My earliest childhood memories comprise pictures in my head, randomly coming to mind. I remember being with my dad in his garage at Clapham North in south London and wondering where my mother had gone. It’s all a bit vague, but I do remember a very kind social worker and a lovely nursery school in Surrey.
As a single parent building up his business, my dad was working all hours so from the age of about four, I lived in a series of nurseries and boarding schools. Looking back, I was lucky that my dad chose very caring places, and I always looked forward to weekends when he drove down to bring me home to London. Thus, it was in the mid-1970s that I started as a boarder at Colston’s Collegiate School in Bristol. Again, it was a very happy experience and I made some very dear and lifelong friends. At that point, we admired and respected the school’s founder and philanthropist, Edward Colston; he was seen as a great benefactor to Bristol who supported many charitable institutions, including building almshouses for the poor in Bristol in 1691.
More recently, Colston is remembered as man who made much of his money from the slave trade, and in June 2020, protesters pulled down the Grade II-listed statue of him before pushing it into Bristol harbour. Despite the ignoble source of his wealth, Colston was ahead of his time in his concern for the poor. Later came the golden age of Victorian philanthropists who laid the foundations of social housing. Among the most prominent of these was the social visionary George Peabody, with Peabody Group now housing over 70,000 people in affordable and sustainable housing.
How times have changed since then. At school, I didn’t do particularly well academically but I excelled at sport; one thing I had in abundance was enthusiasm. That particular trait has seen me through many roles during my career, and as I feel the weight of the last issue of the magazine in my hand as I write this, I feel proud of the Housing Technology team who work so hard to provide up-to-date technology news, information and research for our sector.
Our editor and co-founder Alastair Tweedie and I set up Housing Technology in back in 2007. He and I had worked together for over a decade on a variety of IT marketing and sales programmes – specifically, Alastair is a skilled editor and talented wordsmith with over 25 years’ experience as an editor, copywriter and strategist in the technology sector. Alastair brought with him our designer Jo Euston-Moore who produces elegant and exciting designs for the magazine, website and promotional material for our conferences.
Our last annual conference in March 2020 was the biggest yet, attracting over 600 guests. As many of you will know, we managed to put the conference on just before the country went into lockdown. At the time we were facing the unknown and people were nervous, not shaking hands and bumping elbows instead and remembering not to hug each other, but like everyone else, we had no idea what the rest of 2020 had in store for us.
The Housing Technology team has since worked incredibly hard to develop our digital platforms for conferences. Instead of our annual visit to the BT Tower in London, we went digital for the first time. September’s ‘Resilient Innovation 2020’ event focused on how housing providers could use technology to deliver inspiration, confidence and security in their longer-term strategic goals. The technology actually worked, despite a few behind-the-scenes human glitches – you can get a snapshot of the event at youtube.com/watch?v=C1dfnaxJkNc.
To coincide with our Resilient Innovation event, we carried the resilience theme over to the Housing Technology Wellbeing channel. After all, 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us and, it has become increasingly evident that developing resilience is essential – have a look at jobs.housing-technology.com/wellbeing.
The psychological buzzword for 2020 must surely be ‘resilience’. The conditions of living in a global pandemic are forcing us to adapt to challenging, complex and long-term circumstances, changing how we work and live. As a reaction to all this change, we set up our Wellbeing channel on our recruitment site. We are currently carrying out research in the sector to see what sort of health and mental wellbeing policies organisations have in place.
Resilience can be often misunderstood to mean bouncing back from troubling times, but it can also mean the ability to spring forward to a new phase of growth. Technology is at the heart of building resilience in business to safeguard organisations and plan for future growth. Many of the housing providers we’ve been talking to during the pandemic were quick to adapt, such as rapidly provisioning their teams with the right IT kit so that they could provide business as usual for their tenants.
With Christmas and being with friends and families behind us again, we’ve been able to keep in touch by using technology. It’s been tough but made easier by regular FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings. We will continue to look ahead and deliver the best service and information to our readers and report on new innovations and developments, and perhaps 2021 will see greater collaboration between housing associations and technology providers – that’s certainly something I would wholeheartedly embrace and would enable the sector to flourish during these tricky times.
George Grant is the CEO and co-founder of Housing Technology.