It was my pleasure this week to attend the TPAS awards event at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire. It was my job to introduce a new award, the Richard Crossley award for excellence in community action. Regular readers, and many others who have worked in housing over the past few decades, will know of Richard’s work for tenants and neighbourhoods in a forty year career which ended with his untimely death last year. My blog on Richard’s life can be found here.
I think attendance at events like this should be compulsory for those who have a prejudicial or even hostile view of social housing. The Chancellor seems to think it’s for losers. Some seem to see it as part of ‘welfare dependency’ whatever that is. I suspect IDS thinks social tenants should be flogged for existing. Many Tories think social housing is anti-aspirational and regrettably some in the Labour Party seem to concur. The media only ever presents a negative story, constantly referring to ghettoes and sink estates and other unsavoury things.
But the TPAS awards show the great and largely unreported side of social housing. TPAS is inundated with brilliant applications from projects all over the country, all involving social tenants who aspire for their communities and believe in supporting their neighbours. And the sponsors, some of them large corporations, seem delighted to be associated with it all.
TV & radio presenter Mike Shaft compered the event
So many of the projects on display deserve national attention. Most have little funding and are dependent entirely on volunteers and the support of their landlord. A group of 16-19 year olds organising an anti-knife crime campaign; tenants helping other tenants to get online – digital inclusion leading to social inclusion. Tenants training themselves to become their own landlords’ scrutineers, helping improve delivery for all. Tenants raising awareness in communities about mental health issues, overcoming ignorance and prejudice.
The winner of the Richard Crossley award was the Eastlands Homes Literacy Beacons Project, which has changed the lives of more than 70 tenants in East Manchester helping individuals with poor literacy skills learn to read and write and build their confidence, going on to further training or employment.
‘Tenant of the Year’ was Marjorie Marsden of Wigan and Leigh Homes, for her long term commitment to improving peoples’ homes.
And the star of the show was probably ‘Young Tenant of the Year’ Jessica Andrade of Cottsway Housing Association, who represents the views of young people to the landlord. At 14 years old, her contribution is extraordinary and her interview with host and compere Mike Shaft was knowledgeable, confident and assured.
TPAS uses the national awards final event to raise funds for charities. This year it supported Shelter but also the Khiraule Education and Health project in north Nepal. Richard fundraised for the latter following his trekking trip to Nepal in 2012.
I went to this awards final to honour my friend and came away inspired by so many tenants doing so many great things in their communities with very little money and virtually no recognition. They are the real ‘Big Society’.