The future of social housing
Learning from the past…

06 October 2017

In 1890, philanthropist Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, the great grandson of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, gave £200,000 to set up The Guinness Trust – now The Guinness Partnership - in London, with an additional £50,000 to establish a fund in Dublin. This is the equivalent of £25 million in today’s money. He wanted to help improve the lives of ordinary people, many of whom couldn’t afford decent homes.

Tomorrow, 7 October 2017, marks 90 years since Edward Guinness’ death, just a few weeks before his 80th birthday in 1927. It was just as electricity was being introduced into the first Guinness Trust estates and only nine years after the end of the First World War. From his original aspirations to building homes in difficult and challenging times of an economy and environment in crisis while experiencing significant technological developments (sound familiar?), we take a quick look at how we can learn from the past…

So what can we learn from our founder to tackle the future of social housing?

Hardly a stranger to a country in a time of significant political change and a huge housing shortage, Sir Edward Guinness paved the way to a better quality of life for the communities he served. His vision and commitment to supporting the economy and resourcefulness of local communities in the most difficult of times, had been the bedrock leading to the Guinness 125 year legacy.915

Obviously, a few things have changed since 1927 and even more since 1890. However, the ethos and vision remains the same: to improve people’s lives by providing better homes for those that need them.

At the time Guinness was set up, public concern and debate was growing over the lack of decent housing, but any improvements to housing conditions were usually carried out by charitable organisations, without government help. It was into this philanthropic system that The Guinness Trust was born, with the ambition of “the amelioration of the conditions of the poorer of the working classes”.

“We have the greatest pleasure in announcing this morning the most splendid act of private munificence that has been contemplated and carried out in our time by any Englishman [sic].” The Times, 20 November 1889

Starting with 751 dwellings in 1890, The Guinness Partnership have come a long way having built and/or developed over 65,000 homes throughout generations across England, and today housing 135,000 people. This is a huge achievement and worth revisiting the three main parts that made it successful.

Sustainability and development – being smart and efficient

The very first Guinness housing estates still stand today which is proof of how important sustainability is when providing ongoing care, development and use of resources. The most successful social housing schemes don’t land like spaceships out of nowhere, housing schemes are developed organically and phased to ensure the minimum amount of disruption. Whether it’s developing old Victorian properties for modern living or building brand new developments, we respond to the needs of the community for today and plan for tomorrow.

Community empowerment– care and support for each other in times of need

The backbone of The Guinness Partnership’s housing is in creating opportunities and empowering communities within our developments. Whether its providing care to elderly residents, providing funding, through the Aspire Awards scheme, to residents of all ages to pursue career dreams or training skills to get back into work; community is central to making social housing work.

Looking back over the years our estates have seen some incredible demonstrations of community spirit. The Guinness Trust was one of the first to introduce the idea of clubs and ‘landlord’s services’, with many estates running their own cricket, football and swimming teams. When World War Two curtailed these activities, others took their place. At Stamford Hill, London, the club room was converted into a centre where the housewives from the estate would make electric batteries, and at Fulham Palace Road, London, a medical aid post was established.

Back in 1927, the year of Sir Edward Guinness’ death, Lady Gwendolen Guinness (Sir Edward Guinness’ daughter-in-law) would become the third woman in British history to stand as an MP and would later, in 1935, become the first female trustee of the Guinness Trust. Lady Gwendolen Guinness funded a nursery to help mothers and children on the Brandon Street estate, the first ever Guinness Trust estate (Malpass, 1998), making more provision for social care and services.

Now in 2017, Guinness Care delivers over 10,000 hours of care each week, achieving 94% customer satisfaction (2016/17) and continuing campaigns to address related issues such as Food Sense to support people with rising food costs.

Communication and reinvestment – creating strong customer service

We pride ourselves on our customer service, providing vital support to the communities we serve. Repairs, maintenance and investment are the bread and butter of our service and keep the service moving.  Our teams working on the ground within our communities are the first line of customer service, backed up by dedicated colleagues responding to phone calls, live chat and social media requests.

Any surplus we make is reinvested back into the upkeep of our current homes, or building new ones to ensure we’re providing great quality accommodation for today’s customers and can help even more in the future.

How do we take social housing into the 21st century?

We need to respond to fast-paced technology and political considerations in our developments while not forgetting the lessons and ethos which have made The Guinness Partnership one of the most successful housing providers over the last century. We will look at imaginative ways to tackle housing for an ageing population, access to housing for the young and how we provide for a variety of communities in one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Find out more about the recent achievements and future developments of The Guinness Partnership here