Five takeaways from the National Housing Summit 2021

Amy Walker, 25 March 2021

After a year like no other, housing leaders took part in the National Housing Summit, not from a conference centre but from the comfort of their own homes, swapping suits for slippers and coffee breaks for a brew (and biscuits) in the kitchen.

Spread across four days, the Summit tackled the big issues facing the housing sector, underpinned by the impact that coronavirus has had on residents and communities, the country and the economy. Here are my five key takeaways from the event.

Both the government and opposition want to work with our sector

On Wednesday, Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, addressed the Summit and thanked housing associations for their continued work to support communities throughout the pandemic. He set out the government’s key priorities for housing, including the Social Housing White Paper, building safety and the supply of new homes, and took questions from delegates. He also spoke of his hope that housing associations will be able to draw on their “historic social mission as a force for public good” to play a crucial role in the country’s recovery. You can watch the Secretary of State's address on our website.

We were also joined by the Shadow Housing Minister, Thangam Debbonnaire MP, who reinforced Labour's commitment to funding social housing and working with the NHF. You can watch her address on our YouTube channel.

The quality and sustainability of homes is the top priority

At Summit, it was clear that the safety of residents remains the number one priority for the sector, and we must also ensure the sustainability of homes for the years to come in order to meet net zero targets. Delegates quizzed speakers and the government on long-term funding to be able to remediate, retrofit and build new high quality homes.

Another common theme discussed at the Summit was the role that the green building agenda can play in providing skilled, sustainable jobs right across the country, as we look to recover socially and economically from the pandemic.

The pandemic remains central and critical

On Tuesday, we paused the conference at midday to join the minute’s silence to mark the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, reflecting on the impact of the pandemic and the people we have lost. Throughout the Summit, many speakers and delegates reflected that, whilst the roadmap out of lockdown and vaccination progress is really positive news, we will have to continue to adapt and tackle the challenges it poses. Coronavirus will remain a high priority area of work for the NHF for this exact reason.

Despite the disruption that coronavirus has caused, sessions at the Summit demonstrated the sector’s determination to use the pandemic as a catalyst to create a better future and positive change for society.

There is a new rough sleeping commission

Throughout the Summit, there was high praise for the 'Everyone In' initiative introduced during the first national lockdown, to provide rough sleepers with safe and secure accommodation. This approach has exemplified what can be achieved when we all pull together.

Off the back of this, Lord Bob Kerslake announced the launch of a new commission during his Summit session on Tuesday, which will seek to understand the lessons we can learn from the Everyone In approach.

The sector is ready to rethink its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

On Monday, a panel of experts unpicked racial discrimination and inequality against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of George Floyd and the disproportional impact of coronavirus on BAME communities over the last 12 months. Speakers highlighted a lack of data on residents, that a diverse workforce is business-critical and why the sector must act now and not wait for legislation to drive this agenda. If you’re not already involved, it’s worth exploring Leadership 2025 and Housing Diversity Network’s mentoring scheme for staff.

The passion that came through showcased that equality, diversity and inclusion is a top priority for the housing association sector and that real change needs to happen. The NHF will be supporting this through a programme of work, including a new data tool comparing workforces to local communities launching later this year.

We'd like to thank our speakers, chairs, sponsors and exhibitors for their support and involvement in the Summit this year. And a special thanks to Mark Easton, conference chair, for injecting energy and expertise throughout. Look out for announcements about the National Housing Summit 2022 in the coming months.