25 September 2020 | Comment | Article by Emma Poole

Disruption or opportunity: reflections from the #TAI20 housing conference

I don’t know about you but, to me, the word “disruption” seems to hold rather negative connotations.  The word implies roadworks, confusion, obstacles, ruined plans, delays. Fair to say that Covid-19 fits that brief and much more negativity besides.  Well, maybe not roadworks. 

The community of social housing professionals in Wales enjoy the Tai Conference each year, as an opportunity to catch up with each other and help shape the direction of policy and practice through discussion of the big issues we face. 

Here at Hugh James, to enjoy the buzz of a room filled with our clients, all of whom have a clear shared endeavour to deliver homes, has always been an opportunity we treasure. 

#TAI20 + COVID-19 = disruption to all that.

However, CIH Cymru rose to the challenge - providing a virtual event that shared much of the innovation and optimism characteristic of a sector that has never been more important to society and the economy. 

Easy to navigate technology meant that networking actually became more personable (avoiding the usual awkward stalking…or is that just me?), asking questions in person/anonymously as well as follow-up recordings being available to catch that point you just missed after your doorbell rang.

So, once again, the sector turned disruption and challenge into an opportunity, highlighting that t disruption isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A striking theme of the conference was that Covid-19 has failed to distract the housing sector from the issues that were top of the priority list back in January – the decarbonisation agenda, health and wellbeing, as well as collaborative working between RSLs, with local authorities, with the private sector and cooperatives remaining central to the sector and Welsh Government approach. 

In addition to these, the pandemic has shed new light on equality issues for RSLs - both in terms of their tenants/customers who are at most risk as well as the RSL workforce, with speakers acknowledging statistical data that women have been more likely to be juggling work and home-schooling at the kitchen table in comparison to their male counterparts. 

Renowned “disrupter” and ambassador of the Homeless World Cup, Michael Sheen (as well as Hollywood actor on the sly) pledged his support for the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales’ proposal to carry out its first “own initiative” investigation into the administration of the homelessness assessment and review process by local authorities in Wales and the impact of Covid-19. It recognises that those most affected by these systematic failures are least likely to make a formal complaint themselves.  

The conference was also joined by Ian Wright of the Disruptive Innovators Network, who explored how housing providers can emulate the successful innovation of Apple, Google, John Lewis, Airbnb and Virgin Atlantic - as well as lessons learned from those that failed (who will forget the sight of McDonalds spaghetti?).

Mirroring the triumph of the conference amid undesirable “disruption”, the initial keynote session involved Gareth Davies, Executive Director of Growth and New Business at Coastal Housing - describing the success of their collaborative approach with Pobl to develop an ultra-low carbon, mixed-tenure development at Gwynfaen Farm. Without collaboration, one RSL might have struggled to achieve the same outcome. When asked what is holding other RSLs back from taking a similar approach, Gareth acknowledged that the legal complexities are akin to “wading through treacle” and can, unfortunately, deter others.

Hugh James’ involvement in this collaboration, and many others like it, has enabled us to recognise that it is through unpicking these legal obstacles that organisations can indeed find the way.  “Disruption” again providing the key to the way forward.

This has to be the way the sector responds to the pandemic and its aftermath.  Rather than shying away from the complexities, the conference told numerous stories of organisations who have embraced the detail, been accepting of failure as a step closer to triumph, all the while ensuring a culture of shared endeavour and doing the difficult things simply on the basis that it is the right thing to do.

If the sector takes this approach, the pandemic might not be what we wanted but perhaps we might just find it was what we needed.

Over the last 30 years, Hugh James has established itself as one of the leading social housing law firms. Our specialist social housing team has extensive experience and expertise and we are committed to making a contribution to housing regeneration and creating neighbourhoods where people want to live as part of long-lasting communities. To find out more about the work we do in this sector, visit our website.

About the Author

Emma Poole leads relationships with Hugh James' clients in social housing and third sectors. She represents a dedicated team consisting of over 150 lawyers, paralegals and support staff. In this role, she uses her extensive commercial knowledge of the legal issues faced by organisations in these sectors and takes account of the unique culture, values and political landscape that drive their development.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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