This year Housing Day falls on what would have been my Dad’s 94th birthday. He died in 1997 in the bathroom of the council bungalow that he had shared with my Mam for many years. This was one of a number of council homes that my family lived in since my parents moved into their first in 1950.
To mark Housing Day and my Dad’s birthday I intend to visit all of these homes in Leicester. I hope to photograph each one and write a short piece on their importance to my family’s life. There are 5 council houses that we called home; the one I was born in, the two I grew up in, the one I was married from, and the one where my Mam and Dad died. Each one marked an important stage in my life and that of my family. Without them our lives would have been very different. I do not exaggerate when I say I owe my life to social housing and I am proud that I am a product of it.
Their existence in now under threat. I fear that we are witnessing their final demise. On Housing Day I have no need to rehearse the threat from the government and some in the housing sector. This is a day to celebrate social housing and to remind people, before it is too late, of the good it does. We moved many times in my life but not all of the places we live in were called home. This was because some were temporary and not permanent. This is especially true of the time when we were homeless and moved from one house to another for nine months until the council rescued us.
Each time we moved into permanent accommodation it was because our need had changed. Yet, once we moved into a new house it became a home as there was no pressure to move on. This concept of permanent tenure is also under threat and must be resisted. Trying to restrict tenure because of a shortage of homes is treating the symptom not the cause. We all know the real issue is that the government in its ideological myopia refuses to invest in housing that meets the needs of poor people and those on low incomes.
My family and I benefitted from government investment in housing in 1950s and 1960s. I hope that my journey into the past will remind people that like all good investments social housing makes a financial and social return. All the research available shows that investment in social housing is one of the best that this and any other government can make. We should use Housing Day to make this case. A permanent home is the foundation of a good life. My Dad and my family are proof of this. He and they would certainly have regarded themselves as “proud tenants”
24 Bonney Road 1950-1958
Mam and Dad moved into this house in 1950 with my two sisters after living with my grandmother since their marriage in 1942. It was their first home as a family. I was born in the upstairs bedroom in 1952. I have written elsewhere how I owe my life to this house and the National Health Service. I survived a breech birth because of these two pillars of the welfare state introduced by Aneurin Bevan. My elder brother who was also breeched was born in 1947 and died at birth for want of decent maternity care and a warm home. Many families like ours benefited from the post war housing boom which was supported by all parties who recognise the importance of investing in public housing. Oh that this were true today. The financial and social benefits are so obvious it is fiscal myopia to ignore them.
My younger bother, who was born in 1956, and I played many a game on that front green. It looks as if it is prohibited today. I wonder why? It was a young estate, full of children, and everyday the green would be full. We lived there until 1958 when we moved into another new council maisonette which was nearer Dad’s place of work and his ageing parents. I still have fond memories of my first home and the happy times we shared there when like the estate we were young and fresh and full of hope.
5 Ontario Close 1958-1961
I was 6 years old when we moved into this second floor maisonette. A family of 6 living in a 3 bed flat above another family living below. I’m not sure how well they were insulated but there were some arguments about the noise that our normal living created. I had started school by the time we moved in and I had to make a new set of friends at my new school in Taylor Street. The school was famous because it had a playground on the roof. The estate was surrounded by a slum clearance zone which provided a wonderful playground for local children. I broke my arm on the local “rec” I burnt my forehead with tar on the local demolition site and I sunk to my waist in the mud left behind when the slums had gone. All part of growing up in the early 60s. The estate was part of a later building boom when councils were experimenting with new designs and new materials and methods of construction. Some were more successful than others. But as you can see my second home still survives. Of course I was not aware of any of this. It was just my home where we lived,we laughed, we cried and occasionally fought. We left in 1961 to follow my Dad’s dream of being a pub landlord. Several moves followed in quick succession including one to a pub in Derby. All were tied accommodation and did not feel permanent. Each time my Dad moved job, we moved house until my family became homeless in 1965.
46 Harringworth Road 1965-1970
After 1961 we moved frequently living in temporary accommodation above pubs and off licences. There was no sense of security and the constant moves unsettled the family. My brother identifies the beginning of his mental health issues from this period. We became homeless in 1965 when Dad lost his job and with it the small damp flat we were living in. We spent 9 months moving from the floor or settee of one relative to another until the council finally provided a new house on Goodwood Estate. We had a permanent home once more. I grew up in this house. It witnessed my first teenage romance. I played football and cricket for Leicester Boys, honing my skills against that low wall and an earlier concrete lamppost. I passed 8 0 levels, revising in that bedroom, listening to Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Cream and Velvet Underground. I left school at 16 to work in a local factory, training to be a cost accountant. I left work at 18 to do my A levels. Just before that my Dad’s wanderlust returned and we moved again in 1970. I have many happy memories of this house. One in particular influenced my whole life but I didn’t know it at the time. One Wednesday night in 1966 I watched a television play in the front room. It told the story of a homeless family. I realised that their story mirrored that of my family. My desire to challenge poverty and inequality and the lack of decent housing for all was born on that day. The play was called Cathy Come Home. I will always be grateful to that house for saving my family when it was on the point of despair. I worry that as the number of social homes diminishes families like mine will not be saved in the future. We should ask ourselves everyday, what will become of them?
22 Bucksburn Walk 1970-1973
We moved into this house in 1970 as I began a course at an FE College. There were now 4 of us living in a 3 bed roomed home as both of my sisters had married and moved away. I had the luxury of my own bedroom. Our new home was typical of the type councils were building in the late 1960s and early 1970s. New systems and new materials were in use. Not all stood the test of time. I remember well the joys of warm air heating which produced a very hot living room and kitchen/diner and very cold bedrooms. I only lived here for two years. I was in my late teens studying to go to university and living life to the full. The swinging 60s were coming to an end and we all thought we were going to change the world. I left in 1972 to study history at Goldsmiths. I was, like many other working class children of that generation, the first one in my family to go to university. My parents were so proud. Many working class children do not have the same port unity today. As the government dismantles the institutions that enabled us to aspire to some thing different and realise our ambitions. Our council homes and a grant funded education system provided the foundation, security and opportunity for me to aspire to an education and live my dream. That is why I want the children of today and tomorrow to have the same opportunity. Without the prospect of a decent home at a price poor people can afford, it becomes more difficult to achieve. I never lived permanently with my Mam and Dad again. I married from this home in 1973 and I began my married life attending university and living in a private bedsit. My council story could end here on a happy note. But this is also my Dad,s story as today is his birthday. So I have one more council home to visit. The one where my Mam and Dad spent their final days.
11 Skampton Close. 1980-1997 & 2003
Mam and Dad moved into this council sheltered bungalow in the early 1980s. I have forgotten the exact date and I can no longer ask them. They spent their final years here. Secure in a warm home knowing that help was at hand if they needed it. Isn’t that all that most of us would want from a home in our later years? I wonder if such places will exist for all in future. They lived a happy life here surrounded by friends and family. Even when poor health began to take its toll they were still the centre of the family and this was the place we all regarded as home. I visited it often with my wife and son. My Dad was the first to die after a long illness in 1997. He died in my Mam’s arms in the bathroom. They were trapped inside as the door opened inwards and it took some time to break in. After that I made sure that all of our schemes for older people had doors that opened outwards or opened both ways. My Mam died in 2003 shortly after the deaths of my two sisters in the same year. Her heart was broken. We buried them both from that bungalow. From their early married life to there final years they had spent most of their lives living in council houses which we all regarded as home. They raised a family in those homes and they watched them all move on to raise their own families. They were just ordinary people living ordinary lives but to me they will always be special. Council and social housing has provided a home for many ordinary people over the years. We must all strive to ensure it is allowed to do so in the future. I am proud to have lived in social housing, just like my Mam and Dad. They were proud people and proud tenants, just like millions of others.