19 Oct 2023
To say professionalisation is a big focus for the sector is a bit like saying we need to build a few more houses. Alongside decarbonisation, building safety, and housing delivery, it’s one of the most important agendas for all who work in housing, particularly as mandatory qualifications for managers and new competency standards come into effect.
The increased focus on professionalism has been brought about because of high-profile cases of mismanagement within the sector, which has, in extreme instances, resulted in tragedies such as Grenfell and the death of Awaab Ishak. For CIH’s new president, however, professionalisation has always been essential.
“I’ve always believed in professionalism,” says Jill Murray, “and how the technical competencies of the role have to be married up with the personal competencies. This isn’t something new, just because it’s been mandated in recent years.”
Through her presidential campaign, Jill hopes to serve as an advocate for professionalism within the sector and highlight the benefits of professionalisation.
She is calling on the sector to ‘Be EPIC’. Be Educated by seeing life as an open-ended learning opportunity, always seeking to learn and develop, and embracing mandatory qualifications; Be Professional by developing both technical and personal competencies and utilising resources such as the CIH Professional Standards; Be In control by taking responsibility, striving for achievement, and embracing the wider housing community; and Be CIH by becoming a member of the Chartered Institute of Housing, making the most of membership benefits, and studying with the Housing Academy.
“But you’ve got to be up for the challenges that go with that,” she says, “because opportunities don’t just happen: you’ve got to make them happen...you must accept that there’s a responsibility to continually improve your skills and your knowledge.”
She adds: “No matter who you are, home is the place where everything begins, and if you work hard, you can literally achieve anything you want, no matter where you come from.”
Jill serves as an example of what one person, regardless of background, can achieve in this sector. She was unexpectedly and suddenly orphaned at the age of 13 and “was lost and absolutely in trauma” before her 21-year-old sister took her in and gave her a place to call home.
She immediately sought a Saturday job so she could better support herself, and it was this need to work at a young age that led Jill to work for the local council housing department as a general office clerk aged 16. Here, her lifelong passion for housing was ignited.
“One of my jobs was to deliver a shared copy of Inside Housing around the department every week,” she explains. “The senior management team had a sheet with their initials stapled to the front, and I would take it from one to the other as they crossed off their names.
“But that young 16-year-old me used to read it cover to cover before any of those senior management team got it, and I would sit there avidly reading it and thinking, what can I do? How can I get involved with this? And more importantly, how can I get my initials on the front of this magazine one day?”
Jill's career has seen her rub shoulders with many important figures, some of them royal
Jill has achieved a lot during her time in the sector, from serving as vice-chair and chair on several boards in and outside of housing to becoming CEO of Byker Community Trust in Newcastle, a role she held for nine years till her early retirement in 2021. However, it wasn’t until very recently that she was finally able to strike off one of her biggest ambitions: to serve as CIH president.
“Becoming president of the Chartered Institute of Housing is something I dreamed of, if I’m honest, and I hope that my story will encourage others that they too can achieve their dreams and their long-term goals.”
Another of Jill’s goals is for housing to become an aspirational career like health and education. To get there, she says housing needs to be added to the school curriculum, and part of that is enabling housing organisations to work more with schools to show “what a fantastic career it can be”.
No matter who you are, home is the place where everything begins, and if you work hard, you can literally achieve anything you want, no matter where you come from
She also says housing needs to be more widely promoted in places such as job centres and job fairs, as well as within communities.
It is a difficult perception to shift, however; as Jill herself points out, little has changed since she got her start in the sector in 1981.
“You’ve gone back a long time, when women and girls did home economics and men did woodwork and metalwork,” she says. “It’s not like that anymore. But housing still isn’t on that Careers Curriculum, as far as I know.”
It is partly because of this sustained lack of attention the sector is experiencing difficulties with recruitment today. Jill admits a substantial effort will be needed to make housing a fabled career of choice.
“And I think...especially now that professional qualifications are mandated, it’s going to get even harder,” she says. “So, we really need to think about that and have a strategy in order to attract the right people into the sector in the right places.”
Jill has worked with many senior politicians, including Sir Keir Starmer and John Prescott (pictured)
Professionalisation and promoting housing as a worthwhile and fulfilling career are two essential, interlinked facets of Jill’s campaign. Yet, they’re not the only causes she is keen to champion. Another that’s close to her heart is the need to alleviate child poverty.
The problem is particularly acute in the North East of England, where Jill grew up and spent much of her working life. Child poverty levels are increasing year on year, and currently, around 35% of all children in the region are living in poverty – the highest rate anywhere in the UK. Two-thirds of those children live in working households.
Jill’s chosen presidential charity, Action for Children, aims to protect and support such children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, alongside essential supplies such as food and toiletries.
“We’re working with families in the most deprived neighbourhoods who are living in poverty,” explains Jill, “working with the families of disabled children, not just as a one-stop shop, but with a sustainable plan with each family, with each child, to support them until they become self-regenerative and self-sufficient.”
She adds: “They are a fantastic charity, who value engineer every penny so that it goes straight to the cause, to the frontline.”
Whether it’s working to ease child poverty or championing professionalism in the sector, Jill is passionate about everything she does. Alongside an unrelenting desire to continually learn and develop, it’s this passion that she attributes to her success.
“I enjoy every minute,” says Jill, recalling her daily commute to the Byker Community Trust office during her time as CEO. “It was only 12 miles, but it was a very heavily burdened road network to get there because it’s a bottleneck to get over the Tyne Bridge.
“And some mornings, it would take me over an hour. I never once thought to myself, God, I hate this journey.
“I couldn’t wait to get in. I couldn’t wait to work with the staff and my colleagues that I worked with, who were equally passionate and excited and couldn’t wait to work with the communities.”
Officially, Jill is retired. Yet her work in housing – and in related industries such as health – continues with verve, such is her devotion to a sector that has given her so much and to which she has given in equal measure.
Becoming president of CIH is something I dreamed of, and I hope my story will encourage others that they too can achieve their dreams and their long-term goals
She is also proud to be seen as a role model for others in the sector. For those who want to make an impact like Jill has, what should they be doing?
“If you want to, like me, progress through the ranks to become at the highest level, and then perhaps [CIH] president one day, you have to take control and ownership of that,” she says. “It doesn’t just happen for you.
“While I can safely say there’s no silver bullet to that success, I do have a learning curiosity, and further education and learning has always been an integral part of my working life and working hard, getting results.”
Summing up her career, she adds: “It’s been a constant learning curve, and I’m still learning. I’m not finished yet.”
In short: Be EPIC.
All images courtesy of Jill Murray
£10 could enable a young carer to participate in a fun activity, providing them with a much-needed break from their caring responsibilities.
£15 could provide a 'self-care kit' for a child who has attended the Blues Programme to help protect their mental health.
£25 could provide an emergency food package for a young person in crisis.
£30 could provide one hour of intensive support to a young person transitioning from care into independent living.
£50 could provide a child with vital materials they need to take part in their education and reach their potential.
£100 could provide a young person staying in emergency accommodation with breakfast, lunch and evening meals for a week, as well as much-needed toiletries.
£250 could provide an immediate grant to support children and young people living in poverty, who are struggling with an unexpected expense or additional pressures such as domestic violence, disability or poor health.
£550 could buy a cooker, washing machine and fridge for a young person/family moving into an unfurnished flat.
£1,000 could pay for a soft play floor for one of our specialist disability project.
CIH members and the wider sector can support Jill’s chosen charity by donating via phone, direct debit, PayPal, or Apple Pay.
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Jill Murray BA FCIH is the president of the CIH and former CEO of Byker Community Trust.
Liam Turner is the CIH's digital editor.