The school of social housing
If you’re in south London and pass our headquarters - The Green Man - you’ll see something inspiring and passionate that demolishes social housing stereotypes.
In our HQ you'll find a mixture of Phoenix Community Housing residents, staff and – from this year – people from outside our immediate patch, listening to a member of staff talk about their area of expertise.
This is the Phoenix Academy, which we call our ‘school for social housing’. Now with Chartered Institute of Housing Level 1 accreditation, the Academy looks at everything from the history of the sector to communications and finance.
It’s friendly and informal, but there’s a lot of learning packed into that time, not to mention trips to City Hall and Parliament to have a look at government in action (or inaction!).
Our students are incredibly diverse. The oldest we’ve had was 72, the youngest 18. They include people who are in the middle of taking degrees, people who have been out of education for years, people who never had much of an education.
It’s free to residents, but they still have to devote 18 hours of their time to complete it (our staff also give their time free to do the teaching). Come and sit in on a class and then tell me that social housing residents are apathetic or lacking informed opinions.
Part of the reason for setting up the Academy in 2014 was pragmatic. We’re a resident-led organisation, with our Chair and Vice Chair both tenants and residents making up the largest group on our Board. We needed to make sure there would be new generations of leaders to follow our tenant founders. The Academy is an essential part of our governance succession planning, and you can now find graduates on our Board, on other committees and among our staff.
For those who want to help run or work for housing organisations, it’s a great starting point. Of the 67 graduates since 2014, almost 50 have gone on to do CIH Level 2 courses.
But it was always about much more than that. It’s a chance for residents to look behind the curtain, to get an insider’s take on how a housing association (and the whole sector) functions.
We’re passionate about resident involvement, and we should be. The reason Phoenix exists is because a group of residents had what seemed to others was a crazy notion: they could run a housing association. They weren’t intimidated by the professionals, and they were right, as Phoenix’s first 10 years have shown.
We want our residents to keep asking tough questions, to challenge, influence and shape where we are going for the next 10 years as we move into building more new homes.
Too often we hear that social housing residents have a sense of powerlessness. Some of the reasons for that are beyond what we can affect as landlords. But why shouldn’t housing associations make sure they give residents a chance to play a key role – or better yet, the main role – in the body that manages their homes?
This blog was first published by 24housing magazine in July 2018.