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Connecting women and opportunity

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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Rethinking housing strategy to help end homelessness and domestic abuse – Emma Lindley, Housing Strategy Lead Officer at Ashfield District Council

Key in front door

Emma Lindley is housing strategy lead officer at Ashfield District Council, where she is responsible for developing and delivering a range of housing-related strategies and policies to achieve the Council’s vision that residents have a safe, warm and affordable place to call home. Emma is also the lead associate of the strategic excellence network at the Housing Quality Network. Always in the housing sector, Emma previously worked at Futures Housing Group and emh group, both housing associations in the East Midlands, for nine years.

Emma Lindley
Emma Lindley

“…in August I chaired the annual Strategic Housing conference from my dining room for the first time and I’m pleased to say this took place without any IT issues, although talking into a webcam without being able to see many faces looking back at you is a strange experience…”

Since we last spoke…

When we last spoke, I was a finalist in the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Rising Stars competition, which was a great experience, and even though I didn’t win, I learnt a lot and being shortlisted helped me to make some fantastic connections, that I still tap into today.

Since then, I’ve gone on to become chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) East Midlands regional board and have worked alongside CIH staff to develop a professional standards framework for the social housing sector, which included a visit to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) office for a consultation event with civil servants.

Professionalism has been a key topic in the social housing sector since the awful fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017, which highlighted a lack of knowledge and accountability amongst some professionals.

I’ve also made two career moves since we last spoke, giving me the experience of different sized organisations and different areas of responsibility including data protection, customer involvement, decarbonisation, and lots more.

Now I am the housing strategy lead officer at Ashfield District Council.

Rough sleeping during the pandemic

During the summer lockdown, my work has focused on our response to ensuring those who are rough sleeping in our area are able to safely shelter from the virus.

Block of flatsAshfield works very closely with our neighbouring councils across Nottinghamshire and we have taken a joined-up approach to ensure individuals can access suitable accommodation, with the support they need, as well as all the basics, which early on in lockdown were in short supply. This has meant a lot of multi-agency meetings, as well as a number of task and finish groups to tackle the hurdles we identified.

I coordinate a £1.2m funding programme across Nottinghamshire, which funds a range of services for those rough sleeping. This money was awarded to us by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and there is a lot of monitoring involved to ensure it delivers the outcomes we set out to achieve.

Over the summer, we reviewed how to best use this funding in light of how the pandemic changed the demand for our services, which meant developing a proposal to reallocate some of our funding and then implementing the change once this was approved.

What to do to prevent homelessness

I’m really interested in how we prevent people from becoming homeless at the earliest possible opportunity. As Desmond Tutu says: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

There’s a lot of research out there on the circumstances that increase someone’s chances of experiencing homelessness, and poverty is a significant factor, with adverse childhood experiences often going hand in hand with this.

This means a whole council approach is needed, with central government playing their part as well, to ensure families are lifted out of poverty, adverse childhood experiences are minimised or children are supported to recover from these experiences, and of course, we need more quality and affordable housing.

Other projects I am working on

Addison DriveAs we are nearing the end of 2020, I’m currently wrapping up the Housing Strategy Action Plan 2018-20, and working on the draft Housing Strategy for 2021 onwards. Since developing this 2018-20 action plan, I have introduced two other strategies to increase our focus and activity on delivering additional affordable housing and improving housing standards in the private sector.

In addition, I’ve been working alongside two neighbouring councils and a consultant to review the Homelessness Prevention Strategy that we launched in 2019. There have been a lot of changes in the legislation that guides how we assist homeless households, as well as to the way private rented sector landlords operate so it’s important we keep our data and analysis up to date to ensure that our plans are still fit for purpose and meet the needs of our residents facing homelessness.

Chairing a conference from my dining room table

Work from homeThe Housing Quality Network (HQN) offers a number of specialist membership networks for housing organisations, providing a range of toolkits, briefings, events and training on everything ranging from asset management to equality, diversity and inclusion.

I have been an associate for around seven years now and have developed and chaired a number of conferences and events, as well as authoring briefings on good practice and emerging issues.

Earlier this year I was part of a project team that completed a research project for the Local Government Association on how councils can improve the private rented sector. You can view the report here:

As has become the norm this year, our events have had to go online since COVID restrictions have been in place. As a result, in August I chaired the annual Strategic Housing conference from my dining room for the first time and I’m pleased to say this took place without any IT issues, although talking into a webcam without being able to see many faces looking back at you is a strange experience.

Supporting survivors of domestic abuse

Make a Stand campaign was launched in June 2018 as part of then-Chartered Institute of Housing president Alison Inman’s presidential appeal to tackle domestic abuse. It centres around a pledge that was developed in partnership with the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and Women’s Aid.

The campaign asked housing organisations to commit to taking four actions that address the domestic abuse that might be taking place in the properties owned by these organisations.

The four actions are:

  • Put in place a policy that supports residents affected by domestic abuse;
  • Make information available about national and local domestic abuse support services in easily accessible places for residents and staff;
  • Put in place an HR policy to support members of staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse;
  • Appoint a champion at a senior level in your organisation to own these actions.

Unfortunately, there is a high prevalence of domestic abuse in Ashfield, so this is a strategic priority for the Council and a number of our partners. Since signing up to the campaign, I have worked with our domestic abuse coordinator to develop a programme of training that all staff attend and introduced a new policy for Council tenants who are victims or survivors of domestic abuse.

The importance of strategic thinking

Strategic thinking is regularly identified as a key leadership skill and for me, it’s the way to find effective solutions to our most complex problems. I have recently developed an Introduction to Strategic Thinking workshop and one of the definitions I share with delegates is:

“Becoming a strategic thinker is about opening your mind to possibilities. It’s about seeing the bigger picture. It’s about understanding the various parts of your business, taking them apart and putting them back together again in a more powerful way. It’s about insight, invention, emotion and imagination focused on reshaping some part of the world.”

We live in a world of constant change and complex problems and keeping up with these requires us to imagine what the future could look like and figure out a way to get there. Strategic thinking is how you do this, but it takes time and energy, something lots of people struggle for as they are so busy responding to day to day, operational matters. My workshop talks delegates through how to rebalance their operational v strategic focus.

Moving forward

In November, I’m really looking forward to a graduate management trainee joining my team at Ashfield. We’ve joined the Local Government Association scheme for the first time, which I’m really pleased about; I started my housing career on a graduate scheme and it’s important to me to create these opportunities for others, particularly this year when the job market is difficult for graduates.

I’ve started working on a second strategic thinking workshop to offer to Housing Quality Network members, which will focus on practical tips and exercises to make the theory of strategic thinking a reality. It’s a really abstract concept that even those of us who feel confident in practising these skills struggle to articulate to others in a concrete and meaningful way, so I’m currently doing lots of research to curate the most useful resources that are out there to share with delegates.

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