Integrated working and multi-disciplinary teams are not new in the housing world. In 1976 as a newly qualified teacher I started my housing career in Leicester’s Renewal Strategy Team under the leadership of John Perry. The Team comprised of many disciplines including social workers. The reason was quite simple. Urban renewal and housing is as much about people and communities as it is about bricks and mortar. This point is in danger of becoming lost in the current housing environment.
Recently I was asked to give a talk to a group of trainee social workers at my alma mater Goldsmiths College in London. The subject was a career in housing. I was surprised to see that a majority of the audience had not considered this as it seems to me that the qualities of a good social worker especially those relating to empathy and understanding are exactly what are required in housing today.
I used two periods in my career to make my case. My first job as a housing manager was with an organisation called Coventry Churches Housing Association which is now part of Midland Heart. The housing management team which was then called the tenant support team was made up of people with a housing, social work and a community work background. This is what attracted me to the post. From its origins CCHA had realised that all of these skills were required in order to offer real support for people and communities. I believe that this is as true today as it was then and that there are real opportunities in housing for people with a social work background. In fact the values and passion that often motivate people to consider a career in social work are exactly the values of the pioneers of the social housing sector. These values are required even more in this period of austerity as the demands for our services grow daily
My time as Chief Executive of Midland Heart, one of the largest housing and care social businesses in the country, showed the importance of these qualities even more. People with a social work background played an important role in many of our teams. Specialist social workers were employed in our care and support teams, working with people with learning disabilities, people with mental health issues, young people, and homeless people. Others worked in our extra care schemes and in our services for older people. You might argue that you would expect to see this and you would be correct. However the extent and diversity of our services in care and support and the opportunities offered are often unknown to the non-housing world.
More generic social workers also played a part in our housing management teams. Some doing very specialist work on family intervention project and others providing general housing management support, often working in the most deprived neighbourhoods and communities. I believe that there is no greater career than that offered in the housing and care sector. There are not many professions where you can honestly say that your job does make a difference and that you help transform lives and communities. Throughout my career I have watched many do this and I am proud to have worked with such wonderful and inspiring people, who often made the extra-ordinary, appear ordinary.