Kate Stephens with Alison Inman
Kate Stephens
Kate Stephens
Monday 17th September 2018 - 17:12

Learning from the Phoenix Academy

Kate Stephens is a member of the Residents Forum at Hexagon Housing Association, and a graduate of the 2018 Phoenix Academy, our 'school of social housing'. Kate is pictured here along with Chartered Institute of Housing President Alison Inman on graduation day. Kate's blog might inspire you to attend the Academy in 2019. You can read more about the Academy and register your early interest here.

I was very pleased when Hexagon agreed the Residents Forum’s request to fund three places to learn more about social housing at the Phoenix Academy. Two of us attended the full programme, while one place allowed different members to attend individual sessions.

Over the past year or so our Forum has been researching the way Phoenix is run, and every time I visit Phoenix I feel inspired and exhilarated; attending the Phoenix Academy was no exception.

I learned so much, including the history of social housing, finance, management and tenancies and the associated legal aspects. Each of the sessions clearly showed that every department at every level is imbued with a passion for meaningful resident involvement.

The sessions I was most interested in were those on governance, communications and repairs.

The governance session was empowering. We heard from Pat Fordham, one of the original tenants, who had the vision of a community-led association, how the residents fought hard to make it a reality; and it is inspiring to see it still going strong 10 years on. We learned that not only are there resident shareholders, but that Phoenix actively encourages this. Rewarding people for joining up through the Gold Club is something I dream of in my own housing association.

My overall impression was of inclusion and equality, an openness and willingness to share knowledge and life experience as a two-way process between staff and residents. I was struck by the organisation and strength of the Resident Communications Group, so crucial in connecting everyone up, keeping residents at the heart of Phoenix. Working closely with residents and staff to share their stories, the group turns on its head the general stereotype of social housing residents.

I found the repairs team impressive. Being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Phoenix means that the team members are familiar faces, trusted by residents. They have a thorough understanding of Phoenix’s homes and there is a continuity which can be missing when contractors are used.

The presentation of certificates at the Graduation of Levels 1 and 2 of the CIH course was a joyful celebration with group photos, food and drinks. And as a further reward for our efforts, during the summer we were treated to a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, linking Phoenix’s own democratic process with the wider governance of the UK.

As a housing association tenant, to engage with those working every day in the housing sector can be daunting but doing this course has given me both knowledge and confidence.

My hope is that Hexagon will fund more places next year for residents, enabling them to engage with staff and Board Members on a more equal footing, and preparing them for active involvement in the running of their housing association.    

To Phoenix I say, thank you; it was a great experience!