As part of Scottish Housing Day, our Volunteer and Engagement Manager Ben spoke to Lindsay Roches, one of our volunteer Housing Buddies, about her experience working in the sector and volunteering with Housing Options Scotland.
Ben: First and foremost, tell me a bit about yourself!
Lindsay: I was born in Edinburgh but I now live in Renfrewshire with my partner. I have lived in different places, including in Perth where I went to university. I studied social sciences at the University of Highlands and Islands, based on my love of history and politics. I now work for Queens Cross Housing Association in Glasgow.
Ben: Did you always want to work in housing? What path took you to where you are now?
Lindsay: I always wanted to do a job which helped people – I wanted to work in something which is about making connections. At university I studied gender, sociology, politics and history but housing wasn’t ever mentioned – I kind of fell into it as a career, in a way. I know that’s what everyone says in interviews but it’s true! When I left university, I thought I wanted to become a researcher looking at crime, so I applied to all kinds of different organisations in the field but I kept getting setbacks. I kept applying for jobs and then I saw the Wheatley Group graduate scheme.The application asked about your personal values and qualities rather than just your experience which I liked, and the job itself seemed like a great learning opportunity. I joined the research and development team there working on various projects, and the programme took me to lots of different places over the year, introducing me to the world of housing. I completed my CIH Level 4 with the scheme and once I finished at Wheatley, I joined Inverclyde Council for a year. I learnt a lot there – mostly about what I wanted do with my career– and I then joined Queens Cross Housing Association (QCHA).
Ben: What sort of a role do you have at Queens Cross Housing Association? Do you have other experience in housing?
Lindsay: I work in performance and service improvement so my role is mostly ‘behind-the-scenes’. I prepare board reports, provide complaint training, send returns back to the regulator and work on service improvements within the organisation more generally. It’s possibly not where I expected to be, but it also seems to be where my strengths lie – I’ve learnt to be a good project manager, able to take ideas and bring them to life. Outside of my work at Queens Cross, I’m also a board member at Elderpark. I joined a couple of years ago after encouragement to do so when I was with the Wheatley Group. I didn’t know much about boards then so it’s been good to learn lots about governance issues there which are really important in the sector.
Ben: You’ve been volunteering at HOS for just over a year – why did you want to get involved?
Lindsay: This time last year I’d been working in housing for a few years and I thought to myself “What else am I doing? What more can I do?”. I started looking for volunteering opportunities and saw the advert for Housing Buddies with HOS. The role seemed to give me more interaction with people and I thought that HOS looked like a good charity to be involved with. It struck me that HOS was a small organisation doing big work, making a difference on the ground. This is quite a contrast to some larger organisations which seem to be much bigger, but somehow do very little “work”! A few people had said that they knew Moira (HOS CEO) so I thought that this could be a good option for me. I came to meet you for coffee and when we met, it was kind of like I already knew you! You were welcoming and open for ideas and discussion. It was easy to slot into the organisation and everything felt open to me. As a volunteer it feels like there’s plenty of room for us to make suggestions about the programme and that’s a really positive thing. Moreover, the volunteering is flexible and only demands as much time as you’re able to give it.
Ben: Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve been up to with HOS – what sorts of things have you been involved with as a Housing Buddy?
Lindsay: The work itself tends to be small tasks supporting clients on a personal level – things which the brokers can’t always find time for, but which make a difference to clients. For example, my first engagement was going to help a lady when she was getting her property valued. The client was needing to sell because of financial worries and her husband was unwell. It was a stressful time and she was struggling to cope. We all know from personal experience that to arrange an appointment is a chore, so for me to able to to do that and just offer that extra bit of support by being there when it was happening made a huge difference. I met the client just before the appointment, made a cup of tea and had a chat about what she’d been watching on television. We discovered that both of us had a love for Downtown Abbey which we could talk about, and that helped her to relax before the appointment. She was lonely and vulnerable so providing that human touch to the support we could offer went a long way. As well as appointments like that, I’ve been to a couple of events representing HOS and I’m also making contact with some clients to gather information about their circumstances for the brokers. It takes me a few minutes to give clients a call to clarify things or collect missing information which is crucial to their case, but which the brokers might struggle to find the time to chase and collect themselves. I’m also helping clients to fill out applications for social housing and I’m conducting some research with another volunteer, Tessa, into the provisions in place to support people with learning disabilities to apply for social housing. I’ve been busy!
Ben: Can you tell me a bit more about what you enjoy most about volunteering, and why you think it’s valuable? Has it been the same or different to what you expected?
Lindsay: I do a lot of background work in my job so I enjoy volunteering as a Housing Buddy because I get to work more closely with clients. I’ve enjoyed being able to see the impact I’m making with clients 1-1. Every person who comes to HOS for help has a different story, and – though it might sound selfish in a way – I think there’s something I can learn from each of them. When I think about my career, I think about how I can carry those stories with me to help shape the way I work and think about people when making decisions. Volunteering is the best way for people to support an organisation or the sector they are interested in, and to gain experience.
In terms of whether it’s been the same or different to what I expected, I guess I didn’t have too many expectations in the first place! I knew it was a fledgling programme, but that’s what attracted me to it! It wasn’t an old, stale volunteering programme which someone thought up years ago, and where there are lots of caveats about what you can / can’t do. I’ve enjoyed having the free reign to plan my time with the volunteering as I like it, and I’ve been excited to see where we’ve taken the programme over the past year.
Ben: Have you thought much about the future? What’s next for you?
Lindsay: I want a career in housing and I want it to be a part of who I am. I don’t like this idea that we are distanced from our jobs – work is part of our life and we should be participating in it, not just doing it. All the extra stuff I do – including volunteering as Housing Buddy – is to help me make the biggest difference to those who need help. I’m in housing for the long haul and I want to work to make people’s lives better in whatever way I can.