My Housing Journey By Clifton Robinson, board member, Grŵp Cynefin Sunday 16 December 2018

In my near 40-year career, I’ve been a trainer, mentor, a probation board chair, a director of housing, a chief executive, and a board member of two different housing associations.

My Housing Journey  By Clifton Robinson, board member, Grŵp Cynefin

I love housing so much I came out of retirement earlier this year to join the board at North Wales-based Grŵp Cynefin, under new chief executive, Shan Lloyd Williams.

It hasn’t been the career journey I’d mapped out as a young person. Born and brought up in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, I was set to become a solicitor.

I joined Hounslow Council’s borough solicitor’s department as a law graduate, tasked with housing matters.

By then married with two young children, I decided it wouldn’t be good for my family for me to spend the years required, as an articled clerk, before qualifying as a solicitor.

By chance I spotted a recruitment advert, which led me to join the Thames Valley Housing Society as its first home ownership officer.

It was 1983, and the Housing Corporation and the sector were getting to grips with new housing initiatives such as shared ownership, leasehold schemes for the elderly, and the new, controversial, Right To Buy legislation.

One of my first experiences as a junior officer was of an attempt by the council leader to discipline me for facilitating the sale of a council house in his ward. I’d never met him, and had to explain that I was just doing my job and applying the law. It was an interesting time!

I studied day release at Kingston Polytechnic for a Diploma in Management Studies, then, in 1987, again by chance, I saw an advert for a housing manager with Clwyd Alyn Housing Association in Rhyl, North Wales. I got the job and, after a thorough reccie of the area and discussions with the family, we took the plunge and relocated.

It was a total life change. I’d never lived outside London. We had a young family. Yet we were won over by having more room to live, the beautiful countryside, the history and strong culture of the region. We still love it today.

That said, as a black man, leaving London and working in North Wales in the 1980s had its challenges.

By 1993, I was housing director at North Wales Housing Association and responsible for strategic delivery of the housing, maintenance and tenant engagement functions.

By 2002, whilst still housing director, I became increasingly drawn to the equalities agenda and soon found myself part of an influential Welsh Government working party of senior civil servants and housing professionals charged with developing guidance for Welsh local authorities and housing associations to develop BME housing and equalities training strategies under the provisions of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000.”

So, with two colleagues, I formed the Wales Equality & Diversity Consortium, a consultancy delivering diversity training within housing.

This led to a position on the North Wales Crime & Disorder Practitioners Board, which in turn led to the post of chair of the North Wales Probation Service.

At this time, the Equalities & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was being formed, and I was appointed to its Wales statutory committee, helping to shape UK-wide policy.

I also joined the board of newly-created Cartrefi Conwy, the stock transfer housing body for Conwy county.

Between 2008-10, I was juggling roles as consultant trainer, in probation, with the EHRC and as a board member. I was loving every minute.

However, post-recession, consultancy work was drying up. I had to look for a full-time post.

I became chief executive of the Housing Diversity Network (HDN), commuting from North Wales to its office in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

HDN (Housing Diversity Network) was a truly amazing organisation! With just six members of staff (and some were part-time) and a small pool of self-employed trainers and consultants, we supported a membership of well over 100 housing associations in England along with a handful of local authorities.

As well as providing an equalities training and consultancy service, for many years we also successfully ran an innovative staff mentoring programme.

One of my particular achievements at HDN was to develop, with the help of some amazing people (including the recently retired David Orr from the NHF), our Board Members’ Mentoring Programme, which is still going from strength to strength today. All good things must come to an end so, once I hit 60 in 2016, I retired from HDN.

In 2017 my time as a board member at Cartrefi Conwy housing association also came to an end due to the 9-year rule.

During my time at Cartrefi Conwy I was particularly proud of chairing their Audit & Risk Committee as well being board champion of both tenant engagement and equalities.

And yet… I couldn’t resist the Grŵp Cynefin opportunity when it came up earlier this year. It’s been very, very nice joining as a brand new board member. I’m particularly enjoying working with residents as a member of its customer and community committee.

Of course there are challenges. There is welfare reform, with introduction of Universal Credit, not to mention Brexit, which poses risk because we just don’t know how, for example, the construction sector or labour sources will be impacted in future.

But I’m loving every minute, and hopefully contributing plenty from the experience I have picked up over the years.


1. Resilience. We are all human. I’ve learned over the years (painfully slowly at times!) to try and get over any mistakes as quickly as possible and also to try and learn any lessons so as try and avoid repeating the same mistake.

2. To newcomers to housing what an exciting time to be joining the sector! Almost certainly you will at some stage get to collaborate with other disciplines so just go for it and take any opportunities to build up your skills set.

3. Finally, I have discovered the world of podcasts and one, in particular, The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Podcast. I would thoroughly recommend this podcast as it’s a shocking eye opener on the chasm that can open up between agencies and their customers. Listen to it if you can, and stay grounded!.

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