GEM Business Unusual Research Group report


Attached is a report which has been produced by former GEMs as members of BURG, the Business Unusual Research Group. BURG is facilitated by the GEM Programme’s partnership with Northern Housing Consortium and enables upcoming housing professionals to look at the changing world of housing from a different perspective, through the eyes of early stage career professionals.

The GEM Programme and Saffron Housing Partnership

The below article can be found at

Developing our in-house talent


We are supporting our in-house talent as 3 members of staff have just joined the GEM Programme.

The programme accelerates development for those already in the housing sector by creating challenging and thought-provoking opportunities such as exposure to people and situations they might not have experienced.

It consists of a number of elements such as workplace learning, attending learning events, gaining a professional qualification & membership (Chartered Institute of Housing Level 4), and mentoring.

Director of HR at Saffron, Catherine Hodds, said: “I’m really excited that we have teamed up with The GEM Programme as it provides new opportunities for our staff to have quality learning experiences relevant to what they are passionate about.

“We have a huge commitment to our employees and this route offers a great way of developing their skills by enabling them to connect with other housing associations, experts in the sector and other GEMs from around the world.”

In conversation with Geraldine Howley

In conversation with Geraldine Howley
Looking back over Geraldine Howley’s career in housing
Free for @CIHhousing
members or £20+VAT
19th January 2021

GEM Programme delighted to welcome Riverside as partners

News Release

August 2020


Geraldine Howley, Chair of the GEM Programme and Group Chief Executive of the West Yorkshire-based Incommunities Group, is delighted to announce Riverside as new partners of the GEM Programme.


The GEM Team will work in collaboration with Riverside to fill six places on this unique career building programme. Four of places will be linked to exciting, newly created roles within Riverside and two will be based in existing positions in the organisation.


Riverside is a major provider of affordable housing, care and support services in England and Scotland with almost 56,000 homes.


Geraldine Howley said “We are delighted to welcome Riverside as a leading national player in the housing sector and we are proud to be helping them deliver their new talent strategy.


“Of importance to our partnership is the promotion of diversity and inclusion in Riverside and the housing sector more generally. Riverside are encouraging colleagues from BAME backgrounds to join the GEM Programme. It will be a key part of Riverside’s talent strategy and will boost diversity and encourage a culture of everyday innovation.”


Successful applicants will be recruited internally and externally and take part in the challenging twelve-month GEM Programme. The stretching roles the GEMs will take on have been designed at graduate level and take a progressive approach to homelessness, assets, business information and health and safety. All GEMs chosen to participate in the programme will demonstrate the values, behaviours and leadership potential required by Riverside’s innovative talent strategy.


Geraldine Howley said “The GEM Programme provides a unique vehicle for the recruitment and development of Riverside’s ‘future leaders’.


“It’s gratifying to play an important part in future proofing their organisation and grow the housing professionals and leaders of the future’.


The GEM Programme was launched in 2009 in West Yorkshire and has since greatly expanded to attract recruits from across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and internationally from Canada, and most recently from Australia.The GEM Programme also has exchange arrangements in place with partners in Hong Kong and Holland.


Over the last decade, 300 GEMs have secured prestigious jobs –  and 95% of GEMs are offered employment contacts by their partner organisations at the end of the GEM Programme. 100% of GEMs achieve Chartered Institute of Housing qualification.


Partner organisations represented by GEMs on the current Programme include Incommunities, Homes England, the Wheatley Group, United Living, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Hume Housing (Australia).



For more information contact  Amanda Livermore, Centre for Partnership Team on 01274 254878 or 07771 661641 or E: or Joe Robinson at Riverside E




The Three Most Important Things In Life

“the first is to be kind, the second is to

be kind and the third is to be kind”

             Henry James.



It was very kind of Aileen Evans, CIH President, to take time out to record a video for GEMs during Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Aileen is passionate about her Presidential mental health campaign, in collaboration with MIND. In her video she urges the GEM community to support each other in these challenging times.


Please look at Aileen’s video and the Three Big Tips she puts out to GEMs for dealing with the new normal we are all experiencing. As a GEM community we are all in this together and we want to ensure our upcoming housing professionals sustain the resilience we all need to get through the Covid 19 pandemic. We are each other’s strength. The link to Aileen’s video is below.


Take care, keep safe and be mentally strong.


Geraldine Howley, Chair GEM Programme, CEO Incommunities, Chair CIH Governing Board


Illustration by Mr What & Mrs Why ©️ 2020


The Big Conversation


Illustration by Mr What & Mrs Why ©️ 2020


You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone


Upon his return to work following his recovery from the Covid-19 virus, Prime

Minister Boris Johnson sought to enhance his boosterism by leveraging the credence of

medical science into his speech. “We will be relying, as ever, on the science to

inform us, as we have from the beginning” he said.


Back at the office, we mere mortals are making similar attempts to enhance the credibility of our arguments.


We repeatedly make seemingly authoritative references to the need for decisions to be evidence-based, informed by big data, driven by data science, and futuristically connected to predictive science.


As an emergent digital native faced with a pandemic, I’ve tried to borrow from the problem solving styles of the digital age and the GEMs I know well, to fathom out just what’s going on and where this rollercoaster of a virus is going to take us next. It’s true, I’m not exactly a data scientist – but then Boris is hardly a doctor.


My conclusion? It’s business unusual so what might GEMs and their colleagues expect?


I believe my analysis is evidence-based, though a purist would argue it’s anecdotal

and somewhat empirical, and I readily accept it’s certainly not algorithmical. But it is

grounded in what I’ve experienced over the last seven weeks and it’s encrypted in

my head as N + A = (M x B) … but more about that later.


I would suggest the first challenge we face relates to the mass return to work in the coming weeks. After months in lockdown, going back to the office sounds more daunting than we ever realised it could be. Imagine having to wear a different outfit every day!


But for me, it’s the big issues of providing ‘contagion-friendly’ work practices which keep our staff and customers as safe as possible that remain firmly front of mind.


I say as safe as possible, because until we have a Covid-19 vaccine and/or enhanced treatments, we can only take the measures which maximise personal health, safety, and wellbeing.


Of course, this becomes a judgement call, and judgements will be varied, as was demonstrated in the differing responses to the crisis from governments around the world.


We’re bound to see organisations around the world introducing all sorts of practices to return to work and we must learn with and from each other.


Already colleagues are speculating about the business unusual office environment, from adding more space between desks and workstations to staggering start times and breaks. There could be barriers between desks, greater use of PPE such as face masks, antibacterial coatings on surfaces, more contactless technology in lifts and door systems and in general.


Moving on from our offices, the next big question is this: how do we make our services safer for customers to access?


The vulnerability of older people has been exposed by Covid-19.


Many social landlords provide homes for tenants who live in areas which are economically-challenged and where the pandemic seems to spike. During the pandemic, our key staff have given their all to protecting our tenants. On returning to work can we enhance safety with more testing and tracing, temperature checks, and contactless technologies?


Alexa has been my constant companion at home for some time now and routinely ask her to control my music and answer questions on weather and travel, as well as to enhance my security.


Why can’t the touchless, voice-activated AI tech of Alexa be employed to make the lives of staff and customers safer?


Similarly, we use our phones as a means of payment and as an entry pass, so why not extend this tech to the workplace? The same goes for facial recognition technology; if it meets the criteria for border control then surely it’s good enough for our security applications?


I don’t think it takes much creativity to see how we might bring these widely-used and well-established technologies into the new world of work. It’s just about being brave enough to take the first stepssteps that might be easier for GEMs and their generation to take.


And what about business unusual in the medium term?


The watchword of work organisations for at least two hundred years (it feels longer) has been efficiency. So unsurprisingly, the experience of the pandemic has piqued interest in the gains it can bring in terms of efficiency and productivity.


We plunged overnight into home working on a scale some would not have believed possible; we’ve toyed with the concept for years and now it’s unquestionably here.


This has forced us to recognise that a combination of office and home work

can reduce the inefficient aspects of office based life.


Think about it. Far fewer stressful commutes, inter-office journeys, hotel stays, unnecessary meetings, coupled with improved flexible working, increased productive time, and a whole heap of environmental benefits. Only recently, the Chartered Institute of Housing announced its first virtual international housing summit will take place this summer and it is well subscribed.   


All these experiences have forced me to ask: when so many individual tasks can be successfully completed from home, enabled by tech, what is the real point of an office?


For me the answer relates to the importance of collaboration: real collaboration and co-creation.


Zoom and Teams are useful – I certainly don’t know how we would have got through the pandemic without them – but they do have their limitations when it comes to collaboration.


Being in the office enables vital informal collaboration, as well as the planned and structured collaboration we get with virtual meetings. It also influences culture, creativity and engenders that all-important sense of shared purpose.

These face-to-face processes are subtle, but in my experience of leadership, they

are profoundly powerful. Working from home allows us the opportunity to

reset the dial and give clarity on what can and should be done from home, and

what’s essential to do in the office.


To lose face-to-face contact would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


The upshot of the crisis is that in a world of business unusual, leadership, de facto, is changing and is unlikely to return to where it was; the genie is out of the bottle.


Most staff have experienced working from home and demonstrated in a number of ways their autonomy in managing their time and workload. They’ve had the information they need and have solved the problems on a daily basis.


I’m not saying that homeworking suits everyone, or is without its challenges, but the

home working/office working balance has shifted and with it, the ways we manage and lead.


The omnipresence of hierarchy and silos may have meaning for some senior leaders but these historical influences on how we work are quickly becoming even less relevant to staff and the GEM generation. In these days of business unusual it’s time to reopen the leadership debate.


So has data science and my evidence-based approach helped me get through the pandemic so far?


At a time when the country desperately wants an R rate of <1, we all want to believe this will be achieved through evidenced-based, robust decisions that will lead to triumph over this horrendous plight.


We all want to play our part in making them work, and we will ground our decisions in the same logic.


But at the same time I’m persuaded by the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. Having spent my career responding to, and bringing about change, the pandemic reminds me of my own ‘leadership science’.


When there is the necessity to change (N), it leads us to act decisively (A), the cumulative effect of which, changes mindsets (M), that enable people to behave in ways we wouldn’t have imagined possible (B).


So business unusual is N + A = (M x B). It’s simple; the bigger the N the more unusual the



Geraldine Howley, Chair GEM Programme, CEO Incommunities Group, Chair CIH Governing Board


Illustration by Mr What & Mrs Why ©️ 2020


A Video Message From David Tovey, Patron, GEM Programme


It was great to hear from our GEM Programme Patron, David Tovey last week. David is formerly homeless and is now a talented artist and housing campaigner. He uses both art and his passion for social justice to bring innovation and change to homelessness and most recently he is supporting Housing First in Coventry. Unsurprisingly, he is working tirelessly and selflessly in lockdown to continue his work with and for homeless people. In his personal video message to the GEMs David brings inspiration to what is possible in the face of Covid 19 and has invited the GEMs to keep thinking creatively to find new ideas to make a dent in homelessness.


Inspired by his work with homeless people currently living in hotels as a result of Covid 19, David urges us to use this new found visibility to avoid putting homeless people back on the streets post the pandemic. He wants our GEM community to join him in generating new and different thinking which defines and uses Covid 19 as an opportunity and a game changer for addressing homelessness, not just a respite solution. At Incommunities we are already making progress on this important issue with our partners and it would be great to hear what you are doing and any ideas that can make a difference.


Please share your ideas and actions with us so we can inspire colleagues.  We believe in the power of ideas pooling, co creation and the energy of our values. Nothing is impossible; lets make sure it’s back to the streets no more.


Geraldine Howley, Chair GEM Programme and CEO Incommunities Group


Geraldine Howley Blog – THE MOUSE & THE PANDEMIC

Housing At A Time Of Lockdown…


Last Monday I went to a meeting. It was an entirely normal meeting, similar to the myriads of other meetings that make up my weekly schedule, except for one minor detail. The Chief Executive was upside down. In usual circumstances it goes without saying this would be cause for concern, but in this strange new era of social distancing, it was just another colleague experiencing technical difficulties. In this case, the unfortunate inability to un-rotate their screen. I shouldn’t laugh at my colleague however – unlike many of you, I’m far from a digital native myself. In fact, back in the 1980s, when Bradford Council’s tech department wheeled a bulky computer into my office and told me I should use it to send ‘electronic mails’, I straightened my power suit, adjusted my perm, and replied with a firm: “I am not using that.” Indeed, I didn’t think I’d ever need to. I told my colleagues I was certain this bizarre new method of communication would never take off. But then the council got serious about it and sent us all on a course to learn how to use a mouse. Yes, really.


Thirty-something years on, the mammoth computer that was first plonked on my desk has transformed into a sleek iPhone, which is able to do infinitely more than its cumbersome predecessor, yet – unfortunately for me – is so much easier to lose. Yet while tech has evolved at an unrelenting pace over the past few decades, housing has remained a largely un-agile sector. Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Zoom and Microsoft Teams and BlueJeans were largely unheard of. In such a physical sector, dealing with building and safeguarding and regulations, we have always preferred to meet face-to-face. Perhaps this is why the adjustment to remote working has been tougher for us – especially colleagues of my generation, who didn’t grow up using this kind of tech. We’ve had a cacophony of awkward moments. People chatting away to their spouse, unaware they’re not on mute, kids and cats clambering into shot, and of course those colleagues who unthinkingly stand up, only to reveal their smart shirt and blazer has been paired with pyjama bottoms.


It’s distracting using Zoom. I always wonder how people choose their home-working backdrops. Is your weighty selection of literary classics positioned behind you by accident, or a calculated decision? And what a lovely giant photo of that time you met Obama! Shame about the pyjama bottoms! Me? I just draw the curtains to block the sun, and try to ignore the siren call of the fridge, with varying results. You know what I’m talking about. But of course, for those of us in the housing sector, the pandemic hasn’t been all Zoom slapstick and chocolate for breakfast. The health and wellbeing of our tenants amidst the coronavirus crisis has been at the forefront of every single meeting, and every single decision we make.


At Incommunities, we quickly implemented a number of initiatives designed to keep our tenants safe and well. Within four days we managed to remove our customer service department from our physical office and set up remotely – this required a huge effort on the part of our talented IT team. On the frontline, Incommunities has many key workers who are going into people’s homes, so it was essential to ensure they had the right PPE for their jobs.I cannot overstate how much we value and respect the selfless service of staff for our tenants. The decisions we have to make at present are extremely complex and difficult as they encompass the harsh realities of medical science and our deeply rooted concern for the predicament of others. It’s tough on a daily basis, as some decisions are life and death in terms of risk assessment, but our values and beliefs guide our judgement and will see us through.


We are also carrying out essential food deliveries, helping the council get food to those who need it, and providing assurance calls to our tenants to make sure everyone is doing okay.Some of our staff may be furloughed, but others, whose work has been impacted by the pandemic, are now working in community hubs and on NHS hotlines. I’ve never been prouder of our staff members. They’re missing their loved ones too, and yet are truly going above and beyond, working weekends and nights. There’s a great team spirit and everyone is stepping up to the plate.


Coronavirus has provided a unique challenge, and wreaked tragic consequences across the globe. But in this time of extreme difficulty for so many, I can say that Incommunities has never proved its mission – of Improving Lives Incommunities – so strongly. As part of the larger Bradford district, we’re working with other essential services too. Included in the gold, silver and bronze Cobra meetings, we’ve been collaborating with the fire services, councils, and NHS – and it’s heartening to see all these people coming together to fight this virus and combat its far-reaching consequences.


Its also been heartening to experience the generosity of our partners. The iconic Salts Mill in Saltaire is the much loved home base for a number of the GEM Programme’s GEM Shacks and we are privileged to have a special relationship with the Salts team. At the onset of the lockdown Maggie Silver, the owner of Salts Mill, contacted us to offer all the food in their recently stocked restaurant freezers to the people of Bradford. Thanks to Maggie’s generosity and humanity we were able to distribute the food to people most in need


The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way the world works, on a previously unthinkable scale. But at some point – whether it be next month or next year – we’ll get it under control and return to ‘normal’. But I think it will be a new normal – things will never look the same again.We’ve now demonstrated we can work differently – even in a demanding sector like housing. Even as we’re battling this virus, we’ve had to remember that businesses must continue to demonstrate their viability. So, working remotely we are working hard to meet  compliance and regulatory requirements whilst remaining financially viable. All our governance remains in place, through holding remote board meetings and we are constantly monitoring our business continuity plans. Risk assessments and mitigations are another regular feature. We’ve also got to plan for the future; there’s a lot of business recovery planning going on at the moment for when things start to return to normal. So even working remotely, the business is still running and offering our tenants essential services.


After this is over, is this how we should continue? In terms of living our values and beliefs, the answer is a resounding yes. But will we all be sat in our houses talking on screens?For me, the answer is, not all of the time. While I accept it’s likely we’ll adopt more remote working tools, and use them in some instances, I wouldn’t want to continue the blanket nature of our current pandemic model. Is this tech providing businesses with a life-raft right now? Absolutely. Are there efficiencies in working remotely? Very much so. However, when the option of going back into the office is on the table we will use it, but in ways which get the most out of people being together. Let’s not throw the baby out with the virtual bath water. We must not forget the value of face to face engagement with our colleagues for problem solving, creativity, shared learning, uniting around our purpose and values, bonding as colleagues, raising productivity and boosting employee morale. As the Queen said in her speech on April 5th: “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” As a self-confessed extrovert currently being denied human company, I can’t wait to see.



Geraldine Howley

CEO Incommunities & Chair GEM Programme

April 2020




Catherine George – Young Leaders 2020: Top 20 announced

Huge congratulations to former GEM Catherine George from South Liverpool Homes, who has made the top 20 of this year’s Young Leaders 2020 competition – well done Catherine! 

To vote for her go to –