‘Tenant on Tour’ the Oxford City Council engagement conference experience
Wednesday 2nd of August 2017
We asked Simon Warde, Tenant Involvement Manager at Oxford City Council to share his experience of attending the Tpas National Tenant Engagement Conference 2017.
Wednesday 12th July
At 07:45am the Oxford City Council Tenant Involvement team and nine excited tenants set off from the city centre on route to the Chesford Grange Hotel in Warwick. With fresh coffees and bag of pastries, spirits were high on our hired mini bus. For many, they had never been to a Tpas conference before, or to the Chesford Grange.
We arrived in good time and for those who had been before, everything was instantly familiar and welcoming. There was however one very big difference this time around. Unlike the years before, we had been awarded ‘Tpas Team of the Year’ for the Southern Region at Wembley in February; so we were now up for the National Award. This had resulted in our best shoes being polished and our suites/smart dresses being neatly packed.
The hotel staff booked in our luggage and the Tpas staff registered our details. After the first of many many hotel coffees, we entered the Kenilworth Suite and sat through an uplifting opening from Jenny Osbourne and Nigel Wilson (Chief Executive of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group). This was followed by the second of many many more coffees and the first of many many scrummy meals.
The team finished off their lunch early as we were running a workshop on ‘Successful Tenant Engagement in a Local Authority’. We actually carried out our first Workshop in 2016, so were delighted to be invited back by Tpas. Our theme this year was our own ‘Tenant on Tour’ programme, where we take tenants out on a mini bus to learn how their services are run in great detail. In advance of the conference, Amy Weller from the team had already made bus wheels and a bus stop sign as props .On the day, Kieron Keeble welcomed the guests by handing out bus tickets aka bingo cards while wearing a bus conductors hat. Once on our imaginary bus, we showed our guests silent video footage of some of the Oxford City Council projects, while we explained how the team and our tenants influenced the authorities corporate objectives. Our guests then hopped off the imaginary bus and we run through an example of one of in house training courses. This consisted of bowl decorating by the teams qualified trainer Justine Longford. With paint and brushes in hand, we casually posed a series of housing related questions to our guests, to source their views and opinions. The workshop draw to an end with a speedy round of bingo delivered Steve Speight our tenant Quiz Master. Before packing up, we managed to swap contact details with our pears from Luton Council and Red Kite Housing, so are looking forward to meeting up with them again soon.
After leaving the Avon Room, we bumped into our tenants who were enthused to tell us about the workshops they had attended that afternoon and present us with the ream of notes they had taken. It was already clear that this was going to be the most rewarding Tpas conference we had attended.
A little confused by the amount of caffeine, we all had a short rest before transforming into a number of 80’s throw backs and returning feeling very proud of our new looks. A wonderful dinner was had, followed by making new friends on the dance floor. What a surprise to see Cher performing on the main stage and looking younger than ever.
Thursday 13th July
None of our party had any complaints with the breakfast feast on offer that morning. Fuelled up, we were back in the Kenilworth Suite to be hypnotised by Alex Blow’s (Fourteen19) outstanding presentation on Youth engagement. Left in awe, one of our tenants volunteers John Monteiro was keen start a youth engagement indicative linked to our eleven sheltered housing blocks.
Almost running, we all head off to our different workshops. In flash these were over and we were back together for lunch; sharing stories of the new contacts we had just made and the things we had just learnt. A top up of coffee and sadly to the final Workshop of the conference. The surprises didn’t however end there, as while enjoying a refreshment in the beautiful hotel grounds, we were approached by two lovely tenants of Oldham Council. They wanted to compare repairs services and we all had a very interesting chat. I provided them with my details, as I would really like to invite them on our next Tenants on Tour – Repairs this October.
A quick rest before returning in our formal wear. We sat at our table ready for another fine meal and the National Award Ceremony. As the multiple awards and nominees where read out by magical Mike our host, it was a reminder that you were sat in a room full of winners. People together with a common drive to improve social housing, communities and estates across the country.
Our Tenant Scrutiny Panel chair Geno Humphrey has said that the conference is a place where you are unable to distinguish who is a tenant and who is a Housing Association/Local Authority officer. He is correct that there are no boundaries and only admiration and respect for each other.
Thank you Tpas for a truly wonderful conference. The real reward is to see what our tenant volunteers get from it, as well as the chance for us all to meet likeminded people and share our experiences and ideas. Together we are truly stronger.