Podcast: Estuary English

The Estuary. Image: Getty.

As I write, it’s local elections day here in England. There are elections in large chunks of the country, but to my shame I’ve only really been paying attention to two: the London borough ones (where there’s a lot of tension around how they might go for the various parties), and the Sheffield City Region mayoral one (where there’s no tension whatsoever because we’ve basically known that Labour’s Dan Jarvis was a lock for months now).

Anyway. I talk about those, briefly – but because we won’t have any results until some silly time this evening, our main feature this week is something else entirely.

Caroline Crampton was for many years in charge of the internet here at the New Statesman, and is one of the hosts of our pop culture podcast Srsly. Last year, she took on a new role as head of podcasts, and moved to Merseyside to write a book about the Thames Estuary.

So, all things considered, I thought it was about time I invited her onto Skylines to talk about it. She tells me how her parents’ journey from South Africa and her childhood in Kent inspired an interest in the estuary; how and why its human, natural and economic geography all differ so radically from the proper Thames, up-river; and why the towns of the estuary keep showing such an enduring enthusiasm for right-wing populist racists.

She also tells a frankly horrific story about 600 Victorians who drowned in sewage. It’s a fascinating conversation.

Next week, in all likelihood, will be the local election post mortem episode. See you on the other side.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.

At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.