Behind the Headlines

I was brought up on a council estate that was part of one of the most ambitious developments in the country, the likes of which are now long gone.

I grew up on an estate in Washington, a place between Sunderland and Newcastle that was given new-town status in 1964.

Some of the best architects, urban designers, planners, landscape architects, and highway and infrastructure engineers came together to build an entire town that would completely transform my life. It was and still is a fantastic place to live.

My mam’s council house, which she still lives in today, was designed to amazing space standards with a decent sized front and back garden. It sat around a pedestrianised square that was safe for us all to play in. I could walk to school without having to cross a road. The landscaping was amazing. Large green spaces became our fields of dreams, where we played football for hours till the sun went down.

There was an incredible mix of house types: two-storey, four-bedroomed houses like ours for young families; three-storey, six-bedroom houses for extended families; maisonettes; and thousands of single-storey bungalows.

We had plenty of amenities brand-new shops, pubs, community centres, health centres, schools, sports facilities, a thriving shopping centre, youth clubs, industrial estates, factories, workshops, art centres – the lot. We hardly left our Newtown because we didn’t have to.

And our homes were truly affordable. Families worked and paid their affordable rent to the council. If you paid your rent, you had a safe, secure, and stable home for life; and housing waiting lists were virtually non-existent.

Look where we are now. Two-thirds of all council housing has been sold off under Right To Buy, and they haven’t been replaced. More than one million people are stuck on waiting lists, and more than 100,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. The huge demand and massive lack of supply means property prices are the highest they have ever been.

Homelessness is rife, and as an ambassador for Shelter and being close to the housing industry since becoming an architectural apprentice at 16, I’ve seen far too many families affected by stress, severe depression, anxiety, poor health, and even suicide because they lack a stable home.

This must change. Not everyone wants to ‘own’ their home, and millions will never afford to buy their own home, anyway. The state needs to build homes for affordable rent for its people again. Homes should be for people and not profit.

And that cultural change needs to happen from the 31st July 2019, the 100th Anniversary of the Addison Act, when I launched my campaign to build 100,000 high-quality council houses every year for the next 30 years to replace all the state housing that has been lost.

Because without a stable roof over your head, everything else in life becomes so much harder.

Image: Houses on Heworth Crescent in Sunderland by JThomas.