Following a career break to raise a family, Gemma Watkins is re-joining the housing sector as Director of Housing and Communities at Aelwyd Housing Association. Here she talks about how she joined the sector as a housing trainee 19 years ago:
“After leaving school at 18, I went straight into a housing traineeship with Cardiff Council, alongside a four-year housing degree. While a lot of my friends were leaving university with a degree and then having to look for work, I had already found a career I loved while I studied.
After 4 years with Cardiff Council, I took a position as housing officer with Taff Housing eventually becoming Head of Housing and Communities.
After taking a two-and-a-half-year career break to raise a family, I was nervous coming back into the workplace, but the role of Director of Housing and Communities at Aelwyd came at exactly the right time.
I love the diversity that comes with working in housing. It’s an opportunity to affect real change and see the impact straight away.
The Housing Officer job has evolved over time and the societal role that Housing Organisations play has changed considerably over the years, and it’s become clearer than ever that we’re not just about bricks and mortar provision. It’s a privilege to play a part in the impact Housing Organisations can have in the community.
There is more of an awareness from society now for what housing associations do I think, and there’s a greater recognition of our value as organisations.
Re-joining the workplace was always going to be a challenge, even more so when I started a new role in the middle of a pandemic! What has been highlighted though is how agile and responsive to change the sector is. From being interviewed via Zoom, to meeting my new team virtually, and juggling my new role with parenting, it’s been a busy few weeks!
It may have been different, but Aelwyd has been hugely supportive, and I was encouraged to see how the whole sector had been working together to overcome the major challenges we’ve faced in a time of crisis. All while continuing to deliver core services to those who needed it – people have still been rehoused, emergency repairs have continued, and welfare support was offered.
It’s very much business as usual for Aelwyd, just delivering in different ways! I’m looking forward to an exciting time ahead, strengthening partnerships in the community, working with local authorities and establishing relationships across the public sector to join up services.
My role offers the perfect blend of strategic thinking, building relationships and grassroots housing services, working with residents, and seeing changes as they happen. Putting residents at the heart of our services, making sure what we deliver is what is needed, at the right times, in the right ways.”