Nick Phillips 270x270

NICK PHILLIPS

CEO, Almshouse Association

The Almshouse Association


Almshouses, a thing of the past or part of the future answer to rural affordable housing?



“I would not be here now. I have a job and a home – I got my life together. The other residents feel like my aunties. It just feels like home.” Mandy 26 - Buckinghamshire Almshouse 2021

Suffering from mental health issues, Mandy found her way to the almshouses at a time when she was most in need. Living between friends, without a secure home and without a job.

Nearly every market town has within its historic centre a small courtyard of cottages. Often resilient against the surrounding development and town scape. High chimneys, inter-facing front doors and a shared green space with a few garden chairs pulled close together. These are Almshouses, steeped in history.

 
Percy Bilton Court Skinners LONDON

Residents and staff of Percy Bilton Court, London

 

Origins of the almshouse

Almshouses have existed in the United Kingdom for over a thousand years, with the first thought to be the Hospital of St Oswald in Worcester, which was founded circa 990. Yet this model of housing is often unknown or at least misunderstood by the general public and policy makers. Seen more as quirky vestige of a bygone era, they appear more as a sign of society’s failure; yet in reality are a sign of great social activism – established by local benefactors to see that those who are in housing need, the poor of the parish, have a home. Warm and friendly, safe and secure. A home where they pay a weekly charge that does not further create hardship for the resident (the words used in nearly all Almshouse Governing documents.)

An evolving housing model

This model of housing is still relevant today and in fact can provide a life changing opportunity to communities across the country. In many rural areas, the Almshouse is the only form of affordable housing. 36,000 people find themselves living in an Almshouse. Often occupied by the elderly, but increasingly provision for younger people and families in housing need. At their heart they are driven by compassion and actively encourage companionship. Across the country, some 1,700 individual Almshouse charities, still carry the name and the spirit of the benefactor and their families across the centuries.

The Almshouse model is based on creating safe, secure homes for local people, run by local trustees. They are a part of a very local and long term solution to the rural affordable housing crisis. They will however always only be a small part of the national solution. They will always be small scale and reliant on philanthropy, trustees and community need.

Almshouses are distinct both in their charitable status, their spirit and their legal status. It was only in 2019 that, with the help of the Charity Commission, they received a legal entity recognising the unique character of the housing model. They are protected from The Right to Buy and other legal challenges that often diminish social housing.
 

Future goals – working in partnership

Almshouse charities are not all the same. Many are thriving and seeking to expand. We have at present about 700 new almshouse dwellings in plan or being built. Most charities are doing ok and improving their homes, but some are struggling to maintain these wonderful old buildings in a way that provides warm and comfortable homes for residents.

The Almshouse Association is in its 75th year and as part of the celebrations we have set a ten year objective with our members to see a further 5,000 new Almshouse dwellings built and a further 10 new Almshouse charities established. We currently have about 600 – 700 new dwellings in plan around the country with increased commitment from legacy and donors, but we still have a very long way to go.

In the future, The Almshouse Association will be working with its members to build new dwellings, to bring those few struggling charities up to a standard that they feel proud of and to work to make almshouses recognised as the exemplar form of community housing. To do this we will need to work with partners. Commercial organisations and individuals that can help provide and improve those homes for people in need for centuries to come.
 
 

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