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War is over. Over 2 million men are dead and many more are injured, leaving one in three women with no means of support. But during the war many women have for the first time done work that has engaged their brain and given them financial independence. Two million women who stepped up to fill jobs left vacant by men sent off to war are demobilised. Still more are sacked so their jobs can go to men, or ‘bread winners’. 1919 Many women have lost their partner in the war and now have no choice but to work to support themselves. Working class women are expected to return to the long hours of back-breaking, dreary and badly paid domestic service. Even professionally qualified women who hold on to a job are vilified in public. No self-respecting landlord will let a room to a working woman. But women’s suffrage campaigners, still fighting for the right of all women to vote on equal terms with men, have now broadened their goals to include equality in work. One, now an expert on the rapidly growing number of homeless women, has a plan. The shortage of domestic servants has hit the value of large houses designed to function on the back of cheap labour. In once wealthy central London, hundreds of large houses now lie empty. Browning conceived the A lady much interested in the “Miss idea of converting large houses, “ welfare of professional women is which owing to the cost of upkeep and the difficulty of obtaining servants, there were many to be had at a moderate price, [into] flatlets... Dorothy Peel, Daily Mail women’s page editor and Women’s Pioneer cofounder 1920 ready to invest £1000 provided she can then nominate four tenants for small flats in Pioneer houses. In this way her £1000 gets a good return and the housing problem is solved for four people in difficult circumstances. Etheldred Browning, Time & Tide 23 April 1926 1924 Browning called on me after “Miss I got back from [war service in] France.With a capital of one or two pounds she had already taken one house and filled it with tenants. I was so keen on the idea I promised I would send her a list of people who I thought would be interested and who had money. She [was] very pleased with the response [she] received. Suffragette and Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) organiser Geraldine Lennox Women’s Pioneer Housing is formally registered as a public utility company by Miss Etheldred Browning on 4 October 1920. Its aim is ‘to cater for the housing requirements of professional and other women of moderate means who require individual homes at moderate rents’. In 1924 our first offices are rented at 92 Victoria Street, shared with the Six Point Group – set up by former suffragette Lady Rhondda to campaign for women’s equality in other spheres, with Women’s Pioneer co founder and suffragette Helen Archdale editing the group’s newspaper Time & Tide. Other women’s suffrage campaigners have helped avert several financial crises, among them author Ray Strachey from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, who in 1921 raises £2,500. Our first corporate brochure, offering small but dignified homes with no dull uniformity to women of exacting tastes price of everything has gone “The up – rates, coke and lighting. Practically everything in the building line is double if not four times the price before the war... Rationing of hot water and fuel has hit all flats yet some of our tenants, [in] spite of all the restrictions imposed on the country, have never faced up to this fact. They write abusive letters, telephone the secretary with the most appalling complaints and drive office staff mad with their pettifogging complaints, as if it were all the fault of the [management] board. Geraldine Lennox, now a board member, addressing a meeting of tenants in 1948 1935 1945 We now own 55 properties, from Eaton Place in Belgravia, to Sussex Square in Brighton. Gertrude Leverkus, one of the very first professional woman architects in the UK, becomes our in-house architect, designing four new blocks of flats and undertaking our property conversions. She takes one flat herself, living there until her retirement in 1962. The first woman to qualify as a chartered accountant by exam, Ethel Watts, is our auditor. For three years we have had our own office space at 83 Buckingham Palace Road. By 1939 we have sufficient financial independence to buy properties with our own reserves. But waves of evacuation and the Blitz leave us with unpaid rent, empty flats, damaged buildings and liability for the rates. Number 31 Gledhow Gardens, designed by Gertrude Leverkus, is destroyed but some tenants survive. One, rescued from the rubble of her top floor flat, declares she has ‘done the Gledhow Glide’. The post-war tally of lost income, deferred maintenance and bomb damage leave us with huge bills. Some of our stock has to be given up or buildings sold to pay for repairs. Many had been bought cheaply on the tail end of leases but immediately after the war values start to escalate, along with once notional ground rents. There are crippling penalties if properties fall into delapidation. was the very best landing. “Ours My neighbour Joyce had a windup record player and every Sunday morning she’d play Harlem. The minute we heard it we rushed out in our petticoats to dance around the landing. Gwen Winterson, tenant at Brook House, 1936 to 2001 By the 1950s parts of Notting Hill are marked by extreme poverty, in stark contrast to Holland Park just streets away. Slum landlord Peter Rachman is one of the only private landlords willing to house Afro-Caribbeans newly arrived in the UK to work in low paid public service jobs. Their presence in an already poor area is fuel for fascist agitators, leading to riots in 1958. Women’s Pioneer is still one of the few not-for-profit landlords operating locally but our controlled rents make it hard to raise sufficient funds to restore buildings that are now 80 years old. A change of law in 1954 allows us to raise rents. Our furious tenants are lobbied by Communist Party activists and many sign up. 1958 excited about buying “Ithewasfirstveryfreehold, for 2 Horbury Crescent which we’d had until then on leasehold. Of course Eaton Place was by then quite unsuitable for a housing association. Nona Grosstephan, manager from 1966 to1982 1966 Miss Murphy, above left, worked as a carer for the children of aristocracy until she retired. She later moved to one of our flats in Collingham Road, Earl’s Court, where she lived for the next 26 years A nationwide shortage of secure, rented homes affordable to lower income households is becoming a national scandal. Ken Loach’s film Cathy Come Home shocks the public with its bleak portrayal of a homeless family. The film inspires a new wave of housing associations. We remain one of the few to house single women and women raising a family on their own. But many of our oldest tenants now live in poverty, having never earnt enough to put money aside for retirement. We seek council grants to convert some properties into sheltered housing with warden support. Elsewhere we begin an ambitious programme of ‘selfcontaining’ flats designed to share bathrooms and kitchens. A third and pressing priority is raising cash to buy the freehold of properties where the lease is close to expiring. Equal pay for equal work finally becomes law, a goal long sought by our early backers including the Six Point Group. Board member Lucy Nettlefold, now a London County Council councillor but in 1912 one of the UK’s first women law graduates, had been one of four women members of the 1946 Royal Commission on Equal Pay. Nettlefold and two of the other women argued strongly for equal pay in both the civil service and industry. The commission finally put forward a more vanilla proposal, of equal pay for some civil servants. Prime minister Clement Attlee accepted the principle but refused to legislate in its favour. 1970 workers fought for over a “ British century for a system of collective bargaining and for the rate for the job. It was realised that a man with three children stood no chance if a man with no children was cheaper and a single man cheaper still. Pay [for men is now] related to work performed and not the personal circumstance of the worker. If the principle of the rate for the job is right for men, why is it not right for women? Auditor Ethel Watts In January a new law comes into effect that shrinks public grant for housing associations. We are told that funding for any new building or refurbishment will be conditional on our raising part of the cost of works from private loans, to be repaid from the rents of all tenants. Ministers assure the public that housing benefit will foot the bill for higher rents charged to tenants who cannot afford them. We are not convinced and our new building plans go on ice. But our stock is being steadily depleted. Since 1980 our longer standing tenants have had the right to buy. By 2015, one in 10 of our homes will have been sold on and are now owned by private property firms and buy-tolet landlords, many based overseas. Number 75 Warwick Road was one of two properties we took on after they were confiscated from slum landlord Nicholas Hoogstraten 1978 1989 benefit will underpin “Housing market rents. We have made that Manager Nona Grosstephan has in 1972 fought off an asset stripping bid by rogue investors. She succeeds, aided by a slump in property values, and secures a change in our constitution to ward off any further attempts. Housing associations have since 1974 been eligible for public money to build new homes or refurbish to a basic standard their older properties. We were quick to join the queue to register with the new Housing Corporation. Among the first properties we refurbish are two transferred to us by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. With some still nervous tenants in situ, the Warwick Road houses had been confiscated by compulsory purchase from notorious landlord Nicholas Hoogstraaten. And we move from the Dickensian charm of Buckingham Palace Road to our own offices in White City. absolutely clear. If people cannot afford to pay that market rent, housing benefit will take the strain. Sir George Young, junior housing minister, in the House of Commons, 1991 By 2015, one in 10 of our homes will have been lost through right to buy 1997 By 2012, we own 90 properties, most of them listed buildings or in Conservation areas in inner west London. The open market value is estimated at £400m We begin training older tenants to use the internet to prepare them for the coming challenges of an online welfare system 2012 The cost of renting or buying a home in London has never been higher. Women are being hit disproportionately by job cuts in the public sector and by austerity measures. For the first time since 1970, the gender pay gap has begun to expand again. But our properties now have an estimated open market value of £400m. In the way of Etheldred Browning, we see a new way to uphold the goals of our suffragette founders. We have untapped borrowing capacity, our staff have technical skills and we also have sites to build on in some of the most high value areas of London. All staff rise to the challenge of identifying unused and under-used space in and around our buildings and we launch our first new building programme in decades. In just three years we have built seven new flats, have doubled the size of others and have 20 in the pipeline. They are in neighbourhoods where now only the very wealthy can otherwise afford to buy or rent privately. Our model for growth adds nothing to public debt and keeps our rents at a level reasonable for women on modest incomes. We mean to continue down this route up to our first anniversary and beyond. In 1920 London’s working women were crying out for homes they could afford, that would allow them dignity and independence. There has been no let up in that demand. 2015 current rates of change, the “ AtWorld Economic Forum (WEF) estimates it will be 118 years before women around the world can expect equal pay. Guardian 18 November 2015 women have 72% of the “ British economic opportunity available to men and 34% of the political empowerment. Telegraph 18 November 2015 the UK, 29% of women “ Inearn less than the living wage, compared with 18% of men. Office of National Statistics 2015 WRITTEN AND DESIGNED BY L THOMPSON. TIME & TIDE QUOTE COURTESY OF THE WOMEN’S LIBRARY. PHOTOS BY LUCY BAKER. PRINTED BY COLOURSET ON 100% RECYCLED PAPER We build our first, and last, convent and chapel. The buildings are part of a package negotiated with the sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of The Missions in Harrow. It is one of just a very small number of building schemes we will undertake until a change of direction in 2012. We instead begin raising renovation standards for buildings now rising significantly in value. Most are either listed or in Conservation areas. Refurbished in earlier decades on a shoestring budget, we pay for the work with private loans, supplemented by council grants. We also begin remodelling flats to make better use of limited space. Our ‘super makeovers’, given to all flats that fall empty, cut by half the amount we need to spend on repairs.