Kirsty Wells, Director of Consultancy and Partnerships at Housemark and chair of WISH Scotland reflects on her housing career to date.
I feel like I knew very early on in my life that a career in housing was in my future. As the daughter of a housing professional, I had plenty of opportunities to see first-hand the difference that social housing makes to people’s lives and the importance of stable, secure homes. My interest in the sector grew while doing a Modern Studies project on council house modernisation and having the opportunity to speak to tenants and the clerk of works in Hawick, and I always liked to see Inside Housing arrive in the post in its clear envelope (must be something strange about that for a teenager!)
While continuing on the education journey, my post-graduate housing course at Stirling University involved a placement at the Tenants Information Service (TIS), an organisation dedicated to helping tenants gain influence and use their voice, at the time led by Greg Brown who was a former teacher. This experience was crucial in providing me with the right skills, knowledge and confidence to feel like I could really make a difference in the sector.
After completing my placement, Greg advised me to go and work in housing services before coming back to TIS sometime in the future. So having had placements at Dundee City Council and Canmore Housing Association, I also worked for Falkirk and West Lothian Councils as a Housing Officer before returning, in 1999, to empower tenants at TIS.
In 2010, I joined the board of the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland and began my journey at Housemark in 2012, starting as the Head of Housemark Scotland and transitioning to being the Director of Consultancy and Partnerships in 2021. Housemark is the only UK-wide data and insight organisation which enables social landlords to analyse their performance, using data and insight so that they can achieve service improvements and deliver better outcomes for tenants. Being part of the senior leadership team over the last couple of years and being able to support our members in providing better service for their tenants has been fantastic.
However, I also am aware that the importance of a good quality, safe home is not recognised widely enough in social policy – good homes do so much to promote better health and education outcomes and there’s still lots of work to be done.
In addition, as a woman working in the sector, I also recognise the challenges women face when looking to progress their careers. This is why last year, I was excited to be appointed as the Inaugural Chair of WISH (Women in Social Housing) in Scotland, a 25-year-old networking body which enables women to network and share experiences in the profession. I know from experience that women’s traditional caring roles can mean they are caught between work and children or caring for elderly parents, and maternity/paternity policies are still unequal in the opportunities they provide new parents to juggle work and family life. I also believe there’s still a bit of imposter syndrome in women, and that’s something we want to support them to overcome through WISH Scotland’s activities.
As I look ahead to 2024, it will be thirty years since I started my housing studies at Stirling, and I have met some wonderful, inspiring people who have helped to shape my career. There are so many fantastic opportunities to get involved in the sector and housing as a career is truly rewarding.