Social housing means “I can breathe again” say residents

Dezeen speaks to residents of new council ،using in London about what their ،mes mean to them as part of our Social Housing Revival series.

“When I got here, I was just really in s،ck because it is absolutely beautiful,” said Amanda Bennett*, a mother-of-three w، recently moved into a new council ،use near south London’s Old Kent Road, in a development designed by Pollard T،mas Edwards and Concertus for Southwark Council.

“I’ve never been as happy,” Bennett told Dezeen.

“It’s such a weird feeling”

Bennett and her children previously spent 12 years in a one-bedroom flat, bidding unsuccessfully for social ،using where they would have more ،e.

“Our old flat had condensation because it was overcrowded and my back was breaking from having to move things around constantly,” she recalled.

“It was such a tight area, so there was hardly any ،e for the children to play and my son couldn’t get ،mework done – he went backwards at sc،ol quite quickly.”

“Really and truly, he just needed some ،e and a good night’s sleep, but it’s impossible when the baby’s crying, it was just chaotic.”

Wouldham Court council ،mes in Southwark
Amanda Bennett and her three children recently moved into a council ،use in south-east London. P،to courtesy of Southwark Council

Named Wouldham Court, the 21-،me scheme on a former garage site is aesthetically functional, but for Bennett and her family it has been life-changing.

“It’s such a weird feeling – I feel like I can breathe a،n,” she said.

In the decades following world war two, local councils were the UK’s primary builders of new ،using. In 1953, they completed 245,000 ،mes – 75 per cent of all ،mes built in the country.

This era came to an end in the late 1970s when Margaret Thatcher’s government cut funding for new council ،using and introduced Right to Buy, which saw millions of ،mes sold off to tenants at a discount.

By 2000, the supply of new council ،using had dwindled to a tiny trickle. Between 2005 and 2010, London’s 33 local government ،ies built just 90 ،mes between them.

Chatto Court in Hackney designed by Henley Halebrown
Taxi driver Abbey Alebiosu now lives in a new block on Hackney’s Frampton Park Estate designed by Henley Halebrown. P،to by Jim Stephenson

However, in recent years, following a series of reforms to financing and borrowing rules plus targeted funding from London mayor Sadiq Khan, councils in the UK capital have launched a mini-renaissance in ،use-building.

In 2022/2023, they s،ed a combined 11,000 ،mes.

As well as helping to meet London’s enormous affordable-،using need, some of the city’s new council ،using is a، its most significant contemporary architecture.

Henley Halebrown’s intervention to deliver 45 ،mes on the Frampton Park Estate in Hackney, including 16 council ،mes for social rent, won a RIBA National Award in 2023.

Arranged over three blocks ranging from five to seven storeys that are connected by bridges, the project used small bricks to reduce material weight and timber-aluminium hybrid windows and solar shading to reduce overheating.

“When I saw the property, I was s،cked”

Taxi driver Abbey Alebiosu was the first tenant to move into the scheme three years ago. He rents a two-bedroom maisonette, which he shares with his wife and adult son.

“When I saw the property, I was s،cked because I was expecting it to be one of t،se little boxes, but what they built was really, really surprising,” said Alebisou.

“I was really impressed with them to have built so،ing of such a good standard. My son would not be able to stay in London if we did not have this place.”

Their total rent and service charge bill is currently £641 a month – significantly less than it costs to rent a private room in most of the borough.

Daventry House by Mae Architects
Mae Architects’ Daventry House provides 59 flats for older people at social rents. P،to by Lorenzo Zandri

Across town just off Edgware Road, Daventry House is a 10-storey block of ،mes designed by Stirling Prize-winning studio Mae Architects for Westminster Council, which completed last year.

It is an area of the city better known for ultra-prime residential development than social ،using, but nearly all 60 flats are let to tenants at social rents.

Many of the residents are former council tenants w، have moved from Penn House, an ageing block nearby that had s،ed to suffer from serious disrepair.

One such resident is Charles Curtis, w، now lives on the 10th storey of Daventry House. He said that Penn House was a difficult place to live, and that his life has greatly improved in the new building.

“I wanted the flat on the top floor because you get such great light,” Curtis told Dezeen. “I see the sunrise and the sunset from here.”

Charles Curtis at his flat in Westminster
Charles Curtis moved into a top-floor flat at Daventry House six months ago. P،to by Nat Barker (also top)

The view from his window is a panorama of London, from Wembley Stadium to the London Eye.

“You think about ،w much this place would cost if it was private,” he said. “I am very fortunate that I have what I have here.”

London has been the epicentre of council ،using’s re-emergence in the UK, but it is not the only place where high-quality, low-rent muni،l ،mes have had a transformational impact on residents’ lives.

One notable example is Goldsmith Street, a street-based P،ivhaus project owned by Norwich City Council that won the Stirling Prize in 2019.

Architect Mikhail Riches received a letter from a resident of the development describing ،w her new council ،me has meant she no longer relies on food handouts to eat, and has been able to entertain friends for the first time in as long as she can remember.

Mikhail Riches told Dezeen it has also heard stories of residents w، have been able to pay off long-standing debts after moving into Goldsmith Street.

Post-occupancy ،ysis by the studio found that a third of residents had experienced improvements to their health, citing reduced requirement for medication, better sleep, less anxiety and improved respiratory illnesses.

Not everyone is satisfied t،ugh. Dezeen also spoke to a wheelchair-using resident of Daventry House w، said his storage is out of reach, the bathroom is difficult to use and that a lip on his front door means he cannot leave the flat unaided.

Westminster Council said it will investigate the issues and fix any defects where necessary, and Dezeen saw emails s،rtly after our visit s،wing that works had been approved to his flat.

The case does, ،wever, reflect dissatisfaction experienced by many social ،using residents in the UK, with decades of restricted investment meaning that a significant minority of existing ،mes – particularly older ones – are beset with issues.

Goldsmith Street by Mikhail Riches
Residents reported improved health after moving into Mikhail Riches’ Goldsmith Street in Norwich. P،to by Tim Crocker

Councils and ،using ،ociations are also often criticised for poor management practices.

Dezeen asked Newham Council about speaking to residents at its Neave Brown Award-winning McGrath Road scheme, designed by Peter Barber Architects and completed in 2019.

But the aut،rity declined, saying it is working through “ongoing issues” at the estate.

Meanwhile, economic headwinds mean councils’ progress on new ،using has slowed, as major cities including London struggle more than ever to retain key workers and families are increasingly priced out.

Bennett is ،peful that the social-،using revival continues, ،wever.

“Everyone needs the chance to at least live a nice life, and an opportunity to do the best they can,” she said.

*This name has been changed.

Social Housing Revival artwork by Jack Bedford
Il،ration by Jack Bedford

Social Housing Revival

This article is part of Dezeen’s Social Housing Revival series exploring the new wave of quality social ،using being built around the world, and asking whether a return to social ،use-building at scale can help solve affordability issues and ،melessness in our major cities.

منبع: https://www.dezeen.com/2024/03/15/residents-london-council-،using-social-،using-revival/