So yesterday I attended my first ever unconference – Housing Camp Cymru in Cardiff. I saw the event advertised on Twitter and had never heard of such a thing before. Basically, it looked like an event where people working in housing spent the day talking about housing. I am passionate about housing and love working in the sector, and am also moving to Wales in the coming months, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to speak to other housing professionals and especially learn some of the differences in delivering social housing services between Wales and England.
I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest. I was nervous though. I walked in and was met by two lovely, smiley ladies carrying out the registration. I grabbed a cup of tea and scouted for an empty seat in the welcome area.
I spotted Neil, who I vaguely recognised from Twitter, imposed myself on him and we got chatting. Neil’s from Stratford, which made me feel a bit better (I was worried about being the only English person there…not that I should have been worried, everyone was lovely!).
We all then went into the main hall, where we were briefed about the day. The jist is that there are timed sessions – one in the morning and two in the afternoon – and the agenda for the day is decide by the people there. Everyone was encouraged to move sessions if they weren’t getting out of them what they wanted.
Once the day was explained by Cheryl and Esko, everyone in the room introduced themselves. Now I hate doing this. I get tongue tied, and shaky when standing up in front of a room of people I don’t know. However, I needn’t have worried as it was fine!
Then we were invited to pitch ideas to discuss throughout the day. I wanted to talk about supported housing, and was desperately hoping that someone else would pitch something along these lines so I didn’t have to stand at the front. The pitches were interesting and varied. Examples were; co-production, communication, increase in racial attacks, Brexit (obvs),using data, resident engagement, accessible housing and mapping.
The line for pitching was getting smaller, so I bit the bullet and stood up. I shakily pitched that I would like to discuss delivering supported housing services in an increasingly challenging environment. I saw a smile from a chap at the back, and thought at least one person may join me in having a chat about it!
The lovely organisers then organised the ideas into the session times. My pitch idea was in the morning, and I was quite surprised when there were 10 of us! We chatted about our different experiences from different aspects. I learnt so much, and it was great to be able to discuss my passion with people that were equally as passionate. There was such a diverse mix of people. The chap with the smile, Harry, had moved to Wales recently (turns out we came from the same part of the world, worked for organisations that were merging and are both selling our shared ownership homes) and was working in supported housing. I realised quite quickly that the Welsh professionals knew a lot more about English housing policy than I knew about Welsh housing policy. However, shout outs to Julie and Anne, who explained to me certain things, without making me feel like an outsider.
After the session we had some lunch. I sat with Harry, Will and Jonny (who taught me some Welsh – I’m still practising the one phrase!). We were talking about the unconference and whether it would work in England. To be honest I’m not sure it would. There was something so united and passionate about the people in Cardiff that day, and I was shocked about the amount of people who gave up their Saturday to talk about housing. It was great.
The afternoon sessions I attended were Graham’s pitch on inclusive housing for disabled people. We talked about development and silo’s, funding streams, sustainability and lifetime homes. Graham has been campaigning for this for 25 years and had some shocking information about the cost and impact that inappropriate housing has on the NHS for example.
After coffee, I then attended Julie’s session on managing new tenancies. It was interesting to compare the different ways of working.
Throughout the sessions, some people left and joined and this was cool. Some people were vocal and some just absorbed the information. The main thing was that it was so relaxed and friendly, and I felt welcome and at ease.
I honestly had a great day. I learnt loads, got to chat about things I’m passionate about and met some great people. It went so quickly, and before I knew it, we were having a (free!) pint at the end.
It’s made me even more excited about my move to Wales. I came away from the day absolutely buzzing. It was organised well, it was friendly and it was informative. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in housing to go, even if you’re not Welsh! Because, (stealing my Scottish friend Evie’s quote); housing people are bloody lovely.