National Housing Federation ponders better public awareness of its work

The theme dominating the National Housing Federation’s (NHF) Communications and Marketing Conference was how housing associations can better tell their stories to encourage public support.

CEO of the NHF David Orr set out the agenda for the day: “The creation of the narrative and the telling of the story is as important as being confident about having the money to deliver. That’s what the whole of today will be about – how we understand the means by which we create a narrative of the future that is better than the present.”

Orr’s view on the importance of a compelling narrative was backed up by Clare Bevis Paredes, head of communications at the NHF, who called the focus on it “business critical”. With public concern about housing at a high level, she saw an opportunity to tell their story better. “We need a shared narrative that we can get behind and is definitive,” she said.

What followed was a presentation by Chris Hogwood of public relations firm Weber Shandwick, the company the NHF had commissioned to find out what people think about housing associations.

Hogwood started off by noting that, with changes in legislation that will no longer see government grants given to housing associations to build social housing, only to build houses to sell, there was a perception in the sector that the Conservative Party was pushing an agenda against housing associations. 

“That’s not true,” said Hogwood. “The Conservatives are not entirely negative about you and there are lots of people in the Conservative party to be won over. Many of your activities are looked upon quite fondly.” Weber Shandwick had conducted interviews with 52 people from across the political spectrum for the survey – 31 of them Conservatives.

The problem was, he continued, that “you’re not defining yourself very well". "What came across from everyone is there is no real definition of the sector and the sector is not doing a good job of about what it stands for, where it is coming from and what its hopes and aspirations are.

The more you engage with people the better your reputation becomes.

“To know you is to love you: what we found was that politicians that knew about you and interacted with you at a local level spoke far more positively about you, they knew about your activities and the contribution you made to the local area. The more you engage with people the better your reputation becomes.”

New head of media and campaigns at NHF Rhys Moore told the assembled audience that he thought housing associations were “as a sector punching below our collective weight." He pointed out that housing associations were a £16bn industry, comparable in size to pharmaceuticals or aerospace and dwarfing the music industry. He also noted: “We house one in 10 of the population.”

Moore saw a gap between what housing associations do and public perception. Previously he had worked on the Living Wage campaign and, by having to engage with companies such as Nestlé and Barclays during that campaign, found that “they are straining at the bit to tell a story about their social purpose". "They would give their right arm for the kind of story that this sector has to tell,” he concluded.


Photo credit: Scott