Hear from 2 of our successful bursary winners

John Martin

John Martin, a Livin tenant, has passed his HGV road test after receiving a £500 bursary. 

He had been a long-term carer for his partner for over 10 years but felt that it was the right time to find a career for himself now his children have grown up. Being a HGV driver has always been a dream for John and he’d like to become a tanker driver one day. John applied for the £500 bursary to sit his road driving test, having already passed the other modules. 

John is delighted to have passed his road driving test and to have his HGV licence. The last we heard is that Livin are supporting John to find work with local HGV employers.

Peter Summers 

Gateshead tenant, Peter Summers applied for a £500 bursary to go towards a Security Industry Authority (SIA) license which should help him secure full-time work. 

When Peter was chosen to receive the £500 bursary, he said: 

“I would like to start off by saying thank you so much for accepting my application. Being successful has had a huge impact on my mental health already. I know that once the payment comes through for the training, things will start improving for me in terms of financial stability, more work, better mental health, and I can eventually start reducing my rent arrears.

“The licence should mean I can go full time.  I won’t have to rely on universal credits and have the uncertainty of shifts which I have without my SIA license. I would have never of been able to save up for this training myself and pay for other costs such as travel expenses.” 

For more information and to apply visit: https://bursary.northern-consortium.org.uk

An exciting future in housing

Policy & Public Affairs Officer Joe Bews joined the NHC nearly two years ago and has recently completed his CIH Housing Level 4 qualification, through the GEM programme.

As part of the NHC’s 50 stories celebration, he reflects on his first year in the sector and how GEM has supported him to develop as a housing professional. He’s picked a few highlights from the past year as well as what he’s excited to see in the sector going forward.

What was your highlight of the year?

Through both the GEM programme and with the NHC, I’ve had the opportunity to get out and about visiting a range of different sites, from Passivhaus certified developments to MMC innovation factories.

I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to visit homes where you can see the tangible positive effects home upgrades such as insulation have had on residents’ lives. It’s brilliant to hear people say how much warmer and happier they are in homes that have been retrofitted, while also benefitting from cheaper bills.

One example of this was a visit I helped to organise with a local MP to an estate in Oldham which had had green home upgrades. I was delighted to see residents explaining the impact it had on their homes and bills to their MP who was able to see the great work of the housing association to improve constituents’ quality of life.

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

It’s well documented that there are various major challenges facing housing at present, but I feel a core challenge we as a sector need to tackle is ensuring there is the political will from policymakers to spur change. At the start of April, YouGov’s poll on the most important issues facing the country showed housing as the public’s fourth most important issue. It’s vital we illustrate that safe, affordable and good quality housing is intrinsically linked to other key issues facing the country such as health, which the public see as the second most important issue facing the country.

Our recent Living in Fear report highlighted the negative impacts living in poor quality housing – particularly during a cost of living crisis – can have on people’s health.

We need to communicate effectively to ensure the sector’s asks are heard and good housing is seen as a pillar of societal development. I think we should also focus on highlighting the ‘successes’ as much as possible to prove what can be done when the sector is supported. 

What do you think is the most important lesson from the past year?

That nothing should take place without listening and consulting with residents first. They are closer to the issue at hand than anyone and know what’s best for them, as one resident said ‘it’s not my house but it is my home’.

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

I’m excited about the opportunity we have to position housing at the forefront of a programme of national renewal. By linking health, net zero, levelling up and the cost-of-living to a large-scale initiative of building and upgrading high-quality sustainable homes, we can achieve a huge amount in a sector that is ready to lead the way.

I’m also excited about the prospect of encouraging more diversity in the sector. It’s clear to see that the housing sector could be much more diverse and representative of the residents it serves. I think improving diversity at all levels will only result in positive impacts for people living in social housing and should be a key focus for the sector going forward.

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!   

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 foundations for a career in housing

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations we’re speaking to staff past and present to find out what they think about working at the NHC. This month we spoke to Anna Seddon, who worked in our Policy & Public Affairs team until 2022. She is now Senior Public Affairs Officer at Citizens Advice.

 

When did you start at the NHC, what were your roles and what are you doing now?

I started as Policy and Public Affairs Assistant in 2019, became Policy and Public Affairs Officer in 2020 then Policy and Public Affairs Manager in 2022.

I’m now the Senior Public Affairs Officer in the national Citizens’ Advice team leading on net zero homes and working with the team across other areas such as cost of living and General Election planning

 

Could you reflect on your time at the NHC and what your favourite things about working here were?

My three years at the NHC working across research, political engagement, comms, and Executive support, were brilliant. Those years were a really exciting time to be working on housing policy (though of course it always is!). After the 2019 election, the levelling up agenda had presented regions in the North with a golden opportunity to haul housing up the political agenda and the NHC team grabbed it with both hands. And of course the team were all a complete joy to work with, and they all had a huge amount of expertise in their area.

 

What were some of the projects or campaigns you worked on while you were at the NHC?

The most exciting project I worked on was the growth of the net zero homes workstream. It was decided by the team early in my time at the NHC that this area should become a major part of the NHC’s policy and influencing work. There was so much enthusiasm to develop a major programme of work on home retrofit, from creating a detailed theory of change to turning that into action across the region. It was a real team effort to build a strong position on energy efficiency and identify the areas the NHC could make the most difference.

From the programme’s inception, I loved working on such an important and lively area of policy and illustrating to policymakers the harmful impact of poorly insulated homes, especially as energy bills were starting to rocket and evidence of people living in cold homes grew. It’s great to see the NHC still do brilliant work on this, and something I continue to work on in my current job!

 

How do you think working at the NHC helped you in your career?

Personal development was taken incredibly seriously at the NHC and I always felt supported to get involved in all sorts of different projects and encouraged to go for different opportunities. This culture meant I learned a huge amount from teams within the organisation, as well as from colleagues across the NHC’s membership. I also gained a formal CIH qualification during my time through the GEM programme which I hope to continue to build on in the future (it seemed to be a recurring joke at housing events that once you work in housing policy you never leave and that’s now easy to foresee!).

 

What would you say to someone who was considering working for the NHC?

I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage someone to apply for any role at the NHC – you’re guaranteed to be in a lovely team dedicated to delivering the very best for members and their communities. If you’re early in your career, I would double my encouragement!

 

In 2021, you wrote an article for the NHC website about the importance of putting housing at the heart of a place-based approach to post-lockdown neighbourhood renewal. Do you think the North has made progress on this?

I’d say the biggest shift since then is that housing issues now sit at the centre of political discussion, whereas as we know they haven’t always occupied space in those conversations. It seems the next General Election will take place within this context and that’s a massive win for the NHC and wider housing sector who have tenaciously made the case for housing and its wider role in our lives, communities, and the local and national economy. Whoever forms the next Government has a long list of urgent housing issues to grasp: increasing the supply of social homes, improving energy efficiency across tenures, bringing forward long-awaited renters’ reforms, to name only a few. It’s another huge opportunity for the North to keep shifting the dial on housing.

I’m sure we could write another long list of the opportunities around housing that have been missed by the Government since the pandemic, but this is a celebratory interview so I’ll leave that to the current NHC team for another time – happy 50th anniversary, NHC!

 

Over thirty years of friendship at the NHC for Lynda

When Executive Assistant Lynda Redshaw joined the Northern Consortium Do the Bartman from the Simpsons was topping the charts and John Major had been Prime Minister for a matter of months. She joined as a part time secretary thirty-three years ago and was one of only three people who worked for the organisation.

Lynda has seen the NHC transform into what it is today and is a fountain of knowledge, she’s the ‘go to’ person if there’s something you’re not sure about!

Where did you start your career?

I started work at Lumley Castle working in the office and taking banquet bookings. I then went to the English Industrial Estates Partnership (now Homes England) followed by working at Chester Le Street District Council where I was a shorthand typist and secretary for the Chief Technical Officer. It wasn’t until I was at NHC that I started using a computer rather than a typewriter!

What was NHC like when you started?

It was a lot smaller than it is today, there were only three of us. Now the organisation is so much bigger and higher profile. When I joined the focus was mainly on group meetings, and we were just starting to branch out into training and had a small procurement offering.

What have been your career highlights at NHC?

I’ve been involved with so many different projects, I used to love organising the Hitex Housing and IT exhibition. It was really useful for members to come along and evaluate different software companies. I’ve become an expert in coordinating office moves, I’ve done it six times! I also love organising the bursary lunch – it’s aways a special occasion and a real highlight each year for me.

What’s kept you at the NHC?

I’ve made lifelong, special friends at the NHC, and have shared so much laughter. I’ve been a mother figure to the younger people in the office and have been known as ‘Work Mum’ (or the office dragon for my gatekeeping skills!).

NHC is a lovely company to work for and support from work friends has really kept me going during some tough times. This especially the case now I’m a carer for my husband.

I’ve celebrated my 40th, 50th and 60th birthdays at the NHC and am looking forward to celebrating my 70th here!