In January 2010 the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, Scottish Churches Housing Action, the Salvation Army and Bethany Christian Trust held a conference called Building Home, Building Hope. The conference was designed to bring theological and church resources to bear on issues around home, hope and community. Those who attended were architects, homeless people and those who work with them, interested church members, students, ministers and academics; they were also invited to join a theological reflection group which met four times after the conference with a dozen participants.
Building Home, Building Hope was part of CTPI’s Theology in the Public Square project, led by Graham Blount and financed by the Binks Trust to help the churches reflect theologically on public issues in post-devolution Scotland. The project concluded in 2010, and over the next few months we will share some of the highlights here on Public Faith.
To begin we present the text from Raymond Young’s keynote speech at the Building Home, Building Hope conference. Young is an architect and consultant on community regeneration. At the time he was the chair of Architecture and Design Scotland. In this speech he discusses the meaning of “home,” housing in Scotland and the response of the churches. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Building Home, Building Hope
Raymond Young CBE
I am not a theologian; but as an architect I belong to the second oldest professional group which from time to time is regarded as much of an outcast as the oldest!
The earth is our only home; we are entrusted with its stewardship; we have to share it. Currently we do it unjustly – we do not share its resources fairly – a few of us have more than our fair share; the majority use only a small amount. We use 9.8 tonnes of carbon per person compared to 0.1 tonnes in Malawi and 20.6 in the USA. As for our homes within our home, a few of us have mansions; the majority has poor housing, slums or no-where to lay our head.
I understand that the bible has more to say about the earth than about heaven. How we look after the earth concerns God – both about how we exercise our stewardship and how we share its limited resources. I have a concern that the churches have over the years regarded the earth as a temporary home; that somehow we must endure life here until we live in the hereafter.
‘Here for a season, then above’; ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions – I go to prepare a place for you’. This has in the past been a cover for indifference at best, collusion with exploitation at worst. But Christians have over the years been at the forefront of ‘Your will be done on earth as in heaven’.
I want to look at the theme in three sections
1. The significance of home
2. Home and Community
3. The role of the churches
And all of this in the context of hope. We believe in a gospel of hope. And that hope is founded on the premise that we are not alone. As Vaclav Havel said ‘Hope is definitely not the same as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. It is a dimension of the soul’
Home and me
But before all that, a little about where I am coming from. My working background is in community based housing. These are some of the places that I have called home. As a comfortable middle class boy growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s in Glasgow I could not be but aware of the housing conditions of large numbers of people in the city. My upbringing was in Maryhill in a relatively small middle class area; many of the people I knew (and some of my own relatives) lived in tenements with outside toilets. Delivering Christmas mail as a student in Maryhill took me up tenement closes with wooden floors and several houses to a landing, keeping out of the way of the rats. As the tramcar and then the bus rattled up and down Maryhill Road on my way to school, I learnt about a city where life was partially lived on the streets; where children were sent to Sunday School so that the parents could get some intimate time together.
I became an architect by chance. I had left school without enough highers to go to University; I worked as a wages clerk with the SSEB; one day my boss told me to ‘stop doodling or go away and be an architect!’ I did so – got into architecture school at Strathclyde University. In the midst of the course we had to do a ‘year out’; which I did with a number of colleagues in Canada. That was the year that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated; I visited places like Newark that had burned, and became less interested in designing opera houses (perhaps realising my own design limitations!), fell under the spell of Jane Jacobs (the author of ‘Death and Life of Great American Cities’ – still one of my most important books) and started to ask questions about how people could have more control over their own environment. Back at the University at the tail end of the ‘60s we found ourselves in a period of change, of challenges to what had become accepted practice – particularly in housing design and the role of the architect. The issue that would not go away for me was summed up in my undergraduate thesis, which was called ‘Design Participation’ and included this statement (almost my manifesto):
I believe that there is an important non-democratic aspect of our society, and that is the current right of the professional to make value judgements for the rest of society. I believe this pertains particularly to urban design. I feel that the future shape and design of the locality is best left in the hands of the people who know it intimately; and that the role of the professional (architect, planner, etc) is that of a consultant, offering only professional advice. (pompous git!)
And so I developed a project in Govan that aimed to test how the community could best be involved in the regeneration of its neighbourhood. This was to lead to the tenement improvement programme in Glasgow and to the creation of Community Based Housing Associations. From there I went on to work with Government Housing Agencies, working in both urban and rural Scotland, and 40 years later, I am still involved through Rural Housing Service – a small organisation that supports remote rural communities in understanding their housing requirements and helping them solve their housing issues.
There is a thread running through all of this – the role of the church. The Session of Govan Old, led by their Minister, the Rev David Orr, Minister of Govan Old had established the New Govan Society – a community group (which was also ecumenical) – to ensure that the people of Govan could get involved in the planning decisions around the redevelopment of Govan. One of the offshoots of the NGS was then first Community Based Housing Association – Central Govan Housing Association. But it was not the first housing association in Glasgow. In 1966, following the creation of Shelter (also started by a churchman), a young Episcopalian priest – Richard Holloway – started Christian Action (Glasgow) Housing Association. And of course it goes much further back – the role of the churches is critical in the development of housing policies and housing action over the previous century. And today the churches remain in the vanguard of a compassionate approach to housing – particularly supporting those people who fall through the net and become ‘homeless’.
I say all this because it is important to acknowledge and remind ourselves that in building home and building hope, the churches have an important track record. And because of their calling through the Gospel, they have a responsibility to continue to both speak out and take action on behalf of those who have nowhere to call home.
1. The significance of home
Back to the image of the earth. In a reflection provided by Peter Millar and used by many international aid agencies, he suggested that we imagined shrinking the earth’s population to a village of 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same. The village would have: 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 North and South Americans and 8 Africans. There would be 51 females and 49 males. There would be 70 non-Christians and 30 Christians. 50% of the village’s wealth would be in the hands of 6 people – all North American. 70 would be unable to read. 50 would suffer from malnutrition. 1 would have college education. And 80 villagers would live in sub-standard housing.
It puts us, our housing and homes into perspective.
What do we mean by home? Home is one of the most used words – in all sorts of ways.
Homes in the world – castles, tenements, tower blocks, shacks and pavements. Where and what do we mean by home? Is it a fixed building? What about Nomadic tribes? Settled places? What is the difference between house and home? For years I would hear the phrase ‘home on furlough’ from children of missionary friends who spent more time abroad than in the UK, but who still talked about Glasgow as ‘home’. And 2009 was of course the year of Homecoming – encouraging those who regard themselves as part of the Scottish Diaspora to come back and visit.
And can you really have more than one home – a second home? (or more homes!) What about those who leave their home to move into a residential care home? (‘I do not have a home now’, or ‘This is my home’) Is ownership important? Ownership of land? Many native tribes have no concept of ownership of land – but a strong feeling of homeland.
We talk about God’s house (interestingly not home!); for many of us our church is our spiritual home, and is one of the reasons why reordering or closing churches can be such painful experience. Iona Abbey is the spiritual home for many members of the Iona Community. What is it about this place?
Is home a physical place? Or is it something less tangible – we use the phrase ‘Home is where the heart is’.
The very word ‘home’ is emotive, and covers a range of physical and non-physical attributes.
I suggest that the critical meaning of ‘home’ is a sense of belonging. To a community – whether of place (neighbourhood), of association (Iona Community), or of support (breast cancer group). The latter two might also have a special place – Iona Abbey, Maggie’s centre. So there is both a physical and a non-physical meaning.
Do we need to have ‘a place’ to be part of a community? What is clear to me is the importance of home to our own well being, to our own self confidence, to our relationship with the rest of our world. Home is where we feel secure, can share ourselves with our families, friends and with others, where we belong in community. Home is at the heart of our understanding of hope. Hope for the future – for a better life for ourselves, for our families.
2. Home and Community in Scotland
Having said all of that, I want to look at home in the context of ‘community of place’. I want to be parochial – Scotland. After all, I am an architect, and the Government body I chair – Architecture and Design Scotland – has the creation of better places at its core. And houses are at the core of places.
In Scotland we have 2.3m houses for a population of just over 5 million. Over 80% of us are either adequately or well housed. But still too many of us lack a basic right – a roof over our head. The Government has a commitment that by 2012 every unintentionally homeless person will be entitled to permanent accommodation. But will that mean that we will then all have a home?
Let us remind ourselves about the scale of homelessness still in Scotland. In 2008/09 (the last year for official statistics) over 57,000 people made application under the Homeless Persons legislation. 61% were from single persons – mainly men, with single parents (mainly women) the next big group at 24%. The reasons for homelessness? 28% were because of a dispute in the household and a further 26% were because the applicant had been asked to leave. Rent arrears or mortgage default account for around 6% with additional 6% of applicants cited financial difficulties debt or unemployment as a contributory factor. The number citing financial difficulties, debt or unemployment as a contributory factor to their homelessness increased by 6% between 2007-08 and 2008-09.
It is worth noting that it is estimated that there were 87,000 empty homes – 30,000 more than homeless applications. But many of these empty houses are either in the wrong place or awaiting demolition. And the homeless figure is undoubtedly an underestimate of the real figure – for example there are many young people sleeping on couches in a friend’s house, and in rural Scotland living in unsuitable caravan or wintering in summer lets.
Which leads me to the links between poor housing and homelessness – if we were to calculate homelessness on families living in substandard, damp, insecure houses, then the figure would be much, much higher. Not what we would really call homes! In a society like ours, homelessness should not be simply about the lack of shelter – although the provision of shelter is the first step. But while we might campaign that every human being has a right for shelter (along with food, water and security) should there also be a right to belong to a community and indeed for a quality of community?
Many of the people I’ve worked with over the last 40 years would not call themselves ‘homeless’. They’ve had a roof over their heads. But they have lived in houses that did not meet what society deemed part of a basic standard – lacking a bathroom, a roof that leaked, suffered from condensation or dampness, lack of security, access to greenspace and play facilities. And the way of dealing with is partly technical – putting in a bathroom, better maintenance. We have a ‘Scottish Housing Quality Standard’ which local authorities and registered social landlords must ensure they meet by 2015. But there is more to removing ‘homelessness’ than ensuring that we all have a house that meets the standard.
For many people living in housing estates today, the house itself may be fine; but they are frightened to heat the house properly because of fuel poverty; frightened to go out because of breakdown in law and order; frightened to let the children play outside because the spaces between the buildings are unfit – indeed their neighbourhood is frightening and they feel trapped.
And what do places like this say to the people who live there –‘this place is rubbish – we must be rubbish’?
Have we concentrated on building shelter, and often ignored the spaces between the buildings? The campaigns that we run are often about numbers of houses – the campaign for 10,000 new homes a year – what about the quality of the places?
Reflecting on 40 years of working in housing, what has happened? It has been a period of big changes:
Technical: got rid of outside toilets (in 1970 1in 4 households shared a toilet); condition of the housing stock is generally now much better; social rented more professionally managed and maintained. Challenges are changing – less dampness, more energy efficient.
But the biggest changes that impacted on homes have been in the social context. There is not enough time to delve into these deeply, but to highlight a few of the issues:
(a) Increase in elderly; increase in single person households
(b) Growth of individualism and the credo of wealth creation (more like wealth worship) leading to a more divided society, with an even bigger gap between rich and poor. The availability of credit or more appropriately, the growth of debt.
(c) Personal choice as the mantra – and reflected in changes in retail, growth of supermarkets
(d) Greater mobility
(e) Changes in the supportive networks – increase in personalisation and the internet like social networking sites
(f) The growth of a litigious approach – less human contact (Americanisation?)
(g) Society that is either independent or dependent, but less and less interdependent
The impact on housing (again only highlights) has been:
1. Tenure change (beginning 20th century – 90% in PRS; by 1970 52% in public sector, by 2008 62% in owner occupation) Fuelled by RTB and a reduction in LA and RSL new house building
2. Homes have become investments for many – not a place to in which to belong, live, love, share and play, but a stepping stone on a ladder of wealth grabbing.
3. Catch phrase – location, location, location has become less about community, and more about ‘getting on’ – increasing house values, the ‘best’ schools
4. Suburbanisation (impact of the car?) Suburb seen as ‘getting on’ encouraged by political parties and even churches – ‘work hard and improve yourself’. Aspiration?
5. Social stratification – particularly in urban communities (although rural areas are heading for gentrification if we are not careful) – a result of
a) Unintentional impact of planning (private sector) and allocation (social sector) policies
b) Allocation policies as a result of focusing social housing on ‘need’ – driven by funding regimes
c) Aspiration – people wanting to live ‘with their own kind’ (often meaning ‘people with money like us’)
d) Security perceptions (leading to ‘gated’ communities, CCTV and dependence on others – the police & others – for community security) Reverse of a gated community is a sink estate – a no-go area!
e) Regeneration approaches that do not create mixed communities – indeed reinforce social stratification.
6. Smaller houses in flatted developments where the factor does all the maintenance – no need for neighbours to know one another; dependency culture (not just about so called poor people depending on benefits, but expecting others (esp. the local authorities) to do things for us – even clearing the snow off our pavements
7. Privatisation of public space, with less civic space
8. Move away from communities of place for many people to communities of association including in churches (more gathered congregations) Perth – suburb – gathered church, scouts, supermarket; back to the village – community church, DPHS, SPAR etc.
Since housing is at the core of our places, these changes are reflected in the kind of places we have – a Scotsman’s home is his castle! We have created individual islands, which we look after with loving care. However, the spaces between buildings have become less valued. One moves from one’s personal home via one’s personal travel space (car) to anonymous spaces which tend to be in private ownership. Is the big ‘public space’ now shopping centres?
And there are casualties in this kind of society and the places that result from it. People who have a feeling of not belonging, classically homeless people (homeless people talk about feeling invisible), and the increased number of those suffering loneliness and less connected.
But is it all gloom?
There are glimpses of hope in the midst of this period of rapid change:
· The churches have continued to be a sanctuary and a light – from organisations that provide support, food and shelter to those least able to help themselves, to organisations like SCHA encouraging churches to make the best use of then churches resources to create affordable homes. Neither of these has been easy – whether it is local antagonism or the concerns of the ruling bodies like the General Trustees to ensure that best value is obtained in terms of price which often means that the land price is greater than a housing association or other organisation could afford, rather than any form of community value.
· In ‘peripheral estates’ often the churches have supplied the glue that has kept communities together, including welcoming strangers – asylum seekers, those with no home
· Through the whole period the Community based housing association movement has survived, providing better quality housing and better communities. They have helped develop skills – organisation, management, and above all community self confidence – empowered communities. And many of the people who are the voluntary committee members of these – and other community organisations – are motivated by their Christian faith.
But there have been downsides to CBHAs: There are signs that they are becoming like other institutions e.g. building societies: growth; the drug of development rather than management and maintenance. However, are CBHAs under threat? Too small? Too local? However, the pressures on the housing associations and on their regulator are such that efficiency drives (in other words – can we get more houses for the same or less amount of money) may lead to a reduction in the number of developing associations, so that smaller (and community based) may have to buy their houses from a larger (and probably more professional) supplier. So what does this say to people in these kind of communities – you can only have the cheapest houses, you are not to be encouraged to take charge of the process (buy your houses from ‘experts’?), being a client is too complex a task for you? Are community based associations only to be regarded as capable of managing houses and not commissioning them? And if the design and development process is a major part of empowering people – what price is put on that?
New types of community organisations have emerged over the last few years to enable Trusts, Community Development Trusts, Community Woodlands, Community Energy Companies, Community Car clubs. These add to the traditions established by common grazing grounds in crofting communities. Working together at a community level, sharing resources. There are a few examples in Urban Areas – Neilston, Transition Portobello.
And now the word ‘community’ is being resurrected. Even the Scottish Government is in on the act – with the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative – with 11 new sustainable communities being developed across the country.
What would make a sustainable community in the 21st century? The Government’s guidelines for a successful place suggests that a place should be
Distinctive – character and identity;
Safe and pleasant – well looked after public spaces;
Easy to get to and move around – easy to reach, especially on foot;
Welcoming – occupants and visitors feel at ease;
Adaptable – capacity to cope with change;
Resource efficient – promote the sustainable use of resources.
And part of the Government’s approach to climate change (back to the earth is our only home) argues that we should be creating ‘thriving communities’ which involves housing development and
Safety and security
Improvements in local environment
Personal well being
Links between environment and health
Greater public participation
Transport and air quality
A Group of us have been working recently trying to develop this. We are suggesting that a thriving community should be one that
Encourages aspirations for the whole community
Has a low ecological footprint
Is culturally rich
Has ‘identity’ and is lively
Is confident, convivial and learning
Is a place where people want to live, visit, play and share with others
I am also reminded of the mantra of Jan Gehl, one of Europe’s leading urban designers (credited with turning round Copenhagen as a living, thriving city. He suggests that in creating places we need to ensure first the life, then the spaces, then the buildings.
I’ve come a long way in this paper from the earth as our home, of looking at what has happened to our homes over the last 40 years, and of putting the word ‘home’ in the context of communities. Indeed. 40 years on, I think we should not talk about homes, but about communities, and the life that sees us belonging to a community.
I want to reinforce my argument by looking at some the places that we might think are good places: eg an example of how a place was transformed – Fairfield in Perth.
And so finally,
3. Role of the churches
So what about the role of the churches? I simply want to throw out some suggestions that people might want to think about. And the fundamental question is: are we creating surviving, striving or thriving communities? And in each of these we are called, I believe, to be a sanctuary and a light.
In terms of ‘building home’ the churches have been doing it for a long time. The earliest recorded involvement in the Britain is a group of 12th century almshouses in York. This is the almshouse known as the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, dating to circa 1132, which is the oldest still in operation.
In respect of sanctuary, there will unfortunately remain a need for the ‘safety net’ role provided by many Christian groups – helping people to survive where they have no home and to get a roof over their head. Despite the best intentions of government, I see no immediate end to homelessness – indeed given the economic circumstances and the downturn in public expenditure, I fear that we will see an increase. With over 80% of us adequately housed, and a country which seems to want to be even more individualistic and less interested in reducing inequality, housing is struggling to stay near the top of the political agenda. This may be our ‘surviving’ role.
As for ‘striving’, this is where the churches being a light must also continue. A light that shines not just as a beacon of hope, but as a spotlight on the issue – continuing to champion the needs of those who have no-one to speak for them, to lobby and to hold governments (national and local) to account.
But the churches have also an obligation to be a light by showing the way. And in this I believe that the work that Scottish Churches Housing Action is doing by trying to get churches to use their land and building assets to help provide affordable housing is of primary importance.
However, finally, back to the almshouses. They did not stand alone – they were part of a community. After 40 years, I still have a fundamental belief that the best built places are those shaped by their communities, and churches have to continue to play a major part in ’thriving’ communities. We have (or at least ought to have) our own vision of what makes a ‘thriving community’ – one based on justice, on equality, and on love.
Communities need some kind of organisational structure to achieve that. We now talk about social economy organisations. And the churches need not fear the phrase ‘social economy organisations’ in relation to their own activities, because the churches have been and are fundamentally community based organisations. This means that the churches must engage in a political way at a local level. And we must continue to support those individual members of churches who sit on Housing Association committees, Community Councils, Local Authorities and National Parliaments. Too often their work is not seen as doing ‘your will on earth as it is in heaven’. And yet we are called to be the mustard seed!
And so, when we talk about building hope, and building homes (and I purposefully switched the title round), are we talking about surviving, striving and thriving? We need to do all three, but we need not just to be concerned about homelessness, but about creating thriving places and communities.
Image Credit: Mr G’s Travels, Homeless.