A lot of people have been asking me why I decided to start HouseParty as a joint venture with HACT. To those who aren’t in the know, HouseParty is 2-day long housing ‘unconference’.

The two days intend to showcase the best in housing and civic innovation. We are running it as a completely separate event alongside the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester held on the same date. Matt Leach, CEO from HACT, and I, have worked hard to bring together the widest possible collaborators of grassroots housing and social changemakers to explore and solve some of the most pressing needs in UK housing.

The Social Change Agency doesn’t really specialise in housing or housing innovation, or even focus on housing policy, and everyone knows that events don’t make any money, so why did we decide to do it?

We believe in positive social change, and we know that change requires innovation and innovation requires ideas, people, conversations, spaces to have them, energy to banter, a small dose of craziness to dream big and enough chutzpah to see ideas become reality. I have been working for over 15 years, and have attended enough political party conferences and sector conferences to know that any of the above rarely happens in those big stuffy traditional events. We all know we experience those bright sparks of insight, a new connection, the inspiring conversations, over the morning coffee or in the bar at 11 pm. So what happens when you expand those moments and turn them into the actual event?


Unconferencing isn’t that new. Oxford Jam does it every year as a fringe event to Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and 3 years ago I was part of the POPse! Collective, which ran a popup Think Tank in an old sandwich shop looking at Social Enterprise policy in the UK. It’s even hit the housing sector. Last year #housingcamp ran a 1 day packed housing unconference on housing and social media in South London.

We like unconferencing. It enables participants to have the 3 C’s: control of the agenda, co-creation of the content and contribution to the delivery. Check out the Art of Hosting, an alternative facilitation discipline where participants learn how to host the ‘conversations that matter’ (and simply the best ‘untraining’ I have ever done).

But it wasn’t just our love of honest conversations which led us to establishing HouseParty with HACT. I have served as a trustee for two housing associations, I cut my teeth working for Shelter early on in my career and have both Metropolitan Foundation and the NHF as clients. I have also lived in a housing association property for over 10 years. Like every single person in the UK, I am affected by the housing crisis and know too well how complicated and complex the problem is. And herein lies the situation.

Such a complex, knotted problem does not have one solution. The knotty, messy housing crisis comprises of lenders, builders, housing associations, national and local government. Any solution requires people taking responsibility, old and new buildings improved or created in the right place at the right time, legislation to enable this to happen and the local will to see it through – the list goes on.

At the heart of it lies the fact that we need to be working together to unpick it, solve the pieces of it and create a better future for everyone. It is going to require new creative ideas, (some of which will fail and some will succeed), fresh energy, willingness to explore new programmes and concepts and a good cross section of people to produce them. In other words, innovation.

Innovation as disruptive fun

Innovation doesn’t grow on trees or just happen. There is a certain art form and a science to it. So we created HouseParty because we wanted to create the right conditions for this to happen. We know that these conditions don’t currently exist anywhere else. The sector needs shaking up and needs to be challenged to work more collaboratively and innovatively. There are bright ideas everywhere and they are not going to come from the traditional places.

We made it free for people to attend, because we know that most Housing Associations can’t afford the big corporate tickets and tend to send their very senior people to conferences. But we wanted to bring together practitioners, the people who implement the decisions and policies every day alongside the entrepreneurs, those who live and dream innovation (and who definitely can’t afford a ticket or even speak that language)

The social enterprise/start-up sector has been quite separate from the Housing Sector – although the CDFA is working hard to change that (see HouseParty, 2:30 Tuesday special). Bringing the start-up community to the Housing Sector can only be a good thing – although it has still been quite slow to get the interest from the start up/social enterprise space. So pay attention if that’s you, you’ve missed a fantastic opportunity to speak to everyone who is interested in innovation in the housing sector in one go.

With the people, for the people.

We also turned the content of HouseParty over to those who booked tickets. We built the HouseParty community up through Twitter and challenged them all to come up with sessions. And they did. Now we have a fantastic programme which consists of fireside chats with the best thinkers around (but only 15 people can get in the room at a time to listen to them), a mocktail party, network launches, a pop-up social enterprise unexhibition (thanks to Regenda), a balloon workshop, a future of social housing question time.

These are just some of the highlights from the next few days. Not to mention all of our fringe fringe events, More Bubbles than Balls, a champagne reception for the Urbanistas (a network of women across England who work to reshape our urban experience), or our Alternative Digital Housing Awards. Even Nesta’s got into the act and is launching their NESTA/ODI Housing Open Data Challenge on Tuesday.

So why did I decide to team up with HACT and create this event? We’ve really pissed off some quite senior organisations (well, one) and spent days, blood, sweat and tears, in addition to our normal work, to get this housing festival up and running. The innovation and conversations that are needed to re-imagine our brave new world are not currently happening but as our ticket bookings have demonstrated there is a hunger for them.

We need a different type of conversation to take place: a conversation without hierarchy or ego. We wanted to create a fun, creative space, which would both inspire and enable people to have those meaningful conversations. We created HouseParty because fundamentally, if we don’t act now, our future will be something we experience, not shape.

If you missed your chance to get involved this year, bad luck! Follow our twitter feed @Hseparty for all the HouseParty shenanigans.

Esther Foreman, Director, The Social Change Agency