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Housing sector launches UK-wide innovation programme

The biggest collaborative exercise ever undertaken by the sector, Housing Futures will be run jointly by the National Housing Federation, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Community Housing Cymru, and the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations.

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Hundreds of housing associations from every part of the UK have come together to launch an ambitious innovation programme to tackle the biggest challenges in housing.

The biggest collaborative exercise ever undertaken by the sector, Housing Futures will be run jointly by the National Housing Federation (NHF), the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Community Housing Cymru (CHC), and the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA).

It will see organisations from every nation and region of the UK join forces to find solutions to national housing problems, which could range from homelessness and housing affordability to how the sector can respond to climate change.

The next stage of the programme will be a series of workshops for housing association staff, equipping them with new skills that will enable them to gain a deeper understanding of these problems. This understanding can then be used to develop ideas for new products, services or approaches that will transform people’s lives. Staff will also be able to take these skills back to their organisations, helping to embed new ways of thinking and allowing the sector to deliver on its social purpose, no matter what comes next.

The federations are encouraging staff and tenants from across the UK to take part in Housing Futures.

Lorna Wilson, SFHA Innovation and Future Thinking Lead, said: “This work has never been more necessary. Across the UK, we are facing the perfect storm of a growing and ageing population, more people living alone, people struggling with the costs of private rent and homeownership, and changing aspirations about how and where we live. And this is set alongside our climate emergency, growing poverty and inequality, homelessness and a continually evolving political environment.

“So, if our sector is going to continue to build much needed new social affordable housing and ensure existing stock is fit-for-purpose, the question is not whether we ‘think differently’, but how? And Housing Futures will enable housing associations across the UK to meet this challenge.”

James Green, Futures Programme Director at the National Housing Federation, said: “Housing associations have a strong track record of innovating to make life better for their tenants, their communities and the country. By embedding a greater culture of innovation and collaboration in the sector, Housing Futures will empower housing associations to step up and take on the challenges of tomorrow.

“We know our members are bursting with great ideas which have huge potential. With housing associations from across the UK working together, Housing Futures will help to shape the future of social housing across the country.”

Edwina O’Hart, Housing Futures lead at Community Housing Cymru, said: “Equipping members for the future is a key priority for us as part of our corporate plan.

“Housing Futures is an exciting opportunity for us to work with our partner federations and innovation experts to find solutions to the sector’s biggest challenges.

“The programme will also help build innovation capacity within the sector, and we’re excited to support our members to come together, pool their talent and resources, expertise and passion to do this.”

Ben Collins, CEO of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, said: “We are delighted to be part of this important initiative developing innovative approaches to the many challenges which our sector faces. For example, we know that people are living longer with more complex needs and wish to remain in their own homes.

“Working with colleagues from across the UK, we are confident that this programme will provide solutions to help tenants in a variety of ways.”

Housing Futures is the next phase of the NHF’s award-winning Creating Our Future programme. This eighteen-month project, launched in 2017, saw 450 people from over 250 housing associations come together from across England to tackle major issues, from the challenges of an ageing population to preventing homelessness. Several of the proposed solutions are now being implemented by groups of housing associations, while hundreds of participating association staff have returned to their organisations with new innovation skills. The first phase of the programme has been such a success that housing associations across the UK expressed interest in getting involved, so it is now being scaled up and rolled out across the country. 

In Scotland, SFHA launched its Innovation and Future Thinking Programme in 2018 – this programme brought members and other stakeholders together to collaborate on new ideas and solutions for the future. The programme initially had three strands: home of the future, service transformation and tackling poverty, and demonstrating impact. Housing Futures is now the programme’s fourth strand, allowing SFHA members to share lessons with housing professionals from across the UK.

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