Jess McCabe

I am a journalist and these are some of the stories I've been working on lately

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Linda Bellos meets me at Norwich train station with one of her dogs. She is wearing what she explains is her dog-walking jacket. Pushing a wet nose into my face, the dog, Sam, rides back to Ms Bellos’ country cottage standing between the front seats of her Volvo.

We drive up a small, tree-lined private road to approach the pretty house where Ms Bellos lives with her civil partner, Caroline James. Another dog frolics in her front garden, where the 63-year-old radical socialist might be seen by her very few neighbours tending the daffodils. She is growing peas and sweetcorn in the living room window. One of her two grandchildren is staying in the spare bedroom when Inside Housing visits.

Controversial career

Over the years Ms Bellos has been caricatured as a ‘firebrand’ (see box: bad press). She rose to prominence in 1986 when she was elected leader of Lambeth Council and pursued controversial policies, such as requiring the police to seek permission before entering council-owned properties. Given that she was once quoted as saying that being called middle class was a ‘slur’, the setting of our interview could seem surprising.

A glance at the couple’s bookshelves confirms that a life in the country, and a job advising organisations like housing associations and the police on diversity issues, hasn’t de-radicalised Ms Bellos: David Hockney’s charming study of his two dachshunds, Dog Days, nestles alongside the Socialist Register, 1971 edition.

Read the rest at Inside Housing

I reviewed Mary Beard’s enjoyable collection of reviews for The F-Word. 

ven with a handful of TV programmes, a contentious appearance on Question Time and, obviously, an academic career in the study of ancient Rome and Greece under her belt, sadly I am more familiar with the abuse directed at Mary Beard than her work.

First there were the snide remarks from columnist AA Gill. And then Samantha Brickweighed in. Then there was the even more atrocious abuse online, which Beard documented on her readable Times blog, A Don’s Life. She has always managed to fend off these remarks with much wittier comebacks.

I picked up Beard’s latest book, a collection of her reviews with the engaging title Confronting the Classics, with the aim of redressing that balance by learning a little more about her actual work as a classicist.

The subtitle of this collection promises “a provocative tour of what is happening now in classics – learned, trenchant and witty”, and that is exactly what Beard delivers.

Read the rest here

The latest cover of the quarterly green magazine that I edit, Sustainable Housing. In this issue, I interviewed the architect Duncan Baker-Brown about the house he is building out of waste. 

I planned that the main feature would be about the first people to get an energy efficiency upgrade of their homes through the government’s green deal loan programme, but our freelancer Simon wasn’t able to find a single home that had work done yet. Hence our slightly wry cover.

All the contents of the mag get uploaded for free here if you want to have a browse. 

Architect Duncan Baker-Brown’s latest project can largely be described as rubbish. By building a house entirely from waste he’s aiming to change the construction industry for the better. Jess McCabe reports

Duncan Baker-Brown points to a bag of broken up polystyrene. ‘That was packing casing from fridges and things like that,’ the noted environmental architect explains. ‘This is stuff that would have gone to landfill.’ Instead, it is about to be used a second time, as rough-and-ready insulation for a house.

Mr Baker-Brown is showing Sustainable Housing around a building site on a small square of land on the Brighton University campus, where he is in the middle of building his latest project: a house entirely made of waste materials.

With a whorl of red hair, only partly concealed by a yellow hard hat, Mr Baker-Brown looks more like a Viking than an architect. Best known for appearing on the Channel 4 show Grand Designs, he is friendly and tactile in person. In fact, he is so affable that it’s only later, listening back to the interview, that I realise he is given to blunt statements and isn’t afraid to criticise even his own previous projects.

Read the rest at Inside Housing

As you can probably guess, this was a fun assignment…

With the help of celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager and housing association Riverside, a group of ex-homeless veterans are rebuilding their lives and cooking up a storm in their own artisan bakery. Jess McCabe reports

On the first bite, the Viennese finger explodes with sweetness on the tongue, with a hint of vanilla. A moment later, it crumbles smoothly and dissolves.

No, Inside Housing hasn’t launched a foodie supplement. A housing association – Riverside – is, however, going into the biscuit business. If all goes to plan, its cookies will soon be on sale in a supermarket near you.

The 51,500-home landlord even has a celebrity chef on board – Rosemary Shrager – who provided the recipes for the cookies, starting with an ‘oaty nog’ and a ginger biscuit. Her face will appear on the packaging.

Cookies might be one of the more unusual commercial ventures entered into by a social landlord, but aptly it has a kind of circular logic. Riverside’s biscuit profits will be used to support an artisan bakery run by ex-homeless veterans staying in its specialist supported housing project, The Beacon, which opened in 2011 and houses 31 ex-service people in the northern garrison town of Catterick.

Read the rest here

When I won the Sustainable Writer of the Year at the IBP awards last year, the judges cited this.

It’s been more than a decade in the making, but eventually Derwenthorpe will be a great example of an energy-efficient community. Jess McCabe finds out why it’s taken so long to build

It will eventually boast 540 homes, connected by green spaces and trees. But when Inside Housing visited on a soggy winter’s day, only one house was near completion, and we needed to strap on boots and squelch through the deep, sticky, orange mud to get to the front door.There are no streets yet in Derwenthorpe. Right now it’s an expanse of grassy fields – with a muddy building site in one corner. It’s hard to grasp what the area will look by 2016, when the builders pack up and all the people have moved into York’s new, £100 million, energy-efficient, model community.

On the eastern outskirts of York, Derwenthorpe still looks like a battleground, but for the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, it’s a field of victory. 
It represents the culmination of a hard slog, spanning 13 years, and a £5 million legal struggle that has seen the project challenged at every turn, right up to the European courts. Derwenthorpe is the prime example of just how challenging it can be to achieve what Inside Housing’s Get on Our Land campaign is calling for: freeing up land to build much-needed homes.

The original idea, first mooted in 1998, was for JRHT to buy the site from York Council and transform it into a model community.

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Great expectations

Easily the best feature I’ve written for Inside Housing so far.  – It’s 5.30am and a small brown slug is falling. A minute before, the slug had been suspended upside down, leisurely climbing the underside of an umbrella. But it climbed too high and, reaching the pinnacle of the brolly, relaxed its mucus hold on the material and plummeted down.…

The legal aid lifeline

My first assignment for Inside Housing. – Cuts to legal aid and new spending restrictions mean tens of thousands of tenants will no longer be eligible for free housing advice. Jess McCabe visits a law centre to investigate the likely impact of the changes Michelle Waite, a solicitor at the Rochdale Law Centre, is in high spirits. She has just…

This interview was a big hit with my colleagues in the office for some reason – I think the trilby hat was the main attraction!

Lord Adair Turner caused a ruckus by criticising the government’s green deal. Here the Climate Change Committee chair tells Jess McCabe why he spoke out and what his legacy will be

The plush, open-plan office of the Climate Change Committee is nestled in one of London’s wealthiest areas. Sloane Square – shopping central for well-to-do Londoners – seems an incongruous choice for the headquarters of an organisation aiming to ensure the UK lives within its environmental means.

Its staff, arriving for work in the fluorescent yellow jackets that identify city cyclists, are the only clue to the green mission lurking in the midst of all the refined opulence.

Lord Adair Turner, however, fits in perfectly. Like his surroundings, the 56-year-old chair of the CCC is dapper, affluent and genteel; he arrives for our meeting in a trilby, and talks in depth about the work done so far to insulate his two homes, one in a London conservation area, the other a cottage in Hampshire.

‘We were like a lot of people spending a lot of money and putting out a lot of CO2 emissions, not to heat our house but to heat the air around the house,’ he says in soft, plummy tones. ‘But even us who really care about these things [insulating] had been sitting there saying we’re going to do it for about three years before we did it.’