So it has been a few weeks now since the Homes for Britain rally in London, but here’s my (long reflected) take on the day.
I was lucky enough to attend the Homes for Britain rally in London on the 17th March 2015 along with approx. 2,300 others and also attended a Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster before the rally itself. The day certainly had an Alice in Wonderland feel to it at times, being mainly surreal, often touching and with some really heartfelt moments.
First off, along with many colleagues from across Wales, we made the long journey over to London by train or by coach to attend the Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster, jointly organised by Community Housing Cymru and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru. I had never even been to Westminster before, so I was pretty excited (probably more than most of the schoolkids who were visiting Westminster were anyway).
The Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster
In all 20 Welsh MP’s attend the reception, which was a pretty good turnout. I got to speak to my local MP about Housing issues and certainly felt it helped to raise the ‘Housing’ profile. After some impossibly small (but high in volume) lunchtime snacks at the MP’s reception, we then wandered over the short distance to the Methodist Central Hall where the main Homes for Britain rally took place. Outside the venue, lots of other Housing professionals were holding placards, with a general feeling of goodwill being emanated from everyone there. There weren’t many ‘suits’ in sight, apart from some of us as we had just been to Westminster!
The obligatory Homes for Britain pose in front of the venue
After meeting and talking to other Housing professionals from around the country on the green outside the Hall, it was time to go in to the venue. At the door to the venue everyone was told to leave their placards at the door – not exactly what I expected. It certainly had the effect of dampening some of the enthusiasm people were entering with. I had a ticket for Seat 40, row P, grey and on asking an attendant where the seat was, I was told that there had been a mistake and there ‘are no seat 40’s’ but I could find one over to the left of the stage in the blue seats. I really hoped this was not a sign of things to come and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.
I’m not going to talk in detail about all of the speakers at the event as these have been covered in much detail than I could do by other blogs, but suffice to say that opening up with a live band, then Nigel Farage of UKIP, samba drums in the middle and then closing with Grant Shapps who received ‘polite but definite heckling’ from many of the attendees (despite requests from the excellent compare for the day Jonathan Dimbleby not to) really did feel like I was in some kind of parallel universe.
Overall though the event was a credit to the National Housing Federation and everyone else who put the event together. I never would have thought that so many Housing people could get together in one venue, with what amounted to an excellent range of speakers, a really slickly produced event and an excellent platform to give a stronger united voice to the Housing sector. As an aside, I know that there were some reps from Wales at the Homes for Britain Rally, but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland reps?
Of course, on the long train journey home, I couldn’t help but reflect on whether the day’s events would actually carry on past the day. It was an undoubted success, but success longer term would be the panacea.
The political parties spoke a lot about Housing during the rally, but failed to carry this through after the rally day. I can’t help but be left with a feeling that Housing remains a side issue in the election, but the uniting of the Housing sector for the Homes for Britain rally really does show what is possible. The trick now is to turn this into a longer term, consistently high profile campaign that truly grabs the politician’s attention and puts Housing firmly on the national agenda.
People much better than me have commented that this may or may not happen in the near future, but being ever the optimist, I can really see some light at the end of the tunnel if we can keep this momentum going.
I am really glad I was able to attend the Homes for Britain rally – definitely for me a ‘were you there’ kind of moment in years to come and I for one will be looking forward to plans for any future Homes for Britain rally in the near future.