Profile: Christine Allen, National Housing Federation - Putting the NHF house in order/Christine Allen wants to ensure that social housing really is as safe as houses

One suspects that many in the PR profession would place Christine Allen, new head of public affairs at the National Housing Federation, into a convenient stereotype. Driven by political ideals, she wears black and displays a passion for all things South American.

One suspects that many in the PR profession would place

Christine Allen, new head of public affairs at the National

Housing Federation, into a convenient stereotype. Driven by

political ideals, she wears black and displays a passion for all

things South American.



Nevertheless Allen is one communications professional who is

determined to make a difference to our environment.



Now in her third week at the NHF, Allen exudes an attractive

nervous energy. She is clearly anxious to get things done and

complains that she is spending too much time in meetings.



The NHF, renamed from the National Federation of Housing

Associations last September, positions itself as ’the voice of

social housing’. Its members include 1,500 housing associations

and trusts as well as other organisations formed to take on

council housing.



Due to a perceived lack of government commitment to the sector -

funding for the Housing Corporation was slashed for the third

year running in the November budget - the NHF is becoming an

increasingly outspoken body.



Allen talks of a ’residualisation’ effect caused by an attitude

that social housing is something that people should try and climb

out of. ’Just because you’re poor it doesn’t mean you have to

live in shit,’ she says, then laughs at her sudden outburst. By

now you will have guessed that in addition to her predecessor’s

role of co-ordinating the national network of members, Allen will

be taking an overtly campaigning stance.



In fact, Allen doesn’t see herself as a traditional PR person but

as a campaigner, although she recognises the importance of

applying a professional communications approach: ’Organisations

can get so busy they forget to communicate with the right

people.’ On leaving higher education, she worked on community

projects for a church in Liverpool before joining the Catholic

Fund for Overseas Development as campaigns co-ordinator in

1989.



Moving to the Catholic Housing Aid Society in 1991, Allen spent

six years working with Christian churches on housing issues and

in 1993 took part in a parliamentary human rights delegation to

Peru. She remains an active member of a Peruvian support

group.



Her last three years at CHAS concentrated on parliamentary work,

which included a campaign to modify the 1996 Housing Act, one of

the biggest ever pieces of housing legislation. ’It was still

completely atrocious but we achieved some major concessions,’ she

says.



Having focused on the plight of homeless families caught in the

’revolving door’ of unsuitable housing and temporary

accommodation, Allen moved to the NHF to address the more

fundamental problem of the amount of government funding allocated

to social housing.



While her priority is to represent and promote the interests of

her members to government and the public, Allen’s wider remit is

to push social housing up the political agenda alongside health

and education.



On this issue Allen briefly lapses into her native scouse:

’Housing is often perceived as dead dull, because there’s no one

big idea or solution.



It’s difficult to get people excited about it.’



One of her first jobs will be to initiate the ’Lost Homes’

campaign in April which, in the run up to the election, aims to

highlight the implications of Housing Corporation funding

cuts.



With a pounds 120,000 budget, Allen is responsible for overall

communications strategy reporting to assistant chief executive

James Tickell. She is supported by a media officer, parliamentary

officer, an information resources co-ordinator and the regional

network of volunteers.



As for her longer term plans, Allen says she’s driven by people

and issues but not ambitious personally. ’I might go into

politics eventually or I might just go back to a shanty town in

Peru,’ she muses.





HIGHLIGHTS

1989: Campaign co-ordinator, Catholic Fund for Overseas

Development

1992: Education Department co-ordinator, Catholic Housing Aid

Society

1993: Member of Parliamentary human rights delegation to Peru

1997: Public affairs manager, National Housing Federation



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