Can small really be beautiful?

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

South Devon Rural HA are a brand new Tpas member.  We asked their Chief Executive, Christine Candlish to talk about her move from a large HA to a small rural association in Devon and why they decided to join Tpas.

Can small really be beautiful? Local, flexible and closer to our roots

Turn back the clock to June 2019 and I was sat in a room in North Norfolk, telling my colleagues I was leaving for a new job…at the other end of the country…and for a much smaller organisation. Everyone asked me “Why?”.

Well, in that moment I wasn’t sure I knew exactly why or indeed whether I was making the right decision. I was fairly satisfied with my job, worked with a great team, lived in a beautiful part of the country – plus lots of other positives. Actually, aside from the fact that I was moving to take up a more senior role as Chief Executive, I had no reason to leave.  Bold – or crazy?  Only one year on do I feel ready to answer that question.

Working for a small housing association like South Devon Rural you very quickly learn that it’s vital to be flexible. On my first day in the office dressed in my ‘best’ clothes, I found myself meeting with the chair of the board, changing toilet rolls and working out where to plug two wires in the server room so I had a working telephone – and it was great! Everyone was in it together; there’s no room for egos and no strict hierarchy and that in essence is the key not only to a great working culture but also to unlocking the potential for genuine resident engagement.

Resident Engagement has always been my ‘thing’. From being a fresh-faced Housing Officer in the early 90’s, my enthusiasm has never waned.

But I’ve always been intrigued by those who view resident engagement as a box to be ticked or a barrier to be overcome. Why not see it instead as an opportunity for partnership, to build momentum behind initiatives and get things moving quicker than any box ticking exercise could ever do. 

Building Trust

As an organisation you’ll make better decisions – that’s obvious isn’t it?  Who knows what tenants want and need better than tenants themselves? And in making those decisions together you’re building trust in each other and ultimately will have residents who are happier in their homes and communities.

Of course none of this is easy – even in a smaller, more compact organisation.  How do you persuade people to get involved and give their time to help make their housing service better for them and their neighbours? 

That’s where I’m hoping membership of Tpas will help. So I’m looking forward over the coming months to introducing South Devon Rural’s staff and residents to the Tpas family.

I’d like us to take in focus groups and workshops that can spark innovation and generate enthusiasm and excitement, networking at regional meetings, attending training events and discovering how resident engagement works for others. Finally, I can’t wait for us to be able to attend the annual Tpas conference – always a good opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones!

So, returning to my original question. Yes, I probably was a little bit crazy last summer and I was unquestionably bold. But what I’ve gained over the past year, especially as we’ve worked our way through a global pandemic and a national lockdown, is a real appreciation of the value of small housing associations. They have local roots, sit right in the heart of communities and offer a uniquely caring and personal service. 

I’ve definitely learnt that small most certainly IS beautiful!

Christine Candlish, Chief Executive, South Devon Rural Housing Association

South Devon Rural HA is a small association based in Totnes, to read more about them visit their website.