Timely debate presents unique opportunity

In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie reflects on the need for a considered approach to defining the future shape of our sector.

With social housing issues grabbing their share of national headlines in recent months, it seems timely that we should turn the spotlight on what the sector will look like in years to come.

The Future Shape of the Sector Commission – supported by Clarion Housing Group, L&Q and Network Homes – is looking at that very question, and it is interesting that it should be posed by the sector itself.

With a Social Housing Green paper in the offing, this debate chimes with some of the work being done by the National Housing Federation around identity, the messages we need to convey, how we respond to views expressed by our politicians and the implications of the Grenfell tragedy.

We have a unique moment of opportunity to discuss these issues – times are changing, and we have to ask some tough questions to remain credible and relevant in the new environment.

Reflecting diversity
At Thrive, we have been asking ourselves what the future of the sector – and our own organisation – will look like.

A key subject of discussion is how we ensure we hear what our customers are saying so that we manage our responsibilities while recognising that we need to take the organisation in a direction that meets the needs of future customers.

Of course, these are questions which all providers – big and small – should be asking themselves.

Although it is commendable that these three large, well-established associations have initiated and promoted this particular debate on a national scale, we must be careful that the commission’s findings and recommendations reflect the diversity of our sector.

Surely we don’t want to see smaller or niche providers, those at varying stages of their organisational development, becoming defined by a single vision of what a housing association should be and how it should operate?

The need for housing at different price points is increasing, so we may need different partners or the ability to work differently with funders to deliver this in a market where unregulated organisations may encroach.

Taking control
It is good news that these questions are originating from the sector itself, so that we can truly be drivers and influencers of our own destiny.

We do have to take charge of our own future – but acknowledge that there is not just one ‘shape’ that will deliver the desired outcomes for society.

So it is essential that each association speaks up, to ensure our diversity of views is heard, as this debate will shape the new normality – and we will all need to feel comfortable within this.