Our Group Chief Executive Sinéad Butters shares her thoughts on her time over the last five years as PlaceShapers’ Chair, as she steps down from the role and hands over to Matthew Walker, Chief Executive from Leeds Federated Housing Association.
PlaceShapers is a national member-based organisation of over 120 housing associations.
I joined PlaceShapers Board in 2013 when Tony Stacey was Chair. Some two years later, I myself was in the hot seat. John Giesen had been appointed Chair but stood down soon after, when he retired. The rent cuts had been just announced, and we were all feverishly trying to reshape our businesses following this unprecedented financial shock. And I had the unenviable task of following Tony, having had six successful years himself, chairing and running the ‘Wizard of Oz’ of all networks and the cheapest gig in town.
I was pretty daunted by the prospect. In particular the privilege of acting as a voice for 120 members drawn from all across the country, was a worry. How could I do this and get it right? What if I get it wrong? Will I be a disaster, will PlaceShapers fold because of me? Tony was a hard act to follow, and I had to step up pretty quickly when, after two weeks into the role I had to chair our National Conference.
PlaceShapers was established in 2008, and had been set up as an alternative voice to the sector’s larger players. A movement, if you like, for those that identify with being community-based landlords. Our principles talk about putting tenants at our hearts, working with local authority partners, offering diverse services and being values led. Now no longer about size, but about local impact deep in communities, we have matured and grown.
For all the time I have been chair, I have tried to stick to these values, both within Aspire Housing and when representing our members. I have enjoyed playing my part on Commissions like the Future Shape of the Sector and more recently the Affordable Housing Commission. The former reinforcing that the diverse shape of the sector is its strength and our role, investing “patient capital” in communities with little hope of payback, makes us critically important in helping our communities prosper.
Throughout these five years, with our members, we have worked tirelessly in getting our message across through our “We” straplines. I can honestly say I loved them all, but the one which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up was narrated by Hussain Manawer, our amazing street poet, describing how our members care. I have worked with an amazing Board and in Lucy Ferman and Rachael Orr, two deeply passionate people who have created impact against the odds and with about £2.50 to spend!
So, on looking back and seeing where we have been, we now must look forward. It is time for a new Chair of PlaceShapers, a new leader who can bridge us into the next world. And in the context of the past, there is something to learn for the future.
Our diversity is our strength. We are on the same team, working with our tenants, local authority partners and stakeholders, holding the future prosperity of our neighbourhoods in our hands. It is not about size or geography. It is not about egos or profile. It is about honesty, humility, openness and impact. Courageous actions thoughtfully worked through with communities to help people thrive.
Whether that is regeneration schemes, supported housing, homelessness, new build or stock investment. Whether that is training and employment, wellbeing services and repairs. We invest. We invest in our customers, in our colleagues, in our neighbourhoods and in the future of the place we call home.
So how do we do this? Not by pointing out our differences, which are clear, but by reinforcing our similarities. We are stronger together and together we make a whole. And it is together that we will work to help our country get back on its feet again. We will maximise our economic impact through direct employment and our supply chains, build tens of thousands more homes, invest in our neighbourhoods and support people to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
We do this because we care, and we will do this together.