Staff in the spotlight: Inspiring women leaders Housing Officer, Sandra O’Toole

March 10, 2023

“I want to achieve, be successful and be a good housing officer. There is healthy competition between our team, we spur each other on to do well.” — CHI Housing Officer, Sandra O’Toole

I am a housing officer looking after Westcourt, Newcourt and South Earl Street, Camac Crescent, Mc Cleans Court, and Allingham/Summer Street all in Dublin 8. Everybody is very different in each estate. One good person can be a great influence on others. The Members in Dublin 8 are decent people who have been involved with cooperative housing for many years and you can often get distracted chatting with members for ages if you don’t watch the clock!

I love the role here. In CHI, there is such a level of respect from management. My managers thank me regularly but also give me recognition for achievements and this means so much. In other roles you don’t get that, here there’s gratitude and massive respect. There’s a calmness to this role even when everything is very busy. I used to work in social care where you’re constantly firefighting, here you have time to think and plan. I like the evolving structure and level of organisation too. I look forward to the changes in the organisation; it’s an exciting time to be part of CHI. The changes made so far have made such an improvement to the service delivery of the housing department and my role as Housing Officer.

I love hybrid working; even when you’re at home you can always pick up the phone to a colleague to ask a question or look for support. Everyone is so willing to help. There’s never anyone looking to get ahead at your demise. There’s a great sense of team and comradery.

I want to achieve great success and be a good housing officer. There is healthy competition between our team, we spur each other on to do well. Every week we meet on Tuesday morning. We talk out the plan for the week, share ideas and figure out if people need extra support. The support other colleagues have provided is invaluable, especially when dealing with difficulties on estates.

Before this role I worked for a homeless organisation where I supported individuals in their homes. It was like what I do now, but it was far more intensive.  Many of the clients would have had addiction issues or mental health issues. I would have been looking to support them to be as independent as possible. Sometimes it was tough. A lot of the cases were heart-breaking and often mentally challenging too, however I enjoyed the one-to-one social interactions and engagement with the clients.

I have had a few jobs in my lifetime. I worked with Irish youth justice service for many years and that is where I started training staff. I then went on to be a training manager to a private residential company and loved the interactions with people and the sharing of knowledge with people who wanted to progress and learn and care for young people in residential services with kindness and compassion.

I wanted a change in direction, so I decided to take a job in a homeless service. I took a chance. I took a step back and was no longer a manager; it was a big change and took a bit to get used too. I realised I enjoyed the not having to be the one who dealt with all the crisis, and I liked it. When I changed, I knew it would only be for a short time; I returned to study and got more knowledge in the housing sector whilst building up my knowledge in the area. I loved the sense of teamwork and again the interaction with the client group.  

I taught I knew everything there was to know about residential care —well I was wrong! Working in adult services staff need to be empowering and supportive of clients to ensure they can live independently ensuring that you’re not completing everything for them. This empowerment has carried on to my current role.

While on the estates I am often doing member engagement pieces. Recently, there was a lady struggling to pay her rent, so I sat with her, and we worked out a budget plan together. We decided on a plan of action. I encouraged her and empowered her to take control of her arrears and make a plan to complete a household budget or set up a direct debit with the bank so they don’t miss more payments.

This role makes me a happier person. CHI is a good place to work and is open to developing and encourages staff to better themselves. I have a better work-life balance in this role. A project I’m really looking forward to is the creation of a space in South Earl Street where the Members can be proud to live. I have a few ideas to bring to the upcoming meeting but I’m hoping that they will also come with ideas and that together we can create a unique area. This is something I would love to achieve in all the estates I manage to put a stamp of happiness on each one.

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