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What’s in a name © Jack Dorsey

Rebecca Dillon

What's in a name?

What's in a name © Jack DorseyWhat’s in a name?

There is currently much debate amongst the housing chattering classes, blog writers and internet comment leavers about whether social housing is a failing brand?

For some, such discussion is proof enough that housing associations and others have moved way too far from their roots – talk of brand implies commercial interest….. for others, of course, the opposite is true.

In reality it is about perception and we – the housing chattering classes, blog writers and internet comment leavers (those with a self perception of expertise or at least informed interest through career or life experience) – are frequently frustrated when the public at large (be they the mainstream press, or politicians or the person on the top deck of the proverbial Clapham Omnibus) – fail to get it and have a negative ‘Benefit Street’ perception of what we do , why we do it, who lives in our houses and the lives people lead there.

Surely it is right to at least question and push back against public perceptions where they are wrong?  Or use this as a starting point for genuine reflection and the taking off of any rose tinted glasses to really understand what we are doing.

I am intrigued by this debate because over the last few months I have been starting a very small scale, slow burn campaign – which effectively means just talking to mates and colleagues (my wife is fed up to the back teeth of this already) – to try and rehabilitate some housing terms and who knows even forms of housing that have fallen in to disrepute over the years.  Terms and ideas such as:

  • The boarding house landlady
  • Tied accommodation
  • Lodger
  • Backpackers hostel

I am convinced each of these can have a role to play in some way shape or form going forward.

Is it such a big step to think about how to help and encourage empty nesters or those in later middle age single because of divorce or bereavement to consider taking in a lodger or providing support to younger generation rent?  Issues of loneliness, isolation, under occupation and government policy restricting under 35’s to shared housing, which might find some solutions here for some people?

Apprenticeships are, quite rightly, big news but how many apprentices will be unable to complete their course for lack of appropriate housing? High end corporate lets for bankers and city executives are common place so why not for those at the other end of the wage and career spectrum.  Some of the best original social housing was tied accommodation – Port Sunlight, Bournville – the physical structures may be different going forward, but I am convinced the idea of housing linked to employment has a role to play.

At Commonweal Housing we are already some way down the line demonstrating that another previously reviled term, ‘shared housing’, can have a positive modern day use with our Peer Landlord model being developed with Thames Reach and Catch 22.  The Thames Reach model, supporting those with a history of homelessness and rough sleeping, has been shortlisted for this year’s prestigious Andy Ludlow Awards.

The initial internal working title for this shared housing model was actually the 21st Century Workhouse, due to our focus on supporting those who were in or actively seeking employment.  The eventually renamed Peer Landlord model helps those who were otherwise being trapped in hostels and larger supported housing schemes, by high charges and surrounded by others less advanced in their personal journeys still leading chaotic lives. However even we thought workhouse might be a step too far……but 2 years down the line this work focus and mutual support of people living in these houses is a major positive from the model thus far.  These have become houses where people work – where that is the norm and the expectation and where people feel good about that fact – they are work-houses.

Note to self……don’t be dissuaded by my own perceptions and prejudice around words …..they can change if you help change the meaning!


Ashley Horsey

Chief Executive, Commonweal Housing








Top blog image © Jack Dorsey

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