CHIC Conference & Exhibition 2021: A brief history and why you should attend

Community Housing & Investment Consortium (CHIC) are holding their 10th face to face annual conference on 17 November at Sixways Stadium in Worcester. This free to attend event would have been the 11th had it not been for lockdown restrictions.

This event is set to receive close to 500 visitors throughout the day and has changed significantly since the first one in 2010, a much smaller event attended by around 100 delegates at that National Motorcycle Museum. The event’s origins were to launch CHIC, a then consortium set up by the seven founding member organisations; Worcester Community Housing, Festival Housing, Hereford Housing, Shropshire housing, Friendship Housing and Care, Longhurst Housing and Two Rivers Housing. 

The intent was to work collaboratively to create efficiencies for their organisations through smart procurement for the 45,000 properties they managed. The founding organisations started CHIC on the basis that it was a member organisation that would grow with new members joining.

Many changes have come about since CHIC was first launched. Worcester and Festival Housing are part of Platform Housing group, Hereford Housing and Shropshire Housing Group are now Connexus and Friendship Housing is part of the Longhurst Group. Eleven years on, CHIC now has over 150 members who manage 1.6m properties across the UK. 

Like most businesses, CHIC had to change the way it worked during Covid restrictions whilst still offering support and services to members. With the use of technology, they adapted well and suffered minimal disruption, learning how to work differently. In 2020, the usual annual conference was replaced by a series of webinars to deliver the planned content, which is still an ongoing programme due to its popularity.

During this period, members, suppliers and contractors all but halted normal services at the start of COVID lockdown. Although planned investment work was stalled for many months, CHIC supported a wide range of building safety, compliance, merchant services and professional services, all of which continued throughout the lockdowns.

This time also gave CHIC an opportunity to strengthen its service offer, procure a range of new frameworks and establish a dynamic purchasing system. They also developed COMS (CHIC Order Management System) during this period and supported 158 new projects for 88 members. 

The first conference aimed to launch CHIC and involved a series of discussion workshops from the founding members to agree what CHIC’s values and objectives were for the upcoming business period. The scale and objectives of the conference have grown significantly over the years, but the values remain the same. 

This year’s conference provides an opportunity for members and prospective members to meet and engage with the CHIC supply chain. They can network and share their experiences and approaches with likeminded individuals from the housing sector, in line with CHIC’s core values of collaboration. Those attending the conference can also expect to learn something new by attending a varied programme of workshops and seminars focussing on the big issues of the future facing social housing. These topics are presented by a range of high-profile speakers from different perspectives including the challenge of decarbonisation, intelligent asset management, asset renewal, ethical disposal and stock swaps, the perspective of smaller landlords, and a wider view of the current economic landscape and what to expect next. 

The annual conference has always been a free to attend event, sponsored by contractors and suppliers who exhibit and are able to meet a range of members informally. It’s been chaired by BBC Home Editor Mark Easton since 2017; he is a popular chair among attendees and demonstrates a deep understanding of the issues the sector deal with.

“CHIC is happy to welcome Mark Easton back for the 5th year. He really understands the sector and the issues we deal with, so he is always able to inspire a healthy debate” says Maggie Punyer, CHIC’s Chair.

This year CHIC will also be launching the CHIC Order Management System (COMS), an online, browser-based ordering solution that features programme and catalogue management for members. It is also a platform to make and receive orders for contractors and suppliers.

COMS enables members to set up programmes of work, which then automates direct materials supplies to contractors, with an effective invoicing / payment interface. Members, suppliers and contractors have complete programme transparency, cost predictability and accuracy.

CHIC is very excited about this because it will enable members to create a single order for multiple suppliers, have complete programme management and cost control and benefit from an automated invoicing interface.

“CHIC was always about being an asset management consortium that does smart procurement rather than just being a procurement consortium. The range of services and products we provide has grown in response to member need and demand – but often linked to improvements in their asset management services, where they need a different approach or service provider” says John Fisher, CHIC’s chief executive.