.
The passion and the values that stemmed from Alan’s community development roots pervaded his whole outlook on housing. He never stopped wearing the earring that seemed to symbolise those roots. He worked tirelessly to ensure the concerns and needs of tenants were at the forefront of CIH members’ minds. All of these led to better outcomes for tenants and communities. He was a community champion through and through.
During his time as director, the Scottish CIH conference became a major event across the country. He introduced international speakers and encouraged CIH members to look beyond Scotland for good practice. He supported CIH presidents in their work with the Hong Kong branch and worked with EVH to share ideas with Pact Arim in France. At home, he built lasting relationships between the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland branches of CIH, and served as temporary director of the NI Office.
Alan was delighted by the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and became a regular contributor to its work. He gave evidence to committees, organised events for and proactively briefed MSPs to raise their awareness of social housing and policy issues in Scotland. He built relationships that led to the CIH in Scotland having a respected and influential voice on policy and legislation, something he was very proud of. The rest of the UK learned much from Scotland during Alan’s leadership. Remarkable legislation was passed that placed real value on the right to a home and removed conditions from the rights of access to housing. Scotland led the UK in its approach to the private rented sector. Alan fought hard to end the right to buy, to win a right to consultation for social housing tenants and to influence the new Scottish Housing Regulator’s framework. Scotland is rightly proud of the emphasis placed on housing by successive governments since devolution. This is down, in no small part, to Alan’s hard work in making the case for housing.
In 2014, Alan left CIH Scotland and became director of SHARE. This was an opportunity to work again directly with tenants and the others who govern, and mostly live in, housing association homes. He revived the organisation financially so it could support governing body members even more – to provide great homes, meet regulatory requirements and strengthen their networks for learning and support. He still had so many plans for SHARE.
Voluntary service was as much a part of Alan’s life as his paid work was. He served on several housing association boards, beginning with Gap housing association which led to him becoming a board member at Link Group when it absorbed Gap. He then served on the Cube housing association board and South Side housing association. These were very different organisations with different client groups and Alan influenced them all, notably on rent, tenant engagement and equalities.
Throughout his housing life colleagues were made very aware that he loved food, travel and cooking. Indeed no one else was allowed to choose the wine at CIH Scotland formal or informal dinners. From Orkney to Marseilles and Pisa to Cuba, he and Jenny loved exploring the culture and perhaps mostly, the cuisine. His wonderful 2019 Christmas cake exuded brandy, whisky and Cointreau.
Alan Ferguson has left the Scottish housing sector much too soon but has left a legacy which includes hundreds of housing professionals who have learned to echo his refrain of “What’s in it for tenants?”. Let’s never forget that. He will be greatly missed. The thoughts of CIH members and all those touched by him in the sector are with his wife Jenny, three children, family and very many friends at this very sad time.
We are very grateful to friends and colleagues of Alan’s who helped in the drafting of this statement and in ensuring it properly recognised the breadth and depth of Alan’s achievements.