Should #ukhousing or other sectors prioritise and push innovation or risk stagnating as a sector?
This is the question that sprung to mind when thinking about HouseParty. As a first day attendee of #hseparty14, the unofficial fringe event in Manchester, I thought I’d have a go at answering this.
First things first, I obviously heard about HouseParty via Twitter. This is like a lot of things nowadays, with Twitter being my ‘finger on the pulse newsfeed’. After looking into it, I thought I’d better book on to attend as it looked like something different, which I’m always attracted to it seems. The fact that it was co-created and organised by HACT and The Social Change Agency was an added appeal – if it had been organised by an organisation I’d never heard of before, I might not have been so keen, but I really wanted to see what this would be about and to be part of it in some way.
It goes without saying that from the outset the event had a very different feel to it. You were given ticket options to purchase via Eventbright – either a full paying ticket, a donation towards a ticket or a free version; the first of many differences. Leading up to the day via the dedicated twitter account and hashtag there were regular updates and new sessions announced. It felt exciting to be attending – almost secretive and special!
On the first day of HouseParty, I got off the same train as I would to attend the main CIH Conference – Oxford Rd. Although I’d been mulling over for some weeks whether to flit between the HouseParty event and the main CIH Conference, I decided that as I was only going to be there for the first day, that I’d dedicate my attendance to just HouseParty. On arriving at the HouseParty venue there was a sign outside announcing I’d got to the right place:
I was given a HouseParty lanyard and shown where the tea and coffee was. So far, just like every other conference I’ve attended.
I made my way downstairs to the main hallway to where various social enterprises had set up to show their wares. This felt a bit different. Everyone (apart from those who jumped over from the main CIH Conference) were casually dressed and the feel of the event was very relaxed – not very Housing like. I managed to attend various sessions throughout the day including a ‘Fireside chat with Anne McCrossan’ and a session showcasing new apps developed by social enterprises. All of the sessions I attended were informative, within fairly small groups and the chance to ask questions and get involved.
On reflection, three things struck me about the event.
1) Although some Housing Associations got involved in HouseParty by either sponsoring or attending the event, the vast majority of showcases were by organisations that would not have had the same platform or opportunities at the main CIH Conference.
2) As the event was organised through Twitter, there was a distinct Social Media flavour to attendees. Quite a few of the Social Media #powerplayers14 attended over the few days and gave talks of some form or another – a great chance for people to meet in the flesh they’ve connected with and followed on Twitter. I’m sure some people would have paid more for the chance they had to hear from some of the speakers.
3) The event felt quite unstructured and chaotic at times. I personally thought this was a good thing and only added to the sense that the event was meant to be different!
I had the chance to talk with one of the HouseParty organiser’s Matt Leach (CEO of HACT) about the event and the reason for organising it. In essence, it was a chance to offer something different to the usual CIH Conference. Quite how the CIH will deal with the event remains to be seen, as I’m sure a lot of the HouseParty attendees would have agreed that the more relaxed, disruptive feel to the event was a pleasant change. Whether Matt Leach, Esther and their teams will ultimately want to organise another event next year (I bet they were tired at the end of the two days) also remains to be seen.
So, overall I thought HouseParty was a fantastic event that can only get better as time goes by. The people I spoke to on the day also seemed to be enjoying attending. The chance to fine tune the agendas and timings would make it even better. There were certainly some elements that the main CIH Conference should consider taking on board (like the cost of attending and who was attending) but again that remains to be seen.
I managed to have some great conversations with lots of amazing people over the day and made some great new contacts for the future.
It seems that the rise of alternative/fringe events like #hseparty14 and #commshero are here to stay. Long may the disruption revolution continue!