Housing Camp at the NHF Conference

Fresh from London Housing Camp last weekend, we’re enroute to do it all again at the NHF Conference on Friday (that’s the 25th).  

If you’re in Birmingham for the NHF Conference, do come along – we hope the ‘unconference’ format will make for a fun and energetic end to your trip!  We’re in Hall 3, 9am -1pm.

So what to expect if you’re coming along?  Here’s a post we prepared earlier… What to expect

It would be great to connect on Twitter – please do say hello and let us know you’re coming and we’ll add you to the housing camp twitter list!  We’re @jonfoster and @Jaynehilditch and @HousingCamp

Housing Camp 2015: 19th September

Exciting news from the world of Housing Camp – we’re back again with the third national Housing Camp. We’ll be back with our incredible Cabinet Office hosts, GDS, in Holborn, London – so if you came last year, no excuses for being late!

Kick off’s at 10am on Saturday 19th September, and as usual, we’ll heading to the pub around 5pm if that’s your thing.

If you or your delightful organisation is interested in sponsoring (you know you are) – please do drop me a line (jon@housingcamp.org). The support of our sponsors is crucial to a good Housing Camp, and allows us to keep you all fed, caffeinated, tipsy and generally in working order. You also get what advertising people call ‘exposure’ to some of the most amazing housing people ever.

Anyway – TICKETS ARE HERE. Go forth and register your attendance. Then tell your friends too.

So what is Housing Camp?

As a I write all the different things (email, Eventbrite, blog post, etc) to announce the next Housing Camp – I’m struck by the fact we don’t actually have one single ‘About’ page that actually says what it is. Whoops. So here goes…

Housing Camp is a free unconference for people interested in doing new, exciting and different things in social housing.

An un-conference means that the event will be the opposite of everything you might expect from a normal conference. It’s free, it’s on a Saturday, Friday at #NHF15, nobody wears a suit (unless you want to), etc. But the most important thing is, there’s no agenda – which means there are no big ‘look at me, I know what I’m doing’ keynote speakers to bore you.

Except there is kind of an agenda; it just doesn’t exist yet. The first thing we’ll do on the morning of the event is all create the agenda together – which means that whatever your interest, the event’s pretty much guaranteed to be relevant. If you want to talk about something, you just pick a time and room, and add it to the agenda – done.

The result of all this is that Housing Camp ends up being a space where really amazing people, who really care about housing stuff come and have great conversations, come up with amazing ideas, and generally have a lot of fun. Everyone’s welcome – all we ask is that you’re positive, and don’t try and sell things, it spoils the vibe a bit.

Over the years we’ve put various bits and pieces together that explain the different bits of Housing Camp a bit more, so if you’re interested – have a look through these…

You can also have a look at what people thought of the events in 2013, and in 2014.

And finally, it’s worth saying that Housing Camp started off quite heavily focussed on digital things. But Housing Camp isn’t just about digital any more, you’ll find just as many sessions on other topics as you will purely about digital stuff.

What did you think of Housing Camp 2014?

So – as I mentioned at the end of the day yesterday, we’d love you to blog about Housing Camp – share the love, spread the passion, and tell the world about the great conversations you had and awesome stuff you did.

Whatever and wherever you post (including videos, photos and all that jazz), please post a link in the comments below.

And, if you’re in a hurry, or struggling to think of something to write about in detail – why not try a list of 10 ‘things’. There’s quite a few on this page from last year to get you thinking, and I’ll kick off with mine too.

Thanks again for making Housing Camp 2014 incredible.

So – Housing Camp is at GDS – where’s that then? [2015 update]

The Government Digital Service are in Aviation House in Holborn. The building’s at the top of Kingsway, just before you get to High Holborn. The address is 125 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6NH. Here’s a map.

As well as being where Jon gets his hair cut, [2015 update: we’ve gone hipster] Holborn is also well served by public transport, so should be easily accessible no matter where you’re coming from. A plentiful selection of bus routes pass through the area, and Holborn station is served by the Piccadilly (the tourist one) and the Central (the sauna one) lines of the London Underground. Tottenham Court Road station is not far either either.

Aviation House from over road. Yes, it is rather grand isn't it.

Aviation House.

If you’re coming on the tube, walk out the exit immediately in front of you when you get to the top of the escalator (fun escalator fact: they were originally designed as theme park rides – sadly though, these ones don’t go faster when I scream, in fact they usually stop) – then cross the road and turn left, walking away from the junction/Sainsbury’s. Almost immediately you’ll see the front door on your right.

When you arrive, if there’s no obvious open door, press the buzzer on the right.

Need to plan your journey from the London station you’re arriving at/friends sofa you’re crashing on? Use this magical CityMapper link, and enter your start point. Londoner and never heard of CityMapper? Click here. [2015 update: surely everyone’s heard of citymapper?]

We’ll be heading to the Holborn Whippet afterwards for some revelry, and your friends/colleagues/partners/pets/flatmates/3rd cousins/other appendages are all most welcome to join. It’s on Sicilian Avenue, just the other side of High Holborn, thankfully, Google Maps exists to help.

Photos by Carol on Flickr.

Oh go on then, let’s have a Housing Camp

tldr: Tickets.

It’s time. Housing Camp 2014 is just around the corner. Saturday, 13th September to be precise.

Those lovely folks at GDS are lending us their offices in central London. Exciting! Mega thanks to @jacattell for making that happen.

If you missed it last year, check out the short film we made on the day that explains a bit about the unconference format. And have a nosey at some of the posts from last year too, especially this one. (Maybe ignore the one that tells you how to get to Twickenham though. Unless you fancy going anyway that is, it is lovely).

Tickets are available here. They’re free and will be appearing in two batches (one right now), to give lots of folks the chance to come along. Once all the tickets are spoken for we’ll run a waitlist, so if you register and then discover you can’t make it, please let us know!

Most important though, remember: What sessions are run is entirely up to you. If you want to talk about online service delivery, social media & campaigns; organisation culture; or a new model of home ownership, it’s all in scope. Pitch a session, and if others share your interest, you’ve got a conversation.

And when it’s all done, we go to the pub, and carry on talking…

We’ve got some sponsors lined up who we’ll be announcing soon, but if your organisation would like to get involved in supporting Housing Camp, please do get in touch (sponsors@housingcamp.org) – it would be great to provide lunch, drinks etc – and in return we’ll give you a warm glow that you’re helping the Housing Innovation community grow, and all the promo we can think of.


A mini #housingcamp about #channelshift

Jayne here.  In the last couple of months, I’ve had various emails and phone calls from folks in the housing sector who’re all keen to come visit us and talk about channel shift, digital by default, online services….  There’s lots of different expressions for it, but it seems like folks are wanting to work out how best to do “more stuff for customers on the web”.

My diary is a bit bonkers, so it struck me that talking to everyone individually about it, wasn’t massively efficient.  But it would be good to share our experiences of what’s working, what’s not, where we’ve started to make progress etc.  I’ve exchanged a few tweets, and some emails with folks not on twitter, and it seems like this might be a plan.

An evening meetup.  We’re happy to host here at TVH Towers, next door to the train station in Twickenham.  We have some comfortable café-style meeting space, wifi, and big screens.  And there’s a supermarket downstairs, so in true #camp style, its easy to BYO for snacks!

We’re happy to share with you what we’ve done so far for our online services project.  In fact, it would be really useful to get some feedback on the product we’ve built (we’re doing a beta release at the end of this month).

From a technical angle, we can talk about agile project management, responsive front end design, ruby on rails, stored procedures, SQL databases…

From a user angle we can talk about real time data, redesigned statements, repairs requests, repairs history, visibility and alerts on common parts repairs, tenancy documents, service charge statements….  There’s a long list of functionality, a MVP (minimum viable product) and a development roadmap to see us through the next 12 months.

But moreover, it would be great if we could ALL share our experiences – what are we all thinking, doing, finding out along the way.  Digital service delivery is pretty new for the sector, so there’s much to learn.  And sometimes starting out on these projects is daunting.  Exactly how do you eat that elephant of interfacing systems?  I reckon a little group of interested people could be great for moving our collective thinking forward.

Get in touch if you’re interested – comment, email, tweet.  Whatever suits.  A stimulating evening with say 10 or so folks could be just the thing.  I’m thinking some time in March, or early May.  Let me know what works best.

How to run a Housing Camp (or at least, how we did…). Part Two.

Facilitating.  You might be a confident facilitator yourself and be happy to take on the role yourself.  If you’re going the DIY route, I reckon a whistle is a must have for calling everyone to order.  It seems that campers are bit more animated and (happily) noisy than corporate suits.  Or you might want to get in touch with the lovely Lloyd Davis (other facilitators are available).  I’m quite at home with being a facilitator (in fact never more at home than with sharpies and post-it notes in hand), but figured that it’s a tall order to be an organiser and a facilitator all at the same time.  So we asked for some help on that front.

Catering.  If you’ve got plenty of budget, then call a catering company and they’ll deliver whatever you want.  If you’ve no budget, ask folks to bring a packed lunch – I’m sure they will.  We had a modest budget, so we did online ordering for a good range of supplies from the supermarket.  Self service worked fine – we just laid the tables out to try and give lots of “surface area access” (I’m sure there’s a more technical term) – basically trying to avoid bottle necks.  And some strategically placed recycling bins meant folks mostly cleared up after themselves too. (Jon’s note: Tesco are one of the few supermarkets who delivery their lunch to go range. Order only 2 or 3 of each sandwich though otherwise you’ll end up in substitution hell.)

Signage.  We’re familiar with our office building, but we needed to make it easy for those that aren’t.  So Jon knocked up some signage to take folks from the front door, through the corridors and into the space we were using.  We had some good debate on the correct placement of apostrophes too.

Image clipped from the Housing Camp filmName Badges.  A much under-used resource. Make ‘em big enough to see, and work out what else you can put on them.  Wifi login details maybe?  If you’re going to punch holes in heavy-weight paper or card (as we did) to put them on a lanyard… stick sellotape round the bit you’re going to hole-punch to stop them ripping.  We only realised this when they started ripping.  Oh well, not a major tragedy, and it was interesting to see some the impromptu hacks to solve the problem (some involved paperclips?). (Jon’s note: Big thanks to Laura for requisitioning Payments’ hole puncher and opening a badge punching desk at reception over lunch.)

postitsThe Grid.  Unless you’re a school teacher and can right big neat letters quickly, prepare this in advance.  I had a bit of a rush doing this on the morning.  And make it big enough to get post-it notes on.   We went for two sessions in the morning, a lunch break and two in the afternoon, then a short wrap up.  The lovely James Cattell also knocked up a google docs version of the grid, so folks could access it online.

Organising Stuff & Asking For Help.  We made a big list of jobs that needed doing, asked folks if they’d be up for helping.  And they were.  And that was pretty much it.  All the members of #TeamHousingCamp simply took something on the list and made it happen.  The biggest hurdle to get over was the one where you realise you don’t have to be herculean and do it all yourself.

Co-ordinating on the Day.  The talented Mr Foster set up #TeamHousingCamp with a riot-organisers best friend – a group messaging app.  Clearly I’m not a teenager and the beauty of BBM had passed me by, so this was all new.  We used GroupMe and it rocks.  We used for everything from “I need a hand putting out lunch” through to “can the coffee machine monitor come help un-bung the coffee grinds”.

Pub.  We made arrangements with the local pub – in Twickenham it’s a must – if the rugby crowd are in town you don’t have a chance of getting anywhere near the bar!   They were happy to run a tab at the bar to the limit we set, and our #housingcamp name badges were used so they could tell who to let order on the tab. (Said tab was kindly sponsored by Learning Pool. THANKS!)

Its really not too onerous.  Go on, you know you want to…:)

Part three, “on the day itself” next week,

How to run a Housing Camp (or at least, how we did it….). Part One.

There’s clearly more than one way.  But we figured we’d put up a spot of background on what was involved in putting on the first #housingcamp.  It really wasn’t that onerous – we hope that others will be up for doing some on more specific topics and in their own parts of the country – and we’re deffo up for another national one next year.

I’ll break it down into three chunks.  That way the blog posts get written, instead of sitting in my ‘oh that’ll take ages’ box.  And it means Jon won’t give me grief 😉

Rope some friends in to help.   Many things in life is easier when you’re not on your own.  Playing football, kissing, running events…  Jon Foster and I did most of the pre-event organising around our day jobs at Thames Valley Housing Association. And then on the day itself, we had a fab gang of colleagues making up Team Housing Camp.  It was really useful to have so many hands to make light work of the various jobs (will cover those in another post later this week).

Find a venue.  This is the biggy.  A venue with WiFi, a big meeting space and then some smaller breakout spaces.   Preferably one that will allow you to self-cater – unless you’ve lots of ££ to spend (or they’re sponsoring)!  We used the office at Thames Valley, because we could.  And that made it easy – we knew the WiFi could take 100+ people all trying to access it at the same time.

Set a date.  We went with a Saturday, partially because that’s when the venue was available.  But also because we were following the UK GovCamp model – which is pretty much along the lines of  “be an activist”.  If it’s on a Saturday, you don’t need to ask your boss if you can attend.  You can just do it.  We had a few calls from people saying “but, but, but… you must have made a mistake – that’s a SATURDAY!?!”.  And to those folks we said “yeah, we know.  Its great if you can come, but we understand if you can’t”.  We recognised that if we flipped it round the other way, there would be people who still wouldn’t be able to make it because they had meetings, or a boss who “didn’t get it” etc.  It was a good reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  And that there is rarely a single “right answer” to anything.

Set up a website for the event.  Please do get in touch to talk about using www.housingcamp.org.  If you’re planning an event that’s in line with the un-conference or open-space principles, you’d be most welcome.  Use the site to tell people what you’ve got in mind, and the logistics.  Don’t overlook the logistics – folks need to know the details.  Date, time, place, travel/parking details, accessibility details – make it easy for them to find you.

Use an online ticketing tool to manage ticket allocations.  We used Eventbrite because we know it well, but other brands of ticketing tools are available.  We reckoned on issuing a max of 120 tickets for a 100 capacity venue, expecting an on the day fall-out taking use to around 70 or 80 actual people.  It’s a good idea to release tickets in tranches, so you can gauge the volume of interest, and mix of people coming.  We were keen to get a good mix of those working for housing providers, and those providing services to housing providers (it worked pretty well).  

A word on the ‘on-the-day drop-out’.  We recognised that people often value what they pay for, rather than what they get for free.  And that things come up that mean folks’ plans change.  Some people have the good courtesy to let you know before hand if they can’t come, others are just a no-show on the day.  The last group were frustrating, because we ended up over-catering (and I hate waste).  But its as well to plan for some to happen – its just how life is.  The UK GovCamp crew have a great remedy btw, and its one I might try next year.  They let everyone know that they’ll out the no-notice no-shows on social media 😉  They tell me it works really well and they have pretty much 100% attendance!  That’s really important for that event – now its a well-established point in the gov-tech calendar, its way oversubscribed, and they run a wait-list for those not lucky enough to get a ticket in the scheduled releases.

Sponsorship.  There are quite a few organisations out there who are keen to support such events, and build their understanding of the housing sector.  They kindly supported Housing Camp with some ££.  We deliberately kept the costs down so that we weren’t spending huge amounts of time hunting down and pitching the sponsorship “deal”.  Just ask them.  We kept it simple, so it was easy for folks to see the benefits and simply say yay or nay. 

Spreading the word.  No need for expensive advertising, good ‘ole twitter and social channels worked a treat for us.  We could only do this once the www.housingcamp.org site was up – as that was somewhere useful to point people.

I’l do a couple more posts on this theme – one on “before the event” and one on “on the day itself”.  But rest assured: we’re not professional event organisers, we’ve got ‘day-jobs’ in other disciplines, but it was pretty straightforward for us to do.  Mostly it was thinking ahead, and breaking big jobs down into little jobs and asking everyone to do a little bit.  We hope you enjoy the video, and are inspired to run one in your area.  Please do get in touch if we can help at all.