As I approach my 65th Birthday I have been thinking about the next stage of my life.
Walking Into The Sunset.
It is London Marathon time again and my Twitter lifeline is full of brave women and men who will be running it for the first time. I wish them well. I ran my first London Marathon in 1983, the year our son Kieran was born. I dedicated the race to him. I ran regularly for the next 15 years until my body could take no more. A combination of a trapped sciatic nerve and knee problems forced me to stop. So I began walking instead.
I have always looked for new challenges in my life. Five years ago on 13th April I gave up my Chief Executive’s role at Midland Heart, to make way for the next generation. At the time I wondered how I would adapt to my new life. I knew I would spend more time walking but I did not know what else I would do. As I reflect on those five years I can honestly say I have enjoyed every minute. I have chaired and served as a trustee and board member on a number of great organizations. I have entered the world of social media. I have begun blogging. I have also rediscovered my campaigning voice with SHOUT and other groups.
I have always campaigned even though my housing career sometimes limited this activity. I am now free once again to voice my concerns about all that is wrong in 21st Century Britain. Sadly many of the issues that exist today are the same as those I encountered when I began my career over 40 years ago. Poverty and inequality have increased in recent years. Nowhere is this more apparent than in housing. I began my housing career hoping that one day we would overcome these two evils and that everyone would be able to live in a decent secure home at a price they could genuinely afford. We are further away from that dream now than at any other time I can remember.
This is the reason I have spent most of the last five years challenging the austerity measures and benefit cuts which have increased poverty and inequality. This is why I have criticized the lack of investment in social housing which has exacerbated the housing crisis. I have often felt a lone voice in this crusade as many in the housing sector seem intent on delivering the government’s agenda, at whatever the cost. An agenda that, despite some recent minor adjustments, will do nothing to provide homes for those I believe should be at the heart of our work.
There seems to be a growing mantra which says we must continue to build almost anything as we are freed from regulatory burden. Some go even further. Give us control of rents and lettings and we will deliver the solution to the housing crisis. I find this increasingly difficult to accept. Only in very special circumstances will this strategy help those in the greatest housing need, e.g. The L&Q partnership in London. For the majority of housing associations it will mean building more homes for ownership, market rent and so called affordable rent which will do nothing for those struggling to find a decent home at a price they can truly afford. If this is the future for housing associations, maybe it is time for me to pursue my interests elsewhere. I have said before I did not join the social housing world to become an estate agent or a developer or to deliver a right wing government’s housing strategy.
I have always thought that paths are for people who don’t know where they are going. I am now seeking to open up new paths as I approach my 65th year. I do not know where I will finish up. I fear I will journey further from the housing association world as it moves away from its original roots and social purpose. I wish it well. I’m sure it will provide homes for many people and that it will thrive and prosper in its own way. I would rather devote the next stage of my career working to help those suffering the most in Austerity Britain.
I have enjoyed working recently with the makers of a documentary called Dispossession. The film looks at the causes of the housing crisis from a radical viewpoint. Some of the established figures in housing will find it uncomfortable viewing. I hope that they do. It is a passionate film made by angry young people. Of course it is not perfectly balanced. It has a story to tell and uses strong images to get its message across. We need more people to challenge our thinking like the makers of the film. It is good that some young people still get angry about such things and want to do something about it. They remind me of the people I worked with 40 years ago when social housing was still young. I have found it hugely refreshing working with such people again.
As I seek new ventures, I will continue to walk. Sharing the pleasure with my wife Vishva. I expect to have less contact with the mainstream housing world as our paths diverge. I will concentrate on working with those at the sharp end of the housing crisis. I will end my career where it began. However If there is ever a need to remind people of the real values of social housing or if there is a call for an old campaigner to speak out, you know where to find me. I will be striding into the great unknown, exploring new routes and new horizons, in the early evening light. Walking into the sunset.