Salix Homes Chief Executive Sue Sutton

“I WANT TO SHAKE OFF THE SOCIAL HOUSING STIGMA”

Sue Sutton, Salix Homes, Chief Executive

Sue Sutton took over as our Chief Executive at the start of this year - right in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Having lived in social housing herself and overcome personal tragedy, Sue is on a mission to shake off the stigma of social housing and ensure our tenants are listened to. We caught up with Sue to find out more about her journey into housing and her hopes for the future of the organisation.

It was the mid-90s when Sue Sutton found herself as a single mum of four children, struggling on benefits and living in social housing in her home city of Liverpool.

Tragically, her youngest son Ed was diagnosed with leukaemia at just six-years old. While the family struggled to deal with the diagnosis, Sue faced her own battle with her housing provider as she fought tooth and nail for a safe garden area for her son to play in - an experience that would eventually inspire her own journey into the social housing sector.

She said: “I was very grateful to be living in social housing at that time - it was a lovely house with a big garden, but the garden just wasn’t safe and the fence needed replacing so Ed could have a safe place to be in while he was having his treatment.

“I remember phoning so many people, but no one was listening - they said it wasn’t their responsibility. In the end, I wrote to my housing manager, and she came round to see me. I was just so relieved that someone was finally listening to me, and I can’t tell you how much that meant.

” Sadly, Ed passed away two years after his diagnosis. “For some time after Ed died, I lived in a bit of a fog, not really living, just existing,” Sue recalled.

“Life was never ‘normal’ again, but you cope because you have to. Everyone has tragedies in their lives they have to deal with, and I had three other children I had to think about.”

LIFE WAS NEVER ‘NORMAL’ AGAIN, BUT YOU COPE BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO

At a crossroads in her life, Sue attended a university open day with her daughter and was inspired to enrol herself. At the age of 39 she started a degree in Health and Social Policy.

She said: “University frightened the life out of me, but it also probably saved me as well because if I hadn’t done something then, I never would have.

“My tutor was brilliant and he believed in me and encouraged me. I got a First Class degree, and I was so shocked, and then I got offered a job with a housing association and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Sue credits her children and the people she met along the way for helping her to get where she is today, and her own experience makes her so passionate about supporting other social housing tenants.

“It wasn’t the tragedy with my son itself, that got me into social housing, but the people I met on the way - and of course the garden fence,” she said.

“The housing manager who listened to me, the tutor who believed in me, and of course my children who supported me - it was those people that affected me and subconsciously got me to where I am today.

“IT MAKES YOU REALISE HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN OUR PROPERTIES OR IN SOCIAL HOUSING, WHO’VE BEEN WRITTEN OFF, LIKE ME, WHEN ALL THEY PROBABLY NEED IS AN OPPORTUNITY."

“I often talk about the stigma that comes with being a social housing tenant, and I had that, I felt that. Just because people live in social housing doesn’t mean to say they haven’t got a lot to give or contribute, which is why we need to listen to our tenants, treat them with respect and try and break down the social housing stigma. That’s what got me here and that’s what keeps me here.”

Sue joined Salix Homes in 2008, originally on a three-month contract and never left. She’s done various roles across the organisation, steered us through the stock transfer in 2015, overseen several restructures and navigated us through multiple challenges, before picking up the reins as chief executive in January this year. “

What a time to take over the organisation in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “I’d never have imagined I’d be here, but it’s an absolute privilege.

“Looking to the future, I want Salix Homes to continue to grow and go from strength to strength. When the time comes, I want to be in a position to be able to hand over an organisation that has safe buildings, a strong development programme, is in a secure financial position, has thriving communities, a strong community voice ethos and for our customers to know that they’re listened to and heard.”

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