On the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation’s arrival, their experiences are a cause for celebration while raising serious questions about housing today.

Geeta Nanda

Geeta Nanda

The past few weeks have seen the country warmly commemorate and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in London on 22 June 1948. The 492 people who arrived that day and the thousands who followed have made an enormous contribution to our society. They helped to lift Britain out of the austere, economic disarray of the immediate post-war years and their decedents have shaped the diverse and prosperous society of today.

Their remarkable story is one we are especially proud of at Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH). Founded as Metropolitan Coloured People’s Housing Association in the 1960s, MTVH has an unbreakable link with the Windrush generation as our founders sought to help them to overcome disgraceful discrimination in finding places to live.

Naturally, we have marked Windrush 75 with enthusiasm, hosting a range of events both in the communities in which we operate and internally within our organisation. Most notably, residents will soon begin moving into Keith Shaw House in south London, a new-build affordable housing development and part of our giant Clapham Park regeneration project. Keith Shaw was a Windrush pioneer, an MTVH founder and one of our longstanding residents and the building bearing his name provides a permanent reminder of the need to provide safe, secure, high-quality and affordable housing to those most in need.

Yet, three quarters of a century after the arrival of HMS Empire Windrush, the reality is that too many people in Britain today are feeling the uncertainty and insecurity that the Windrush generation experienced. Growing numbers need a safe and decent home, which can be the basis to realise their hopes and dreams.

As has been publicised in recent months, overcrowding is far too common. In England, at least 310,000 children are forced to share a bed with parents or siblings. One in every six children is living in cramped conditions because their family cannot access a suitable and affordable home. This equates to two million children from 746,000 families. The chronic lack of affordable housing is no secret. However, the very real human impact of this is becoming ever more apparent.

The financial consequences of the housing crisis are no less stark. The National Housing Federation estimates that 8.5 million people in England alone have some form of unmet housing need, with public services footing a staggering £18.5bn bill every year as a result of poor housing conditions. On every level, there is an urgent need to provide more affordable housing.

Capital investment in housing is down 63% since 2010 and the government itself agrees over the current undersupply of affordable housing. In a recent research brief, it stated that around 340,000 new homes needed to be supplied in England each year, of which 145,000 should be affordable.

Although there is broad consensus on the problem, there is little direction from government on how this most pressing of issues can be resolved. Through renewed investment and enabling greater flexibility with our existing resources, I believe our sector can overcome the challenges of delivering vital new affordable housing and work towards a nation where everyone has a safe, secure and affordable place to call home. However, there is little indication from Westminster that such a forward-looking initiative is in the offing.

Consequently, as a sector we must take inspiration from the era during which the Windrush generation arrived on these shores. In the wake of the devastation of the Second World War, with few resources available, those seeking to address the housing shortage of the time were forced to fall back on little more than innovation and resourcefulness. This spirit planted the seeds that became nascent housing associations such as our own. They emerged to help house needy populations such as those arriving from the Caribbean. More generally, they made an invaluable contribution towards rebuilding parts of London and other cities, constructing hundreds of thousands of new affordable homes.

Today’s circumstances are clearly different. Nonetheless, like 75 years ago, the imperative to solve a housing crisis lies at the very heart of this country’s future. A sense of ingenuity coupled with steely determination was required following the Second World War. Now, as then, it’s time to rise to these challenges. The legacy of the Windrush pioneers shows what can be achieved if we get it right. We have done this before and now is the time to do it again.

Geeta Nanda is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing

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