By Ronnie Hughes
Introducing: Coming Home
A few times on here lately I’ve alluded to a new idea I’ve been working on, saying I’d be ‘telling you about it soon.’ Well soon is now, and I’d like to introduce ‘Coming Home.’
As you’ll know if you’ve been around this blog any amount of time, one of the core beliefs that has driven the whole of my life has been that having a decent home is a basic human right. And that any society that is failing to ensure that decent homes are being provided is a failing society. We are a failing society by that measure. So I’m going to do everything I can through ‘Coming Home’ to put that right.
Then you’re not really having very much of a life at all.
Many people in our society are not really having very much of a life at all. For all the miscellaneous reasons why, far too many people lack the basic human right of a decent home to call their own and that they can afford to live in.
Austerity politics has commoditised housing so that it’s now more about the market in property prices than it is about people and their homes. So called ‘housing initiatives’ in recent years have included destroying 30,000 homes across the North of England to renew the ‘Housing Market.’ And these are not being replaced in anything like the numbers needed at costs people can afford.
So the country has entered a housing crisis. Where generations of the young no longer expect to be able to buy, because they’re spending the money they’d be saving for a deposit on ever higher private rentals. And social housing, which is where the country’s council housing mostly ended up, is no longer able, or in some cases willing to be the safe haven it once was for those on low wages or no wages.
What’s to be done then? If you’re not upset by the sight of people having to sleep in shop doorways or beg on street corners then maybe you’re happy to do nothing. If you think these people brought it all on themselves and have only got themselves to blame then turn away, walk on and do nothing.
But I don’t think most people are happy to do nothing. I think in our society we have a wonderful history of caring for each other, across all the main political parties and with or without help from the state. You’ll well know that I’m a socialist but what I’m proposing to do isn’t so much about socialism as about having decent human values and living by them.
So here’s the idea, and it’s about empty homes.
We keep hearing that there’s a housing shortage and that we simply can’t afford to build new ones in the numbers we need. That may be so, but have you had a look around the city or town where you live lately? Obviously there are sometimes large concentrations of empty homes, such as those in Granby I’ve been part of working on these past few years. But mostly empty homes occur in ones and twos, going to waste and maybe even beginning the blighting of the streets they’re in.
And they add up these tiny numbers of empty homes. In Liverpool alone there are 9,000 or so empty homes. Only some hundreds of these accounted for by large groupings. And around 4,500 of the overall total being seriously empty for longer than 6 months.
So maybe we’ve got a lot or even most of the housing we need, it’s just sitting there empty.
This is what ‘Coming Home’ will do. Help owners of these empty homes to turn them back into homes again for the people in our society who so need them.
I’ve had help in coming up with this from friends in Leeds and Blackpool working on similar things. And most help of all from everyone in North Liverpool working with The Beautiful Ideas Co. This is my Beautiful Idea. In the first place, my contribution to how a whole group of enterprises are going about reinventing the economy of North Liverpool from the ground up.
At the moment I’m working on the details, like how this enterprise will generate its own income (I think we’ve cracked that), the wide range of exactly who it will be good for, and how I fit the rest of my life around it. Because ‘Coming Home’ is my big thing now, the main thing I want to do. I won’t stop operating as ‘a sense of place’ – writing this blog and helping out other organisations where I can. But I literally want to get my hands dirty now and do what I can, with my lifetime of experience, to sort out this housing crisis, get the tins off, and be a part of creating a more caring society where housing is not a market but about everyone having the human right to, and a choice of, a place to call home.
The 12 year old boy who watched ‘Cathy Come Home’ and saw all the early Shelter posters and decided he’d grow up and do something about low quality and no quality housing is still here in me. But now with a whole lifetime’s experience to offer. And I’ve got some friends with me too.
I’m talking to various people at the moment about being part of this in particular ways – The City Council’s Empty Homes team of course, talking to others about being on some sort of advisory team maybe, helping with accounts and running things or working with us on site for example. But here’s the basic setting it all up team, the Directors of Coming Home Liverpool, me and Jayne Lawless.
Jayne you’ll know as the artist of the wonderful film ‘Without These Walls’ which she launched at Homebaked a couple of weeks ago. A film all about Granton Road in Everton L5, lost to the Housing Market Renewal Initiative, like so much else around Everton and Anfield.
So you’ll be hearing a lot more over the next few months about the two of us and Coming Home as we get it all ready to start, in North Liverpool and with the people of North Liverpool.
Oh yes, and one more thing. We’re going to run ‘Coming Home’ as an open source project. We think the issue we’re attempting to deal with is huge and potentially has many solutions in particular places. But we can only honestly work on Liverpool, and just the North of Liverpool to start with. So we are ‘Coming Home Liverpool’ and have bought our domain name ComingHomeLiverpool.co.uk. We’ve also bought one more too – ‘The Coming Home Project.’ Inspired by Adam Smith and everyone at The Real Junk Food Project we’re looking to do something similar, but about empty homes rather than food. We’ll openly learn from what we’re doing in Liverpool, then if you want to set up a ‘Coming Home’ wherever you are, we’ll help you to do so. So that, just like with Real Junk Food, there might be loosely affiliated ‘Coming Homes’ everywhere. Because this housing crisis is urgent and needs sorting much quicker than any single enterprise could do it.
What do you think?