Sunday, February 12, 2012

14th Floor: The History of Social Housing in Tower Hamlets

Last week I finally saw the film "14th floor: The History of Social Housing in Tower Hamlets". I've worked as a housing management officer in Tower Hamlets for the last 24 years so as you can imagine I am just a little interested in this subject.

Columbia Buildings (1872) is mentioned which I use to manage in 1992 just before the estate action bid which transformed it into one of the most attractive buildings in the borough.

Good to see Mike Tyrrell and many other Tower Hamlets housing characters talking about their experiences. Mike is now the CEO of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH) and in the film he talks about how his newly appointed staff find it impossible to believe that as a child in the 1960s he and his family lived in a 2 bedroom flat without its own toilet or bath.

I must admit that I disagree with the romanticism of the 27 storey Balfron Towers in Poplar designed by Ernő Goldfinger.  While I personally like living in high rise tower blocks I cannot see how how people ever thought that such monstrosities were ever suitable for young families with children.

There should also been more about the truly radical history of social housing in Tower Hamlets. Such as the role of the suffragettes, rents strikes, defeating the fascists at Cable Street and "Red Stepney". 

I also think that the film was rather spoilt at the end by being too uncritical of modern developments. I have no doubt that there is lots of examples of good decent sustainable social housing developments currently taking place. But for a "history" programme it is just far too soon to judge. Many of the historic estate developments judged now to have been disastrous and knocked down (before even the loans to build them had been paid off) had at the time been thought "wonderful" and won lots of prize's and awards.

The intro video clip is a good taster to the film. I am surprised it is not on YouTube?

UPDATE: Mike Tyrrell corrected me on FaceBook to say it was "not a two bed flat we lived in but a two roomed flat. One room as a bedroom and the other as a living room and kitchen, let alone sharing the toilet on the landing with neighbours!!!!!!!!!!". Retired housing worker Bob Sheldrick also posted "I spent the first 21 years of my life in BG , living on the Horwood Estate- Pott Street. Unlike Mike we did have our own bathroom and toilet but central heating- no chance! We all lived in walk-up blocks back then and I saw mothers with their prams and babies literally climbing 8 flights of stairs". ..and people call those times "the good all days".


Robert said...

I live in a bungalow one bedroom, all four of us, my two grandson have one bedroom, I have the dinning room now a bedroom and we have the living room to live in, I have been on the waiting list for a two bedroom for sixteen years now.


John Gray said...

Hi Robert

Only one thing to do - a mass housing building programme.

Firstly, how to convince people?