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What's in a name? Taking the stigma out of social housing

The first blog I wrote for this site, six years ago, was entitled 100 questions councillors should ask council officers. Number 16 was:

Could we remove the dreary municipal boards at the entrances to our Council estates?

There seems to me no logic in putting a large notice outside a block of flats saying they belong to the council. Imagine the stigma if this was done with council owned street properties? After the right to buy, a typical block of "council flats" will include several that are privately owned and so a notice at the main entrance implying they all belong to the council is not even accurate.

I remember a housing seminar I attended where Eric Ollerenshaw, now a Conservative MP, put the case with fervour saying: "Take down the boards" in the manner of Ronald Reagan saying: "Mr Gorbachev: Tear down this wall."

The boards are not the only symbol. There is also the name. The BBC reports that when estates are redeveloped the tenants usually favour ditching the term "estate" and using names with historical associations:

"The Olympic Park's neighbourhoods will include East Wick, Sweetwater and Marshgate Wharf.

In North Kensington, Wornington Green Estate is out; Portobello Square is in.

In Southwark, Aylesbury Estate is out; Wallington Parade, Roffo, Arments Place and The Totters are on the shortlist to replace it.

Professor Loretta Lees from King's College London's geography department says, "The word 'estate' has become synonymous with the term 'ghetto'.

"It's become a dirty word.

"Back in the '20s and '30s it didn't carry the same stigma."

Chobham Manor, a new district in the Olympic Park area, is being named after Thomas de Chobam who bough a manor house in the fourteenth century.

Of course the reality is more important that the name. The Portobello Square development will be 50% for private sale. It will restore the old street patterns. Nobody living there could be regarded as living in a ghetto, cut off from the rest of the community.

But names matter too. A friend of mine used to live in Hugh Gaitskell House in Harlesden. She used to sign her letters giving the address as "Gaitskell Court" so that her correspondents couldn't tell it was a council flat. I think she partly did this as a joke - but not entirely.


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