TAI 2013: The George Clarke Effect
Of course CIH Cymru’s TAI Housing conference is always really good value, but this year exceeded anything I had experienced before. It was very fortunate that CIH placed ‘Empty Homes’ so high on the conference agenda at a time when we are launching Empty Homes Wales and Welsh Government support is putting empties at the forefront of everyone’s minds with their loans scheme – but this was all helped immeasurably by the key note speaker and star attraction George Clarke, with whom I was invited by the CIH to share a stage (albeit briefly!)
I raised a few laughs as I introduced George by referring to him as ‘the man off the tele’ something that was picked up on blogs and twitter – I can assure you, it was a compliment of the highest order! As noted by Paul Diggory in his own Tai Empty Homes blog people in the housing sector have been ‘banging on about empty homes for years’ then along comes George to great acclaim and fanfare. Following TAI2013 there’s no doubting his passion and genuine belief that an empty property is a wasted home and his practical no-nonsense approach was infectious and really inspiring; we are lucky to have such a vocal, well respected spokesman. Having someone with the profile of George Clarke raises the profile of Empty Homes immeasurably, it’s that simple. Television programmes like the Great British Property Scandal and his role as Independent Advisor to the Government brings the sheer waste of empties into the public’s consciousness in a way that raw data and facts and figures don’t always seem to. Obviously having an estimated 26,000 empty homes across Wales is shocking. It is a number that we are doing our best to reduce but outside of the sector do people really know and appreciate the scale of the issue? Indeed ITV filmed us signing a lease on an empty property in Cardiff – a great project, a shining example of partnership working, an empty home bought back into use – but would they have come if George wasn’t there? I doubt it. But whatever raises the profile of empties is alright by me.
Other than meeting and discussing empty homes with George, another highlight was our Empty Homes Wales stand – winning the CIH award as it was so popular during the three day conference (thank you to the rising stars that voted for us!). I believe giving people an opportunity to sign up to our pledge was key to its success – It started the crucial conversation “Empty Homes Wales: what can you contribute?” I had numerous conversations about linking in with training, funding, the third sector, private companies and community engagement for example. It was so satisfying to meet other enthusiastic colleagues – many saying ‘I didn’t think about my area linking with Empty homes before and now I am; let’s work together!’ Many partnerships were born over those busy frantic few days in city hall, the networking opportunities at TAI are like no other that I have ever experienced. There were also some potential career changes – one colleague, who is completely immersed and 100% dedicated to the community involvement arena even went so far as to say he could be tempted over to Empty Homes work, after being so moved by George, and hopefully a little bit by me…
So, after a very enthusiastic , well publicised and well received Conference and an enormous amount of pledges to contribute to Empty Homes Wales – including one from Huw Lewis a mere hour or two before he was shuffled – the real hard work continues behind the scenes. The glitz and reflected glamour has started to fade but the question still remains: Empty Homes Wales: what can you contribute? By Michala Rudman, Empty Homes Officer United Welsh