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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
1989: Campaign co-ordinator, Catholic Fund for Overseas
1992: Education Department co-ordinator, Catholic Housing Aid
1993: Member of Parliamentary human rights delegation to Peru
1997: Public affairs manager, National Housing Federation