Don't Look Back

By Tom Murtha - on 26/09/2013

HACT's Chair Tom Murtha comments that housing providers can only succeed if they are willing to accept change, support innovation and diversify to meet future demands of the sector.

Don’t Look Back is one of my favourite documentaries.  The film is a perfect match of music and cinema. It tells the story of Bob Dylan and his influence upon the 1960s. Dylan is one of the heroes of my youth. He inspired my views on many social issues including poverty, equality, civil rights, race and immigration. His songs on these issues are exemplars of great story telling as a means of communicating powerful and moving images and messages. 

The film’s title sums up Dylan’s approach to his work. He is always looking forward, always innovating, and always wrong footing his followers. Throughout his career Dylan has been constantly changing. If you go to a Dylan concert today his songs are almost unrecognizable from their original versions. This is incredibly frustrating for his fans but also very exciting and rewarding. You can argue that Dylan’s constant innovation has changed the face of rock music. Most great musicians from the 1960s onwards have recognised this. 

So what has this got to do with the housing sector? The answer is simple. Innovation and change are at the heart of success. This is as true for housing as it is for music. As the Chief Executive of Midland Heart I was proud to witness innovation and change on a daily basis in many areas of our work. These ranged from changes to governance structures to major innovation in service delivery for the most excluded and marginalised in our society, using the latest Skype technology. When I joined the sector I never thought that I would one day be responsible for an award winning bakery called Frost and Snow. We established this successful social enterprise not because we wanted to bake cupcakes. We did it because it provided employment opportunities for homeless people and helped to transform their lives.  The innovation had a social purpose and was directly linked to our values. Baking cakes saved lives.

 As the Chair of HACT I am leading one of the most forward thinking charities in the sector. Our work on social value is breaking new ground in the understanding and delivery of community investment. We are soon to begin a piece of work with Microsoft which could revolutionise the use of big data in the sector and beyond. This work will benefit many, especially the people and communities we work with. It continues HACT’s long tradition of leading innovation in order to support the sector’s social purpose and create social value.

All those in housing must be comfortable with change. But change and innovation on its own is not enough. All that we do to improve our services and maintain our financial viability in this age of austerity must be done for a purpose. Transformation and diversification must reflect our values, our history and the reasons we were established. If this golden thread does not run through everything we do then we should question why we are doing it?  Considering the past is vital as we move forward into a future that is full of unknowns. The only certainty is that the need for our services will continue to grow.  Government welfare and other reforms will inevitably increase that need and we will have to continue to innovate to ensure that we can meet it. And even if the government changes we will have to innovate even more to deliver Ed Milliband’s target of 200,000 homes a year. I am sure the sector will continue to rise to these challenges but as we do we should never forget that our reasons for being here are the same as they ever were and, in the current climate, more important than ever.

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