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Memories of a true housing pioneer

I worked for a very special guy, John Coward, at Notting Hill Housing Trust in the 1970-80’s. He was a true pioneer and real inspiration to those establishing the housing association sector at the time and had a major impact on the way it has developed since. He shaped much of the core role and structure of the fledging housing association movement and directed an extraordinary transformation in housing conditions and approach.

Sadly he passed away a year ago just short of his 90th birthday. We held a memorial event for him in June and I think it is fitting to share with those currently working in housing and who may not have known him some of the tributes to his life and career that were paid to him then.

His grandson Oliver Coward produced a wonderful film of the early days of the Trust including John’s own recollections in his inimitable style. The speeches given at the memorial event make a fascinating read and are a reminder of what fundamentally the provision of good quality secure housing for those who need it is all about.

When the Trust was formed in the 60s, the housing problems in London and other urban centres then were as much about appalling conditions as anything else. Sadly we seem of late to be (re-)creating problems of almost equivalent scale in terms of access to basic housing at a cost which ordinary people can afford. Equally radical thinking and action is needed now to address some of these major problems.

In my career I have only come across one other leader in the housing sector who came close to John’s vision and drive. We really could do with one or two modern day John Cowards to lead the way in resolving our continuing major housing problems.

I hope you might find the content (Memorial Celebration – Speeches and Film Link and Memorial Celebration – Order of Service) of the June memorial event thought provoking and a reminder to us all of what the basic objectives of the housing association sector should be about.

(The order of service includes John’s own list of his achievements whilst the text of the day’s speeches also includes a YouTube link to Oliver’s film, which can be found at the end of the document)