Alan Ferguson - an appreciation by CIH
Everyone associated with CIH is saddened by the passing of our former Scotland director, Alan Ferguson. Alan personified the CIH in Scotland during 21 years in charge. His drive and enthusiasm were for dignity in social housing and for the people whose homes it provides. He was highly principled, caring, determined and great company. Among his many successes are his roles in ending the Right to Buy and the professionalisation of the housing sector in Scotland.
Alan joined CIH in Scotland as director in 1993 although his contribution began at grassroots level as an ear-ringed community worker. One of his student placements was at TPAS. Seeing the fundamental importance of housing, he moved on to his first spell at CIH in Scotland as a policy and practice officer where his first legislative impact was on the 1987 Housing Act.
Alan wanted better services to be delivered by greater numbers of trained professionals and so became a lecturer on the Housing Studies programme at Stirling University. There he enthused countless students who went on to successful careers, which for Alan meant improving tenants’ lives. He made the case uncompromisingly for why the needs of tenants had to be at the heart of every practitioner’s priorities.
When he returned to CIH in Scotland as director, Alan used his great ability to engage in conversation with anyone and put people at ease. He was eager to debate, argue and challenge decisions no matter who you were and where you were from. This contributed to the enormous respect in which he was held; by ministers, national and local politicians, by tenants, professionals, bodies like EVH, SFHA, GWSF, ALACHO, PAiH, Shelter, SHN, TIS, TPAS and so many others. Alan caused CIH Scotland to work with all these organisations to develop successful national campaigns, policies and projects.
The passion and the values that came from Alan’s community development roots pervaded his whole outlook on housing. He never stopped wearing the earring that seemed to symbolise those roots. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the concerns and needs of tenants were at the forefront of CIH members’ minds. He was a community champion through and through.
During his time the Scottish CIH Conference became a major event, from Aviemore to Dundee and Aberdeen to Glasgow. He introduced international speakers; live from a South Africa working to deliver Mandela’s permanent housing for all; and from the Netherlands about the Delft Model which led largely to the introduction of choice-based lettings in Scotland. Alan encouraged CIH members to look beyond Scotland for good practice. He supported CIH Presidents in their work with the Hong Kong branch and worked with EVH to share ideas with Pact Arim in France. At home, he built lasting relationships between the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland arms of CIH, and served as temporary director of the NI Office.
Alan was delighted by the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and became a regular contributor to its work. He chaired a committee of the Existing Homes Alliance, gave evidence to committees, organised events for, and proactively briefed, MSPs - to raise their awareness of social housing and policy issues in Scotland. He built relationships that led to the CIH in Scotland having a respected and influential voice on policy and legislation. The rest of the UK learned much from Scotland during Alan’s leadership.
- Also read: Alan Ferguson - a message from SHARE
Remarkable legislation was passed that placed real value on the right to a home and removed conditions from the rights of access to housing. Scotland led the UK in its approach to the private rented sector. Alan fought hard to end the right to buy, to win a right to consultation for social housing tenants and to influence the new Scottish Housing Regulator’s framework. Scotland is rightly proud of the emphasis placed on housing by successive governments since devolution. This is down, in no small part, to Alan’s hard work in making the case for housing.
In 2014 Alan left CIH Scotland and became director of SHARE. This was an opportunity to work again directly with tenants and with the others who govern, and mostly live in, housing association homes. He revived the organisation financially so it could support governing body members even more - to provide great homes, meet regulatory requirements and strengthen their networks for learning and support. He still had so many plans for SHARE.
Voluntary service was as much a part of Alan’s life as his paid work. He served on several housing association boards, beginning with GAP which led to him becoming a board member at Link Group when it absorbed GAP. He then served on the Cube HA board and South Side HA. He was an initiator of PATH and a development trust board member in Govanhill. These were very different organisations with different client groups and Alan influenced them all, notably on rents, tenant engagement and equalities.
Throughout his housing life colleagues were made very aware that he loved food, travel and cooking. Indeed no one else was allowed to choose the wine at CIH in Scotland formal or informal dinners. From Orkney to Marseilles and Pisa to Cuba, he loved exploring the culture and perhaps mostly, the cuisine. His wonderful 2019 Christmas Cake exuded brandy, whisky and cointreau.
Alan Ferguson has left the Scottish housing sector much too soon but has left a legacy which includes hundreds of housing professionals in influential positions who have learned to echo his refrain of “What’s in it for tenants?”. Let’s never forget that. He really will be greatly missed. The thoughts of CIH members and all those touched by him in the sector are with his wife Jenny, three children, family and so many friends at this very sad time.