Having a Say, by Sharon Stockley

Hi readers, my name is Sharon Stockley, I’ve never written a blog post before, but there’s a first time for everything, so here I go…

Whilst visiting Cross Keys Homes’ Neighbourhood Office, I was flicking through Cross Keys Homes’ Keylines magazine and I read an article about recruitment on their Residents Board.

Suddenly – ding! – I had a light bulb moment in my head that this must have been the result of a previous event I had attended with other residents, when Cross Keys Homes were setting up their Residents Board. I remembered how well attended the event was, it had such enthusiastic speakers and the room was buzzing! But at the time, I had decided it was not right for me.

The next time I saw the post advertised, I felt different. I retired early from work and had done all the usual things when you retire: decorating, cleaning and volunteering; but I still felt that I needed to fill a hole in my life.

I had a lot of questions: could I do this? Would I fit in? Would I have the relevant skills, and did I have any skills at all?

Something made me want to find out more, maybe I needed to feel useful. I went straight home after the meeting and contacted a very enthusiastic and thoughtful person, who informed me that they were interviewing the next day and she had a slot, and agreed to email me all about the role and the recruitment procedure.

After reading all the paperwork, I thought about the various roles I had in my personal life and previous work life – I had an enquiring mind and was instantly curious about the role.

I have been a tenant with Cross Keys Homes and other housing associations since 1980. I have been brought up in a council house, in a council street, where our home was open to all, where the whole street supported each other, where social housing was people’s pride and joy, and was the only way to have a secure, affordable and decent home. Do not get me wrong, I know that not everyone thought like this.

I too, like most people, believe that my home is my pride and joy, as is the environment where I live. I am a person who truly believes in the right of all to live in a good, safe home, which is fit for purpose and available to individuals and families.

I previously worked in care and education, and advocated people’s rights to fulfil their potential. “Perhaps this was the next stage in my career?” I asked myself

My curiosity and the need to be mentally stimulated overwhelmed me. After applying for the Residents Board and attending an interview, I was anxious and worried what they would think of me. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and was concerned about how I presented myself. I was not confident about this.

But, wow, what a difference I felt at Cross Keys Homes’ head office! The employees were thoughtful and put me at ease, the interviewees had a strong passion about housing, and made it clear what resident involvement was about – I knew instantly that it was a place where I wanted to belong.

I was fortunate that my landlord saw my potential and supported me with becoming formally involved with how it operates. My passion was still there, and I attend many training sessions organised by TPAS (England’s leading tenant engagement experts), as well as in-house training sessions at Cross Keys Homes.

Other members of the Residents Board shared their knowledge and expertise, which enabled me to gain new skills and knowledge. I soon realised that my confidence was at an all-time high thanks to this exciting opportunity. Yes, papers can sometimes be a bit difficult to understand, but there are many people who are very keen help to explain. Meetings could also sometimes be difficult for me; however I was soon put at ease thanks to the support of the other members. I am able to have my say and be listened too. The result? I feel like a more rounded person, with a purpose and a specific role, which I never expected.

Being on the Residents Board has certainly kept me busy over the past year, and I have spent a lot of time examining the diverse social housing sector from different perspectives. And I know it will bring many more challenges, excitement, and joy into my life.

Now, I can now tick off another achievement: I have written my first ever blog post, mission accomplished!