Newcastle's Byker Estate is one of the last heroic post-war attempts in Britain to provide better housing for a working-class community. Its aspiration of providing decent homes for all now seems a distant memory, with the demonisation and residualisation of social housing and successive turns of the screw in recent years, such as ‘the bedroom tax’ and Universal Credit.
The Byker Community Trust (BCT) housing association was created in 2012, acquiring both the council's housing stock and land, and its management responsibilities, in what is one of the poorest wards in the country. This unique approach to ownership and management followed from the decision in 2007 to heritage ‘list’ the Byker Estate for its architectural and historic qualities.
This chapter describes the work of the BCT to bring much-needed investment to the estate. This has been accompanied by the ‘Byker Approach’, developing a leadership and empowerment culture aimed to be inclusive of all and give tenants a key voice and role in decisionmaking, with a focus now upon a thriving Byker where people want to live – ‘an estate of choice’.
Social housing in an era of neoliberalism and austerity
The term ‘multiple deprivation’ was coined in the 1970s in recognition that people are often living with material and structural disadvantage, combined at the level of both the individual and the neighbourhood, including poor housing. Such deprivation can contribute to poor educational achievement, poor health, high crime rates and poor employment prospects, and cumulatively lead to poor life chances for those affected. Ever since, government policy has been, ostensibly, to combat such multiple deprivation. Yet, in a perfect storm of ideologically and austerity-driven policy since 2010, successive governments seem to have been intent on concentrating and increasing levels of multiple deprivation in England, through changes to a raft of legislation and social policy. Most obviously, this includes the housing and welfare systems, though it ranges far more widely and extends to, for example, the criminal justice system.
When the post-war welfare state was developed, improved housing was understood as one of the essential social goods across the political spectrum. Yet, within this apparent post-war consensus, there were some significant political differences.