Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grotty Little Town

Swindon never feels like a place that’s at ease with itself. Even its most famous son Andy Partridge described it as a grotty little town. Ok that was nearly 30 years ago and only a few old codgers like me (fondly) remember XTC anymore.

But today’s big story in the local rag seems to suggest not much has changed. A young family living in an overcrowded Swindon council flat point out, quite reasonably, that whilst they are denied a bigger council flat, thousands of homes lie empty across the town. Instead of debating this obvious injustice, the readers’ comments take a less than charitable view of the families motives.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favour of linking social housing and employment in a positive way to encourage families back into work. But you can hardly blame this family for the failing social housing allocation system and a dysfunctional housing market. I can’t help feeling that a few CPOs aren’t really going to help much either. Who says the council will be a better landlord than the current private owners -that looks suspiciously like an empty council house in the photo.

Instead of getting all personal and blaming everybody let me suggest something more constructive. In Leeds a self-help housing cooperative called Canopy offers families like this one in Swindon the accommodation they need. But it’s no hand out. To earn a place to live, residents volunteer to renovate empty derelict buildings. The process allows residents to develop new building skills and also to develop their future house in the way they want it. Surely a much more positive solution than anything suggested by the people of Swindon.