My day at the conference

Since Thursday’s conference I’ve been getting lots of feedback.  Thankfully most of it very positive.  What I am struck by is that people had very different experiences of the conference depending on what sessions they attended.  Clearly my day was a bit different to the delegates as it included stressing about speakers turning, up microphones working and noise in the corridors, but I thought I’d have a go at laying down what struck me most about the day.

I think the first session that really made an impression on me was the keynote speaker Malcolm Fraser.  His messages about land and property re-use as well as the messages about how empty homes work can play a significant role in promoting town centre living really struck a chord with me.  I passionately believe that town centres are not just for the young and the poor.  I live in a town centre, I don’t drive, and I have no intention of moving out of town even if my family situation changes.  It’s easy to get caught up in targets and deadlines and chasing case studies in my job, but it was inspiring to hear Malcolm talk about how empty homes work is part of the bigger picture that is linked not only to housing supply and regeneration but to community empowerment and climate change goals.  It’s something I’ve always believed but it was good to get a reminder to start off the day.

The awards were also a highlight for me – they always are.  I love seeing hard work rewarded and I do get a nice warm fuzzy glow when I see the range of nominations coming in over the lead up to the conference and then the smiles of the eventual winners on the day. 

I chaired a few workshops.  The one that stuck out for me was Ronnie McRae from the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust talking about the work he’s doing with community groups to bring two long term empty properties back into use with the help of funding from the Nationwide Foundation.  Trainees will be used in the renovation work and after a long lease period of 21 years the properties will be returned as an asset to the community groups. 

Near the end of the day I really enjoyed Ineke Hulsholf’s video showing the transformation of an empty ‘70’s office block into a vibrant mixed use residential building with balconies, roof terraces and cafes.  There are so many empty properties and sites that I have no doubt have potential for reuse that are pulled down or left for decades because the vision of what they could become just isn’t there.

The other overwhelming feeling I had from the day was that there just wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone I wanted to.  It’s a feeling that I’ve had all year to be honest.  Which is why I have my fingers crossed about our proposals to extend and expand the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership next year.  If our proposals are taken forward we would have increased capacity to look at working with more partners, explore new funding models and support more innovative projects to get off the ground. 

All in all the day got me re-energised and I’m glad to have got similar comments from delegates.  Here’s hoping the feeling carries through to 2015.

….So how was your day at the conference?

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