Manifesto

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was set up in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We organise working collectives of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, web-designers, map-makers, artists, writers and housing campaigners that operate with developing ideas under set principles.

First among these is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as properties for capital investment, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s social housing during a housing shortage, enabling, as it does, the continued existence of the communities they house.

ASH offers support, advice and expertise to residents who feel their interests and voices are increasingly marginalised by local councils or housing associations during the so-called ‘regeneration’ process. Our primary responsibility is to existing residents – tenants and leaseholders alike; but we are also committed to finding financially, socially, economically and environmentally viable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.

ASH operates on three levels of activity: Architecture, Community and Propaganda.

  1. We propose architectural alternatives to council estate demolition through designs for infill, roof extensions and refurbishment that increase housing capacity on the estates by up to 45 per cent and, by renting a proportion of the new homes on the private market, generate the funds to refurbish the existing council homes, while leaving the communities they currently house intact.
  1. We support estate communities in their resistance to the demolition of their homes by working closely with residents over an extended period of time, offering them information about estate regeneration and housing policy from a reservoir of knowledge and tactics pooled from similar campaigns across London.
  1. We share information that aims to counter negative and unfounded myths about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups, including local authorities, housing associations, property developers and architectural practices, in the regeneration process. Using a variety of means, including protest, publication and propaganda, we are trying to initiate a wider cultural change within the architectural profession.

Whether you are facing the regeneration of your estate and in need of advice, or whether you want to offer your skills, expertise and time to our many projects, please get in contact.

E-mail: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)

Events: http://www.opengardenestates.com

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (CIC). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the vast majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

Architects for Social Housing (CIC), company no. 10383452

 

Policy Proposals on Estate Regeneration: ASH Presentation to the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party

Last night I gave another presentation of the findings in the ASH report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration. This time it was to the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party, one of whose members had invited me to come and talk. He told me that, while the previous Chair had always refused any debate on Lambeth council’s estate regeneration programme, the new Chair was more amenable.

I didn’t know quite what to expect, but as we were waiting for everyone to arrive a woman walked in, sat apart from everyone else in the room, and gave me a look that would have curdled milk. The chair addressed her as ‘Mary’, and suddenly it dawned on me who she was: Mary Atkins, Councillor of the Tulse Hill ward. Under the pretext of carrying out repairs to the estate, it was Councillor Atkins who had initiated the regeneration of Cressingham Gardens that turned into the excuse for its demolition. The last time I’d been in a meeting with her was back in May 2016 at Lambeth Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting to review the Cabinet decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate. In an extraordinary statement for which she produced no proof beyond her own accusations, and which the Committee accepted without question, Councillor Atkins declared that there was a ‘climate of fear’ on the estate, that the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign is ‘intimidating’, that tenants on the estate are ‘scared to get involved’, and that they ‘do not want to see such tactics rewarded.’

I wasn’t the only member of the public to challenge this characterisation of the single mothers, elderly couples, families with young children and other residents who have fought so long and with such bravery to save their homes against such underhand tactics. But displaying the lack of interest in residents’ views that has characterised Lambeth council’s consultations, Councillor Atkins then went on to what quickly became apparent was her main point. ‘I want residents’, Atkins said, ‘to adhere to a code of behaviour during consultation.’ This move – first to slander and denigrate residents who form a campaign of resistance, then to ban them from opposing the council’s plans – was taken up on cue by the Chair of the Committee, Councillor Edward Davie, seconded by Councillor Matthew Bennett, then Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, and unanimously carried by the rest of the Committee.

Following this decision, residents of Cressingham Gardens were sent a report from Lambeth council announcing their intention to bypass the existing, democratically elected Tenants and Residents Association and replace it with a Resident Engagement Panel composed exclusively of residents who were willing to engage with the plans to demolish and redevelop their homes. It became clear that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which had ostensibly met to review the Cabinet decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate, had chosen this opportunity to set in motion Lambeth council’s plans to silence opposition to their estate demolition programme.

That was two-and-a-half years ago, and since then little has changed. The meeting last night began with a number of questions from the floor asking Councillor Atkins to provide the financial figures for the relative costs of demolishing and redeveloping Cressingham Gardens estate versus refurbishing it. She replied with two lies. First, she said that she would give them the figures as far as she could, but that all the available information was already in the public domain on Lambeth council’s website. Then, when further challenged, she responded more confidently that the figures had not been produced yet because nothing had been decided.

Continue reading “Policy Proposals on Estate Regeneration: ASH Presentation to the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party”

London’s Most Influential: Citigroup and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

‘What makes a city influential? Some say it’s the economic opportunities or the technological capabilities or the possibilities of connecting with other cities. We say it all comes down to people. The progress-makers. The ones whose boundless drive, passion and brilliance bring a city to life like no other. They’re why we’ve made it our job to be here. Believing in their ideas. Backing their ambitions. Making them real. In London. Around the world.

– Citigroup, The Progress 1000: London’s Most Influential People (2018)

‘The Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.’

The Big Short (2015)

Citigroup Inc. is an American multinational investment bank and financial services corporation with its headquarters in New York City. Citigroup owns Citicorp, the holding company for Citibank, as well as several international subsidiaries. Citigroup is ranked 3rd on the list of largest banks in the United States and, alongside JPMorgan ChaseBank of America, and Wells Fargo, is one of the Big Four banks. Citigroup is rated a systemically important financial institution and as such is on the list of systemically important banks that are regarded as too big to fail. It is also one of the nine global investment banks in the Bulge Bracket. Citigroup is ranked 32nd on the Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years. Citigroup has over 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries. It has 209,000 employees, although it had 357,000 employees before the financial crisis of 2007-2008, when it was rescued via a massive stimulus package by the U.S. government.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Heavy exposure to troubled mortgages in the form of collateralised debt obligation (CDOs), compounded by poor risk management, led Citigroup into trouble as the subprime mortgage crisis worsened in 2008. The company had used elaborate mathematical risk models that looked at mortgages in particular geographical areas, but never included the possibility of a national housing downturn, or the prospect that millions of mortgage holders would default on their mortgages. Trading head Thomas Maheras was close friends with senior risk officer David Bushnell, which undermined risk oversight. As Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin was said to be influential in lifting the Glass–Steagall Act that allowed Travelers and Citicorp to merge in 1998. Then on the board of directors of Citigroup, Rubin and Charles Prince were said to be influential in pushing the company towards mortgage-backed security (MBS) and CDOs in the subprime mortgage market.

Starting in June 2006, Senior Vice President Richard M. Bowen III, the chief underwriter of Citigroup’s Consumer Lending Group, began warning the board of directors about the extreme risks being taken on by the mortgage operation that could potentially result in massive losses. The group bought and sold $90 billion of residential mortgages annually. Bowen’s responsibility was essentially to serve as the quality control supervisor ensuring the unit’s creditworthiness. When Bowen first became a whistleblower in 2006, 60 per cent of the mortgages were defective. The amount of bad mortgages began increasing throughout 2007 and eventually exceeded 80 per cent of the volume. Many of the mortgages were not only defective, but were a result of mortgage fraud. Bowen attempted to rouse the board via weekly reports and other communications. On November 3, 2007, Bowen emailed Citigroup Chairman Robert Rubin and the bank’s chief financial officer, head auditor and the chief risk management officer to again expose the risk and potential losses, claiming that the group’s internal controls had broken down and requesting an outside investigation of his business unit.

The subsequent investigation revealed that at the Consumer Lending Group had suffered a breakdown of internal controls since 2005. Regardless of the findings of the investigation, Bowen’s charges were ignored, despite the fact that withholding such information from shareholders violated the Sarbanes–Oxley Act (SOX), which he had pointed out. Citigroup CEO Charles Prince signed a certification that the bank was in compliance with SOX despite Bowen revealing this wasn’t so. Citigroup eventually stripped Bowen of most of his responsibilities and informing him that his physical presence was no longer required at the bank. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission asked him to testify about Citigroup’s role in the mortgage crisis, and he did so, appearing as one of the first witnesses before the Commission in April 2010.

As the crisis began to unfold, on 11 April 11, 2007, Citigroup announced that it would eliminate 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its workforce, in a broad restructuring designed to cut costs and bolster its long underperforming stock. Even after securities and brokerage firm Bear Stearns ran into serious trouble in the summer of 2007, Citigroup decided the possibility of trouble with its CDO’s was so tiny (less than 1/100 of 1 per cent) that they excluded them from their risk analysis. With the crisis worsening, on 7 January, 2008, Citigroup announced that it was considering cutting another 5 percent to 10 percent of its 327,000 member-workforce.

Continue reading “London’s Most Influential: Citigroup and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis”

The Architecture of Death

IMG_3354

As some of you will know, on Tuesday, 2 October a man was killed by a window pane falling from the Corniche building, which with Merano Residences (designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners) and the Dumont building (designed by David Walker Architects) is one of three new developments of what the advertising boards call ‘luxury apartments and penthouses’ that make up the newly-named Albert Embankment Plaza. This lies within the Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea Opportunity Area, over which the London Mayor has planning authority.

Like the other two buildings comprising the Albert Embankment Plaza, the Corniche was built by the Berkeley Group, the largest property developer in London, which has 75 per cent of its sites inside the M25, and pre-tax profits for the year ending April 2018 of £934.9 million, up 15 per cent on the previous year. The building was designed by Foster + Partners, the largest architectural practice in the UK, with pre-tax profits last year of £20.8 million, and whose partners took £23.4 million in bonuses, up 43 per cent on the previous year.

ASH went round to have a look at the building later that day, and the fallen pane could clearly be seen missing from the penthouse apartment on the 27th floor. The last five remaining 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom apartments are currently on sale for between £2.7 million and £6.25 million, but the penthouse from which the window pane fell was reported by the architecture and design magazine Dezeen to have been on the market for £22 million (although this information has subsequently been removed).

Apparently this isn’t the first time a window pane has fallen from the building. Last August, during construction of what Foster’s website describes as ‘curved gardens in the sky’, another pane slipped from its frame and nearly hit two carpenters working on the site. Despite this precedence, the hoardings outside the building advertise the Corniche as ‘Life ahead of the curve’, the irony of which disappears with this latest fatality from London’s housing.

Continue reading “The Architecture of Death”

Why ASH is joining the Labour Party

Over the past few weeks Architects for Social Housing has been running a fairly low-key fund-raising campaign on our Facebook page. Its immediate object was to raise enough money to replace the two of our three computers that have recently been declared dead. Although the response from 13 members of the page was generous, it didn’t raise enough money, so last week we extended this campaign to the ASH blog with a post titled ASH’s Law: A Fundraiser. However, despite the fact that over 250 of the readers of our blog are automatically notified whenever we publish a new post, as of writing a mere 10 people have even visited this post, and only a further 11 people have donated. Grateful as we are – and we are very grateful – for these donations from the people who dug into their wallets, we have over 2,200 followers on our Facebook page alone, and ten times that number have visited our blog so far this year, so two dozen donations isn’t much of a response. We can only assume that the title of our post put our regular readers off. By comparison, our recent 19,000-word report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which took three months to write, has been visited over 750 times since we published it on the ASH blog four weeks ago. It would appear from this that people are willing to read our work, but not to offer us anything in return. Due to changes in our circumstances – i.e. were broke – this is no longer a financially sustainable business model for ASH. To try and rectify this, we are making one more appeal to our readers, using means both fair and foul. Hence the subterfuge of the title of this post, which is not our unlikely declaration of allegiance to the political party whose councils are primarily responsible for demolishing London’s council estates and replacing them with properties for home ownership for the rich, buy-to-let landlords and investment opportunities for global capital, but another fundraiser for Architects for Social Housing. But why should I donate money to ASH? – I hear you ask. To answer that question we have to sing our own praises for a bit, which is a little embarrassing; but it seems we need (gently) to remind our would-be supporters of what we’ve done and do.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company founded in March 2015 that works in the field of architectural design, community support, policy research, written analysis and the occasional demonstration. We have produced design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates, and up to feasibility study stage for 3 of them, including Knight’s Walk, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, Central Hill estate, Northwold estate and Patmore estate. We were paid for only two of these design proposals – for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the Patmore estate – and that with fees insufficient even to fully pay the architects who worked on them. There is simply no way the residents of these estates would have been able to pay the fees demanded by any other architectural practice. The rest of our design work has been done for free. Each of these schemes has taken years of work to develop, undertaken by young architects giving their labour for free, and entailed innumerable meetings, workshops, consultations, presentations and feedback forums with residents, the production of dozens of articles and studies and, in the case of Central Hill estate, a book-length report. All of this has been done by Architects for Social Housing pro bono publico – for the public good. Unfortunately for us, however, the public hasn’t been quite as generous in return.

Since we set the blog up in September 2015 ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies, as well as our design proposals for the 6 threatened housing estates, that together have been visited over 190,000 times by 106,000 people from 179 countries across the globe – only 16 countries short of the entire planet. These include Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, which has been visited 1,300 times; The Truth about Grenfell Tower, visited nearly 17,000 times; The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell, visited nearly 2,500 times; Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme, visited over 2,700 times; The Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition, visited nearly 1,200 times; Regenerating Hackney’s Estates, visited over 4,800 times; An Exemplary Regeneration: King’s Crescent Estate, visited nearly 2,000 times; Sheffield Tent City and the Social Cleansing of Park Hill Estate, visited 1,500 times; Class War on Woodberry Down, visited nearly 1,200 times; Vote Labour? The Aims and Values of Estate Demolition, visited 1,100 times; The End of Social Housing, visited 7,700 times; and The London Clearances, visited nearly 14,000 times. All these articles and reports that took weeks and sometimes months of research to produce, and whose readership indicates they have been of both interest and use to residents, campaigners and academics alike, have been made available to read on the ASH blog for free.

In addition, over the past 4 years ASH has delivered more than 40 presentations to academic institutions, including to the Bartlett School of Architecture, the Architectural Association, De Montfort University, Birkbeck College, the University of East London, the University of Westminster, the Cass School of Architecture, the London Metropolitan University, the University of Sheffield, the Braunschweig University of Technology, Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and the Chelsea College of Art; as well as at the Greater London Authority, the Royal Academy, Building Design Partnership, Trafford Hall, Cambridge House, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Barbican Centre, the Serpentine Gallery, the Western Front Gallery in Vancouver, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, the Kunstraum / Bethanien Art Gallery in Berlin and the Architectural League of New York. Although, for our presentations abroad, ASH was paid expenses, the bulk of these presentations were given for free. That’s usual for a busy senior lecturer at a wealthy academic institution; but ASH isn’t an institution of higher education that can pay our members an academic salary.

Although we try to keep a track of our activities, it’s impossible to say just how many meetings, informal discussions, formal presentations and interviews ASH has had or given to newspapers, magazines, news programmes, radio shows, online platforms, filmmakers, artistsgalleries, council scrutiny panels, journalists, students, architectural groups and conferences, not to mention our own meetings on subjects from the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire to hustings on housing to legislation and policy on estate regeneration: hundreds, easily; but again, all this work and time has been given for free.

So what of our present and future activities? In terms of our design work, over the past year ASH has been working with several London-based housing co-operatives looking to expand their housing capacity. With the ongoing refusal of Londons councils to build council housing in which council tenants can afford to live, ASH has been looking at ways to locate the land and build the homes for social rent that Londoners need. We have developed and are continuing to develop architectural designs for two building schemes, and are currently exploring the financial and legal models that are best able to develop these projects. We will soon be writing about these projects in the context of the Greater London Authoritys campaign to promote community-led housing and what this term means in practice. As for other research, following the popularity of our recent report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration, we have received numerous requests to present its findings to residents, campaign groups, tenant and resident associations, think tanks, the Planning Advisory Service, at conferences and – Im genuinely pleased to say – to Labour Party organisations desperate to find an alternative to their partys scorched-earth housing policies. So high has the demand been that, in collaboration with the Woolfe Vision film collective, which has documented much of our past activities on film, ASH will be turning this report into a short film that we will make available to these and other groups for free. But again (and for the last time), to do so costs us time and therefore money – money ASH doesnt have.

When we first formed back in 2015 ASH was able to win grant funding for Open Garden Estates, a London-wide project we ran for the next three years, and which was hosted by 17 housing estates threatened with demolition. All that money went on banners for the residents, producing maps of their estates and printing publicity material for the event. None of it went to ASH. Unfortunately, since then, ASH has not been able to gain any further public funding. Given the extent and reach of our activity this may seem incongruous, but we feel this is partly down to the fact that we are a working group rather than one of the communities to which most grants are made available, and our impression is that the first thing potential funders ask is why a group of architects is asking for public money. Of course, ASH’s membership includes more than architects; but we also think that the political dimension of our activities is another barrier to funding, with potential funders likely to be members of the Labour Party about whose housing policies and council practices ASH is rightly critical. The result of all this is that, although residents fighting the demolition of their estate, or leaseholders going to a judicial review of the compulsory purchase orders on their homes, or activists occupying threatened community halls or gardens, or filmmakers making films about the housing crisis – all of which are actions deserving of support – are apparently able to raise tens of thousands of pounds with relative ease (though with most of it going directly into the pockets of lawyers), Architects for Social Housing, which has produced the designs and knowledge on which many campaigns have based their resistance has received barely £1,500 in donations during the past two years we’ve been asking for them, and that from less than 40 donors.

Someone suggested to me last week that what ASH needs is a rich benefactor, a working-class lad or lass done good who will slip us a few grand a year to keep us afloat. The trouble is, any businessman (or woman) who hasn’t sold their class down the river will almost certainly be a Labour supporter, and therefore as likely to support ASH as we are to join the Labour Party. ASH speaks the truth. That’s what we do. It shouldn’t be as rare as it is, but the truth isn’t something you have to be ‘brave’ enough to speak: that’s liberal tripe. The truth is something you have to work hard enough to create. There are a handful of exceptions, but 99 per cent of the stuff published about the housing crisis is the regurgitated lies of the politicians, think tanks, councillors, developers, consultants and architects profiting from this crisis, and it takes work to oppose those lies with the truth. The yes-men in our national and local press are little more than propagandists for the establishment, parroting the press releases of developers and councils. We’re not journalists doing the bidding of their tax-avoiding paymasters, Labour activists mouthing false promises about Oh Jeremy Corbyn, or academics promoting their outdated books with one eye on a grant application. We’re housing workers, and we produce knowledge about housing derived from our own practice. ASH is on no-one’s side but the truth, and the truth has few friends, fewer collaborators, and – unfortunately, it seems – no benefactors. So it’s up to you and us, the little people, to create that truth from the web of lies that surrounds us. We often observe that if everyone who ever told us how important our work is and how much they admire ASH had, while saying so, pulled out their pockets and tossed us a pony we wouldn’t be asking you for some money now. But they didn’t. So now’s your chance to do so. And yes, that means you. ASH needs YOU!

Someone else told me that, in the declining years of late capitalism, the best way to crowd-fund is to offer something in return. So, besides the ability to continue reading new articles and reports on our blog for free and listening to the presentations that we give on average every two weeks, donators to ASH will be recognised with the following gifts:

  • A £20 donation will receive a badge with the famous ASH logo on it.
  • A £50 donation will receive one of the much sought-after invitations to the ASH Christmas Party 2018, to be held in Cotton Gardens estate.
  • A £100 donation will receive a limited-edition T-shirt bearing the motto with which ASH typically ends its presentations: Architecture is always political’.
  • A £500 donation will receive an A1 colour print of one of ASHs axonometric drawings for either Central Hill estate or West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.
  • And a £1,000 donation will receive an A0 glossy print of ASH’s brand new GOTCHA! poster (only joking).

Anyway, I hope this shameless piece of self-promotion will convince you of the extent and perhaps the importance of ASHs work, and that my equally shameless begging conveys the seriousness of our financial situation. In short, if we are to continue to do the work we are doing, we need a significant increase in the donations we receive from the people who benefit from our work. As for ASH joining the Labour Party . . . apologies for the fake news, but in the words of the anarchist Benjamin Péret: ‘There is some bread we will not eat!

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, please make a donation through PayPal:

 

Rebuilding Britain: Housing at the Labour Party Conference 2018

1. The Tory Housing Crisis

‘A new world of energy innovations: E.ON’ – is the advertisement that pops up on screen when I go to download the agenda for this year’s Labour Party Conference, obscuring the information behind. I guess it’s appropriate in a way, since its to E.ON – one of the world’s largest electric utility service suppliers with total assets of €55.95 billion – that Labour councils like Lambeth are binding residents of estate redevelopments such as Myatts Field North on obligatory 25-year contracts, and whose district heating system was judged to be ‘not fit for purpose’ by Fuel Poverty Action. But what a wonderfully apposite token of the sort of public-private finance initiatives that are at the heart of Labour’s plans for ‘Rebuilding Britain: for the many not the few’ – as this year’s marketing line puts it.

When I’d clicked the corporate advertisement away and could see the timetable of events, it took me a while to find the policy session on Housing. Well, it was partly about housing, combined with Local Government and Transport in a seminar, and was held concurrently with two other policy sessions between 8.15 and 9.30 on Tuesday morning. I bet they were turning the crowds away from that one.

I also found, on Tuesday’s fringe timetable, a meeting being held at 5.15pm today titled ‘How Can Housing Associations Reconnect With Their Social Purpose?’ It was hosted by London & Quadrant Housing Association, which was responsible for the first redevelopment site of the Aylesbury estate, Albany Place, where 2-bedroom properties went on sale for £550,000; for the demolition, redevelopment and privatisation of the Haggerston West and Kingsland estates, which resulted in the loss of 148 homes for social rent; and which is currently engaged in the demolition, redevelopment and privatisation of the 178 homes on the Excalibur estate, and their replacement with 371 new properties, of which 143 will be for private sale, 35 for shared ownership, 15 for shared equity, and 178 for affordable rent.

Speakers at this meeting included John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, whose recent Green Paper on Housing has made it clear that a Labour government would hand over responsibility for so-called ‘affordable’ housing provision to housing associations such as L&Q; James Murray, the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development at the Greater London Authority, where he is presumably helping to draft housing policy that has been specifically designed to expand and fund the demolition and privatisation of council estates; Andy Brown, the Chief Operating Officer at London & Quardrant; and Councillor Peter John, the newly elected Chair of London Councils and long-standing Leader of Southwark Council, which is at the forefront of Labour’s estate demolition programme, the man who signed off the demolition of the Heygate and the Aylesbury estates, and who is intent on demolishing a swathe of estates along the Old Kent Road Opportunity Area. For those of you still in doubt, this is what the Labour Party means by ‘social purpose’.

Continue reading “Rebuilding Britain: Housing at the Labour Party Conference 2018”

ASH’s Law: A Fundraiser

You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law: that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong? Well, this is the law of ASH, reflecting the sad times in which we live. It says that if you’re generous (or naive) enough not to charge for your work, people won’t value it, because the only value most people recognise these days is that of the market. The past four years of ASH have been an almost uninterrupted demonstration of this law, which we won’t go into here; but now’s your chance to show that there are other measurements of value than a price tag.

Since we set the blog up in October 2015 ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies, as well as design proposals for 6 threatened housing estates, that together have been visited 190,000 times by 105,000 people from 195 countries across the world. This month we published The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which has since been visited nearly 700 times. In June we published The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell, which has been visited nearly 2,500 times. In April we published Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, which has been visited 1,300 times. Last September we published Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme, which has been visited over 2,700 times. And last July we published The Truth about Grenfell Tower, which has been visited nearly 17,000 times. If every one of our readers had paid £1 every time they read an article we’d be rich – which we’re not asking to be. If they’d paid 10p every time they read an article they’d have paid us the equivalent of a part-time salary for our work. As it is, despite several fund-raisers to address our increasingly difficult financial situation, the total donations to ASH over the past two years amount to less than £1,500, and these donations have come from a mere 26 readers.

Being of an English disposition when it comes to money, we’re both extremely grateful and embarrassingly humbled by the generosity of those who have donated. However, we’re also aware that ASH is at a financial crossroads, and that the roughly £1,000 we’ve received this year is not much of a return from the 22,000 people that have visited the ASH blog since January 2018, let alone the more than 100,000 people who have read our work for free over the past four years.

Unless readers want their future analysis of London’s housing crisis from the likes of Dave Hill, the Guardian and the policy writers for the Labour Party, we ask that you please dig deep into your wallets and make a donation to ASH through the PayPal link below. Thank you for your help.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, you can make a donation through PayPal:

The Red Lady of Paviland

Abbie Trayler-Smith, The Big O (2014)

‘The circumstances of the remains of a British camp existing on the hill immediately above this cave, seems to throw much light on the character and date of the woman under consideration; and whatever may have been her occupation, the vicinity of a camp would afford a motive for residence, as well as a means of subsistence, in what is now so exposed and uninviting a solitude. From all these circumstances there is reason to conclude, that the date of these human bones is coeval with that of the military occupation of the adjacent summits, and anterior to, or coeval with, the Roman invasion of this country.’

The Reverend William Buckland, of the Geological Society of London, Reliquiæ Diluvianæ; or, Observations on the Organic Remains contained in Caves, Fissures, and Diluvial Gravel, and on other Geological Phenomena, attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge (1823)

Wrong. On every assumption wrong: on the date
Of the burial by thirty-thousand years,
Long before the Universal Deluge
Of Biblical myth or a clergyman’s
Fancy of a world before Eve and Adam.
Wrong, too, about her occupation: not
A prostitute for soldiers but a hunter
And gatherer who survived on fish from the
River Severn. Wrong, finally, about
Her sex: the Red Lady of Paviland
Having died a young man, still in his twenties,
His slender body anointed with ochre,
Necklaced with shells and ringed with ivory,
In the oldest remains yet discovered
In these Doggered isles of the burial rituals
Of our anatomical ancestor.

I saw her sitting at the Tesco checkout
Of the Swansea Marina Superstore,
Servicing the second homes that surround
The former docks (now ‘Maritime Quarter’)
Where luxury yachts are tightly anchored
In the once fishingboat-bobbing sea
Of Dylan Thomas’s vanished town.
Her periwinkle eyes were empty as shells,
And no dolphin smile swam across her lips
As the fish-frozen fingers in her hands
Trawled across the sensors of her till;
A red-haired Penelope with no suitors,
Neither a hero at home nor to wait for,
Scanned by an electronic Cyclops, she
Unpicked the barcode of her digital life
To the distant lighthouse of her nightshift’s end.

They are wrong, too, about her. Wrong
About why she had her son: not to claim
Child Benefit and a higher rung on the
Housing List, but because she loved his father –
Before he left for an enemy’s shores.
Wrong about her occupation too: not
To sit day and night at this conveyor belt,
The cybernetic arm of a computer, but
To love and teach her child how to live better.
Wrong, most of all, about what to do with her:
Not ‘incentivise’ her out of poverty
By cutting her wages and sanctioning
Her benefits until she feeds her boy
From the food-bank tins she sells but cannot buy,
But to free her from this evolution’s end
In the camp of a foreign invader.

And set her running again across Gower:
Leaping the streams above dragon-clawed falls,
Trailing the hand of her goat-footed kid
To the wave-carved spirits of the rocks below,
To comb their uninviting solitude
For a stone that a boy picked up and threw
Thirty-three millennia and more ago
Into the ice-locked ocean twenty leagues south;
And scaling the cliff when the tide roars in
To the tear-drop mouth of a limestone cave,
Ringed with quartz and carpeted with sand:
Place the skull of a mammoth on the grave
Of a man, not much older than she,
Whose sunset head sank into the sea,
Last survivor of our Universal
Deluge, the Red Lady of Paviland.

Simon Elmer

The photograph of the young girl is by Abbie Trayler-Smith, a Welsh photographer, from her series The Big O, about obesity in young girls in the UK. That’s not why I chose it though. When I was trawling the internet for a photo of a red-headed Welsh girl, all I found was the usual fashion-magazine fodder of pouting waifs, until I stumbled across this very beautiful photo of the girl I never in fact saw in the Swansea Marina Superstore. The other photographs were taken during a visit to Paviland Cave (known locally as Goat’s Hole) in April 2018, and another this September to Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, where the bones and other relics of the Red Lady are kept. Unfortunately, these don’t include the mammoth skull that the Reverend William Buckland found beside the burial but has been lost ever since, and which I suspect is gathering dust in the cellar of Penrice Castle.