Jess McCabe

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

Monthly Archives: May 2013

I went to Germany to interview Wolfgang Feist. As well as possessing an amazing name, he invented something called PassivHaus. He was quite a character, as I hope comes across…

The Passivhaus, which is like a vacuum flask, conserving its heat without much need for further energy, has been marketed as the home of the future and is becoming increasingly popular across Europe. Jess McCabe travels to Hannover to meet its creator, Dr Wolfgang Feist

Dr Wolfgang Feist is darting about a construction site in the leafy outskirts of Hannover. In a few months, this will be a kindergarten filled with children, built to meet the ‘Passivhaus’ standard that Dr Feist invented. Now it is part of a tour he is leading of the city’s newest, super-insulated, airtight buildings – visiting a school, a home and this kindergarten.

Shoulders slightly hunched, a woolly hat covering his mop of grey hair, it quickly becomes clear that Dr Feist is hands-on and approachable, stepping over the uneven, unfinished floor to take pictures and inspect the site. The architects who designed the kindergarten are here, and he quickly grabs them to ask a series of pointed technical questions.

An instantly relaxing presence, he cracks jokes and tells unexpectedly gripping stories about such topics as the history of triple glazing and the effects of installing windows at an angle. Credited as an ‘energy magician’ in the German press, there’s something of the showman about him.
‘There are so many Passivhaus projects that I don’t know everyone anymore,’ he says with a grin, peeking out from under bushy eyebrows, as he ponders some of the fruits of his creation.

About 40,000 buildings around the world are certified to Passivhaus standard. But this is a recent development – almost all of them have 
been erected since the turn of the century.

Getting to this stage has been a lifetime’s work for Dr Feist. It is more than 30 years since he started working on the idea of a ‘passive’ home, which could be kept warm and comfortable without much ‘active’ help from central heating.

Read the rest at Inside Housing

Another entry in my series on domestic violence. I’ve written about domestic abuse for years and still learnt a lot sitting in on this training session:

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Housing professionals are ideally placed to identify victims of domestic violence, but only if they know what to look for. Jess McCabe attends a course designed to raise awareness of the problem and help save victims from a life of abuse

Fifteen of us sit around a boardroom table in Peabody’s head office in south London ready to learn about domestic violence.

When Gundrun Burnet, the community safety team leader at Peabody who is leading today’s session, says one in four women will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, Tim*, who is sitting next to me, leans over. ‘It depends how you define abuse’, he whispers conspiratorially.

Read the rest here.

I did this investigation a year ago – at some point soon, I’m planning to follow up and find out what has happen happening. I was also really pleased with the illustration (you can only see part of it online, unfortunately). I also had a front page news story in the same issue, about councils turning away survivors of domestic violence who came for help because of being made homeless.

Welfare reform casts a shadow over the future of safe havens for victims of domestic abuse. Jess McCabe reports on service providers’ struggle for survival and, ultimately, that of their clients.

Two women in the UK are murdered each week by their violent partners. As if this statistic isn’t shocking enough, as a result of the changes to the benefit system, ‘more women are going to die’, states Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre.

We are sitting in her sunny, cluttered office in central London, a hub connecting hundreds of organisations providing services for women. It’s days after Ms Hayes took the short trip to Number 10 to listen to the prime minister delivering a rousing International Women’s Day speech.

‘It could have been a women’s rights activist speaking,’ recalls Ms Hayes, with a hint of scepticism.

Mr Cameron got the words right: ‘I want to make sure that right across the board – whether it is domestic violence, whether it is stalking, whether it is rape – that this government does everything it can to deal with the problems of violence against women in our society,’ he told assembled campaigners.

But Ms Hayes felt the sentiment rang empty – partly because that same day the Welfare Reform Act made it into the statute books. It is a piece of legislation with the potential to gut funding for refuges, leaving more victims with nowhere to turn.

Read the rest at Inside Housing.

I’m going to start adding some older pieces I’ve written to this page. Here is an interview I did with Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party in the UK, shortly after she won the leadership election:

Despite only being elected as leader last month, Natalie Bennett has big plans to put the Green Party on the map. Jess McCabe finds out how this straight-talking, former journalist is putting housing at the forefront of the party’s agenda.

Natalie Bennett, the newly elected leader of the Green Party, says she’s making this small café in the squat, brick Somers Town Community Centre her unofficial office. Most politicians would only meet a journalist somewhere like this if they thought it would make good public relations, but it’s hard to believe this is the case for the plain-speaking Ms Bennett.

For a start, she is on her on own, without the phalanx of political assistants and press officers that would accompany a meeting with the leader of any of the mainstream parties. The café also just happens to be around the corner from the ex-council house where Ms Bennett lives, making it a quiet, convenient place to talk.

The Australian-born leader is a short, blonde, former journalist with an interest in history, feminism and cycling. She’s outwardly different from the other party leaders, and once the conversation starts flowing, it’s clear that her politics are more radical too.

During Inside Housing’s interview with Ms Bennett – just two weeks after she took over the leadership of the Green Party from its first and only MP, Caroline Lucas – she mentions UK Uncut, the group that campaigns against public sector spending cuts, and Occupy, the international protest movement against social and economic inequality.

She also drops in the fact that she attended a feminist activist summer camp put on by campaign group UK Feminista the weekend before our meeting.

Read the rest of this interview over at Inside Housing

A housing association, Bromford, commissioned a ‘futurist’ to imagine what the house of the future will look like, and what that means for social landlords.

To mark the occasion, we gathered together photos from the organisation’s 50-year archive, trying to give an impression of how life has changed for tenants.

Right from the start, the association took a modernist approach, seeking to build homes for modern life at a time of massive overcrowding and coal sheds. You can read the online version of the feature here, alas without our art editor’s 60s-style layout.