by Colm McDaid
It was with no small degree of enthusiasm and excited anticipation that I set off for London at the end of May to attend my first CommsHero event. I was joined by my colleagues Linda Watson, Chair of the Housing Community Network’s Central Housing Forum & Vice Chair of Supporting Communities, and Deirdre Crawford, the Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion & Involvement Manager, at the Phoenix Community Housing’s premises in South London.
I had initially heard about CommsHero from my colleagues in TPAS Scotland, England and Cymru at our most recent bi-annual ‘meet up’, this time held in Glasgow. Jenny Osbourne, Chief Executive of TPAS England had informed me that she would be chairing the CommsHero event and that I should definitely try and get along and also bring along some tenants and colleagues with me. I knew we were in for a treat after speaking to Asif Choudry, the Sales & Marketing Director of WeAreResource and creator of CommsHero (via DM on Twitter, of course) as his passion was tangible right from the outset.
I brought the invitation to the attention of the members of the Housing Community Network’s Central Housing Forum in April, where they agreed that Linda and Deirdre would attend the event from both a tenant and landlord perspective. In advance of flying over to London, we watched some YouTube videos of previous CommsHero events which led to Linda and I unilaterally deciding to delegate any ‘Super Hero’ role plays to Deidre before we even got there! I was glad to know that Karen Gilmore, Director of Corporate Services with Clanmil HA, had been to a previous CommsHero event and had lived to tell the tale!
So off we went to the 10th CommsHero event which was being held in Phoenix Community Housing’s Green Man (Community Hub) premises in South London. This made the trip even more appealing as Phoenix Community Housing is one of four Gateway Model Projects located in England where tenants have the majority of places on the Board of the social landlord. We had already gotten to know Paul Kelly and David Yates from the Preston Gateway Model who have been kind enough to come over and speak at several events involving Supporting Communities in Belfast over the past six months.
After arriving early to the venue, we were registered and provided with packs which included notebooks with our own individual names on them. Asif and his WeAreResource colleagues, Mark, Nick & Joel, could not have been more accommodating all day - to say we were treated like royalty would be an understatement!
As for the event itself, it was an extremely packed and busy agenda with really compelling and inspirational speakers. The key message that tenants should be given the confidence to have a voice and to share that voice came across throughout, something Supporting Communities strives to do everyday.
Of course, the added value of an event of this nature is all the networking opportunities that it presents and the 10th CommsHero certainly provided in bucket loads. It was wonderful to meet up with good friends in the form of Alison Inman (Vice President & soon to be President of CIH recently honoured with an OBE) who provided an excellent presentation on the need for a strong voice in a society “that has too many voices.” Alison, who is also on the board of TPAS England, said there was a need for a change in terms defining people by their housing tenure.
“If you ask anyone to define themselves in three words, they won’t use their tenure. So society has to stop defining people by theirs.”
We also got some expert advice from Helen Reynolds on how to get tenant voices heard on social media, on the importance of personal brands from Asif Choudry, and from John Popham on how the best stories come from tenants themselves.
The delegates present also heard from Sinead Butters, current Chair of PlaceShapers, on the importance of tenacity. “If the door is open an inch, kick it wide open!” was the key quote from the day. Soha Housing told us about their inspiring #RealPeopleRealLives campaign to tell their tenants’ stories and how a second series of films was being produced with very little staff input.
We were delighted to meet with tenants and social landlord tenant partcipation practitioners from right across England including our friend David Yates from Preston Gateway Housing. It was also really useful to meet with Jonathan Lawn, Head of People & Communications for Phoenix Community Housing, who showed us around their wonderful premises and introduced us to staff across the organisation, including the kitchen staff who showed us how they are involved in working with young tenants and families on how to make meals on a budget.
It would be remiss of me not to thank and congratulate my colleague Jenny Osbourne, from TPAS England, who chaired the event so professionally as she always does.
Given the success of this one day, Linda, Deirdre and I left hoping that we can organise a similar event in Northern Ireland next year where we can showcase all the wonderful work that both the Housing Executive and our Housing Associations are involved in delivering to tenants right across the province.
Roll on the 11th CommsHero!
P.S. Nearly forgot to include this short video of Colm on the day - thanks very much to John Popham for recording and sharing!