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Social Housing has a Black History



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Curo recently formed a new racial equality colleague network – called Originem (Latin for ‘origin’) – and we’re using Black History Month (BHM) to empower, educate and celebrate. This is very personal for me as my parents were part of the Windrush generation coming to England for better opportunities.  However instead of being welcomed they were faced with various forms of racism and signs that read 'No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' when they were looking for a home. 

Black and minority ethnic (BME) people had to contend with poor quality privately rented housing in the inner cities run by slum landlords like the infamous Peter Rachman who provided grossly over-crowded accommodation to immigrants and evicted using intimidation and dogs. 

The struggle to find good quality rented housing in the 1950s and 60s sowed the seeds for the BME housing movement.  

Housing associations specially created to help immigrants began to emerge. Aggrey Housing Limited appeared in Leeds in 1955, closely followed by the Birmingham Friendship Housing Association, the Bath Voluntary Association for Commonwealth Housing, Nottingham Coloured People’s Housing Society and London’s Tredegar Housing Association. The Rachman scandal, which ended with his death in 1962, also inspired the creation of Shelter and Notting Hill Housing Trust.

However structural discrimination continued and in 1984 the manager of a Reading hostel for young black people, Louis Julienne, co-founded the Federation of Black Housing Organisations (FBHO), an umbrella body for BME housing associations that represented the sector and lobbied government on its behalf. In 1986 the FBHO set in motion the first black housing strategy and over the next few years about 40 BME housing associations were founded. In 2008 the FBHO closed due to funding difficulties, but another representative body, BMENational, was swiftly created only a year later.

In Bristol, United Housing Association was formed in 1985 when local civil rights leaders and activists come together to address the problem of unequal access to decent housing, a problem that particularly affected elders of Caribbean descent. In supporting the foundation of United Housing Association and SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality), these leaders looked to address racial discrimination in the core areas of everyday life: the workplace, the home, education and the city’s public spaces.

Although BME housing associations were formed to address the clear and obvious disadvantage facing some communities in accessing good quality affordable housing. They have achieved that and much more: over the decades they played a pioneering role in British society, pushing into the mainstream issues of race, equality and inclusion. They have irrevocably changed the housing landscape.

A BME positive action scheme in Bristol brought me into housing in the 1990s and I have seen a lot of policy interventions over that time.

Many of the BME-led organisations have merged into mainstream housing associations including United. So, in the South West it is up to housing providers like Curo to become the housing associations that finally stamp out discrimination in social housing and welcome and support BME colleagues and customers. 

Roy Hackett mural - Copyright Iconic Black Britons 2019. All rights reserved. Photography Bhagesh Sachania

© Copyright Iconic Black Britons 2019. All rights reserved. Photography: Bhagesh Sachania

In Bristol as part of the Iconic Black Britons Heritage trail you can take a little walk around St Pauls and see all the murals of the black pioneers who enabled change in social housing and for us all.

Here’s a small selection of the many events and activities happening in #BlackHistoryMonth:

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