Commonweal’s Conversation with Trustee Dr Elanor Warwick
In this new series, Commonweal’s Conversations, we’re chatting to the people at the heart of change in our sector. From frontline service users to CEOs, we want to hear everything from what makes them tick, what hope they see for the future of the sector, and what their favourite ice cream flavour is.
First up in our hotseat is Dr Elanor Warwick, Head of Strategy, Policy Evidence and Research at Clarion Housing Group, England’s largest housing association, and who has spent much of career as an architect and built environment researcher. Most recently, she joined Commonweal’s Board as a Trustee earlier this year.
While new to our Board, Dr Warwick has brought vigour and enthusiasm in abundance to the team, as she continues to help us map our way through our new thematic areas. Today, we sit down with Dr Warwick to hear a little more about her career, life and aspirations.
Commonweal Housing: What was your dream job growing up?
Dr Elanor Warwick: I wanted to be a theatre set designer because I was fascinated by the theatre. Although, I ended up taking the advice of one of my school teachers who said I should consider studying architecture. I studied at Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, and I’ve not looked back.
CWH: Tell us about your early career.
EW: I practiced as an architect for ten years, working with local authorities to build schools, healthcare buildings, as well as homes for housing associations. Then after becoming frustrated about making good architectural solutions to the wrong questions, I returned to university to study City Design and Social Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
While at LSE, I became interested in the work of the Peabody Trust Housing Association. I then went on to manage their research programme evaluating BedZED, an innovative and sustainable housing development in Sutton, South London.
Before joining Clarion, I joined the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) as the Head of Research, where I focused on evidence gathering to help practitioners and policy makers to design and deliver good quality, affordable housing.
What does your current role as Head of Strategy, Policy Evidence and Research at Clarion Housing Association involve?
In 2013, I joined the Affinity Sutton Housing Association, which merged with the Clarion Housing Group in 2016.
I’m responsible for housing research and policy guidance which includes understanding best practices, how any regulatory and law changes will impact Clarion’s work, as well as evaluating Clarion’s internal policies and designing evidence-based solutions for improvements.
To sum up, my role is really understanding what Clarion knows, what we need to know, and how we can go about learning it.
What are some of the big challenges you’re seeing?
A challenge facing our social housing stock is decarbonisation and looking at ways we can best transition our homes toward net zero in a fair and just way. Although right now we are also experiencing fundamental challenges relating to over occupancy due to the lack of social housing across the country.
Our residents are experiencing the long-term impact of the cost of living crisis. In particular, we have seen a rise in fuel poverty, so as landlords, we are focused on looking at ways to improve energy efficiency in our homes and offering our residents advice and assistance to prevent condensation, damp and mould. Additionally, our charitable partner Clarion Futures are working across the community tackling all types of poverty including food poverty and furniture poverty.
If you could go for coffee with anyone in the world, who would you choose?
James Turrell, a space and light artist who specialises in creating immersive light installations. He has a fascinating design process I would love to ask him about.
What attracted you to join Commonweal’s Board of Trustees?
I first heard about Commonweal’s work from a friend working at Thames Reach – a London-based homeless charity working with Commonweal to pilot supportive shared housing for homeless people through the Peer Landlord project.
I felt Commonweal’s ability to facilitate an organisation’s good idea for a housing solution by focusing on the property acquisition side and allowing project partners to focus solely on trailing and testing their model was very sensible and important.
Which of Commonweal’s projects is most interesting to you?
Move On Up, which housed young adult carers at risk of homelessness with Quaker Social Action (QSA). Following the project’s scheduled ending, many of the residents went on to excel in education and access jobs. So, for me, the project is a great example of how, at the right time in people’s lives, housing can be the springboard for them to overcome barriers and move on positively with their lives.
Tell us about an innovative housing scheme you’ve come across recently.
A House of Artists is a scheme designed by Apparata Architects in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, providing affordable co-housing for artists. The flats are low-carbon and dual-aspect to offer lots of open space and natural light, while the ground floor has a shared studio for residents and the community to showcase their art.
What’s one of your greatest personal successes?
Definitely getting my PhD in Geography in my mid-forties, while working and looking after my daughter. My doctoral thesis examined Defensible Space, a geographic concept that has been influential in designing out crime, and has been applied to housing estates in the UK, North America, Europe and beyond.
I take my hat off to anyone who studies part-time with a family and job!
Finally, what’s one thing on your bucket list?
To visit Bratislava in Slovakia. The city recently appointed a new Mayor, Matus Vallo, who is an architect with visions to transform and urbanise the city’s spaces and infrastructure, so I would love to visit the country while it’s on its sustainable urbanisation journey.