The big interview: CIH Scotland's new chair, Esther Wilson
We spoke to new CIH Scotland chair Esther Wilson to find out more about her career, her thoughts on the challenges facing Scottish housing professionals and what she wants to achieve in the role.
“Housing is where my heart lies,” says Esther Wilson, and it doesn’t take long to get a sense of just how passionate the new CIH Scotland chair is.
We spoke to her just weeks into her new job as director of people and place at Viewpoint Housing Association, her first foray into the housing association sector after nearly 20 years working in housing roles at local authorities.
“It’s been a busy time, but I’m really excited,” she says.
“I became a member of CIH Scotland, or the Chartered Institute of Housing as I called it then, back in 1997 when I studied my post-graduate housing diploma and I’ve been a member ever since.
“I really believe in housing and the work that CIH Scotland does to support housing professionals and I’m really excited to be a central part of that.”
Esther has been on CIH Scotland’s board since 2014 and moved up to the role of chair earlier this month after a period as vice chair.
Her early career included roles at South Lakeland Council in Cumbria before a move back to Scotland where she oversaw housing strategy at East Lothian Council before moving on to Viewpoint.
“My time at local authorities was very varied and hugely insightful. I was involved in a project to integrate housing strategy for particular needs groups across health, housing and social care in South Cumbria and worked to tackle some of the unique housing challenges the Lake District has.
“Then when I moved to East Lothian I oversaw a council housebuilding programme and my remit broadened further.
“But housing is where my real passion lies and that’s why I’ve moved into a role that will allow me to really focus on that. That’s also why I have been so closely involved with CIH Scotland during my career.”
The breadth of experience Esther has with local authorities has given her a keen sense of the challenges facing professionals in Scotland.
“It’s such an important time, with some huge challenges to overcome.
“We need to meet the ambitious house building target that government has set, despite progressive homelessness legislation we continue to have an issue to tackle and we need to continue to ensure that housing’s contribution is understood and maximised within the context of health and social care integration.
“But I think there’s a wider challenge, which is that we need to be an advocate for the massive contribution that housing makes and continue to demonstrate our role in tackling inequality.”
So what is CIH’s role in all of this?
“It’s absolutely crucial,” Esther says.
“The professional body has a significant role to play in so many ways.
“First and foremost we’re the home of professional standards and we are equipped to give housing professionals the skills they need to meet all of those challenges. That is so important.
“There’s also a role for us to play in showcasing the work that our members do and making the case for the hugely positive contribution they make to society and to the wider goals of the government.
“And I think our role as a voice for the housing profession is really important too – exerting a collective influence on behalf of our members and being proactive in the areas in which we do that. I hope my experience can really bring something to how we approach that.
“There is, I think, a sense that all of this is more important now than it has ever been. The pace of change and the scale of the housing challenges we face are such that it has never been more important for housing professionals to have the skills, knowledge, expertise and influence they need to do their jobs and that is absolutely where CIH Scotland can play a central role.”
We put Esther on the spot a little bit with a question about her priorities for the role of chair – given that she took over just two weeks ago and is four weeks into her new job, but her answer is typically direct and clear.
“I’d like us to increase our membership; to reach more people and to build our community of housing professionals.
“I’d also like us to build on what is already a very strong voice which reflects the policy context in Scotland – that unique understanding of the landscape is crucial and I think we can continue to be more targeted with that work and exert a really powerful voice.
“I hope my experience can really bring something to the role and I’m really looking forward to working with housing professionals across Scotland to drive our work to help them to make a crucial difference.”