All posts by Carol Squires

About Carol Squires

Carol Squires is the founding partner at Source Partnership and a keen champion of social housing. the practice prides itself in developing projects to improve the lives of residents

Duty of Care – Shared Responsibility

We have refrained from commenting on the tragic events at Grenfell Tower as when at least 79 residents are presumed dead, these are not matters from which to score political or commercial points. Speculation  has been rife, plenty of experts giving their opinion to satisfy the rolling news channels.

Inevitably, the public inquiry and the inquests will identify mistakes that were made; opportunities missed to safeguard residents; and an appetite to apportion blame. The conclusions will not be straight forward , contributing factors will, surely, be a series of complex technical failings and simple acts of carelessness – resulting in, hopefully, unique causal circumstances at Grenfell Tower.

Councillor Nick Paget-Brown already appeared, on BBC’s Newsnight,  to suggest that residents had rejected fire safety recommendations, almost as though the landlord is at the mercy of resident opinion when attempting to meet its duty of care. Nothing could be further from the truth, landlords sometimes have to put duty of care before popularity as has been demonstrated by those bold enough to enforce the removal of iron gates over doors and windows in blocks where a fire risk assessment identified the potential danger these present.

We know personally many great people working for housing associations, tenant management organisations, housing departments, architects  and regeneration teams, we are appalled at the vitriolic abuse they have  received since 14 June 2017. Equally,  we have been impressed by how many of our clients, colleagues and friends quietly, without attracting publicity offered help; putting a hold on their own regeneration plans to provide accommodation for survivors; donating time and goods; offering their expertise. These professionals act in the best possible interests of residents trying their best to improve social housing making it safer, warmer, more secure. Sometimes they don’t have all the answers.

From the morning after the fire, we were inundated by calls from tenants living in newly refurbished blocks, high-rise and those who that very day were off to visit a completed cladding scheme for consideration for their estate. It is right that, from now onwards, regeneration proposals will be now challenged more closely and experts asked to explore risks never previously envisaged.

Perhaps when the findings are published,   tenants will reflect on the impact that small actions can have, refuse left in a communal area, bikes and buggies, fire doors wedged open to create ventilation – simple everyday breaches of duty of care to each other.

Regenerating with Community Support – possible?

This week, I have been procrastinating over our response to the Mayor of London’s Draft Homes for Londoners consultation. We love regeneration, not just for its own sake but because done well it can genuinely improve lives. But so many landlords seem to be hungry to realise land values at the expense of carrying local communities along with their plans. That is my major problem with the Guidance – that it stop shorts of giving existing communities a genuine say in the future of their homes and estates. In fact it even shies away from a test of  opinion in case some conscientious independent tenants and leaseholders advisor interprets that as a ballot. It’s extremely short-sighted to believe that gentrification can continue at the current rate and surely nobody believes that there is not a price to pay for clearing working class residents from high land value areas.

Affordable homes can be built with  the approval of residents, it’s not easy but infinitely doable.  What is required is for landlords and their consultants to listen as well as speak. To develop business plans and programmes which protect or enhance the lifestyle of existing residents and place value on protecting affordable low cost renting options in the Capital.

Recently, I have heard planners talk about existing estates not being “dense enough”; landlords contemplating demolition of perfectly good social housing to maximise land use; and  architects report that the requirement to make play provision is challenging. No wonder residents are angry.  With thousands of families in temporary accommodation, nobody can argue with the need for more housing, indeed I have never heard a council tenant dispute the need for more housing they are the sector’s strongest champions.  But turkeys will never vote for Christmas and tenants and leaseholders will never vote for redevelopment unless they can see something in it for them and the next generation.

So landlords must present proposals which protect secure tenancy rights, do not disadvantage leaseholders and create  great places for people to live in. There will still be painful choices but surely we can get residents to agree that:

  • Some blocks are beyond the end of their useful life (if they are)
  • Garages and car-parking are less important than new homes and open space
  • Community centres don’t have to be single storey standalone buildings

Certainly a compromise can be reached, and tenants will (and have in Hackney) vote in a ballot for good regeneration.

Failure to provide appropriately priced  rented housing for the families of bus drivers (Sadiq Khan please note) or shared ownership options to which teachers can aspire will have a catastrophic on London’s economy and therefore the UK.


Community Researcher / Intern Opportunity

We are looking to appoint a Hackney based intern to assist our consultancy team to carry out a skills and training audit as part of a large regeneration project in London N4. This will be a paid position and could lead to permanent employment as a project worker for the right candidate.

The work will involve outreach and surveying up to 275 households via face to face interviewing, on-line and self-completion.  There will be an opportunity for involvement in analysing the data and referring applicants to work based experience and training and employment providers.

The successful intern will be expected to work on their own initiative alongside a small consultant team and full induction training will be provided. The project take place between February and July 2017 with the possibility of leading to other work.  This opportunity  is ideal for somebody wanting to gain experience of community work and research techniques.  We will be happy to provide references to other employers on completion of this short term contract.

The post will be sponsored by the regeneration developer Higgins Construction and you will be supported on site by Source Partnership Consulting Limited both companies  are committed to the London living wage. Please send a CV or personal statement to


Tenancy Management – Human Problems

With respect to the presenter, our session  with the committee members of  a developing tenant management organisation to seek to negotiate the contents of their management agreement with their Council was not the most exciting prospect for a Saturday.  A view obviously shared by some absent members.

However, aided by a presentation referencing real life experiences and a small, fully engaged group of participants: the event was not only informative but stimulating and yes there were even some laughs. I was reminded of one of the reasons I started working in housing in the first place. A roof over your family’s head is one of the most fundamental desires for anybody and, increasingly, a precious commodity. The investment made by society in trying to ensure every family has a home is very special in the UK.


It can be pleasurable to be part of introducing a new tenant to their home – especially as housing applicants in the most need may have come from quite traumatic circumstances. Tenants at our event have lived in their council homes for up to 35 years and remain grateful for them.

Each potential problem that can arise in a tenancy involves a real human problem: repairs, rent arrears and benefit claims, debt, transfers, succession on death of a tenant, troublesome neighbours, their kids and their dogs – this session explored them all.

Watching this committee develop their ideas to make the experience of renting a home in their tenant management organisation something to be proud of and something they would value through behaviour was inspiring.  From the moment a tenant views their home on this estate, the tenant management organisation wants them to feel at home, part of a community.  However,  they will expect every resident to adhere to a good neighbours’ code of conduct and tenants to pay their rent on time. In return they are determined to provide a best value service, protect the rights of quiet enjoyment and ensure that their staff provide compassionate support when needed. They’ll go far.



Social Housing Changes Lives

I am prompted by #housingday to think about the value of social housing. At a very posh artists’ opening recently I was asked what I do for a living. Usually my answer meets with blank stares and a swift change of subject,  but this time the enquirer’s face lit up and she responded with “social housing changed my family’s life!”

This was no old age pensioner talking about the old days but a middle class woman younger than me from South London who recalled that she and her brothers were brought up in rooms in Brockley.  Rooms that had a full size bath in the kitchen which,  with a wooden board over the top, doubled up  for food preparation on non-bath days.

Eventually their rooms were bought up by a housing association and they were upgraded to a self-contained flat with inside toilet and a separate bathroom, with bedrooms that they did not need to share – an event so major in her life that it still brings joy to her forty years on, despite her current day affluent circumstances. She lives in a house worth well over a million pounds but is an avid fan of social housing and opposed to offering the Right to Buy these precious commodities.


I was reminded of my own upbringing in railway (tied) housing and my mother bathing us in the kitchen sink, I suppose we didn’t have a bathroom or it was too cold to use in winter, That was still quite normal in the 1960s.

My son laughed when I told him this story about his friend’s mother and my childhood, – suddenly my generation is part of the bad old days when social housing was less available. There was a housing shortage: employers were able to tie people to their jobs by providing basic workers accommodation; and private landlords could provide frankly substandard housing  to needy families.

We’ve come a long way since then, the standards set by social landlords have dragged the rest of the rented sector into providing decent accommodation. Millions of families’ lives have been changed by social housing, even in the last generation, let’s keep it plentiful and affordable.



Resident Consultation isn’t a New Thing

Consulting residents, service users and communities is second nature to us, we do it daily in our work. Yet increasingly the landlord organisations, architects and developers we come across seem to be reticent in engaging with the recipients of housing and regeneration services. It’s not rocket science, people are much more able to accept and support decisions (however difficult) if they have been party to the discussions leading to them.

Recent proposed landlord mergers appeared to have been led by the business case or a corporate vision with very little regard for the impact upon residents who ultimately pay for the service. As Carl Brown observes in Inside Housing, the National Housing Federation’s voluntary merger code failed to refer to a role for tenants. Following the collapse of the high profile mergers, twelve landlords are exploring an alternative code which we await with interest.

Statutory ballots always carry the risk that residents will reject a strong and coherent proposal, however with this as a true test of opinion landlords were diligent about involving residents in the details of the decision and providing reassurances. How else were so many voluntary stock transfers and regeneration schemes achieved in relatively short timescales?  Residents have much to  offer when developing options for saving money or improving service delivery.

On a smaller scale,  several times over the past year we have been asked to mediate where a resident has raised a serious and formal  complaint with their landlord regarding a decision that has been taken which affects their home. Without exception, these complaints have arisen because residents have felt dis-empowered by a seemingly high-handed attitude from their landlord. In each case, consultation has been one-way; telling and not listening, imposing a solution without a discussion regarding the alternatives. Housing staff were well-meaning and  professional but had failed to take the residents along as they developed proposals. Once a meaningful discussion was imperative, compromise and consensus was achieved – a successful outcome.

Sadly,  consultation techniques are not taught to project managers, housing officers, architects and employers agents when clearly the people demonstrating excellence have these skills in spades. The traditional consultation meeting is now only one tool in the kit to engage people, when people are time poor, less formal events, capturing views through conversation and social media provide an opportunity to hear what residents say.  three things:

  1. Resident consultation is not a new thing and it works.
  2. Listen as well as talk.
  3. Top-down approaches or imposed solutions are fraught with difficulty and often fail.

Regeneration in a Post-EU Market?

However you voted, not many will have been prepared for the political turmoil of the past month. There has been much more talk about the referendum amongst  our clients, tenant groups, council officers and registered providers since the result than there was before voting opened, as the practicalities of an EU exit are assessed. Call me old fashioned,  but I would have liked a much fuller discussion about this before I put my X in the box.

A Development Survey carried out by Inside Housing published 1 July 2016  revealed that 40% of new starts by the 50 largest builders are for private sale or shared ownership. Inside Housing suggests that if the housing market falls then the scope to cross fund social housing will be reduced – presumably in two years time when these developments are completed just as mainland Europe pulls up the drawbridge.

Where is the response to the housing shortage, in all tenures, that we have NOW? Where is the confidence in our economy promised by the brexiteers. There are still tens of thousands of families living in temporary accommodation; young adults on lower incomes either still living with their parents or trapped in the private rented sector often dependent on benefits  – we have no choice but continue to build.

Regeneration has been delivered in a rising property market with apparent ease and the challenge will be to meet house building targets in a less certain market. Although London is cushioned from a potential market crash, it is here where low-cost homes are desperately needed to ensure that people who provide services to the Capital can actually live within commuting distance of their workplace.


Car Free schemes

Key to the  green agenda, particularly in cities, is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport bicycles and even our feet. The rise of the car free scheme is not without its critics. By calculating public transport accessibility levels (or PTAL) it is possible to make a judgement as to whether cars are necessary. The rating from 6, where public transport opportunities  are abundant down to 1 where public transport is limited.

Whilst the calculations are not perfect, for example the destinations of each transport option are not considered, PTAL scores are a useful tool for planners and developers to:

  1. Agree the density of a housing development.
  2. Decide how to allocate land for car-parking.

Unsurprisingly, in London PTAL scores are high and so are land values so the result is the rise of the car free development with only 10% car parking reserved for blue badge holders.

The first of the car free developments in London have been rolled out and as people move into them, it is clear that the British love affair will the motor vehicle is still strong and the fall in car ownership may take a generation or more to achieve. Where tenants are returning to new-build council housing on regeneration estates they left 8 years ago, the lack of parking is a huge culture shock and in many cases  a barrier to them accepting the new home many of them campaigned for. Very few issues have engendered such emotive response as the reduction in car-parking and controlled parking zones.

For new tenants off the homeless register and shared ownership leaseholders it is less of an issue, but I was recently asked by a bus driver living on a car free scheme how he was expected to get to the bus station 6 miles away from his home  to drive the first bus of the day.  And it is not just the resident who is affected, elderly residents report that visits from their family are tainted with parking anxiety

The problem with using a pseudo scientific calculation  of PTAL ratings is that there is no discretion and there are occupations (community midwife, nurses, doctors, bus driver, train driver, etc.) which require the worker to have access to their own transport. I suspect that politicians would probably say get on your bike, from their chauffeur driven cars which are presumably parked overnight in Central London. Many people are too afraid to cycle in urban areas and  carrying a week’s shopping with two children in tow is definitely not an option.

There are no incentives to freely surrender your car, car clubs are prohibitively expensive and do not provide the comfort of having a vehicle available to use in an emergency or to know you can travel out of London to see family on a whim. Even with a year’s free membership the take up on a scheme built 3 years ago was zero.

I admit to being a dinosaur, I love my car and the freedom it gives me. I would not move to a car free scheme so I can empathise with residents who are unwillingly leading the way to a London less dominated by cars.

Key things which can assist:

  1. Full consultation with residents on regeneration estates about parking identifying car use and preparing for a car free future.
  2. Cost-effective car clubs or car sharing arrangements.
  3. Discretion to issue permits for people in key occupations.
  4. Proper arrangements for visitor parking and delivery drop-offs