Over the past few weeks Architects for Social Housing has been running a fairly low-key fund-raising campaign on our Facebook page. Its immediate object was to raise enough money to replace the two of our three computers that have recently been declared dead. Although the response from 13 members of the page was generous, it didn’t raise enough money, so last week we extended this campaign to the ASH blog with a post titled ASH’s Law: A Fundraiser. However, despite the fact that over 250 of the readers of our blog are automatically notified whenever we publish a new post, as of writing a mere 10 people have even visited this post, and only a further 11 people have donated. Grateful as we are – and we are very grateful – for these donations from the people who dug into their wallets, we have over 2,200 followers on our Facebook page alone, and ten times that number have visited our blog so far this year, so two dozen donations isn’t much of a response. We can only assume that the title of our post put our regular readers off. By comparison, our recent 19,000-word report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which took three months to write, has been visited over 750 times since we published it on the ASH blog four weeks ago. It would appear from this that people are willing to read our work, but not to offer us anything in return. Due to changes in our circumstances – i.e. we’re broke – this is no longer a financially sustainable business model for ASH. To try and rectify this, we are making one more appeal to our readers, using means both fair and foul. Hence the subterfuge of the title of this post, which is not our unlikely declaration of allegiance to the political party whose councils are primarily responsible for demolishing London’s council estates and replacing them with properties for home ownership for the rich, buy-to-let landlords and investment opportunities for global capital, but another fundraiser for Architects for Social Housing. ‘But why should I donate money to ASH?’ – I hear you ask. To answer that question we have to sing our own praises for a bit, which is a little embarrassing; but it seems we need (gently) to remind our would-be supporters of what we’ve done and do.
Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company founded in March 2015 that works in the field of architectural design, community support, policy research, written analysis and the occasional demonstration. We have produced design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates, and up to feasibility study stage for 3 of them, including Knight’s Walk, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, Central Hill estate, Northwold estate and Patmore estate. We were paid for only two of these design proposals – for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the Patmore estate – and that with fees insufficient even to fully pay the architects who worked on them. There is simply no way the residents of these estates would have been able to pay the fees demanded by any other architectural practice. The rest of our design work has been done for free. Each of these schemes has taken years of work to develop, undertaken by young architects giving their labour for free, and entailed innumerable meetings, workshops, consultations, presentations and feedback forums with residents, the production of dozens of articles and studies and, in the case of Central Hill estate, a book-length report. All of this has been done by Architects for Social Housing pro bono publico – for the public good. Unfortunately for us, however, the public hasn’t been quite as generous in return.
Since we set the blog up in September 2015 ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies, as well as our design proposals for the 6 threatened housing estates, that together have been visited over 190,000 times by 106,000 people from 179 countries across the globe – only 16 countries short of the entire planet. These include Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, which has been visited 1,300 times; The Truth about Grenfell Tower, visited nearly 17,000 times; The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell, visited nearly 2,500 times; Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme, visited over 2,700 times; The Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition, visited nearly 1,200 times; Regenerating Hackney’s Estates, visited over 4,800 times; An Exemplary Regeneration: King’s Crescent Estate, visited nearly 2,000 times; Sheffield Tent City and the Social Cleansing of Park Hill Estate, visited 1,500 times; Class War on Woodberry Down, visited nearly 1,200 times; Vote Labour? The Aims and Values of Estate Demolition, visited 1,100 times; The End of Social Housing, visited 7,700 times; and The London Clearances, visited nearly 14,000 times. All these articles and reports that took weeks and sometimes months of research to produce, and whose readership indicates they have been of both interest and use to residents, campaigners and academics alike, have been made available to read on the ASH blog for free.
In addition, over the past 4 years ASH has delivered more than 40 presentations to academic institutions, including to the Bartlett School of Architecture, the Architectural Association, De Montfort University, Birkbeck College, the University of East London, the University of Westminster, the Cass School of Architecture, the London Metropolitan University, the University of Sheffield, the Braunschweig University of Technology, Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and the Chelsea College of Art; as well as at the Greater London Authority, the Royal Academy, Building Design Partnership, Trafford Hall, Cambridge House, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Barbican Centre, the Serpentine Gallery, the Western Front Gallery in Vancouver, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, the Kunstraum / Bethanien Art Gallery in Berlin and the Architectural League of New York. Although, for our presentations abroad, ASH was paid expenses, the bulk of these presentations were given for free. That’s usual for a busy senior lecturer at a wealthy academic institution; but ASH isn’t an institution of higher education that can pay our members an academic salary.
Although we try to keep a track of our activities, it’s impossible to say just how many meetings, informal discussions, formal presentations and interviews ASH has had or given to newspapers, magazines, news programmes, radio shows, online platforms, filmmakers, artists, galleries, council scrutiny panels, journalists, students, architectural groups and conferences, not to mention our own meetings on subjects from the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire to hustings on housing to legislation and policy on estate regeneration: hundreds, easily; but again, all this work and time has been given for free.
So what of our present and future activities? In terms of our design work, over the past year ASH has been working with several London-based housing co-operatives looking to expand their housing capacity. With the ongoing refusal of London’s councils to build council housing in which council tenants can afford to live, ASH has been looking at ways to locate the land and build the homes for social rent that Londoners need. We have developed and are continuing to develop architectural designs for two building schemes, and are currently exploring the financial and legal models that are best able to develop these projects. We will soon be writing about these projects in the context of the Greater London Authority’s campaign to promote community-led housing and what this term means in practice. As for other research, following the popularity of our recent report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration, we have received numerous requests to present its findings to residents, campaign groups, tenant and resident associations, think tanks, the Planning Advisory Service, at conferences and – I’m genuinely pleased to say – to Labour Party organisations desperate to find an alternative to their party’s scorched-earth housing policies. So high has the demand been that, in collaboration with the Woolfe Vision film collective, which has documented much of our past activities on film, ASH will be turning this report into a short film that we will make available to these and other groups for free. But again (and for the last time), to do so costs us time and therefore money – money ASH doesn’t have.
When we first formed back in 2015 ASH was able to win grant funding for Open Garden Estates, a London-wide project we ran for the next three years, and which was hosted by 17 housing estates threatened with demolition. All that money went on banners for the residents, producing maps of their estates and printing publicity material for the event. None of it went to ASH. Unfortunately, since then, ASH has not been able to gain any further public funding. Given the extent and reach of our activity this may seem incongruous, but we feel this is partly down to the fact that we are a working group rather than one of the communities to which most grants are made available, and our impression is that the first thing potential funders ask is why a group of architects is asking for public money. Of course, ASH’s membership includes more than architects; but we also think that the political dimension of our activities is another barrier to funding, with potential funders likely to be members of the Labour Party about whose housing policies and council practices ASH is rightly critical. The result of all this is that, although residents fighting the demolition of their estate, or leaseholders going to a judicial review of the compulsory purchase orders on their homes, or activists occupying threatened community halls or gardens, or filmmakers making films about the housing crisis – all of which are actions deserving of support – are apparently able to raise tens of thousands of pounds with relative ease (though with most of it going directly into the pockets of lawyers), Architects for Social Housing, which has produced the designs and knowledge on which many campaigns have based their resistance has received barely £1,500 in donations during the past two years we’ve been asking for them, and that from less than 40 donors.
Someone suggested to me last week that what ASH needs is a rich benefactor, a working-class lad or lass done good who will slip us a few grand a year to keep us afloat. The trouble is, any businessman (or woman) who hasn’t sold their class down the river will almost certainly be a Labour supporter, and therefore as likely to support ASH as we are to join the Labour Party. ASH speaks the truth. That’s what we do. It shouldn’t be as rare as it is, but the truth isn’t something you have to be ‘brave’ enough to speak: that’s liberal tripe. The truth is something you have to work hard enough to create. There are a handful of exceptions, but 99 per cent of the stuff published about the housing crisis is the regurgitated lies of the politicians, think tanks, councillors, developers, consultants and architects profiting from this crisis, and it takes work to oppose those lies with the truth. The yes-men in our national and local press are little more than propagandists for the establishment, parroting the press releases of developers and councils. We’re not journalists doing the bidding of their tax-avoiding paymasters, Labour activists mouthing false promises about Oh Jeremy Corbyn, or academics promoting their outdated books with one eye on a grant application. We’re housing workers, and we produce knowledge about housing derived from our own practice. ASH is on no-one’s side but the truth, and the truth has few friends, fewer collaborators, and – unfortunately, it seems – no benefactors. So it’s up to you and us, the little people, to create that truth from the web of lies that surrounds us. We often observe that if everyone who ever told us how important our work is and how much they admire ASH had, while saying so, pulled out their pockets and tossed us a pony we wouldn’t be asking you for some money now. But they didn’t. So now’s your chance to do so. And yes, that means you. ASH needs YOU!
Someone else told me that, in the declining years of late capitalism, the best way to crowd-fund is to offer something in return. So, besides the ability to continue reading new articles and reports on our blog for free and listening to the presentations that we give on average every two weeks, donators to ASH will be recognised with the following gifts:
- A £20 donation will receive a badge with the famous ASH logo on it.
- A £50 donation will receive one of the much sought-after invitations to the ASH Christmas Party 2018, to be held in Cotton Gardens estate.
- A £100 donation will receive a limited-edition T-shirt bearing the motto with which ASH typically ends its presentations: ‘Architecture is always political’.
- A £500 donation will receive an A1 colour print of one of ASH’s axonometric drawings for either Central Hill estate or West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.
- And a £1,000 donation will receive an A0 glossy print of ASH’s brand new GOTCHA! poster (only joking).
Anyway, I hope this shameless piece of self-promotion will convince you of the extent and perhaps the importance of ASH’s work, and that my equally shameless begging conveys the seriousness of our financial situation. In short, if we are to continue to do the work we are doing, we need a significant increase in the donations we receive from the people who benefit from our work. As for ASH joining the Labour Party . . . apologies for the fake news, but in the words of the anarchist Benjamin Péret: ‘There is some bread we will not eat!’
Architects for Social Housing
Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, please make a donation through PayPal: