Discovering Amsterdam’s Green Scene, with the NHC and GEM programme

The GEM and Talent in Huis team

At the start of this month, I was lucky enough to be a part of the GEM Programme’s sustainability trip to Amsterdam.

The GEM Programme provides learning opportunities for people looking to develop their career in housing, alongside gaining a level 4 CIH qualification.

This trip was in collaboration with Talent in Huis, who are long standing partners of the GEM programme, and deliver a similar training programme for housing graduates in the Netherlands.


The GEM Sustainability Stream

The opportunity to visit Amsterdam came as part of the GEM’s new sustainability stream. This is a new part of the training programme, to develop GEMs working in sustainability and to inspire creative leadership to solve the net zero challenge.

Our first task was in August 2023. We met the Dutch trainees online and were put into working groups. Each group was paired up with a housing association, who gave us a sustainability related problem to solve. We worked together to create innovative solutions, which we presented back to the housing associations.

Yet, you can only learn so much from behind a laptop, and due to the Netherland’s famous commitment to active travel, social investment and sustainability, we were keen to get on our bikes and see for ourselves!


Off to Amsterdam!

We were warmly welcomed by the Talent in Huis team and trainees, and we quickly became friends.

One of the most important things I learned from this trip, was the value of cultural exchange. We discussed and compared standard practices in the housing sector in the UK and the Netherlands. This allowed us to examine our challenges with a fresh pair of eyes, and problem solve with more creative, innovative solutions (pinched from each other!).

This was particularly poignant when discussing the challenges of meeting the net zero challenge, to decarbonise housing by 2035.


Visit to Circular Buiksloterham

A miniature model of Buiksloterham

We visited the urban renewal project in Buiksloterham. Ewout Urbach explained that this area was initially deemed as ‘unusable land’ owing to its industrial past and lasting damage from the war.

Through their innovative circular planning approach, they have created a thriving local economy. They are developing a sustainable, low-carbon neighbourhood, that aims to maximise the use of existing materials and minimise waste. Their innovative online library that catalogues existing materials across the city was particularly impressive. Their ultimate goal is to create Amsterdam’s first circular urban development.

This remarkable and refreshing approach to urban development is something we hope to showcase in our member engagement programme. Keep your eye on our events page for more information!

Floating homes in Buiksloterham

Sustainable Communities at Kolenkitbuurt

We also visited Kolenkitbuurt which is a social housing estate in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. Before it was renovated, Kolenkitbuurt had fallen into disrepair and the neighbourhood experienced high levels of unemployment, poverty and crime.

So far from home, it was striking to see the similar challenges that communities face. The hard work and commitment to community cohesion from local organisations echoed of the projects I have seen from our members in the North of England.

In Kolenkitbuurt, they have a uniquely high population of young people. It was recognised that in order to support this community, more opportunities for its young people must be delivered. A mentoring scheme that recruited local dads to support the young boys on the estate struck me as a valuable and inclusive community initiative.

This neighbourhood has recently been renovated, to ensure that social inclusion is at the core of its architecture. It had recently introduced a mixed tenure design, and the staff were working hard the ensure community cohesion overcame social segregation.

The walking tour of Kolenkitbuurt

It’s ‘bottom up’ strategy was cemented with its brand-new community centre, that provided a safe, supportive and creative space for tenants.


Final Stop: De Alliantie

Our last stop was spending a few hours at De Alliantie, a housing associations just outside of Amsterdam in Hilversum. They presented their progressive sustainability strategy, and gave us a tour of their new ground-source heat pump project. We identified common challenges, including tenant engagement and community buy-in.

I am very grateful to the NHC, the GEM programme and Talent in Huis for this brilliant experience. I’m looking forward to bringing what I’ve learned to our engagement programme, and introducing new ideas and speakers from the Netherlands to our membership.

For more information on the GEM programme, click here to see their 2025 prospectus.

NHC announced as partner for Housing 2024

In June, Ocean Media Group bring the largest housing conference in Europe, Housing 2024, back to Manchester for another year convening the UK housing sector.

‘Housing Week’ provides space for the sector to come together, discuss and collaborate, to identify solutions and speak with one voice to those framing the debate.

NHC members can register for a free visitor pass, giving access to six theatres of expert led content on the exhibition showfloor and the opportunity to meet with the entire housing supply chain under one roof. To secure your visitors pass, see here.

Our chief executive, Tracy, and other colleagues will be attending the event and speaking on some of the panels. We hope to see you there!

Find out more about the event on the Housing 2024 website here.


Dream career in the ambulance service for Bursary winner Simone 

Torus tenant Simone is now working for the ambulance service after a £500 bursary helped her complete her training.   

Simone is a single mum of two children who both have special needs. Having regularly attended to her children’s emergency medical needs, she developed a passion and drive to pursue a career in the ambulance service. She applied for the £500 bursary to support her to do a First Response Emergency Care (FREC) course and C1 License training to drive an ambulance.   

After receiving the £500 bursary, Simone said:   

“I have applied for the C1 on my license now, and I can’t wait to start my driver training, which wouldn’t have been possible any time soon without this bursary! I am so happy and grateful to have people supporting and believing in me, and to be chosen for it.   

“I am definitely on the right path now and will soon be working and training with North West Ambulance Service as an EMT or training to be a paramedic at Warrington Vale.”  

Simone came to speak at our Unlocking Success Bursary lunch to explain how the bursary has helped her. She later updated us that she’s got the job and is now working for the ambulance service – congratulations Simone!   

Advocating for a sustainable future which benefits everyone

Steve Mackenzie

Steve Mackenzie is Homes and Environment Champion on Yorkshire Housing’s  Customer Voice and Review Committee. He’s a member of the Social Housing Tenant’s Climate Jury, the NHC’s award winning citizen’s jury which looked at how tenants and landlords could work together to tackle climate change.

He was also part of the tenant advisory group for the Heartwarming Homes  campaign and took a role in contributing to The Centre for Social Justice’s ‘Better Insulate Than Never’ report in 2022.

Steve has also spoken at a host of conference and events about the importance of working with communities towards a more sustainable future.


What led to you developing an interest in climate change?

Climate change affects every person and yet everything we do affects climate change. The poignancy of this fact very much drives my interest in the topic.

Climate change is happening, and it’s because of this, I’ve held a strong interest in its impact, most notably across the housing sector.

As the industry moves at pace, and the demands for us to decarbonise increase there are many unresolved challenges for the sector. Funding may well have been provided but so have challenging timeframes and a lack of knowledge, skills, and guidance to deliver what is required in housing, at the pace it is required at.

Since 2011, 2.3 million homes have been decarbonised out of approximately 28.4 million properties. That leaves the equivalent of one million homes on average a year or one every two minutes to be decarbonised, but the reality is that we are a long way from achieving those targets!

Better communication is required, as are green skills and education, so we have the resources and knowledge to meet demand. Listening to and championing the voices of tenants will be vital, to understand where the barriers may be for retrofit projects and debunking the myths that might thwart progress or take up. Aswell as working with landlords to share this knowledge.

Being part of a number of housing committees and juries including the Northern Housing Consortium’s Social Housing Tenants Climate Jury, has been invaluable in  learning where the gaps are in delivering these ambitious goals. And most importantly making key recommendations that will help drive the housing sector forward when it comes to decarbonisation and net zero.


What do you think are the most important recommendations to come out of the Social Housing Tenant’s Climate jury and Heartwarming Homes?

 The projects have led to many positive recommendations for the housing sector, most notably around the importance of communication, collaboration, and dispelling myths.


Social Housing Tenant’s Climate Jury – recommendations

 Fundamentally, communication and collaboration is key. For example, if you don’t effectively communicate and understand the needs of your tenants, dispelling myths about retrofit and similar areas, then barriers to change can occur.  That and negative media coverage on retrofit over recent years hasn’t been helpful. This is despite many positive project examples. I recall one in Yorkshire for example when completed last year successfully took a home from an EPC rating of F to B! It’s important that we share these stories!

Include your tenants – Another key recommendation is around being inclusive and collaborating with tenants. Not just about retrofit but about the environment. Asking them.. What do they need? More green space? Allotments? Benches to socialise? Because when people feel involved and consulted engagement increases.


Regional climate juries in different geographical areas

There have been many positive recommendations from the SHTCJ that will be beneficial across the sector. However, I feel there would be further value in having juries and forums in different areas across the country. The benefit being they will be able to better tailor and respond to the specific needs of their geographical areas.

For example, radon gas has become a key issue in coastal areas such as Cornwall and Devon. Aswell as concerns around coastal erosion and how this is impacting on the corrosion of buildings is something that may be more specific to the area.


Heartwarming Homes – recommendations

 Key recommendations from the Heartwarming Homes campaign would again be around the importance of consistency in communications. Using the right language and helping landlords with that so that communications are tailored to different customer groups, which will help their impact.  Fundamentally, too it’s about not telling people what to do, but why things need to be done and the benefits short and long term from doing so to increase engagement.

It’s also about being honest first and foremost with tenants and being upfront about the challenges and outcomes that come with retrofit and other such work. Explaining the how, what, and why. Being more personal in approach to encourage buy in and engagement from communities and tenants.

Sharing positive tenant case studies and good news stories on how they are benefiting from changes whether that be from their new heat pump, or the cost savings they are receiving will also be beneficial.


What has been your experience of working with the Northern Housing Consortium on these projects?

 It’s been an incredibly positive experience working with the Northern Housing Consortium who have led on some influential projects. The NHC have really helped to unify the sector too, bringing different individuals and groups together from suppliers, members, councils and Government.

As a sector that is ever changing, such projects also demonstrate NHC’s commitment to ongoing learning about the housing industry, and their role in using that learning to guide and inform others.

The NHC are great at keeping everyone informed and up to date with their many webinars and conferences which always have a host of informative speakers. These events are always well attended but it would be great to also encourage more tenants to events too, to learn from and share information with. Not just NHC events but events in the sector more generally.


What do you think should be the key priorities of social housing providers as they work towards achieving Net Zero?  

 Communication, campaigns and continuity

 It comes back to some of the points made earlier, but primarily I feel we need to get more tenants involved in the process. This is especially important if the goal is to retrofit 25,000 properties a week in line with Government targets! So, when a landlord has 30 properties but say may only be retrofitting 10, in my opinion they need to be involving the whole development so they can see what work is being done, why it’s being done and the benefits too. They may have questions which is great and all part of feeding the learning curve. Essentially, it’s about collaborating with local communities outside the scope of what a housing association usually does.

I also believe we should look at streamlining the supply chain and labour market ensuring work is given to local experienced companies and well qualified workers. Developing local apprenticeships and knowledge too will also be vital so that we can safeguard the green skills of the future! And in turn boost those regional economies.

I’d also like to see more regional bodies established that are non-political and made up of local businesses, education providers, suppliers, planners, and residents who can have the autonomy to make decisions for their local areas. Ensuring the consistency, continuity, and longevity needed to have true gravitas and bring social value to each area.


Finally, I also feel a positive public media campaign could be beneficial. Collaborating with the whole sector including local authorities, housing associations, manufacturers, suppliers, and installers to develop a poignant initiative with strong creative and messaging that will increase awareness about net zero requirements, the benefits, and the challenges of the sector too.

Excited about an inclusive future for housing

Member Engagement Officer Ruth Chaplain has been at the Northern Housing Consortium for just over a year. She joined as part of the GEM programme, which offers a graduate route into housing.

Here she shares highlights from her first year in the sector and what her hopes are for housing and communities in the future.

What’s been your highlight of the year?

I have two highlights from the past year.

Firstly, my trip to Amsterdam, with the GEM programme was fantastic. I learned a lot about different approaches to decarbonisation and sustainable communities.

I also made firm friends with my fellow GEMs on the trip. I feel lucky to have a network of likeminded and friendly housing colleagues across the sector.

The second highlight was the Real Homes Real Change showcase launch in the House of Commons, last summer. I had never been in Westminster before, so that felt like a poignant career moment.

Having worked hard with the team in the run up, it was fantastic to see the report get such a positive reception. I felt very proud to be the facilitator of new relationships between tenants, housing professionals, civil servants and MPs.

Working closely with Jo Wilson (Head of Policy) and Tracy Harrison (Chief Exec) I found great value and inspiration in collaborating with an influential team of women (not forgetting Brian Robson, too!).

Wheatley Group’s retrofitted Highrise

What is the biggest challenge for the housing sector going forward?

Co-production with tenants presents one of the most significant challenges for the housing sector moving forward. The traditional top-down approach to housing services is increasingly being replaced by a collaborative model that involves residents in the decision-making process. This shift requires a fundamental change in how services are planned and delivered.

Co-production demands effective communication, transparency, and meaningful engagement with diverse stakeholders to ensure that housing solutions meet the real needs of communities.

Embracing co-production means navigating complex power dynamics and fostering genuine partnerships in the community. This can be challenging but is ultimately essential for creating inclusive, sustainable, and responsive housing systems that truly serve the people they are meant to benefit.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your first year in housing?

I have learned the importance of getting it wrong to get it right.

On a GEM study visit, we visited the BE-ST factory in Glasgow. Here, they take a creative and collaborative approach to solving the problems of decarbonising housing. They provided the facilities for any individual or organisation to develop and test their ideas and materials.

GEMs visiting the BE-ST factory

For example, one particular machine could test different materials to see how well they could insulate a building. When we visited, the material being tested was recycled denim.

This approach to exploring new techniques was refreshing and encouraged people to experiment (and to fail!).

It seems that in the English social housing sector, there is an expectation for organisations to be perfect and get everything right, all the time. This expectation is unrealistic and prevents open conversations that allow us to learn from each other’s mistakes.

It would be great to see more candid conversations about missteps in the process of decarbonisation. The NHC’s new Retrofit Clinic aims to provide that space and to support collaborative solutions. If you’d like to join us, sign up for the next one here.

What are you most excited about for the future of social housing?

Working at the NHC, I have learned about many pilot schemes that are being created in different communities. I’m really looking forward to seeing creative, inclusive, bottom-up housing pilots grow and become more permanent features of housing delivery.

For example, the West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and University of Leeds, have created a Safer Parks report. The report identifies key barriers that prevents different communities from using communal outdoor spaces. It provides a guide on how to create green spaces where all women and girls feel they belong.

Another example is AKT, who are a charity for homeless LGBTQ+ young people. They have piloted an innovative housing pathway project, that creates stable housing opportunities for the trans community.

The GEM trip to Westminster

These initiatives have the potential to redefine our approach to housing, offering exciting new solutions to address sustainability and community development. It is fantastic to see these ideas taking root and shaping the future of housing and communities.

The NHC responds to the Homes England Public Bodies Review

The government has published the Homes England Public Bodies Review.

Our Chief Executive Tracy Harrison welcomed the report.

She said:

“We’re pleased to see the importance of Homes England’s role in both place-based regeneration and supporting local places deliver more, better homes, reflected throughout the Public Bodies Review. This was something both ourselves and many of our members stressed throughout the process.

“In particular we are delighted to see recommendations that will help achieve a real step-change in regeneration across the North such as providing longer-term funding for regeneration projects and affordable housing supply, and embedding changes to how value-for-money is measured in order to better support regeneration. We are also pleased to see the Review set out so clearly the impact the changing operating environment for social housing providers has had on development, and the need for DESNZ and Homes England to work closer together to support decarbonising the existing social housing stock. We hope DLUHC press on with implementing the review as quickly as possible.”



The NHC calls on the government to meet Renters Reform Bill pledges

Last week it was widely reported that the government intend to weaken some elements of Renters Reform Bill, through a series of amendments, when the Bill returns to the House of Commons this month.

Principle among those changes is extending the period within which a tenant cannot give notice that they wish to end their tenancy from two to six months. The government also intends to review existing arrangements around landlord licensing schemes overseen by local authorities in line with the reforms made through the Bill.

Finally, the reports further confirm that the government does not intend to abolish Section 21 or ‘no fault’ evictions until reforms to the court system have been implemented.

The NHC has consistently supported the aims of the Renters Reform Bill, to improve quality in the private rental sector, and to closer align the security of tenancies offered in the private and social rental sectors. We are disappointed that the government intends to water down the proposals in the Bill.

Tracy Harrison, Chief Executive of the Northern Housing Consortium said:

“We are pleased the Renters’ Reform Bill will progress through Parliament, but disappointed by reports it is being watered down. The decision to delay the abolition of Section 21 evictions effectively kicks the issue into the long-grass and could weaken protections for tenants. Government must set a date when the assessment on the impact on the courts of these changes will be complete.

“Government must also continue with its commitment to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the Private Rental Sector and set out a plan for improving the energy efficiency of private rented homes. Across the North bringing all private rent homes to EPC C will cost around £5.4bn.

“Meanwhile a review of local authority licensing schemes aimed at reducing the burden on landlords could weaken one of the few tools available to improve the quality of private rented homes.

“Our recent Living in Fear Report highlighted the negative impacts of living in poor quality private rented housing. One of its key recommendations was the speedy progress of the Renters’ Reform Bill through Parliament.”

50 Unlocking Success awards to mark our 50th anniversary

We’ve launched a bigger and better version of Unlocking Success, our tenant bursary scheme, with 50 awards to support people living in homes rented from social housing providers to access learning. The number of awards has been increased to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

This year we’re offering a mixture of grants for specific items such as laptops or travel passes, and £500 cash bursaries to support with the cost of learning. The bursaries can be used to cover costs including course fees, travel, equipment, childcare and even living expenses.

Unlocking Success launched in 2019 and has supported 101 people living in social housing with over £36,000 of funding to help them release their ambitions by accessing education or training.

Northern Housing Consortium Chief Executive Tracy Harrison said:

“We wanted to put the people who live in social housing at the heart of our 50th anniversary celebrations. We know that costs for things like equipment, travel or even childcare can be a barrier which prevent people on low incomes accessing training. Our bursary scheme helps ease that burden and has already supported over 100 people.

“It’s always inspiring to hear the difference the awards make. This year we’ve pledged to offer 50 awards and have also opened up the scheme to affiliate members who use our procurement services via Consortium Procurement.”

Last year Simone Blount, who is a tenant with NHC member Torus, received a £500 bursary to help her complete training to join the ambulance service. Since she received the bursary, she’s completed the training and got a job with the ambulance service.

After receiving the bursary, Simone said:

I have applied for the C1 on my license now, and I can’t wait to start my driver training, which wouldn’t have been possible any time soon without this bursary! I am so happy and grateful to have people supporting and believing in me, and to be chosen for it.

“I am definitely on the right path now and will soon be working and training with North West Ambulance Service as an EMT or training to be a paramedic at Warrington Vale.”

Applications for Unlocking Success awards are now open and will close on 5th July. The application process is quick and easy. Landlords, who are full or affiliate members of the NHC, nominate a person living in a home they own or manage (they do not have to be named on the tenancy but must be aged over 16) for the award, by filling in a short form, which should only take five minutes. The person they’ve nominated sends a short-written pitch or video to explain why they need the funding to support with training or education. You apply via the Unlocking Success website.

The Unlocking Success Bursary is funded through the Northern Housing Consortium Charitable Trust.

The Big Lunch Building Pride in Place

In November 2023 the Northern Housing Consortium and partners published Pride in Place: Views from Northern Communities. As part of the project, residents across the North told us that neighbourliness was central to what made them proud of their areas. People wanted to see more done to support initiatives that promote community spirit, increasing social connection but also tackling loneliness and isolation.

The Big Lunch, an idea from the Eden Project made possible by the National Lottery, was cited in Pride in Place as national good practice and an initiative for NHC members to get behind.

In this guest blog, Kate Groves at Eden Project Communities shares more about The Big Lunch and how you can get involved…


The Big Lunch 2024 campaign

The Big Lunch began in 2009 and brings millions of people together in their communities to share friendship, food and fun each June. Over 1.3m Big Lunches have taken place to date and the initiative has become the largest community-led fundraiser and neighbourhood get-together in the UK. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s much more than just lunch.

Research shows that The Big Lunch helps build connections, increase pride in place and often sparks further community action. The annual survey following The Big Lunch 2023 revealed that 10.7m people felt they belonged more in their community after taking part and more than £14m was raised for local charities and good causes.

The vast majority of organisers said that their Big Lunch helped bring different generations (95%) and different ethnic backgrounds (81%) together and a massive 11.4 million people said it made them feel less lonely.

The initiative has the ability to cross divides, giving people a reason to come together and connect, with everyone bringing something to the table, be that something to eat, a game to play, a story to tell or indeed the table itself!

After The Big Lunch, many participants go on to get more involved in voluntary work, make improvements to their local area or organise further activities and events in their community.

The Big Lunch is a ready-made engagement tool for housing associations that can help your communities flourish and many are already involved – either organising events for residents to enjoy, encouraging them to hold their own, or providing support and sometimes funding to help communities take part.

NHC member Riverside Group came together with local authorities and a community center in Botcherby, Carlisle, back in 2016 to organise a Big Lunch to bring the local community together following the devastating floods and celebrate the center reopening.

More recently in 2019, L&Q Group hosted a street party that brought 150 residents at a new eco-development site in Erith together, to help residents get to know one another and learn more about their community.

Lucy Chitty, Sales and Customer Services Director at L&Q, said:

“The Big Lunch is a fantastic initiative to promote good relationships and strengthen local communities. We are proud to support our residents to establish the family-friendly community spirit that we envisioned for The Quarry.”


Eden Project Communities, the people behind The Big Lunch, provide a free digital pack with everything needed to organise an event, as well as a communications toolkit to make it really easy for housing associations to promote the campaign.

This year, The Big Lunch is on 1-2 June and they are serving up ideas to help make it the greenest yet.


Find out more and get the comms toolkit

@edencommunities on X (Twitter), Instagram and LinkedIn