Anglo Dutch Directors Club – Staffordshire, 2019

We were delighted to host the Anglo Dutch Directors Club in Staffordshire this April. With so much happening in Europe, and on the day of the EU council in Brussels, it’s never felt like a better time for us to connect and learn from each other.

The Anglo Dutch Directors Club (ADDC) is a network of chief executives, directors and chairs from housing providers throughout the UK and the Netherlands. It’s a valuable network of varied experiences, knowledge and philosophies, allowing members to share ideas and to collaborate on better ways of working.

With a focus on heritage, regeneration and sustainability, this month’s event will see delegates explore Staffordshire’s vibrant history, look at the latest housing practice, and consider ways to ensure a strong future for all of our communities.

We have a packed agenda, with housing updates from UK and Dutch sector leaders, cultural visits to sites across North Staffordshire, and an introduction to the we are aspire businesses covering housing, training and employment.

We covered the event on social media from @weare_aspire using the hashtag #addc – read on below to find out what we got up to.

Day One – Introductions

Our Dutch delegates flew in this afternoon and arrived with a warm welcome at The Upper House Hotel in Barlaston. A venue partially chosen for its connections to Josiah Wedgwood and the pottery industry, and partially for its location amidst the beautiful Staffordshire countryside.

After refreshments and greetings, Sinéad opened the agenda with an introduction to we are aspire’s businesses, an overview of the local area and the importance of heritage and history in our region, and a look at our newly launched People First philosophy and how it will be applied across Aspire Housing, PM Training and Realise charity. As Sinéad put it: “It’s not a project, not an initiative, not a eureka moment… it’s a fundamental change in the way we think.”

The floor was then taken by Simon Dow, Chair of the Regulator of Social Housing, who gave a general update on UK housing, touching upon some potential impacts of Brexit and the effect of the social housing green paper. Ronald Leushuis, Board Member at Talis then followed suite, allowing the UK professionals an insight into the Dutch housing status.

This sparked a fascinating discussion, with UK and Dutch members alike sharing ideas and practices, along with challenges they have faced. Whilst the two countries’ housing landscapes are very different, it’s clear that there are many similarities in the goals of housing providers to create affordable, sustainable homes.

The discourse took us well into the evening, and set everybody up to continue the discussion tomorrow, when we would take a more detailed look into the heritage and regeneration of the region.

Day Two – Heritage and Regeneration

Day two was the only full day of the event. And the schedule indicates that we definitely made the most of it! With three venues, five key speakers, three guided tours, and a break for a traditional lunch, we’re frankly amazed me managed to fit it all in. But it was worth the effort.

The morning brought us to Middleport Pottery in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Middleport is not only a heritage museum, but is a working pottery factory, and has been since 1889. It is also recognisable as being the filming location for TV series such as The Great Pottery Throwdown and Peaky Blinders.

We covered a lot through the course of the day. We focused on heritage, culture and the history of the area, before looking at regeneration and what the future may hold for North Staffordshire. We’re going to go into more detail about the key topics in a later blog, so here is a run down of what we got up to:

  • Talk from Professor Brendan Nevin, University of Manchester – ‘North Staffordshire: Legacy, Localism and Future Challenges’
  • Presentation from Carl Brazier, Stoke-on-Trent City Council – ‘Local Authority Housing: A New Era of Delivery’
  • Guided tour of Middleport Pottery Museum
  • Hands-on clay pot throwing experience
  • Traditional Stokie lunch of Staffordshire oatcakes, lobby and pikelets
  • Viewed the Harper Street Project; 11 terraced houses that UKHBPT plans to renovate and restore
  • Introduced our guests to PM Training – including a presentation from Will Nixon, Managing Director, and a tour of the Canavan Centre facilities
  • Visited Mill Rise community living scheme for a talk from Dan Gray, Executive Director of Property, and afternoon tea
  • Coach tour of Newcastle-under-Lyme; showing our guests some of the areas in which Aspire Housing works

Highlight of the day: The two key speakers who joined us at Middleport made for a very interesting morning. We started with Professor Brendan Nevis from the University of Manchester, who took us through a research-based look at the housing and economy of North Staffordshire, with some insightful comparisons to other regions of the UK. Carl Brazier, Director of Housing & Customer Services at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, then showed us the future plans that the city council has for Stoke. He talked us through some of the potential challenges that they may face and how they hoped to overcome them.

The two perspectives, focusing on the past, the present and the planned future for the city, gave our guests a deeper understanding of Stoke-on-Trent. Whilst the impassioned presentations showcased the local pride that is often a staple of our communities.

Day Three – Sustainability

We had one last morning with our ADDC guests before the Dutch guest caught flights back to the Netherlands. Today’s focus was a topic we had touched upon several times during the last couple of days – sustainability.

So, where better to get a more in-depth look at sustainability than Keele University, whose innovative Smart Energy Network Demonstrator (SEND) project is leading the way in research toward a sustainable future.

If you’re unfamiliar with the university’s ‘Green Keele’ sustainability efforts, then you can find out more here. Keele has the largest university campus in the UK – the equivalent of a small town – and it is invested in a huge programme to implement renewable energy throughout its premises, effectively turning the campus into a ‘living laboratory’ to further its research.

It’s fascinating stuff, and our UK and Netherlands guests alike were eager to learn more about how Keele’s findings could be applied on a wider scale. One Dutch delegate even vowed to return in six months’ time to see how the project had progressed.

The day gave us a promising insight into the potential future of sustainability within our communities, which made for a positive close to a successful ADDC event.

We hope that our colleagues from the UK and the Netherlands all enjoyed their visit to North Staffordshire. We may not have introduced ‘ay up duck’ to the Dutch vocabulary quite yet, but we think our guests did go home with a new-found appreciation for Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and, of course, oatcakes!