No-one should be made to feel like a second class citizen because of where they call home

The remains of Grenfell Tower: a scar on London. Image: Getty.

Seven months on from the Grenfell fire and we don’t yet truly know what will change. The lives of the survivors and our community, certainly: affected indelibly and forever. We will never forget those we lost. The public inquiry is in place and we await to see the lines of questioning adopted and the conclusions it reaches.

But how much the tragedy will change our attitudes and behaviours as a country is still very uncertain. We simply do not yet know whether what happened and what we have seen will change our attitude to social housing and to communities like ours.  

The terrible tragedy also brought out the best in so many. In the aftermath I was part of a community devastated by tragedy that also came together to help so many who were in need. From the volunteers who came to my church and many other centres to hand out food and water, to those with legal expertise who have given their time in the months that follow to offer representation and advice to hundreds of families affected, we have shared a determination that the survivors would not be on their own in their grief.

As our community seeks to rebuild, so too must the whole country look to understand what happened and to find strength from despair. The public inquiry will look in depth at the causes of the fire and the response of the emergency services. But what of the bigger questions, the questions for our society that were posed by what we saw in Grenfell?


Grenfell residents have talked about feeling not listened to and like second class citizens: their voices are too easily dismissed by those in positions of power. While worrying, this is not unique. The experience of those in North Kensington have been echoed by many right across the country who feel the same way.

And Grenfell faith and community leaders, including myself, have talked about those in social housing being stigmatised. But we are reflecting a national problem, not something unique to our particular corner of West London. 

As someone who believes passionately in the role social housing can play in our society, these problems trouble me deeply. We must not miss the opportunity to address these problems. The debate which we promised each other would happen in the weeks after the fire must take place.

So it is to address these deeper questions of power, of community and about the future of social housing that, with the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, we are establishing an independent commission. We don’t start it knowing all the answers and our commissioners are not experts but truth seekers. We hope to find answers through a process which involves as many people as possible, from every region. We believe we need a big conversation involving all those in social housing, all those who need it and all those who live in and around it to chart a better way forward.

No-one should ever be made to feel like a second class citizen because of where they live or where they call home. We need a fresh look at all these questions and we need a new future for social housing which reflects the views of all those who can benefit from it. I hope all those who are able to contribute to this important new commission will do so, so that together we can help shape a better future for us all.

Rev. Mike Long is the minister of Notting Hill Methodist Church and the chair of Shelter’s Big Conversation on social housing.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.