Hightown at 50

How does it feel to be 50 years old? A question which has been put to a lot of us.

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Whether the question relates to our own lives or the life of our housing association, the answer will probably express a mixture of relief and surprise we have survived so long – followed, maybe, by a bolder statement about how we feel that there is plenty of life still left in us.

That is how I think it is with Hightown.

We were formed on 19th July 1967 by some local Hemel Hempstead volunteers, Councillors and business people.

The housing and homelessness crisis had been highlighted by Ken Loach’s BBC TV drama documentary’ Cathy Come Home’ and volunteers and church groups were responding by setting up housing associations in towns and cities up and down the country.

The housing charities Shelter and Crisis were formed.

The 1960s was a period of ideas and ideals after the post-war austerity of the 1950s. On July 19th 1967, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister of a Labour Government and the Beatles were at number 1 in the record charts with ‘All You Need is Love’.

Housing associations including Hightown started to build or acquire property led by highly committed people giving their time voluntarily. Only later, as the housing associations grew bigger, did they start to employ staff.

The 1974 Housing Act provided government grant for housing associations to build homes and the Housing Corporation was set up to channel grant to housing associations and to regulate our activities.

Housing associations were also beginning to provide housing with support services for people who needed help to sustain their tenancies. Hightown started to provide care homes and supported housing for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems.

Over the years, Hightown merged with a number of other local voluntary housing associations including Praetorian H.A. and St. Albans and District Churches H.A.

Today, Hightown has 5,500 homes in management, an annual turnover of £71m and 860 staff. We have grown in recent years – building around 350 new affordable homes each year and expanding our Care and Supported Housing activities.

Hightown’s founding members would be proud of the homes that have been provided for people who cannot afford to buy or rent at market rates and of the services that are provided to vulnerable and disabled people.

But 50 years on, there is still a housing crisis. In some ways nothing has changed in all that time and the vision, inspired by Ken Loach’s ‘Cathy Come Home’ film, still remains.

That is why last year Hightown joined up with other housing associations from the late 60s and early 70s to form the Homes for Cathy group to highlight the need for housing associations to do more to house and support homeless people.

Now we are expanding the group and we hope that all housing associations will join.

50 years old and so much history – but the vision lives on!

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