LGA Podcast - Forget What You Think You Know...

Forget What You Think You Know

Forget What You Think You Know is the LGA's new podcast show exploring social issues that are affecting communities in England on a day-to-day basis.

In the podcasts we interview people facing these issues; policy and sector experts to hear about the changes that are needed; and councils who are working on the frontline to learn what they are doing to tackle these issues.

Episode 3: Vaccination roll out (March 2021)

In this episode, Birmingham City Councillor, Paulette Hamilton is joined by Jim McManus, Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council; Julie Yates, Lead Consultant for Screening and Immunisation at Public Health England; and Eleanor Kelly, Chief Executive at Southwark Council and National Adviser on Vaccinations, to discuss the roll out of the vaccination programme and how it can be maintained at a local level, the role the NHS, councils and local partners have played so far and what they can do in the future and how we can tackle the issues of vaccine hesitancy as a key challenge throughout 2021.

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Full transcription

Paulette Hamilton: Hello and welcome to the ‘Forget What You Think You Know’ podcast.

I'm Paulette Hamilton, I’m the cabinet member for adult social care and health in Birmingham. Something I really do enjoy doing is my initial role as a local councillor in the Holyhead ward in Birmingham City Council.

On today's episode I'm joined by Jim McManus director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council, Julie Yates the lead consultant for screening and immunisation at Public Health England and Eleanor Kelly the chief executive of Southwark Council and national adviser on vaccinations.

Today the panel and I will be discussing the role out of the vaccination programme, the important role of the NHS, councils and local partners and how collectively we can keep up the fight against covid. We will also be looking at some of the contentious issues about vaccinations like vaccine hesitancy and health inequalities, and how we as local champions can come together to address them.

So without further a do lets get to it.  

Jim McManus: So my name’s Jim MacManus and I’m director for public health for Hertfordshire as Paulette said, I'm vice president of the Association of directors of public health and I'm a chartered psychologist by background as well, as someone who's worked in public health for many years. at worst the vaccine performs a bit like a seat belt it may not stop you having an accident, but it will stop you dying. At best the vaccine will stop transmission. But it's not the only tool in the box we still have to do prevention and everything else so all the physical distancing and hygiene measures we will still need to keep on with.

The second key thing about vaccines is that viruses produce variants - that's just normal and when you’re rolling out a vaccine at the same time that the virus is circulating that's a dangerous time to get new variants that can evade the vaccine. So the things we have to do there are firstly get maximum uptake of the vaccine and secondly get maximum prevention, so things like self-isolation and testing and prevention become more important than ever.  

the vaccines will be a part of our strategy going forward, but we need to give the vaccine a helping hand. Is that a fair summary?

Paulette Hamilton:

Julie, I want you to try and beat that. If you could just give us a bit of an introduction, I would really appreciate it.

Julie Yates: Well it's quite hard to top what Jim has already said, but I agree completely   

I think it's important to recognise that we have built this vaccination programme on the back of all the knowledge and experience that we have of our very successful population vaccination programmes in the UK, so that we have very effective means of giving vaccines, of making sure that they are safe, we've got the structures behind this and we've got all the organisations and expertise in our directors of public health, in our health service and also in the wider NHS and community structures to be able to deliver this in a very very effective way.

I think some of that is important in actually building the confidence that we need in the population, particularly when we are bringing in vaccines at pace and it's at speed because there will be some concerns about whether corners have been cut but building it on the back of what we already know means that we don't we've got the structures there

Paulette Hamilton: That's fantastic Julie, fantastic. Can I go swiftly on to Eleanor, Eleanor Kelly.  If you could give us an introduction please.

Eleanor Kelly: Thank you Paulette. I'm Eleanor Kelly I'm the chief executive of the London borough of Southwark and I'm currently seconded into the vaccination programme as the local authority chief executive national adviser which whic h gives local government a voice within the programme and from the programme. I’d just like to put what both Jim and Julie have said into context.  

As of today we have delivered 22.7 million vaccinations of which 21.4 are first vaccinations and 1.2 are second vaccinations and that 1.2 will really rapidly rise now that we're past the sort of 8-9 and ten weeks of people receiving their first doses, so the vaccination programme has been progressing at pace. That achievement doesn't belong to the programme - it belongs to tens of thousands of frontline NHS and local government staff. It belongs to volunteers, it belongs to staff like transport workers, warehouse operatives, delivery drivers and many more all who have played in the most amazing part to ensure particularly that those most at risk groups have now been offered the lifesaving vaccination.

I think everyone involved across the NHS, across local government and across our community should be incredibly proud and so then it really has been a team effort and I'm pleased to see that governments and others recognise that and all of the praise and thanks doesn't actually just go to one sector, it goes across the piece.

moving forward we really are sort of like focusing on the three factors identified by the World Health Organisation which are confidence which is actually about vaccine hesitancy and confidence in the vaccine as Julie said.  Convenience which is about removing barriers to access and complacency which is about understanding the reasons for complacency in relation to not having the vaccine which we think will continue to be and will rise as we move through to the younger and cohorts. So that's what I would like to say by way of introduction, thank you very much.

Paulette Hamilton: Can I say to all three of you well done, but now I'm going to be awkward because I will be breaking down some of those broad-brush statements so we can get some really intimate information. we've got to live with COVID-19 in the future - what do you feel of the things we've gotta do what a local level to ensure we can maintain the vaccine roll out? Now I'm going to start with Eleanor on that one.

Eleanor Kelly: Thank you. The answer really is about getting hyper local and it's really sort of like addressing what needs to be done in a way that communities will respond to.  And for the most part that will be designed and led by the communities, because that's where their trusted voices will be and that's who they will listen to and that's who will really sort of genuine genuinely understand what the real barriers are  within those within those specific communities.

There's fantastic examples all over the country and we’re involved in actually capturing those and being able to replicate those that show other people with similar demographics what's worked in other areas and be able to really sort of like understand what would work in each individual area, really sort of like down to whether or not a particular sort of communities would like to sort of takeover and run, and apparently run, is what I would sort of like say vaccination centres.

A fantastic example in the South West where vaccination activity within a mosque to all intents and purposes is run by and for the community.  In actual fact it is part of the national programme but that doesn't actually matter that's what that's what helps to get the vaccine there, that's what helps to get vaccinators there. But to all intents and purposes it is a very very locally run and therefore trusted way of getting vaccinations. There’s some funding being recently sort of like being pushed out into the NHS with a very sort of like clear instruction that the best way of getting the best outcomes would be to work with local authorities and community groups and that's sort of like, effectively like the seed funding. The more that we can like see what works then we can go back and get some more money from the national pot to roll out that out to others.

Now I could give some of my specific examples but for anyone whether it's an employer whether it's it's in a community organisation, whether it's going to a particular community and any part of the country and whether it's a particular religion anything that sort of almost as an interest group - that's how you can sort of like really capture and get people to listen to you and be able then to design the delivery models around that that will mean that you will get the uptake.

And listening is absolutely vital having that feedback and having that feedback loop not just to capture best practise or what's worked well but to listen to concerns and where we have listened and I think the programme really has listened and where we have listened to concerns would be able to self like get ahead of issues for example people without any NHS number or homelessness or the concerns coming up in relation to two Ramadan.

So what I would sort of like say is we're listening but people need to be talking you need to be sort of like feeding into us you need to be making your voices heard in a positive way it's not about some complaining is about pointing it up we won't defend the indefensible we can't defend the unknown we need to know so that we can get one step ahead and really start addressing these issues in a way that will make communities overcome their hesitancy, feel confident and and and and not be complacent and really sort of like move forward to get their jabs as soon as they're in the cohort.

Paulette Hamilton: Right thank you for that. Jim I'm going to ask you have you got anything to say re Hertfordshire

Jim McManus: Well I think I’d agree with everything you and Eleanor have just said. from our experience there are three golden rules and four big pillars. And the three golden rules are - living with cool it means everybody knows what skills they need to live work study operate safely in an environment where COVID is still circulating that's the first rule.

The second rule is everybody needs to be confident that they can help the vaccine so we need to move from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine confidence that's the big goal and then that brings in your dressed up by the big four and the big four are structural barriers so you've addressed some structural barriers in what you both been talking about so can you get to the centre is it culturally acceptable are the lists accurate what about people who are not registered with GPS so we've got a big GP campaign going on locally the next thing is hesitancy which is a technical psychological term for the fact that people understandably have questions about the vaccine for multiple cultural ethical and scientific reasons.

The third thing is data so we now monitor optic by age and ethnicity in different bits of the County so we can tell where the gaps are and of course one of our gaps is in our Eastern European population who are all manual workers none of whom are registered by GPs well that's easy to solve. It’s a different problem from you know the fact that staff who have cultural memories about racist actions by doctors have understandably different questions so you have to take each population on its merits and address their issues honestly and upfront and I think local authorities are better at doing that to be honest.

Then the final thing is the disinformation don't spend all your effort combating  disinformation just pump out accurate information and build confidence cos all the evidence says that you’ll do a better job that way, so I think local authorities on the structural barriers, the hesitancy the data and the disinformation give them the tools and they will do the work and that's what I would say after what 30 years experience in public health. (31.37)

Paulette Hamilton: we know that there is hesitancy and we know we want to build up confidence - so how can local government help the NHS to address the issues of vaccine hesitancy as a key challenge throughout 2021?

Julie Yates: I think Jim’s touched on some of it already and one of the key issues that arises when you - the most important thing in all of this is listening and listening to populations and not making assumptions and not treating everybody as the same it's very easy to think that one approach will work for everyone.

I'm different than other colleagues on the on the call, I'm different from my next door neighbour I'm different we don't all have the same questions we don't all have the same concerns but there will be many many factors that are underpinning my beliefs and my understanding and my confidence in the programme and it's really important that we do have it considered at very local level because one of the ways that you can build confidence is actually by conversations and it it sometimes comes down to individual conversations with small groups or and and by trusted individuals so listening is one important factor but trust is another key factor, so it is important that people are able to have the correct information but that also individuals, groups, parts of the communities can have those conversations with people that they trust that they respect that they believe and understand where each other are coming from on it.

And those are the key messages that have come back from conversations with groups and communities that we’re having on the ground, so I think that those two principles are so important. Alongside that making sure that those trusted individuals have the tools, the information, the resources to actually get those messages across is really important and so local authorities have a key role in this because local authorities and particularly directors of public health and their teams understand and know their populations intimately.

They know where those populations are they know the trusted individuals and they have the contacts of people who can advocate, who are champions for those communities and they know the right way at the right times and the right places to actually go to talk to and meet those people in a way that is appropriate for them culturally, socially and every other way so it's really important that we have that joint collaborative working between the NHS and our local authority and other wider stakeholder partners.

Paulette Hamilton: I'm gonna handover to you Eleanor because I know you do this on a national level and this is the sort of granular things that we're dealing with on the ground.

Eleanor Kelly: Thank you Paulette and Julie I think absolutely sort of like nailed it in relation to her answer to your earlier question and that the important thing for local authorities in respect to that is actually being about really being that showing true local leadership and getting those messages across and sort of like doing all of those things that that Julie said.

In relation to the question that you're asking about being able to sort of let roll out getting those individuals answers to people and that sort of like getting that trusted voice in a national sense - the nhs has come together with the local government associations with the government departments including the MHCLG, DHSC and DCMS to develop and share messaging with local authorities to ensure that it’s a really seamless, joined up and unified voice.

What you don't want to hear is to hear one answer from one place and another answer from somewhere else it's too important we've actually got to get those particularly those health messaging about things like fertility to get those right and there's toolkits including key messaging, messaging for social care workforce, for carers and tools that support tackling the sort of information that you're talking about and on WhatsApp and social media and that being developed across all of the sectors.

So I think what that does is actually be able to put a resource in everybody's hands so that they can use but that they tailor it to what they know either about the individual, or about the communities because what Julie said about local authorities knowing their communities, knowing the issues that will be important to them, knowing how to find them, knowing how to reach them, knowing how to talk to them is absolutely vital but we want to make sure that we sort of like use our resources wisely

Paulette Hamilton:  Brilliant Eleanor and Eleanor I'm going to ask you one other question at this point how do we make sure everyone has equal access to the vaccine?

Eleanor Kelly: I think the issue of accessibility is an important one because it is actually sort of like goes to the heart of that hesitancy because if you make vaccine available and people don't come forward there’s evert danger that you just move on to the next cohort and that's not what the programme is doing at all.  


I think there are other issues that both Jim and Julie are in a better position from a health perspective to be able to answer - but from a logistical perspective making sure that the vaccine is available for all of the cohorts and to be able to take them up in in in order and not allow areas that for whatever reason could really sort of like rush through and get everybody vaccinated just because they don't have hesitancy or just because they don't have barriers and would actually be unfair and unequitable and we are very very conscious of that within the programme.

Paulette Hamilton: Julie could I ask you do you want to add any points to that?

Julie Yates: What I would add to that is that access is an issue and quite often when we seeing lower uptake in groups there's an assumption that its hesitancy when actually it's it's more of a practical, structural, reasonable or a factor associated with the individual.

They might have large families they might not have access to transport lots of different factors come in so we need to look at this in the round but one of the things that I would say is that we also need to remember that this is not the only programme that we have a lot of experience from other programmes - from the screening programmes, from the immunisation programmes we’ve got 23 vaccine preventable diseases.

We've got a lot of previous experience and knowledge and understanding from Jim's behavioural insights through to our NICE guidance on improving access in other immunisation programmes, so we need to build on all of this knowledge and experience and make sure that we don't forget what we already know.

We need to apply all of those including bespoke models for delivery, taking the vaccines out to people, making sure that they are delivered in a place that they can both access but they can also feel comfortable in receiving them in so there are many many things that we need to consider, but again our local authority colleagues are partnered with us in delivering those other immunisation programmes and also in the screening programme so this is something that we do as is normal practise we just need to ensure that it's all built into and remembered when we’re delivering this particular programme.

Paulette Hamilton: That's fantastic Julie. Jim do you want round that off because that just gives us a full picture.

Jim McManus: I think there's two important lessons that will come out of this, because Eleanor has talked about multiple capabilities in local government and Julie has talked about the multiple capabilities of the public health family you know PHE and other have.

So, the first lesson that will come out of this is that we kind of forgot that that public health expertise was there in the early role out of this. You know at the national level I mean I saw comms coming out from national that I just thought  ou know that people like Julie and people in my area have forgotten more about vaccine in screening uptake than than most of us will ever know and and it's crucial that we use that expertise which is psychological, public health, medical and scientific on uptake and and we failed to use that at our peril for uptake because the disinformation and the myths will fill the vaccine.

The other second massive lesson is that local government has brought a team of teams approach. So you've got public health plus logistics plus elected member leadership plus social care plus plus.. I could go on all day and those have been really neatly encapsulated in a series of case studies on the LGA website on vaccination case studies and for me those are the two big lessons that the technical expertise has been there for years and the new abilities of local government to get their heads round this in a way that actually we haven't seen in vaccination programmes historically. Those two together can only bode well for the health of the population.

Julie Yates: Yeah I think Jim is is right that we've learned an awful lot from the programme. We’ve recognised what we already had and brought that into the programme we've been able to build on that we've got better collaboration, I think we've got some really really good developments in data that we haven't had for other programmes and we although that took a little time it's now we got equality's tools we’re able to drill down.

If we can build that into our other population health programmes then that is a massive opportunity to support our populations going forward so yes there's been a lot of challenges but I think building that technical expertise the teams and teams approach and all of the other structural changes and support that we've had around this programme into others then that's it that is a really big opportunity to build better and and we want to build better as a result of the COVID pandemic that's one of our general aims.

Paulette Hamilton: how do we engage with communities, particularly the underserved population such as rough sleepers, people who are homeless and for them to take up the vaccine because those are specific groups that sometimes if we're not careful we do miss them -so can I go back to you as a start point please Julie?

Julie Yates: Yes, I mean I will come back to the listening and trust principles to start with we need to understand where the populations are and how we can get to them who they trusted etc as we mentioned before and I think as part of answering this I'd like to give an example of where I’ve see this work really well and that's in one of our towns in the South West down in Plymouth.

What happened there was that the local authority worked with colleagues from MHCLG, with all our LRF partners, our health partners and actually brought together a specific session for our homeless population within reach of a centre.

They created a bespoke specific vaccination session or sessions for this population they wrapped around that the GP service to be able to do additional health cheques, they brought in the street vet they brought in people to provide food and other services, so a whole wrap around approach enabling individuals to feel comfortable with people that they knew advocacy services they knew. They put on transport services from the homeless hostels to actually bring people into the service and they vaccinated 263 individuals from the homeless population in their session.  

So that that would be how I think you need to engage at a very very local level with people who understand the services know where the people are and then actually put in all of the elements that you need to be able to facilitate those people coming to the service or or if you can't taking it to them, but also making it worthwhile for them to go to  the service beyond the vaccination, because we know people who are in underserved populations have other health needs as well, so you can maximise the benefit of this programme by piggybacking it onto lots of other things that could be beneficial as well.

Paulette Hamilton: That’s spot on and taking it over to Jim. Jim I am a great believer that sometimes the hesitancy as was highlighted earlier is around the issue of people not being able to access the vaccine, but also is it the right people sharing the message because I had this discussion with a group of people last week that said to me well it doesn't have to be faith leaders or others perhaps we need people more locally but my argument was we have to start somewhere and faith leaders were probably the easiest group to bring together at the beginning of all of this and as we've gone down as Julia has said we've become more granular.

So is there anything you want to add that we could be doing especially with that homeless cohort and people like your Bangladeshi communities your Romany communities that seem to really struggle to engage at the moment Jim over to you.

Jim McManus: So, I think you’re spot on. The first thing is do not be deskilled by this because local government wrote the book on community development and we wrote the book on accessing hard to reach populations. We've got the skills to do it so it's a case of systematically identifying the populations and then systematically work out whether its hesitancy or its structural barriers, and it's never just one it's always both or more and structural barriers are are worse in many reason hesitancy and then just develop a plan as Julie says go hyper local and if you look at the case studies on the LGA website – Sandwell built an army of disinformation counter advocates - brilliant countering hesitancy.

Swindon actually used acceptable venues. You've got examples of Wigan where they actually trial run COVID clinics that were acceptable to different communities.
In Hertfordshire we've systematically identified every rough sleeper in every homeless person and set up special clinics we've also kind of organised transport from Watford borough council for people who can't drive, or can't otherwise get to a vaccine clinic and we're doing significant work with communities around hesitancy so we've got BAME doctors working with BAME social care staff on their hesitancy.

Now it was local government that came up with all of those ideas because we understand community development but they were all a mix of - there was a bit of structural there was a bit hesitancy and there's a bit of you know matching that up with where council capabilities can sort it. We know how to do this.

Eleanor Kelly: What I would add to what Julie and Jim have said is that there are countless examples out there and particularly as we move into phase two we're gonna need targeted work based on specific groups that we identify that need help with access or barriers and that we can learn from that from what people have already done so Jim’s given us a number of examples.

I would point out stuff like Bradford in their young ambassadors there 22 young ambassadors that reached over 1000 young people a week laying the ground about when young people sort of like answering their questions and laying the ground for when young people will need to be taken up and the vaccine.

Huge amounts of work in Dorset and Bath with traveller communities which will be really helpful for other people and Jim had said about what they did in Hertfordshire in relation to homelessness but they also did that in Oldham in wave one. They registered all of their homeless population with GP’s. Just because you didn't do it in wave one doesn't mean that it's too late not to do it now, so we've really got to push out that learning

What I would say is it's not just about building back better we've gotta build back fairer and there are huge huge lessons learned in this about how we can make all of those programmes all of those 23 vaccination programmes that Julie mentioned make that fair for everybody because the communities that are not being reached early in relation to this vaccination programme are the ones that are that were already sort of left behind in those other vaccination programmes and its an ill wind  that blows nobody any good there is fantastic good that can come out of the the effort and the fantastic work that's been done, the learning that’s come out over the course of the last year.

Paulette Hamilton: Fantastic now it's my last question I'm afraid, but I do want to ask this before we round this up. How do we build vaccine confidence in young in the younger cohort and tackle tackle misinformation? The reason I'm asking this is because lots of younger people don't necessarily become very ill, but they're going into families with vulnerable people and they’re the ones then becoming ill so how can we build vaccine confidence in this group which I feel will be the group that we will have to do the most work. So can I start with Eleanor please?

Eleanor Kelly: I think I mentioned about Bradford and how they had sort of like thought earlier on about those young ambassadors and I think that's a really fantastic models for other people to to follow on from.

I think that the messaging around the importance for the whole for the whole community and also the impact that that the pandemic has had on young people and on their education, on their employment prospects means that the messages are there to be given.

That young people are young now but then you know they'll get older and then they'll actually realise the impact that their behaviour and their ability to be able to sort of like join in and move through society in a way that's really really it will be really important to them is absolutely vital, and that learning a lesson young about the importance of health, the importance of wellbeing, the importance of community engagement and the importance of taking your position in relation to society and taking ownership and control of your own health and those of others around you is a really important message in learning for us to be able to take that opportunity to really get that message across to young people.

And for them I don’t think it's about hesitancy it’s more about complacency and we really have got to sort of like work hard collectively, work hard to get that message across to young people about the importance for everybody, for them to sort of like be part of that movement and part of that approach.

Jim McManus: I think we've got 40 years of experience from working HIV that shows us that first of all identify the communities relevant, work with them, use their trusted voices and actually empower them to give the message over. And young people are you know most young people these days have got scientific minds where they can understand this complexity of this stuff and have a better instinct for disinformation than most of us adults.

There are very few things I like out of American public health models but two things I do like - one is the vaccine confident programme that their rolling out in America for healthcare staff and I think we could copy it up for young people here and get young people to lead it. And the second thing is in the US they do trusted voices, so barbers in America actually are the people that young men particularly young black men will listen to actually go through those trusted voices and train them. So again, there there's a lexicon we can use here on this and I think we should start pushing on that.  

if we play our cards right when we come to revaccinate people which we may need to do in this pandemic, or we may need to do for the next pandemic because there will be another one - they're coming every 10 years now these new animal emerging viruses.  We need to learn the sheer capability that local government has harnessed alongside the NHS and all the kind of technical and scientific families and Public Health England and others and among that will be the sheer capabilities of local authorities can improve vaccine uptake and vaccine access. That’s a massive realisation it's a marathon not a sprint so is Eleanor and you said Paulette, start somewhere and work out from there, but start with populations and listening and you know take out the old communities development textbooks from the 1970s and dust them off because the principles work here.

Paulette Hamilton: Thank you Jim that's excellent. Julie you've got the final word.

Julie Yates: Thank you. I mean I would just echo some of what Jim has said in terms of using trusted voices in the community. We do within some of our screening programmes we use hairdressers to spread the message and to encourage people to come forward for screening so we can use some of these mechanisms some of these ways of working with vaccination programmes as well.  

I think it's it is important that we are going to have to build this into our normal business as usual because as Jim said it's marathon and these things are going to arise again, so we know that we're going to have to look at this alongside our flu programme, alongside other programmes and ensure that we can deliver all of this at the same time without tipping over the services that are there for other things we need like our GP services. So we're going to need to be smart in the way that we do this, but I think the key to it is collaboration, working together and building on our structures processes and the ways that we work together as a team.   

In terms of the young people when I'm quite hopeful with the young people and I think we shouldn't underestimate how much young people care about other people, about their own families, their grandparents and how much they actually want to get back to normal and they want to be able to travel and they want to be able to visit people safely. Not just safely from their own perspective but they're worried about transmitting something to somebody that they care about and that they love.

So I think I'd like to end on that point because we’re down on young people quite often and  I feel very positive about them that they can be ambassadors, they don't believe what's on the Internet - they're very savvy at picking out what's right and what's wrong. We just need to help them with that and I think we might be pleasantly surprised when we get down to those levels in the cohorts I certainly hope so.

Paulette Hamilton: Well we've got to end on a positive note and for me what I'd like to say to end this - I am really proud of how the local authorities across this country as reacted throughout this process.

We have had to learn new ways of working, we have had to learn how to work in collaboration to change the way we do things, but I believe that local government has really played a massive role throughout the pandemic but through this vaccine rollout.  I know we will continue to play our part; I know we will continue to be phenomenal. We will lead from the front. We will support where needed. We will carry when needed but the local authorities of cross this country and public health and social care have absolutely been phenomenal.

We have to remain positive. We have to remain alert. We have to understand that people have hesitancy because they don't understand everything they're being told. Once you tell them and once they get it they will do the right thing, but also for people like myself I cannot wait to go on another holiday!

So, on that note I'm going to say Jim it's been a pleasure as usual Jim McManus. Julie I've not met you before but Julie Yates you have been a star and Eleanor Eleanor Eleanor Eleanor you have given the national perspective in such a way that I couldn't have asked for anymore. So, you've made a wonderful panel it's been a brilliant session and thank you all very much.

Thank you for listening to the ‘Forget What You Think You Know’ podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode hit the subscribe button and give us a rating. We look forward to seeing you next time.


Episode 2: Homelessness and the pandemic (December 2020)
Alek painting a fence at his homeless shelter

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound effects on our communities. In the UK alone, tens of thousands have tragically passed away as a result of the virus. Restrictions on our daily lives have been immediate, and, for peacetime, unprecedented in scale. The impact on local people, and on the services which support them, has been huge. Homelessness is one area which has been impacted heavily by COVID-19.

In the episode we talk to Alek, a 27- year old from Estonia, who was homeless and living on the streets as the outbreak of COVID-19 happened. He gives an account of how Haringey Council helped him find safe accommodation to shelter him from the dangers COVID-19 poses and how Haringey Council have continued to support him as he looks to progress with his life. The episode also explores how approaches to tackling homelessness changed as the outbreak of the pandemic happened and what needs to happen next to keep homeless people from returning to the streets.

Matt Downie MBE profile shot

We also visit Matt Downie MBE, Director of Policy & External Affairs at Crisis to hear about the national picture around homelessness, how changes in Government policy in response to the pandemic has affected council's ability to tackle homelessness and what is needed in the future.

For information, some of the stats on homelessness in Britain have changed slightly since the interviews were conducted in early December. 


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Full transcription

Ben: I'm Ben Murray, and you're listening to the Forget What You Think You Know podcast. In today's episode we will be focusing on homelessness in Britain and what impact COVID-19 has had on it. As part of today's episode we have spoken to people who have faced homelessness, people working on the frontline to help those facing it, and experts in the sector.

Gill: We were doing the work that many of us had come into the homelessness sector to do which was end homelessness and end rough sleeping.

Ben: That's Gill Taylor. She's the Strategic Lead for homelessness at Haringey Council and our first stop on the podcast.

Gill: I think in the last few years for us we've learned a lot about rough sleeping in particular I think before sort of 2017 we didn't really have many rough sleeping services in the borough at all and so we didn't really understand very much about who was rough sleeping what was going on for them and then we certainly didn't have as many services available for people as we do now.

So probably in the last few years we've definitely seen the number of people on the streets in Pre sing and a lot of those people are people from EU countries and who might be either newly arrived in the country or find themselves homeless as a result of being in precarious kind of housing or employment situations but we've also seen a lot of people who have got very complex support needs that are presenting to us who have perhaps been British Nationals living here their whole lives but who have really struggled with the kind of cuts to public services and the effects on accessing mental health and drug services in the last few years so yeah and big increase.

Ben: So it sounds like homelessness was on the rise prior to COVID-19 but what was causing these issues?

Gill: Well I think most people that work in homelessness would acknowledge that particularly rough sleeping is about a lot more than just housing but I think at the foundation of of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing for people particularly those people who are quite vulnerable with different support needs or perhaps for those who working full time isn't possible. So in London obviously there's a significant problem around the price of private rented accommodation and accessing that but there's also obviously a lot of issues with the reduction in the number of social housing flats and houses available so that's been a real real factor involved certainly in London, but I think beyond that there's a lot of complexity around the needs that people have when they are living on the streets so their health needs, mental health needs, drugs services an I think generally as well the sense of isolation that a lot of people experience on the streets is something that we've really been trying to tackle and that affects people's ability to kind of live independently.

Ben: So there are a number of issues, but how did Haringey Council look at helping these people facing homelessness when all these different issues were in place?

Gill: So in 2018 we redrafted our rough sleeping strategy and the focus of that really was about thinking about the kind of harms of rough sleeping, so beyond just the fact that people didn't have accommodation and recognising that a lot of people sleeping on the streets had a lot of the health issues I was talking about. But also there was associated issues around anti-social behaviour and people being victimised on the streets as well so that kind of connection across lots of different bits of work the council did was our first kind of priority really in understanding more about the people on the street. So when the rough sleeping initiatives programme funding came available we were really fortunate to access some of the first years funding for that and we increased our outreach team capacity so that really helped us in knowing who was on the streets, where they were, what their problems were, and it gave us a local service rather than just the pan London services that are available. And since then we've developed a lot of different things, so we've we recognise that a lot of people were unable to access accommodation in emergency situations or for rest bite so we set up a crashpad service, which is short stay kind of service for people to get off the streets quickly, get some stability and good night’s sleep and start to move them on their journey away from street homelessness. We've commissioned night shelters for a number of specialist caseworkers working with people that have got very complex immigration, health and housing needs. And we've recently been successful in getting funding for a dedicated social worker and a dedicated rough sleeping health service which for us in the borough was the first homelessness health service that we've had so it's been really amazing to be able to offer that to people where they were struggling to access healthcare before so a lot has changed.

Ben: so that was the strategy set out by Haringey and it seemed to be working. Then COVID-19 hits. On 26 March, Minister for Local Government and Homelessness, Luke Hall MP writes to all council leaders asking them to get all people living on the streets housed in safe accommodation to shelter them from the potential dangers COVID-19 poses to their health. This was called the 'Everyone In' initiative. So how did the council react?

Gill: It was a shock. I think it was really welcome for us actually, we really embraced the sort of spirit of the letter that Luke Hall sent and we recognised it was a massive opportunity for us to engage with some people we haven't been able to before either because they weren't eligible for housing or because they didn't feel able to access it for other reasons, so for us it was a huge opportunity to do to do some of the work we knew we needed to do. That's not to say that it was easy, certainly in those first four weeks I think we brought into emergency accommodations something in the region of 300 people in the first month and in total in the three months of lockdown it was around 700 people that we provided accommodation and support for and what that really meant was building a kind of entirely new infrastructure we weren't used to in providing accommodation with such urgency for those people. Only about 50 of those 700 people would have been in priority need for housing had they approached us before Covid so it meant that we were suddenly not only having to find accommodation for all of the people that we did but also secure food for them and other kinds of welfare support and specialist housing support around kind of what's going on for them in long term and that meant everything from working with local mutual aid groups to local volunteers. We had people in my team driving food around to various different hotels at the very beginning, it was all quite quite frontier it felt in the beginning. Most of us working anywhere in the region of housing or communities or homelessness were kind of working 12 hour days, seven days a week for that first, at least the first month and a half and for quite a long time after that in honesty. What was great about it was this sense that you sort of looked around and you thought wow the people I work with are amazing you know, that really insightful, really intelligent, resourceful people and often we don't really give ourselves that much credit, I think in the council particularly because we know we are often faced with some really difficult decisions and we can't always help the people that we would want to. I feel it really made me reflect on the negative impact that has on the kind of public services and how amazing it did feel to look around at your colleagues and think wow we're really all working towards the same thing everybody here has not only the kind of skills to do this work but really also the human kind of compassion for other people in our community to keep everyone safe so for me that was a really positive if absolutely knackering thing to do.

Ben: So going forward from here, how will Haringey continue this work and what are the challenges?

Gill: I think at the very start of lockdown the way we were talking was this is going to change everything forever, that we can never go back to how things were because of how much we know we can achieve when we're able to, and given the opportunity to, and I think I still stand by that and particularly I think one of the things that's been amazing that's changed is the kind of response to homeless people around their health. Some of the partnerships that we've developed with local organisations and with kind of broader health organisations working in London has been absolutely amazing and I've never seen so many people registered with GPS, so many people getting flu jabs now, and allsorts of different things that just wouldn't have been available before and in a way that's been amazing. I think the kind of challenge to that or the tension is ultimately the same tensions we always have which is resource. Haringey Council has spent upwards of £4,000,000 on this accommodation provision and the support that's available for homeless people and whilst we are incredibly happy and feel privileged to be able to do that that comes with consequences in the long term for our budgets, and the settlements that we have had, while they've been very welcome just haven't been enough to fund the amount of money that we have spent. So I think in the long term, without a significant kind of rethink about the way that homelessness services are funded both the kind of rough sleeping services but also crucially the supported housing provision that exists for people that's longer term, I suspect that unfortunately lots of things will return to a kind of a normal that we had before.

Ben: So what about the people facing homelessness. What was it like for them going through a pandemic while living on the streets? We wanted to know more. We caught up with Alek, a 27 year old who found himself homeless at the beginning of 2020 after facing some difficult personal circumstances. He was recently helped off the streets by Haringey Council as part of the Government's Everyone In scheme. We joined him and his key worker Phee to hear his story.

Alek: I've been living in the UK since 2012 and only like last year, like this earlier this year I became homeless. I used to work all the time and stuff like that but first I lost my best friend and I lost my dad so it got stressful for me, so I started taking drugs, that's how I become homeless and so it's not it's not it's not perfect, I’m just being honest and real I can say too you. So it's not a good thing to do but it's just what happened to me and I'm trying to say and now I'm clean for 3 and a half months, I don't take anything else coz I'm trying to change my life back and trying to get back on track. Obviously, Haringey Council helped me out. So in future I want to get back to job as well so start working and you know I mean because like like the life I used to live when I was homeless it's not it's not the one.

Ben: The major outbreak of COVID-19 hits in March and as part of Everyone In, Haringey Council offer Alek a safe place to stay in a hotel.

Alek: Funniest thing, the day that I got housed, the next day was my birthday. It was the 24th of March my birthday is 25 March, to 24th of March to 25th of March. Phee said I don't need you to worry, we have a place for you boom boom, then she she printed the information, set it out there and since then I’ve been housed but is like is like a real blessing I guess, that's what I can say to you, because like as I told you COVID-19 is a sad thing but I mean its only helped me out, with the house and it happened just a day before my birthday so as I said it's been shocking but it is a nice shock I guess I can say to you.

Ben: Unfortunately, hotels housing homeless around the Haringey area were full, meaning he had to originally be housed in a hotel in West London, an area he wasn’t that familiar with. This posed a number of challenges for Alek. However, Haringey Council and Phee were working hard to try and find him accommodation back in North East London, in a place more familiar to him…

Alek: It was so far because we were in North East London and I actually had to go all the way to West London, so literally across all of London. When I came there, and because at the time I didn’t even have a phone, so the information of the address they actually give to me was a few houses next to where is the hotel was, so I was panicking. I was knocking on doors and they were like no we don't know nothing about that and I had to walk around for half an hour or so then I met somebody who was meant to go there as well and eventually we found the hotel. When we found the hotel and the the person who spoke to us was like yeah the rooms are there, it was like a stone dropping from your chest and I was like that was okay because when I was sleeping rough you know it's just, just the little things like taking a shower and warm bed, it means that lot you know, because you can chill in your own personal area and watch some TV and I mean relax maybe talk to your family members to say you know what everything is OK I'm blessed. That that was I guess was the most relieving point like you know I mean like then I felt so happy.

Ben: Eventually the council came through and found Alek a hotel in Finsbury Park, back in North London… this helped him massively

Alek: Of course I was alright but then obviously Phee said look, like your a prioritiy for us, so we have got a place for you with a new project going on there so we're going to send you there. So yeah I said no problem I don't mind because Finsbury Park is kinda, is close to the area where I used to live in Tottenham so I know people from there, because when they sent me to West London I don't know nobody there. So its just that you know sometimes it's like you just want to chat to somebody and like like even just the person you know we just find out how how it is and maybe telling them what's on your mind or based person going to tell you what's on his mind and like just being able to express yourself and you start feeling better. So when they move me in in the beginning it was little bit tougher, I was stressed, I was still doing bad things bad things now and then but then I realised myself like if I'm not going to do this myself no one is going to do it for me. Like there's people here to help but they're not going to if they see that kind of energy from you. If you want to get help, you want to do something with your life, they gonna do that they're gonna give it a hand to kind of help but if you're not gonna do it yourself then its not gonna happen, that's what I was thinking.

Ben: So Alek got the move, and its safe to say he was a lot happier and more settled. But what difference does having a place to call home do for you? How can it help you turn your life around?

Alek: That's right because it's like I was doing the drugs and you know when you're living on the roads on the streets like sleeping rough, it'll be hard to get it off because what you think you look like, for example like right now I don't wanna do them because I've got a house I can go home watch TV, maybe cook a dinner, do plenty of different things, but when you’re stressed already and you’re sleeping rough you’ve got nothing else to do and that's the only thing you know like like that's when you know what to do. So that's why I think I want different options right now and that’s what you do because that's all as I told you earlier like I want to find a job in future and I mean I want to start working I can get back on track because like I wanna have family as well, things like that you know I mean, because you only live once and you have to do do something like. As I told you I'm I'm European and I've been living here so for me because I was thinking of my family, because they was doing the sacrifices when I was younger for me, to come in here and mess up my life like this, they wouldn't be happy with this, like they would be looking at me as a disappointment like. So I try to like each day get closer with them because like with certain times I didn’t speak with the family, as I told you because I was ashamed of myself you know. Basically were getting closer and like its making me encourage myself to make them proud and I mean because like they done something back then and I'm still a young guy is like like I have all my life ahead of me. So I can't like just sit down and say life is not this and this. I have to do something. Plus there is the people like Phee and other key workers who’ve helped me out.

Ben: Another issue that was looming for Alek was that he had no passport, leading to a number of complications when it came to him looking to progress with his life and get back up on his feet. Phee made that a priority and helped Alek through the process.

Alek: My problem was, I lost my passport, my passport got stolen so I wasn't able to pay for it because my family don't have that much money so it was a big problem maybe for a couple months because I need to be enrolled in benefits and to get my housing benefit, so I have to have actually paperwork for it. So I didn't have that and I spoke to Phee and she said OK how much is it? We're going to pay for it. So that's when we both went to my embassy, done all the paperwork,  so thanks to Phee and the council, now I got my passport, my ID card so I'm all legit. That’s what basically it is her because I was kinda shy to ask people like “can you give me help?” and “can you pay for it?” like it's just pride I guess, normal pride. I was in going to just leave it but she's that kind of nagging me to say I will have to do it, I have to do it, I have to do it, and she actually put it through like to make a payment, she went with me so to sort everything out so thank you very much that's why I'm grateful to her. Since I moved in she's like like the other people who have been checking on me a lot like as well like how are you? how you doing? how you find yourself? but she was the most like. She was the first calling me when I was to leave from west London because it's quite far but when I moved into Finsbury Park almost everyday, but this couple times that we bumped into her and she always makes sure to ask her how are you? whats going on? like how is your progress with everything? so I can say 100% she's a major major thing in my like in my situation and what was going on in my progress as well.

Phee: too much credit man, too much credit!

Alek: No (laughing) I’m just being honest, I’m just being honest!

Phee: To be fair, I think you just touched on some really important points Alek, because it was really important for us that you had all of your rights and that you were going to get everything you are entitled to and we identified quite early that actually the ID was gonna stop you’re EU settled status and so that was a real priority. I'm just really lucky coz you took me down to the Estonian embassy, which I have to say is beautiful, and lovely, and you took time to help me understand so much about you know your life growing up and all the amazing things you’ve done. You even persuaded me to visit Russia you know and I think the fact that you are so open to this stranger coming with you and you know it not feeling like a barrier in and of itself, I’ve got a huge amount of respect for you for that, because a lot of people don't ask, a lot of people don't think we can fund these things but obviously like our main motivation is to make sure that you, as a human, get everything that you are entitled to. And also credit to you because you've been really open about the drug use and that meant we could like practically talk about it in a way that I hope has left you feeling like you know there’s less stigma around it, because we know it happens. Just letting you know that we are there for you, we want to be. I think you've absolutely smashed it, your resilience and motivation is unparalleled and it's amazing.

Alek: Thank you very much.

Phee: You know and I really feel like you're such an asset because you bring a lot to the space yourself, you you've encouraged people to talk to us, open up to us, thats helped them take the steps, you've acted as a role model in that space, you help people share their feelings, their frustrations, but also as a young man being able to articulate you know like yeah this is really tough and really shit, that I think is really powerful and really realistic and it makes such a difference in that community. So thank you.

Alek: You're welcome, you’re welcome and thank you thank you, its mutual, its mutual!

Ben: so whats next for Alek? What does the future hold for him?

Alek: I'm still waiting for my settlement status, so that's the main point too because my benefits are just waiting only for that. So obviously for now like I want to work, but for now I'm not going to be rushing because there's a lock down happening. You don't know what's going to happen next year, Christmas is around the corner, so my first thing is get myself and settlement status, get my benefits, and get myself a house, that's my main priority. Hopefully is going to be done by the Christmas because I don't wanna spend Christmas in a hotel. Hopefully it could happen then by then and new year is new me. So obviously I will try to find a job, the past, I will leave it in the past that I want to come back to you the only just go forward that's only thing and yeah, find a job hopefully, I'm looking for kind of receptionist jobs or something and plus Phee told me there is a position going on with Haringey Council, and she said it’s going to be good for me because I got experience with that, I experienced it myself, so for me to kind of work with people and explain to them, understand them, is going to be more easier, but I can't say nothing now, so we got to see what the future holds for us that's all I can say.

Ben: I wanted to hear a bit more about what Phee and her team had been doing on the ground since the outbreak. I took a bit of time to talk to her when Alek had left.

Phee: I mean in some ways it's kind of the ways we been helping had been, I don't know might be considered quite minor, but I have to say the first point we got everybody together and we were providing breakfast and dinner, like people physically started changing they looked less tired, their cheeks were rosy, you know they were more uplifted, and I have to say that that was probably one of the most positive things I'd seen because I've known a lot of these individuals from across the year at Mulberry Junction and seeing the difference of just a regular diet and nutrition you know, as simple as it sounds made the most difference. But then I suppose we've been instrumental as a team in containing Covid in and of itself. We had a case at one of our hotels we managed it really really safely and avoided of course an outbreak, as you would never want 100 plus people to become unwell. And the resident you know obviously emailed the team to thank them for keeping her so safe and feeling really really supported and the difference that that had made to her so that was a really so positive in terms of managing everybody safety and knowing that she felt good and not stigmatised and not scared and knew that we were there on hand for her. But a lot of the other cases are around you know finally getting people's EUSS status and getting them signed up to Universal Credit, making new referrals to housing so they can genuinely move on to something far more independent and you know we've had really positive outcomes in partnership with our housing needs team and that's just wonderful especially when people message us or pop back to tell us how happy they are in their new studio or their new shared house. And doing that follow up work as well to make sure they're still well and to make sure they've got everything they need in their new homes, yeah those kind of cases I think are really wonderful. I think we have undoubtedly kept people alive.

Ben: So looking forward what's needed to tackle this in the long term? 

Phee: I think in the long term the increase or that suggested number of social housing developments is absolutely crucial but it's not immediate enough. I think it's really important that we look to the future and recognise that you know without any drastic legislative changes, this is a position that we are facing and have been for some time. As I said I started in 2012 and I've definitely not seen it get any better, so I think making sure that we have really solid firm you know plans and commitments to achieve those will be fundamental because the instability that a lack of housing brings to individuals and the impact that it has on young people growing up in households where this is a constant kind of concern and anxiety, you know it's really, really detrimental to peoples well-being and all the things that they are going to be able to achieve in their lives. Like housing is a human right and I think you know a lot more needs to be done around that and that we can't rely on the private rented sector in the way that we are because it’s unsustainable and it doesn't necessarily in and of itself meet the needs of the individuals needing to access housing.

Ben: So that's what is happening on the ground. But what about the national picture? We caught up with Matt Downie MBE, who is the Director of Policy and External Affairs at the homelessness charity, Crisis. We asked him about the national trends in homelessness prior to COVID-19 and how the pandemic is expected to effect these trends after.

Matt: I think it's important to recognise that actually before the pandemic hit, homelessness had been in in basically almost all of its forms been going up, quite rapidly, since about 2008 so really goes back to the financial crash and then some of the policy choices that were made after that. And that isn't just rough sleeping and, and, it's important to note that rough sleeping is obviously the worst form of homelessness for people to experience, it that is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the numbers. Local councils will tell you up and down the country that you know actually it's it's not just that it's the thousands of people on waiting lists for housing who are given some form of statutory right to housing, it's also the thousands of people who are sofa surfing, living in unsuitable temporary accommodation, hostels, night shelters, and if you add all of that together, as you know before the pandemic hit that’s around about 170,000 people and households living in those worst forms of homelessness and that's been you know that's been kind of decade long story. That's really to do with the lack of affordable housing particularly social housing, but also overtime the sort of gap between what welfare can pay for in terms of the cost of rent and the reality of rent has got wider and wider and wider so so you can see why people fall into homelessness, sort of on a macro level, there’s just not a safety net that is needed to catch people, but you can also see why it's so much harder for councils these days to actually help people out of homelessness. So in a sense we've got two problems. One is how do you prevent it? And then how do you stop it after it's after its occurred? And both of those problems have become much worse in the run up to the pandemic. You know sitting here, now in December none of those problems have been resolved.

Ben: COVID-19 hits and councils across the country carry out work to get everyone sleeping on the streets into sheltered accommodation. Thanks to the programme, government figures show that councils got 90% of those sleeping on the streets in. With that said, did it work?

Matt: Okay so so the Everyone In scheme is is in some ways a kind of a miracle, in some ways it’s really not, so so it needs unpacking a bit. If we take ourselves back to the 25th of March when Louise Casey sent her email saying let's get everyone in by the weekend and she also said let's get everyone out of night shelters by the weekend as well because they are not safe from Covid. What we saw was sort of remarkable in in in the in the way in which that represented a collective vision and a collective purpose and sense of energy for dealing with the worst forms of homelessness, in a decisive way that we've not seen before. You know probably the last time there was that kind of level of centralised and central government vision and intent was when Louise Casey was was working in government before which was in the late 90s and early 2000s, when rough sleeping went down by 2/3, so it definitely did bring a level of success, and it's important to note that many thousands of people were helped off the streets and out of night shelters. So around 15,000 people were given some form of emergency accommodation that was self-contained.

Matt: Two things happened one was that's the threat of the virus was much reduced for for that population of people and then another study published in The Lancet showed that over 20,000 people who amongst the homeless population, who would have otherwise contracted the virus didn't contract the virus, to hundreds of people avoiding hospitalisation and death, and that that is something to be celebrated unequivocally. Without kind of you know any sort of doubt as one of the most impressive pieces of kind of central government activity we've seen on homelessness and will ever really. But also it's worth noting that that people who were put into emergency accommodation were still homeless, there were just didn't emergency accommodation and some of those people have been in hostels, some on the street, some in night shelters, some people who just quickly come into homelessness because of the effect of the pandemic so it's it's not that rough sleeping ended, it's not that 90% of people who were rough sleeping were no longer rough sleeping, actually the 90% stat is slightly misleading because what it actually means is that 90% of people who were seen by local councils at that point in late March were given some form of offer,  that doesn't mean that 90% of people who were rough sleeping are no longer rough sleeping, it doesn't even get anywhere near that. The idea that 90% of rough sleeping is over is not true and we've now seen the return. So the most reliable numbers are in London where we've got really good database for for this and it shows that essentially rough sleeping went up dramatically as people essentially came out of the woodwork and were giving given emergency accommodation at much higher levels than we realised and we thought were out there before the pandemic. Rough sleeping obviously went as you know thousands of people went into emergency accommodation but what we now see is that on average, on any given night, the numbers are pretty much where they were before the pandemic, may be slightly lower, which is good news and we should celebrate that but what it’s not done has taken the majority of rough sleeping away.

Ben: So is the situation worst than we feared? Was the effort all in vain?

Matt: There were loads of councils that have worked miracles, absolutely worked miracles and and I think it's it's sometimes a shame that the credit for this goes to central government for its direction and its funding, when actually the logistics of it and and practicality has been local councils, housing options officers, local charities and faith groups, in real communities up and down the country. That's the success story here for me. The way in which people took that signal to say right let's up our game, lets up our expectations for what success means here and lets run with that, has meant lasting success in lots of places and we've seen councils, and look I can't name them all, but councils like Newcastle, like Southwark, like Norwich, like Liverpool, really step up and do things that were not just what Louise Casey was asking for, but much more as well.

Ben: So what next? What needs to happen to help the situation post-pandemic?

Matt: In March, what was really striking about the way the Government talked to local councils about this issue is that what Louise said in her email was that, essentially any of the previous rules and restrictions, particularly about who shouldn't be helped into accommodation, ignore them all. This is a public health emergency don't worry if somebody who previously would have qualified for local support is now given support, and you know that's the right thing to do. It is a really interesting message to come across because all of us have known, including I mean local council housing teams more than anyone, but all of us have known for many years that we've got this two tier system of people that qualify for help and those that don't and many of those that don't when you look at it is just is cruel it's arbitrary. You know if you if you could be deemed to have had caused your own homelessness or somehow can't prove that the local connection to the area is the right one, even if you've been living in this country for decades when it comes to it and you need help you don't have recourse to public funds, you know all of these things were ignored to start with and we said as a country that we would help people because they need help not because they qualify for help. So I think that the the number one thing that needs to be continued not just through the pandemic but as a principle for how we address homelessness is that the reason that people need help is because they are at risk of homelessness or experiencing it, not because the law says they meet the criteria so so I would say the first thing is that. Clarity needs to be back and there were plenty of councils that even today will say they don't actually know who they should be helping, they don't know if it's legal even to be helping people, certainly those who were born outside the UK who are homeless in the UK, so that that absolutely needs these clarifying. But of course it needs paying for as well. And you know before the pandemic local councils in England were spending over a billion pounds a year on temporary accommodation. Let's be clear that's temporary accommodation where the people are still homeless. That bill sits over and above the housing benefit bill and it's, it's crippling the budgets of lots and lots of councils so you can't up the expectations on helping people who are homeless particularly when the causes of homelessness are all still there and expect local authorities to be able to pay for it. What the government will rightly say and they should be credited for, is that there have been pots of funding so there's the protect money that came out a couple of weeks ago, there was 15 million of that, there was the next steps funding that you talked about, there was the initial 3.2 million that came out as well, these these kind of almost kind of one off kind of bursts of funding. You know every time they come out what Crisis has to do, and we always feel kind of we've kind of got no choice but would rather say something else, we always have to say is this is good but it's not everything that's needed, and we sound like a broken record, so does the LGA, so does every single council, we say you know thank you but not good enough. You know I know full well because I've spoken to central government officials about this and they feel like that they can sometimes they can't get it right, that whatever they do, whatever they say, whatever battles they win with the Treasury to get more money for homelessness, we will always say it's not enough and I think to a certain extent there right as well. That you know this week we've gotta get off this merry go round of short burst of funding particularly because it you know what often happens is local councils will put in a kind of exceptional bid to do something that meets the criteria of, so for example the next steps funding where you're asked to provide some form of accommodation for a year or so for somebody when they know full well the answer is long term if not permanent accommodation, particularly for rough sleepers with complex needs and you know short funding rounds of course they will bid for them, but they know what they really want is a secure source of revenue funding particularly for the support for these people over a longer period of time. So yes more funding and probably more so I would say than the funding we've got to reset the principle of who gets helped.

Ben: So maybe the picture around homelessness isn’t as clear cut as it seems. Although the Government's Everyone In scheme seemed to have saved thousands of lives and may have given many, like Alek, an opportunity to turn their lives around, work is still needed to be done to provide a permanent option for those facing homelessness and to stop people returning to the streets in the coming months.

Everyone In did however provide a new ambitious, localised approach to homelessness. It gave councils and their partners the tools and opportunity to get people housed. Although still a temporary solution, it could be something to be explored further as we look at new ways to help the country's homeless post-pandemic.

I'm Ben Murray and you've been listening to the Forget What You Think You Know podcast.

Episode 1: Council housing (October 2020)
Norwich City Councillors standing outside the award winning Goldsmith Street Council Housing scheme

In this episode, Ben Murray visits Norwich to find out about their award winning council housing scheme, Goldsmith Street. What makes this scheme so special is that it is the first council housing scheme to ever win the prestigious RIBA Stirling Award, beating off competition from the likes of innovative private developments such as the London Bridge tube station rennovation.

First stop on the podcsast is a visit to RIBA president, Alan Jones to talk about why he has a passion for council housing and what stood out about Goldsmith Street when he was on the judging panel for the Stirling Prize.

RIBA President, Alan Jones sat in his London office

After an insight into why Goldsmith Street is so special, Ben visits the Mikhail Riches offices in Islington to speak to the architect responsible for Goldsmith Street, James Turner. He gives an account on the design aspects of the scheme and highlights what a 'Passivhaus' standard can do for housing and climate change. 

The third visit is to the Goldsmith Street scheme itself to see for ourselves what the fuss was about. Ben is joined at the scheme by councillors from Norwich City Council to hear about what the new estate has done for residents living there and what it's done for Norwich on the whole.

The final stop on the podcast is to Kate Henderson, chief executive at the National Housing Federation. She discusses the national picture on council and social housing and gives us an insight into why it means so much to her.

Please be aware the interviews were recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic but the facts and figures remain similar to today.

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Full transcription

Ben Murray - Hello and welcome to the forget what you think you know podcast I am Ben Murray and today I'm asking you to forget what you think you know about council housing and to help you to do just that I've come to Norwich, to look at an award winning council housing scheme that's been described as an architectural masterpiece.

It's one hundred and one years since the Addison Act paved the way for mass council housing in Britain. Over the last century councils have built more than 5.5 million homes for generations of families. But in the last thirty years the volume of social housing has fallen dramatically. In the period after the second world war, councils were building around a hundred and fifty thousand homes. Fast forward to 2020 and that figure has fallen to just two thousand.

But why is this happening? Councils have argued that current policies like right to buy have made it difficult for councils to replace homes sold under the scheme. Under this policy councils can only spend 30 percent of the money received from the sale of a home to spend on replacements. They also have a three year limit in which to spend it. This means that councils now have to approach things differently… Like Norwich City Council.

Last year the prize for the best new building in the U. K. was awarded to one of the best new council housing projects in a generation. This is the first council housing scheme to ever win the RIBA stirling prize. The project beat a number of other famous developments including the reformed London Bridge station.

But what makes this council housing scheme so special?

Alan Jones (RIBA President) Awards in my mind should go to what we value most. As I say going back to this idea of the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture, last year it had to go to Goldsmith Street.

Ben Murray Alan Jones is president of RIBA and one of the judges for the Stirling prize. He also grew up in a council house in Derry. We went to visit him to get his thoughts on the scheme.

Alan Jones I was keen when I ran for election back in 2018 to let people see where I'm coming from both both professionally and also if you like family background. I've championed social mobility within the RIBA over the last three years. It was dare that I suggest a sort of blind spot not just for architects but other professions are only really getting to grips with that, so as part of the explaining locks as that's where I'm coming from I went back to where my parents had their first house which was a housing estate, council housing estate in east of Londonderry/Derry/City as we would call it in Northern Ireland and that was interesting going back then because that will be housing that would have been built but dare I say I was born in 1964 and it was if you're talking about housing that was constructed post war 1950s, early 60s when one when I went back to begin 2018 you sort of go Hey cool you don't it was well designed yeah clearly defined by an architect or a firm of architecture or locals authority architects but it's robust, the spaces are lovely, the difference between let's say public space semi-public space private space overlooking is good in terms of places for children to play you know the car isn't that dominant in terms of the the site layout and so on and you sort of go goodness maybe we could learn a lot even just standing here looking at this. You underestimate the impact that the early formative years of hot money should go yeah yeah yeah like I I forgot that bit that's there and I'm so on so yes its quietly informed and it's interesting that when you show that fast forward to say for example what was my motivation to study architecture and you realize that actually there's other parts and then you sort of think of private housing yeah and there's absolute acres and swathes of very anonymous characterless, private housing that you drive past on your way into Belfast you know if you're coming in from the north you just go I didn't want to live there yeah it's not where I want to live yeah I just think I'd of just again maybe it's again out of  principal and I have just sorry I would I I want to create spaces that are better than that which actually in hindsight where ie as good as the council estate that we grew up in.

Ben Murray: So that's what's driving on what's goldsmith street demand for the perceptions of council housing what impact is it having nationally.

Alan Jones: Well if you remember that it took ten years from now if you like the initial idea to handing over the keys to the first of the residence. Part of that was actually to do with funding yeah you know and you know but all the various sort of procedural things you know so it didn't take that long to design and build it there were sort of fallow periods in the program when things weren’t going all and so do that you could argue that the impact I thought you know that I think it'll take a number of years so that let's see what's the impact of Norwich you might not see the impact of Norwich in terms of built form for two or three or four or five years you know but that way it will have a lasting impact. Where its immediate impact has been for example government ministers wanting to go and see that we have Manchester Council wanting to know who do we contact in Norwich Council to talk about Goldsmith Street. When you consider that its changed the agenda on the discussion about consultation we're still getting a lot on a daily basis maybe half a dozen calls a day yeah about that project on the impact of what and it's really sort of kicked off I think a real conversation about if Norwich can do it why can't we yeah.

Ben Murray: Norwich city council wanted Goldsmith Street to set an example to the country on how housing can be done in an environmentally friendly way. This is where the passive house standard comes in. A passive house is an energy efficient building designed to help reduce its heating needs an energy demand therefore reducing its overall impact on the environment. When planning to design and build a passive house there are certain standards that must be met in regards to heating, cooling, air leakage and total energy consumption. Houses on Goldsmith Street meet these standards. There are currently only one thousand units in the U. K. which reach passive house standard which shows you how innovative goldsmith street really is.

Alan Jones: it's a mixture of the full traditional block and brick and also timber frame but also with brick on the outside and it's built to a very very exacting environmental standards called passivhaus which is a German standard, but that means it's very air tight yeah so it means that you control the ventilation and that means it has very high levels of insulation so it means that they were reporting last year that the average energy bills for heat and light and power was one hundred fifty pounds a year, you know and and that's fantastic. In terms of how we think of fuel poverty you you hear of families and individuals having to decide to like heat or eat an so that's another whole aspect to it.

Ben Murray: would you say that it's not just kind of council housing that that needs to follow the Norwich example it's private development as well?

Alan Jones: Oh you have hit the nail on the head. Absolutely, when go back to even what I saw in the seventies around Belfast it's just that sea of anonymous and I was actually speaking on LBC radio there last week and I was being asked about what what's the impact of just having what what was what sort of I I had referred to these sort of developments of being soulless, cut and paste and you know and you sort of realize that actually you don't know what your house is, you don't know what every your house is the same as everybody elses. Your street is the same as everybody elses street so I used the illustration I should remember the madness song, you know our house our house which means we know our house, we can if we can identify where our house says we understand how it works and so on in our street. So our house in our street which is about understanding where it is the fact that you do you have one component which is your house in your street which is about a small community, and the feeling of belonging and so on and then on the other side should have been somebody that asked me the interviewer then said so what happens when it doesn't work he said well I said as the groups says you go mad. As the song says it leads to madness our house in our street but it is it's the that's what it is you know in a way it doesn't matter whether it's council or whether it's private we should be aspiring to create the best environment possible because that leads to the identity and you know if we think again even what's happened in terms of the politics particularly in England just in terms of you know parts of the country feeling left behind, thats to do with investment and quality of their environment you know. So if it is soulless, if it feels there just isn't the quality that's there or the the sense of belonging isn’t there then you think you can understand why people start to become sort of adjugated.

Ben Murray: So is this a step change in how council housing of the future will be produced and are more councils taking this approach to their housing. James Turner is an associate architects of Mikhail riches with a passion for social housing is the man responsible for the design of the spectacle.

James Turner: The Stirling Prize is the award that I think any any architects would be kind of staggered to win I guess and it is it is a kind of real,  I think what makes it really special this year is its the first social housing scheme to ever win the Stirling Prize and I think it shows a real shift from RIBA not just looking at kind of starchitect buildings like opera houses, you know libraries, train stations, but actually schemes that make a real difference to people on a smaller scale so I think there's a real I know Alan Jones is a real advocator of social housing and kind of pushing you know trying to raise the benchmark for it and I think what's kind of been really well received by the practice is that you know a we've been in the same year we won the Niamh Brown award and Stirling Prize it really does put social housing in the spotlight.

Ben Murray: So why has no the council housing projects won this award before? How brave and ambitious have Norwich Council been?

James Turner: Building housing is hard, building housing as a local authority is even harder and then setting your aspirations and benchmark to be a hundred percent passive house and deliver something of real quality under traditional contract, you know Norwich should really be applauded for you know taking that risk as a local authority and I think setting Norwich on a pedestal as a project I think is a fantastic way of kind of saying to local authorities look you can do it and you do have to take a risk, you do you have to kind of embed yourself as a client in delivering the schemes but it shows it can be done and it shows it can be done to an incredibly high standard and in some cases better than a lot of private developers can do.

Ben Murray: So it's hard to do and takes a commitment from all parties, but what makes it stand out? What's the secret to the design?

James Turner: So the scheme itself is based on the idea of a fourty metre Victorian terraced streets so there's an area very close to the side that are typical of a series of kind of typical nineteenth century Victorian terraced streets you'd find in any parts of the country so you know nothing groundbreaking in that respect but what we’ve took the courage to be done is take that kind of concept and so brought into the twenty first century so adapting the site section so you’re kind of getting maximum solar orientation which is effectively turning itself into a free heat, so your massively reducing your energy bills by you know just designing to maximize free energy from the sun. The other thing that we've done along side this is that is the kind of recreation terrace streets of Norwich and I think a lot of people have got onboard with that here kind of not trying oxygen not trying to be this kind of fancy thing it's kind of very legible and very understandable and I think people find comfort in knowing you know we're not creating flats, were creating houses and I think the city really got onboard with the confirmation of creating family houses as opposed to just creating more blocks of flats which you see you know across the country.

This kind of series of terraced streets also has a kind of secondary focus which is small children's play. So residents definitely felt very strongly that small children's play should be really embedded into the scheme and again one of the risks the city have taken is kind of trusting our role as designers to kind of suggest things that would not normally be done and one of those things in particular was the creation of a ginnel space which is kind of a back alley way which all of the houses lead onto that runs down the center of the scheme as a kind of spine. What was been really successful is the we've we've kind of designs things like the garden fences at the low enough that people can talk to each other across the across the fence and actually get to know their neighbors, all those gardens and lead out on to that ginnel space which is locked to each end and which means that you know kids can be allowed to roame free out there and you know we we've been around there when you know talking with residents and kids would actually open the back gate run up to the gate will knock on the window and say can I come play with my mates and it just shows that actually if you offer people these opportunities they can work and I think where the city has been you know I said they were taking risks, you know in all of the various meetings that we had with us it's going to be for the mattresses, it will be a dumping ground it will be full of anti social behaviour, I think it's been anything but and I think it just shows that if councils are willing to take those risks and manage them you know you can create some really fantastic spaces.

Ben Murray: Its been said that 2019 was the year the world woke up to climate change. We continue to see extreme weather conditions around the world which are having a detrimental effect on our environment. Last year this triggered mass protests and pressure is growing on those in power to take action. Local government has a vital role to play in this and in July 2019 local authorities joined together to declare a climate emergency. But what does that mean and how can councils go about making a change locally? Housing is one way councils can make a difference.

James Turner: There's been a real push this year, for you know climate emergencies have been raised by lots of local authorities and disciplines, including architects and a lot of our clients are now coming to us going you know, we we put our hands up and said we have declared a  climate emergency but we're not entirely sure what to do now and I think you know a really good way of starting to do that is to look at your briefs, architects and go right we need to raise the bar we need to really raise the bar and we need to find a way of making it work and I think that passivhaus is not the silver bullet but it does make a huge difference to people's lives and I think it makes sense to put money into the built fabric day one rather than kind of you know throwing it on as a bolt on such as PV's and kind of feel good sustainability things that people can see where it's actually it's the kind of silent ones that I think actually really make a difference to people's lives.

Ben Murray: So you have heard why Goldsmith Street is award winning but what's it done for people living there? What impact has it having on their lives?

Cllr Gail Harris: When we were here with the Stirling prize judges, we had about six of them come to visit and we've spent two hours taking them round, there was a gentleman walking his dog and I just said hello to him. He didn't live in the the new properties he lived just outside but his do had already made friends with another dog in the properties and so that was the community coming together.

Ben Murray: Cllr Gail Harris is Norwich city council's cabinet member for social housing. We paid her a visit to hear about what Goldsmith Street has done for the local community in the area.

Cllr Gail Harris: It isn't just about us winning awards and that’s probably why you are talking to us as well. So the Stirling Prize is wonderful, winning the Niamh Brown Award to hold an integral award for someone who had passionate about social housing was really stunning as well but it's it's it's about people it's about people having good quality homes. So if the Stirling Prize has done anything its given some of us a lot more work and we've spoken at many events but were inspiring other councils to do things, were getting people contact us and saying if you can do it how can we do it, I think it's it's been it's changed people's perception of what housing is like. You know the good reports in the Guardian and the Times it's it's just been it's just been quite amazing really

Ben Murray: So you've heard why Goldsmith Street is award winning from a design perspective but what’s it done for the people living there, what impact is it having on the lives of people living in Norwich?

Cllr Gail Harris: No this is not just about housing its about creating communities. We've been very very strong on that so when you visit the scheme yourself this afternoon you will see that it's very very close to main roads but it's still very peaceful. So they've got the facilities of buses, local post office, local shops, theres walkways that have been created through to some of the existing communities so they’re already integrated and it is about communities is not about housing

Ben Murray: so it's it's a real kind of community hub as you say, you know I've not gone to visit yet and I'm really looking forward to doing that this afternoon but it just sounds like it's got a sense of a neighborhood really I you know that might have been lost over the recent years I think in a lot of kind of estates and stuff like that but it sounds like this is kind of bringing that back.

 Cllr Gail Harris: there is a sense of pride and you know it's it's just a very very stunning development and yet I'm still moved when I go there not being there a lot of times I was there when it is being built, I’ve been there a lot since it's been built and no we're very very proud of it. I’m hoping it will inspire other local authorities to be able to do the same you know because it's not just about providing homes its about providing good quality homes that will become a community. You know people in Goldsmith Street they've they've got more money to spend on doing eating for instance rather more about heating but being part of the community going out and doing things so you know it's it's it's it's it's been a a game changer for some of the people and and they've they've been very open with it and sort of emailed the architects and said you know how different how to how how proud they are and how it's changed their lives and you know it's very hard for them to think of how how where they've moved from and to and and she does it it's it's it's it's not it's just a game it's it's game changing.

Ben Murray: Have you heard of any kind of stories about that then them from kind of residents or any examples that you can give us where they kind of you know where its really positively impacted them.

Cllr Gail Harris: so someone moved in in November and they hadn’t had their heating on once, now I don’t know about your heating bills but not you know however hard you try they are there aren’t they? They’re significant. Envy of my friends and love having people to visit, someone's cared that I liked my home, that means a lot to me. Child friendly, so the architects sponsored a street party last August and you know people you can see people came out they were enjoying the sunshine but this nice open spaces with grass and with nice wooden animals and even you'll see that they're all some older houses around the scheme and people are just enjoying seeing people being part of a community it's just it's just wonderful.

Ben Murray: I’ve just arrived at Goldsmith Street and the architecture of this place is incredible. It feels like a really modern new neighborhood but almost like conservation area. The houses are all built in cream brick which draws inspiration from the city's famous Golden Triangle neighborhood and every home has a different coloured front door. They all look a really decent size and all have back gardens that back on to communal areas. You can feel a sense of community as you walk through this estate and I have to say it's better than what I was expecting. I have been joined by Cllr Paul Neale and Cllr Jamie Osborne. They are two Norwich City Councillors who supported the development of Goldsmith Street. They took a particular interest in the scheme being developed to a passive house standard.

Cllr Paul Neale: The architects involved with this and the consultants really did do a superb job in the choice of materials and how how it looks and how it feels

Ben Murray: it almost feels like you step into a kind of new town when you walk through the estate, do you know what I mean it's kind of got a different feel to the rest of Norwich I think

Cllr Jamie Osbourne: I think what I find is it's actually nice to walk around its sort of designed for for community spaces for people to walk around. The actual way this is laid out it feels very much like a community, it's not like it's not it's quite different to a tower block you know it's quite low, its actually low rise, family houses really.

Ben Murray: I have to say looking around you would not think these were council houses , I think people would be quite surprised that this is social housing I, I mean I don't know how the architects designed this to make it kind of feel that way but it is just so it's a bit mesmorising you know.

Cllr Paul Neale: Yeah well I've seen this type of this is colour of stone and this sort of design. Its being done for private housing you know it's it's become the fashionable style at the minute and you wouldn't know any difference. Saying that we seem to have this stigma in this country about council housing, social housing is different and and it's it's looks cheap. My wife is from Holland and you cannot tell what so ever the difference but and people don't even think about it, if that’s a social house, or a private house, it it just all looks the same.

Ben Murray: Council housing has a complex history and has gone through some good times and bad. But how does Goldsmith Street compare with council housing of the past?

Cllr Paul Neale: Norwich has had a good history, if you go back to the fifties when the big housing boom after the war came in, I actually live in one and the house is so solidly built and with you know retrofitting they’ve put in you know cavity wall insulation and double glazing, everything,  it's it's fantastic. Then they moved on to the sixties and early seventies and it seems that everything was just done a cut price. It looked like it was and is now proving to be and a noose round our necks really.

Ben Murray: It seems like a no brainer why are other council's not following suit?

Cllr Paul Neale:  I have spoken to some other councillors in the country who have contacted us the council and  myself and they’re trying to work out how they can push their own local authorities to go forward and the biggest stumbling block most of them of come back to me saying is that they've been turned down from their own authority because they say it costs too much. Now, yes at the minute to build the passive house standard probably costs around about ten percent more if it's managed correctly like this particular project was. Last figures I heard it was about 8 per cent more which is not an insurmountable amount but of course if you look at places like Germany that been doing this for for years,  the more developers are involved and understand how the system works the more you build, the more as Jamie said the more material you can source better and I think in Germany they're now getting to almost parity with traditional build so do you know they mustn’t be afraid.

Ben Murray: I'm on my way back from Norwich now and I'm still in ore around the quality of the houses on show at Goldsmith Street. You can see why they are award winning. You could see just from walking around the estate how happy residents were to be living in those houses. There's a real buzz around the place. Moving slightly away from Norwich now. My final interview was with Kate Henderson chief executive of the national housing federation to talk more generally about the perceptions of social and council housing and her personal experience of what social housing has done for her.

Ben Murray: Firstly Kate, I want to know a bit about you. Why did you get into housing in the first place?

Kate Henderson: I go into housing for personal reasons in first really understanding how important is that we have social and affordable housing and that's because my younger sister is severely disabled and she went off to university and then after university we needed to find somewhere for her to live. And actually our options were pretty limited and then we found the most amazing housing association called Habinteg and they provide specialist accessible housing for people with disabilities and they were brilliant. She ended up with an adaptable home, it was the first opportunity she had to live independently and they supported her in that, not just with erm you know the bricks and mortar side of it but also with setting her up with access to care and support and working with the local authority to get that. She doesn't live without housing association now she lives with another one because she moved into a different area but actually that human aspects of having access to accessible affordable secure homes kind of underpins who we are and how we get on in life.

Ben Murray: So why is it important that we strive for better quality housing? What can it do for an individual?

Kate Henderson: Housing matters to everyone of us. It underpins our ability to feel well in terms of of physical and mental well being, it's a place of sanctuary, but it's more important than that, for children it's a place to feel safe it's a place to do your homework, to have stability to go to school in your local area, as adults it's having the stability for an address so that you can get a job and in old age it's having somewhere to retire and to be comfortable to be able to live in and housing really does underpin all of that. Having a a safe secure, affordable warm home is really fundamental to how to get on in life.

Ben Murray: So housing matters. Like food and water it's a basic need for us. With that said there is still around one million households on council house waiting lists and many more classed as homeless. What's stopping social housing being built? Is it the perceptions around it? I want to find out Kate’s thoughts. So you touch a bit on the quality of social homes there. You know I I think that that might have been a bit of negative perceptions around council and social homes in the past. Do you think perhaps they are shedding that kind of perception these days?

Kate Henderson: I think we have the ability to build fantastic high quality social housing today and that might be homes that are social rented it might also be other types of affordable housing like shared ownership when you part rent and you part buy. We also have some amazing social homes that have been built over the last hundred years or longer, erm homes that were built with really good space standards, and really high quality materials with a really really good sensitivity to place-making and design and livability but that isn't how all social housing has been built so a lot of our social housing was built following the second world war and we were a country that had suffered severe damage from from the war and the need to provide homes for heroes and quickly, returning service personell, and actually what was built was quite often built very very quickly and with cheap materials, it was also in the fifties/sixties time when we led architecturally to build lots of tower blocks and that isn't necessarily how everybody wants to live. Those houses actually in towers quite often have brilliant spaces standards but some of them need to be refurbished and looked at to be fit for the future, but in terms of whether social housing is good quality or not I think I actually on the whole it has been built with a really strong social ethos and with quality and livability in mind.

Some houses in social housing sector but houses in general need refurbishment because they were only designed you know for fifty years or a hundred years and they need investment. Now I think the broader question for how we view it as society is a kind of a mixed one and there is some very negative perceptions of social housing in the media and I think we see the actually in TV, I mean if you watch things like Silent Witness or Luther you quite often see what that trying to portray of the crime situation or the poverty situation would be one of social housing. It will often be the tower blocks of concrete estate and actually to me, I spend my life traveling around the country visiting our members and this and this is not what I see of social housing. I see people living in sustainable communities and good quality housing where they do know their neighbours and they’re just getting on in life , they’re going to work, they’re being involved in the community it's very different image but we absolutely have some work to do to change that that narrative on that

Ben Murray: Why are we not building more council and social houses?

Kate Henderson: We really should be building more council and social housing and social rents, rents which roughly fifty percentage of market rent so that varies depending on where you are in the country is much more affordable and it's much more suitable for low income families. Social housing isn't just about the affordability it's about security that you have, the stability you have, knowing that you can stay in your home, your kid can do to its local primary school, that you have a network of support around you. Temporary accommodation is not a suitable place for children to grow up . Growing up in short time B&B accommodation, were you having to share bathrooms sometimes your having to share kitchen facilities, you have absolutely no privacy as a child in space you know will have profound consequences on how you get on in life, have huge consequences on the parent's mental health and as you said it costs the taxpayers lots of money. The solution to this in the long term is building a lot more social rented homes for families.

Ben Murray: So just going back to kind of you know temporary accommodation, people who are you know officially kind of homeless and those sleeping kind of rough on the streets as well you know it's a big issue in Britain today, is social housing the answer to eradicating it completely do you think or do other things need to happen as well?

Kate Henderson: Building safe secure affordable homes for people, building social housing is one of the main ways we can alleviate homelessness and actually prevent it in the first place. A lot of homelessness is caused by people living in unaffordable insecure private rented accommodation, being evicted at short notice and finding themselves in debt and unable to afford the housing costs and so they’re ending up in temporary accommodation. It would be so much better if they were able to to live in a social home with a secure tenancy where they were able to put down roots and know that they can afford their rent and that's why we are really calling for an investment in social rent but of course there are other causes of homelessness, there’s welfare reform, there are people’s personal circumstances as well, issues of alcoholism and drug addiction but actually housing having security of housing is really fundamental to overcoming those problems too.

Ben Murray: So there you have it… Goldsmith Street provides a vision for how council housing of the future should be. It provides safe, secure homes for residents, brings together communities, looks nice on the eye and could hold the climate change key for housing. What more could you want in a home? No wonder it was award winning.

It seems to me that more quality social and council housing like Goldsmith Street is necessary in tackling this housing crisis we find ourselves in today.

It is true that we will have to build our way out of this but we must build in a way that benefits our communities, our environment, and our economy.