It was 1st October, 1980, when I began working as an housing officer for Lewisham Council at the age of 22.
I had always been interested in housing but as a lass from Teesside, 1980 was not a great time to find employment in the region, so along with many others (I later discovered there was a thriving ‘expat’ community of Teessiders) I headed to The Big Smoke.
My patch in Lewisham covered the area where Millwall Football Ground is, and you can imagine that such a tender age, it was quite an eye-opening experience. Put it this way, my three years at university in leafy Bath hadn’t prepared me for the real world.
The one thing we didn’t have back then were lone worker policies, so I would often be knocking on people’s doors in the dark asking about rent arrears without anybody knowing where I was. Believe it or not, we had rent collectors who used to walk around with bags of money as well. There were no mobiles back then if anything had gone wrong!
Fast forward to 2018 and all organisations have lone worker policies now, with staff issued with panic buttons and mobile phones to ensure they stay safe.
Another thing which has changed for the better since 1980 is care and support. Then, vulnerable people (for example those with learning disabilities) were in large institutional care. The community care act thankfully changed this and now people live in ordinary housing with support within the community.
There was also not a customer service culture in the ‘olden days’, whereas now this is very much front and centre and resident involvement/engagement is paramount.
As a woman working in housing, it’s pleasing to see so many other women in the sector and occupying senior positions. It was quite different in the 1980s. I recall one interview I had where someone on the all-male recruitment panel asked whether this was really a job for a woman and also what my husband thought about his wife applying for the job. Those sorts of questions would be actionable now, although I still did get the job!
Not everything is as rosy in 2018 as it was in 1980, though. There used to be very high levels (up to 90%) of grant funding for social housing, which meant we could build affordable homes and keep rents low as we didn’t need to pass borrowing costs on to the residents.
There was also lots of pride in social housing in the eighties. Now, the focus is more on low cost home ownership, which is fine but many people still want to rent, rather than buy.
In 1980, levels of homelessness were starting to rise, and it’s sad that today the problem hasn’t been solved .The last figures released by Shelter revealing that estimated 4,751 people bedded down outside overnight in 2017, up 15% on the previous year.
All this makes you wonder what the housing sector will look like to a 22-year-old housing officer in 2040. Hopefully, social housing will have become a real choice, sitting alongside other types of housing with no stigma attached to it. Customer service will be excellent and there will be no-one living on the streets.
Here’s to the future…….