Council Housing and Culture

Council Housing and Culture

Council Housing and Culture

Council Housing and Culture


Alison Ravetz addresses the contentious subject of public provision of housing, examining the contribution it has made to the relief of poverty, and the relevance, place and purpose of utopian thought and practice in modern society.


'… one of the greatest revolutions this country has now seen is in progress.'

Housing, 24 May 1920

'Council housing is facing extinction … By the year 2000, council housing may have become a historical relic.'

The Eclipse of Council Housing, Ian Cole and Robert Furbey, 1994

If its lengthy antecedents are included, council housing just bridged three centuries as it passed the year 2000. For a number of years its end had been anticipated and at the time of writing is a more real prospect than ever before. If it does end, however, it will be in a certain sense only: that of ownership. The bulk of the buildings remain, and will remain for many years to come, providing homes for people as well as a sizeable part of Britain's townscapes and built environment.

Most British people with any awareness of social affairs attach some meaning - and mostly a negative one - to the term council housing; but only those who were adult through a significant part of the twentieth century could have some realistic understanding of its raison d'être and purpose. Even then, it is more likely that their knowledge relates to its history after 1945 than to its inception and early years between the wars. Why should it be of interest to resurrect this old history, if those who had some experience of it feel that they understand it, and its perhaps imminent demise makes it irrelevant to those who did not? Not the least reason is, of course, the cause of historical accuracy. A collective knowledge of events is accumulated as they unfold, and where social affairs are concerned, this is inevitably within a partisan framework. In the process much gets forgotten or foreshortened, and the memories of what was experienced harden into an orthodoxy. There comes a point when this body of accumulated knowledge needs reassessment for new

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