Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

No predictions, just 3 hopes for 2016

If you’ve read any posts, columns and opinions about 2015, it would be easy to think that last year was a bad one.

People of Columnia have a negative tendency, but it seems that there’s plenty to trouble us. Terrorism, austerity, economic under-performance, migration, Europe and runaway house prices all point to a bad year.

I’ve also had many conversations about ‘leadership failure’ over many of these issues. It seems that people have had enough of being soft-soaped. This was demonstrated in Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary victory over the ‘Westminster elite’ in the Labour leadership campaign. It was also expressed in nastier ways through trolling and threats dealt out on social media.

Opinion formers have an appetite for predictions at this time of year. After so many people called the big events wrong in 2015, it’s daft to attempt it for the coming year.

I want to be optimistic and set out some hopes for 2016. Some relate to national issues, others are more local and there’s a personal one too. All are important to me and, if they happen, it should be a good year.

My three hopes for 2016

#1 People really ‘get’ the housing crisis: Dawn Foster’s piece in The Guardian set out five ambitious steps to fix the housing crisis. These focused on dismantling some pretty significant policy areas. It would take a seismic shift to achieve the steps she’s set out.

One line struck a chord for me: will the housing crisis become a mainstream issue this year? I hope so; the public has a huge role to play in moving this debate on to more realistic territory. And it’s needed if government thinking is to change.

But housing is a complex and emotive subject. There are many reasons for the chronic shortage of homes in the UK, and the crisis has taken decades to create. The housing sector (if there is such a thing) harms its cause by telling its story in a confusing way. Ditching the jargon and simplifying its story would be a good resolution for 2016.*

Also, constant pledges from politicians that their big idea will tackle the crisis does little to build understanding around the issue. They’re all guilty, but check these out for good measure. And this collection of high vis shots.

Acknowledging that this situation won’t be solved within years is an important part of framing the crisis in its proper context. That needs realism from our leaders which has been lacking over recent years. Housing promises to be a key battleground in London this year. I’d like to see the candidates present long-term, radical plans which address London’s chronic housing problem, rather than a silver bullet or a quick fix.

These aspects combined explain why the public doesn’t get how bad things have got for UK housing. As more people feel the impact of the housing shortage, rising rents and mortgage costs, this could be the year when people focus on this issue.

Local engagement 

On a local level, I’m supporting a big consultation on the future of housing and transport in the former Avon county (Greater Bristol, if you like). This will map where new homes will go over the next 20 years.

WEbuildourfuture images

(Created by JBP)

This has big implications for communities and will play a major part in shaping future development.

If the consultation is to represent opinions of those affected by pressing issues around housing, it’s essential that they give their views on how things could be better.

There will be big questions about developing the green belt, for example, which requires an honest debate. We’ve done a lot to communicate why this matters and the conversation is taking off on social. But more people need to get involved if the outcome is to reflect their views. They should not rely on interested groups to explain this situation. They need to take the time to understand the issues, which are set out in this material.

This video produced by the local authorities is a good starting point.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done on this consultation and determined that people have every opportunity to get involved.

#2 No ‘Ed Stones’ please! Social sets the big discussions: This year sees three huge elections, over our membership of the EU and the next Mayors of London and Bristol.

I blogged after the General Election on why I thought the parties had got social media wrong. Campaigns focused around key messages, attacking others and talking to like-minded tribes. There seemed to be much less engagement with groups who hold different views or people who are undecided. These are key audiences for any party that’s serious about winning.

Will the campaign machines approach things differently this year? Europe poses the biggest test and could also see plenty of nasty exchanges on social (resolution: I’ll block anyone who picks bullying and harassment over debate). Many people have made their minds up already, but it won’t be them who will win the referendum for either side. Others are open to persuasion according to polling, which suggests the outcome will be decided by ‘the undecideds’. If many of them stay at home, I think we’ll leave. This could trigger a Prime Ministerial resignation.

Will the ‘yes’ campaign build connections with groups they have never spoken to before? It could be their best chance of getting the result that they need.

In Bristol, there’s cause for more optimism. Whatever your thoughts about him, Bristol’s mayor George Ferguson engages on social media (he’s a prolific and influential tweeter). He has demonstrated that it can be effective. Not everyone likes him, as this conversation on Reddit shows. But Bristol could see the best example of a city-wide social conversation on the big issues. Here’s hoping anyway!

#3 Family, friends and fun: This has been a challenging year in many ways, characterised by long hours at work. I changed jobs in April and worked hard to get used to agency life once again after a five year absence.

Christmas provided welcome and important quality time with family and friends in Pembrokeshire, and at home in Wells.

It was a great way to end a year in which conversations and catch ups have been hard to come by in too many cases. Christmas cards and Facebook posts saying ‘hope we’ll catch up in 2016’ were a depressing reminder of the lack of real time we spend with those who matter to us.

Like many of my mates, I turned 40 this year. I’ve not celebrated with many of them because of distance/time/financial constraints. A group of us are going to France in the summer with our kids to make up for that. Of this party, one couple lives in Sweden with two boys. Another are travelling from Bondi Beach with a baby that hasn’t yet been born! It’s a huge effort all round and I’m looking forward to it already.

We’re also going to Orlando to see my brother in October, for the first time in 13 years. It will be a first for the kids and the second time in a year when we’ll see him.

And the time spent with my family and kids has been special too. For all that’s gloomy about the world, my children give me optimism for the future. This year will be more special by sharing the best moments with them.

These are exciting times, as they should be. And if I’ve not spoken to you during 2015, I’ll make more of an effort this year!

Whatever you want to do, I hope you find time and space to ensure your dreams come true this year.

* happy to help! – get in touch.

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