Sheila Hayward, a member of the Scrutiny Coordination Group

Using my voice for the greater good

By Sheila Hayward, part of the resident-led Scrutiny Coordination Group (SCG)
28 July 2020
First published in Inside Housing  

When I was growing up, racism was a lot less subtle than it is now. People would say cruel things to my face, or in my earshot. I was taught to turn the other cheek, to ignore it.  

But as I grew older I grew less able to tolerate the abuse, even when comments were covert, rather than overt. I decided that I would call things out when they bothered me – otherwise how would anyone know how to put it right? This strong voice has served me well, but has also seen me have to learn how to fight my corner as I stand up for myself and my values. 

When I split from my husband at the age of 50, I thought that I would be fine. I had savings, I had just started my own business. So it came as a bit of a shock when I was refused a mortgage. I’d lived my whole life in pretty villages in Wiltshire; I was then living in a lovely cottage. And I was being told I couldn’t even buy my own house? 

After a while I looked into shared ownership because by my health had taken a bit of a downturn – and this turned out to be the solution for me. I bought a place on a small housing estate near Amesbury. I was determined that I was going to make this house as beautiful as any other that I’d had before, tackling issues with the garden and the maintenance. 

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a bit of a force to be reckoned with when I get going and I did have a fair bit of contact with Spectrum (before they merged with Sovereign) trying to get the property brought up to my standards. 

But I didn’t forget – at the same time – that I was grateful to have a place to call my own. As a child, my father was in the Armed Forces and my mum was a nurse. We settled in one home, but I always knew we could have been one of those military families that moved from place to place. I am strongly rooted in Wiltshire and I wanted to give back to the housing association that had helped me to stay. 

That’s how I ended up on the Scrutiny Coordination Group with Sovereign. I fully believe that if you want to see change you have to work from the inside out, it’s no good just whinging on the sidelines.  

That’s why I’ve been involved with scrutinies into lettings and repeat repairs, volunteering more than 10 hours of my time on a regular basis, to look at where things have been going wrong and offer my views on how to make them better.  

It’s also why I’m taking a look at Sovereign’s upcoming Home and Place Standard alongside my other colleagues, making sure that new residents get a home that they are truly proud to call their own. And it’s why I haven’t left the group, even though I’m 63 and normally commuting to London for work (when I’m not shielding at home from coronavirus). I am dedicated to the cause.  

However, I would like to see others join the group – it doesn’t matter to me whether they are from a BAME background or not – just that they are keen and interested and willing to push for change.  

I feel that there can be a certain kind of apathy among residents – an “I just want to pay for my home, I don’t want to be involved in the decisions” attitude, but it’s our job to hold Sovereign to account, as well as influence social housing more widely.  

We really can change strategies, policies and service standards, and make a difference in our communities, tackling stigma and making sure we shine a spotlight that reveals the way things work, warts and all. But it will have impact only if we stand up and use our voices about the things that really matter to us.