As I hurtle towards the end of my fifth decade I am at serious risk of having my world turned upside down.
As a child of the latter half of the 20th Century; as someone who rapidly switched from his intended Physical Geography degree at university to human and social geography ‘you’ve seen one glacier you’ve seen them all’ and anyway human beings are much more interesting; as someone who fell in to housing and associated social science: I have happily built my professional (and probably my personal) view of the world on the skills and insight of one Abraham Maslow and his ubiquitous Hierarchy of Needs.
We all get it don’t we: without food and shelter, humans cannot progress on a journey towards self-actualisation and the zenith of being a rounded creative, contented being.
And all this high concept theorisation is wrapped up in a nice simple triangle……? What’s not to like?
And thus I have taken the need for housing as the starting point and motivation for my 25plus years in ‘the sector’.
Now this blog is not intended as some confessional or statement that my career has been wasted or that Maslow was wrong …….but I have recently been asked to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, there is something at least as important as housing something old Abraham would expect to see much nearer the pinnacle of his three sided masterpiece – friends and purpose.
A chance meeting with a friend and former colleague is starting to make we wonder if Mr Maslow was as spot on as I have always believed…..or, even if he is, then there is at least another ‘theory’ that, when you consider it in real life examples, also seems to be so true.
The friend is Maff Potts and his associated Camerados. No, not my throw away description of his colleagues, but the name of and the very heart of their activity. Helping people face difficulties in their lives with friends and purpose. As they say on their website www.camerados.org
“There are only two things in life that truly make a difference: Friends and Purpose. If you lost everything tomorrow where would you turn? Your friends. What would make you happy? Your passions. So when people are living tough lives why do we not focus on getting them these two things?”
We all know that a house or flat is not enough:
“1 in 4 formerly homeless people find themselves unable to sustain a tenancy with loneliness and isolation the main causes of this”
Crisis Homelessness and Loneliness, 2000.
Louise Casey helped author the seminal homeless policy report “More Than A Roof” way back in the early 2000s recognising this. As a concept it is not of itself earth shattering, but it is certainly making me think anew.
In the current discourse of housing crisis and a new era of house building I am concerned we will believe our own hype, propaganda and vested industry of the housing and homelessness industry (predicated on good old Maslow) that it is just about having a roof, and numbers will dominate all future discussions.
If we do that and forget about what housing is for, people, and we don’t think about friends and purpose and how people can best make use of the housing we will be short changing ourselves and future generations. Let’s try and make progress on more housing certainly, but also on a society of more friends and more people with a self-perceived purpose to their lives.
Maff and his bunch of Camerados have maybe not tuned my whole World upside down but are certainly holding up a mirror that reflects back something different and revealing.
Ashley Horsey is Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing