Campbell Tickell’s WhatsApp group for CEOs has proved an invaluable sounding board and source of support for the housing sector’s leaders
Chief Executive, Barnsbury Housing Association
In March 2020, ahead of the first lockdown, Campbell Tickell set up a closed WhatsApp chat group for Chief Executives of housing associations and ALMOs in all four UK jurisdictions and in the Republic of Ireland. The group’s aim was to create a place for information-sharing as the pandemic continued to unfold and present new challenges. A year and a quarter later, it’s still going strong with 220 members. In this article, Susan French reflects on her experience of being part of this WhatsApp group, as the CEO of a small housing association, and what the housing sector can learn from it.
We all remember those early days of lockdown #1. There was fear and adrenaline and a genuine sense of being propelled into a new world we didn’t understand. A world of closing the office, curtailing services, locking down sheltered schemes and – overnight – having to transition to remote working.
For many small housing associations, these feelings were heightened. Being a CEO can often be a lonely business but, with a small team and no HR or IT teams for support, I felt a real weight of responsibility on my shoulders and a deep sense of being in uncharted waters.
Receiving a message from James Tickell asking if I’d be interested in a WhatsApp group of CEOs to support each through these changes was a bit of a beacon. The speed at which over 200 CEOs joined showed that others felt the same way. Still going strong after 16 months, (though definitely quieter) the WhatsApp group – and what it represented – has been, for me, one of the better things to emerge from the past 15 months.
The questions is, as we emerge haltingly from lockdown #3 into a world of work that is changed forever, how can we build on the WhatsApp group and what it revealed about the sector?
Strength in numbers
Whether you are opinionated and vocal, a bit of a lurker or, like me, developed the confidence to, in effect, put your hand up to ask a question in a metaphorical conference hall full of CEOs, the group has been a source of strength.
Yes, the 86 notifications of unread messages one day early on probably added to, rather than relieved, the pressure, while the firm wrist slap doled out by one member when the group strayed into what was felt to be politics provided a bit of light relief.
Talking to colleagues, what they have valued most about the group is the feeling that you aren’t alone. Others have the same questions, challenges and uncertainties as we all try to second guess and plan for a future that isn’t yet clear. It’s been levelling to see some of the ‘big beasts’ not being afraid to say “I don’t know”, and see how a support network can help everyone make better-informed decisions.
“Others have the same questions, challenges and uncertainties as we all try to second guess and plan for a future that isn’t yet clear. It’s been levelling to see some of the ‘big beasts’ not being afraid to say “I don’t know”, and see how a support network can help everyone make better-informed decisions.”
A problem shared
For small organisations, it has been reassuring to know that you are thinking along the same lines – and face similar challenges (albeit on a smaller scale) – as colleagues running much bigger organisations. It has been a window into what is – today, this week – preoccupying chief executives up and down the country. It is a great way of testing the water on issues and of fostering sector leadership (how should we respond, as a sector, to the issue of damp and mould highlighted in the press?).
But most of all, it has been an incredibly useful platform for learning from each other and sharing. A quick request for information will usually receive a handful of replies that day. We have shared thoughts, lessons from what’s gone wrong (the digital security webinar), policies, road maps out of lockdown, musings on the future of work, the nuances of shifting lockdown rules and regulations.
Collaborative at heart
At a time when the sector has never faced so many challenges and with the biggest – climate change – veering towards us at breakneck speed, it is heartening to rediscover that we are collaborative sector at heart, keen to share, learn from each other and collaborate for the greater good.
A big thanks to Campbell Tickell for spotting the need and creating what has been a release valve in what, for most of us, will have been the most stressful time of our career.
How to get involved:
- If you are a housing CEO who would like to join, please email James Tickell or Greg Campbell.
- For any media enquiries, please email Zina Smith.
- Read the latest digest here. The digest highlights issues that have been discussed in the group. None of the content should be treated as representing the collective views of the group as such or be attributed to any of its members.