Almshouses have been a part of the fabric of social responsibility in the UK for centuries, with some dating back to medieval times when religious orders cared for the poor, so being on the Board carries a lot of responsibility.
As a Trustee, I represent Northumberland and Durham on the Board, with other Trustees representing other geographical areas. This has involved hosting a seminar for clerks and trustees in and giving formal advice and assistance to almshouse clerks and trustees who may be looking to develop, repair or expand their provision.
I attend four meetings annually in London, which involves catching the 6am train from Newcastle and getting back around 9pm. It’s hard work, but also very exciting and interesting working with people with a very similar ethos throughout England and Wales in very different situations.
The NAA represents 1,600 charities providing 65,000 homes. DAMHA is the largest with 1,800 homes in management, while some charities have only a small handful of properties.
Some, like DAMHA, are still providing newly built properties and on the whole homes are allocated to older people or those and/or those who have difficulty accessing appropriate market-provided housing, e.g. retired mineworkers, soldiers, estate workers, and “spinsters of the parish”.
Most have widened their remit as circumstances have changed to make sure they remain relevant to the current needs in society, so in our case, for example, you no longer need a mining background to get one of our homes. Other charities also specialise in homes for key workers in cities like London where property prices make it nigh on impossible to get on the property ladder.
Recently the NAA has been working hard lobbying government on behalf of all almshouses at a time when social housing has been under attack – particularly under the previous (Conservative) government, making legal arguments as to why key elements (e.g. Right to Buy, LHA cap on housing benefit, etc) either were not legal (Right to Buy), or would result in undue hardship to vulnerable residents (LHA cap on housing benefit).
The campaigning aspect of the NAA is just one of the many reasons why I am proud to serve on its Board and through this blog I will update on the work we are doing to provide equality for all when it comes to housing and social responsibility.
In the meantime, please also have a look at the new NAA website – www.almshouses.org