I represented the See Media team at the HOMES UK and Unlock Net Zero Live 2022 conference this week. The organisers spun the promotional line, ‘must-attend for all those working in UK housing’, and in fairness to them, it seems like the entire housing sector had bought into it as space was at a premium.
In what was my first housing conference, and my first conference in a while for obvious pandemic reasons, I was enthused to see so many people who share the common cause of building new low carbon homes at pace and scale, whilst retrofitting existing homes to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
It came as no surprise to those who attended that the recent tragedy in Rochdale involving a young boy and the disrepair challenges facing the social housing sector were front and centre on the day. I heard issues concerning this case mentioned in various talks throughout the day, with the overall sentiment being that social housing providers needs to take responsibility. This has been backed up by recent warnings from the Housing Secretary and Regulator of Social Housing that housing providers must improve their approach to damp and mould – or face serious consequences, such as reduced funding.
Debate on how social landlords will meet the repairs challenge, and how this will be funded while also attempting to reach development targets, was healthy and brought leaders from housing associations and local authorities together. I can’t say a conclusion was reached but ultimately the repairs need to happen and a forum like this can only be of benefit.
Hidden among the jungle of some 150 exhibition stands I found our client Plumis, manufacturers of Automist, a watermist fire suppression system that provides a modern alternative to traditional sprinkler systems without compromising on safety.
I attended the Fire Safety: Are We Doing Enough? seminar, alongside Plumis’ Yusuf Muhammad and guest speakers from local authorities and housing associations, who explained that approaches to fire safety should be person-centred.
This isn’t news to anyone who works in social housing, but the discussion highlighted that resident engagement is still important, especially when it comes to protecting people and their homes from fire. It’s estimated there are thousands of buildings across the country that still have serious fire safety issues and are in need of remediation. Simply put, that means entering people’s homes and communicating appropriately. It is vital landlords and housing providers recognise a blanket approach will not suffice and residents have different preferences of communication, noticeably older people who still prefer face to face meetings or at least a phone call over an email. Failure to communicate will only delay improvements to fire safety and risk the lives of residents.
Sticking with the communication theme, I discovered a talk on ‘Defining Net Zero: Standardising Language to Influence True Behaviour Change’. One of the speakers used an example piece of research which stated 80% of social housing customers were concerned about climate change but only 22% understood what net zero carbon meant.
It’s clear there is a need for education and maybe, as a housing sector, we need to review the terminology and if it really is suitable public facing language?
As someone who works in communications, it’s my job to communicate complex messaging, in this case ‘net zero’, in a way which the common person can understand. Without consistent and coherent terminology, there is a real risk the meaning behind net zero will be lost and the effect on behavioural change will be minimal.
Between talks there was an opportunity to explore and speak to different exhibitors. One which I found the most interesting was BillyChip, a homeless charity that provides a unique safe and secure platform which allows the public to directly donate to rough sleepers without the fear of their donation being misused for drugs or alcohol. People who receive a BillyChip exchange the token in coffee shops and takeaways for food and drink. Worth checking out!
Unfortunately, my day at the conference had to end but I doubt this will be my last visit. Housing providers face pressure on their business plans to simultaneously address net zero targets, building safety regulations, boosting housing supply, tackling disrepair and supporting tenants, so events such as HOMES UK and Unlock Net Zero Live are invaluable sources of inspiration and collaboration.
See Media offers PR and communications support to the UK housing sector and its suppliers. From podcasts to thought leadership, as well as crisis communications and digital publications, find out more about more our service offering by calling 0121 827 6622 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.