Finding the housing leaders of tomorrow

By William Lilley - on 31/05/2013

William Lilley, New Ventures Manager at the Bromford Group, is invited as a guest to the HACT blog to discuss the need for the sector to invest in its future leaders and comments on his experiences developing a pioneering new leadership programme.

With UK housing sector facing some of its biggest ever challenges right now, investing in its leaders of the future is more important than ever.  In doing so, it needs to reach out across sectors.

Calling myself a leader hasn’t always come easy, in fact I was even a little embarrassed to say it.  As New Ventures Manager for leading social business and housing provider the Bromford Group, I am tasked with forging new relationships across the health and wellbeing sector, with the purpose of addressing our communities’ deepest health inequalities.  But is that leadership?  What responsibilities does that bring with it?  And what might that mean for others working in housing, particularly those at the start of their careers?

Over the last six months, I have been privileged to have been part of a programme focused on answering those questions, and doing so in the context of the rapidly changing civil society sector, as much as in housing.   

In November last year I had the great privilege of being selected as a specialist Clore Social Fellow with support from the National Housing Federation. As it says on its website “The Clore Social Fellowship is a highly individualised 1- 2 year leadership programme aimed at growing a network of ambitious and influential individuals pioneering social change in the UK and internationally”.

It’s no ordinary leadership programme – in fact there are few if any parallels in housing (though perhaps there should be). The people on this programme are eye-wateringly inspiring, from all walks of life, leading projects that tackle gang culture in Manchester to bringing justice to the victims of the Rwandan genocide. In fact I feel humbled every time we meet up. But I am here proud to represent the UK housing sector and the Bromford Group, and – just a third of the way through the programme - I continue to be challenged and inspired by the ways in which connecting with these amazing individuals is helping me achieve our own social mission.

It’s a programme that was launched in in 2009 with the aim of transforming leadership in the civil society sector.  But despite housing being the largest single sector in the UK not for profit community, so far only two representatives from housing associations have taken part.  I suspect this reflects two challenges for the sector: a complacency about leadership highlighted by HACT chair Tom Murtha in his blog back in April - this isn’t a sector that has historically looked to actively develop young leaders on a sector wide basis; and a tendency towards introspection – with few exceptions, housing isn’t a sector that looks outside its own boundaries to draw in ideas or talent.

The great news is that Clore is looking to expand its engagement with housing, recognising the vital role we play beyond our bricks and mortar in addressing some of the key social issues we collectively face.  This year, there will be two Clore fellowships on offer to housing, sponsored by the NHF (who have brilliantly and consistently supported the Clore initiative from the outset) and the Oak Foundation.

For housing associations the Clore Social Fellowship presents an invaluable opportunity to support new and emerging talent, building their confidence and skills, and connecting them at an early stage in their careers with new sectors and organisations, different experiences and perspectives.  It’s easy when faced with crisis to focus on coping with the now, and the combination of housing crisis, economic crisis and welfare catastrophe that has unfolded over the last 4-5 years is clearly enough for any organisation or sector to cope with. 

But the right way to respond must be to find ways to draw on the wider experience and capacity that exists across sectors - reaching out beyond our own social silos and across the sector divide - and by investing in leaders capable of navigating what will be even more challenging times in the future.

Six months into the programme I now recognise that I am leader: in attempting to do something different in our sector I am taking a lead in making change. I am no longer embarrassed about this but hugely proud.  

There are two specialist housing fellowships available through the Clore Social Leadership programme. For more information please visit the website here.

Leadership in housing

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