Opinion: House Party steals spotlight from unofficial big sister
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing
By Faye Galvin, communications manager at Merlin Housing Society
In one room, a group of strangers brainstormed technology to solve the problem of repairs teams turning up to jobs without the necessary parts in their vans (the suggestion that they were kitted out with 3D printers so they could just make the parts there and then was greeted enthusiastically).
In another room, a respected economist used a monopoly board to explain why housing finances are in dire straits, and facilitated as the room came up with ingenious ways to fix the issue.
This was House Party 2014. An innovative and energy filled bijou un-conference that brought together the people in our sector who may not have traditional power, but have the passion to just, well, make stuff happen.
The brainchild of HACT CEO Matt Leach and Esther Foreman, Director of the Social Change Agency, the event ran in Manchester at the same time as the main CIH conference, and despite being much smaller (about 170 people on the first day) managed to steal all the social media limelight, trending on Twitter and seeing content co-created on the day uploaded instantly to YouTube.
“We wanted to provide a space for conversations to happen,” says Esther. “At most conferences, the real networking goes on in coffee breaks, or at the bar afterwards. We were aiming for a day full of opportunities like that, a place where innovation could begin.”
It’s a formula that clearly worked. Delegates across the two days were full of praise for the event, with many of those who ventured into the main CIH conference returning with smug smiles from “the ordinary stuff” happening just across the road in the Manchester Central Convention Complex.
Delegate Anna Skerman, Head of Neighbourhoods at Origin Housing, summed up how people were feeling: “You can research most of the stuff they talk about the main conference in your own time, this is less about policy, more about a chance to do something practical and get a different way of thinking or a solution.”
And the speakers agreed. The event saw several national launches, including detail about this year’s UK Housing Day and the launch of a million pound Community Development Finance Association start up enterprise fund for providers looking to set up micorenterprises.
Ed Parkes, Senior Programme Manager for the Open Data Challenge Series, was at the event to launch a challenge in the housing sector with a prize of £40,000 and said: “We’re trying to reach communities of makers and innovators. The open data agenda is about bringing together people with specific topic knowledge and data skills. That’s not usually found in the highest levels of an organisation.”
Or maybe even in larger organisations? In his session on how maverick community led housing organisations have changed our sector over the years, Jon Fitzmaurice Director of Self-Help Housing shared this thought: “Many big organisations started small and were seen as mavericks who came up with innovative solutions. Now they have become all big and respectable, they can’t be seen to think like that anymore, or don’t have the agility to. There is still a need for organisations that operate in the gaps, that can deal with issues that aren’t in the top ten of the bigger organisations.” He went on to say that he didn’t think delegates at the main CIH conference would be in a position to action some of the ideas talked about in his session.
Adrian Capon who launched this year’s UK Housing day at House Party agreed with the sentiment that House Party was a place for doers, saying that the conference wasn’t about big meaty policy, but grass roots stuff. This was evident from the way it was marketed and promoted. All the tickets – the vast majority free or for whatever an attendee could donate - went through twitter within a couple of days, based on word of social media promotion and sharing.
But Matt Leach is keen to point out that despite the differences between the two events, this isn’t about ‘us and them’. “House Party isn’t a reaction to other stuff that is happening,” he explains. “It’s a natural manifestation of people’s enthusiasm - an eclectic mix of people thinking about different things. The fact that people wanted to come and launch to a group of people who are younger and more communicative is great, but we’re equally happy that people just came to talk, network and share ideas.”
Esther agrees. “Innovation doesn’t happen overnight but it has to start with a conversation somewhere,” she says.
We may not know for a while how much will happen as a result of the conversations at this year’s House Party (and I think 3D printers in repairs vans are a way off yet) but one thing is sure: the way conferences in our sector are organised, run and attended just changed. For the better.