Happy New Year to you and yours. Have you made a New Year’s resolution? Our Government has several – from planning Brexit to making a relationship with President Trump. I hope it has one more: to
build lots of affordable homes for ordinary people. My first Christmas Carol service this year was only three days into Advent. Hazel and I were at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square
marking the 50th anniversary of Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity. It was a very moving occasion, with singing by the London Youth Choir, readings by TV’s Louis Theroux and George Clarke, and testimonies from 1960’s slum dwellers about what Shelter had done for them.
Why was I there? In my Brecon and Wrexham years I was a trustee of Shelter Cymru and went on their first sponsored cycle ride to Paris. But my connection with Shelter goes back more than 50 years. In the summer of 1966 I went to work for Bruce Kenrick’s PA Elvie Rhodes (later a novelist) in an office behind Selfridges. For £7 a week I was employed by the Notting Hill Housing Trust as it prepared to go national. I toured London lobbying the ‘great and good’ as Shelter’s trust deed was being prepared, for which I was expelled from the Houses of Parliament.
On 1st December 1966 I served the refreshments at the Press launch Shelter at St Martin-in-the-Fields. I then spent the rest of my gap year taking Len Loach’s “Cathy Come Home” around public halls (sometimes accompanied by the author Jeremy Sandford and sometimes by the star Carol White), doing the in-house printing, writing receipts for the first donations and organising Britain’s first sponsored walks. Each one hoped to raise £625, then Shelter’s estimate for housing a homeless family.
Shelter’s 50th anniversary is no cause for celebration. I am sad (angry even) that for 50 years successive governments have failed to build enough affordable homes. 50 years ago we told the Press that the new charity’s staff hoped to have made themselves redundant within 10 years. Some hope. 120,000 children in Britain have just spent Christmas homeless and in temporary accommodation, often in appalling conditions. And with a new family becoming homeless every 10 minutes Shelter is still grappling with the increasing demand for help from families fighting to stay in their (often terrible rented) homes.