The campaign has been won now – Jane Austen will adorn the tenner from 2017 – but I still think this protest should carry on. As I wrote at The F-Word: – Unless you have been on Mars, you’ll know that feminists have been putting immense pressure on the Bank of England to reverse its plans to redesign the five…
A step towards society
Is a new project in London’s King’s Cross that halves hospital costs the future of mental health supported housing? Jess McCabe investigates
Mary* is slouched on a sofa in a fresh white communal living room and kitchen, with white Apple earbuds stuffed in her ears, moving with the tinny music. She pops them out just long enough to introduce herself.
Sitting next to her on the sofa is Peter, a middle-aged man in a t-shirt, who stares a bit and answers most questions with another question. ‘Did you know we’re doing an outing?’ he asks. The residents are planning a trip to the seaside at Southend, he informs me, where Mary wants to swim.
These are two of the first 15 tenants to live in Tile House, a project specially designed so that people with mental health problems aren’t stuck in a hospital ward or a care home. Around the corner from King’s Cross station in London – on the edge of a massive construction site that is one of Europe’s biggest redevelopments – it houses people who no longer need to be an inpatient, but require a little more support than is available in traditional supported housing.
The £4 million project is also the result of a unique collaboration between One Housing Group – which paid for the development – and the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, which provides the four part-time clinical staff.
‘We call this product care and support plus,’ explains Kevin Beirne, director of housing, care and support at the 15,000-home landlord.
David Plummer, associate director of business development at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, says there is ‘a step between an inpatient environment and a supported living environment’.
‘Sometimes that step’s just been a little bit too large, and people end up in a rehabilitation environment for a lot longer than they need to be,’ he states.
Mr Plummer explains that Camden, where mental health services are in high demand, has found it difficult to find affordable accommodation in the borough. With Tile House open, ‘we can move them locally, and that means they can be near family and carers. It helps them to get better quicker,’ he adds.
As the government begins to mash together the separate bureaucratic universes of the health service and the care sector, Tile House could be the start of things to come. But does it genuinely offer something better than what went before, a hospital or a care home?
The residents I meet have mixed feelings about living here. Peter misses the friends he made where he used to live, but Richard, a middle-aged man, is more positive. ‘This place has more facilities. It’s nice. Freedom.
‘Privacy,’ he adds. ‘There’s a lot of privacy. You can be in your flat listening to music for hours and hours, which I do.’
My interviewees at Inside Housing rarely have a backstory this interesting:
One day about 28 years ago, Andy Atkins was driven blindfolded to a house in Santiago, Chile. It was the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship and the young worker at the Chile Commission on Human Rights was there to collect video evidence from the underground resistance.
‘The door opened, and there were the four most wanted people in Chile,’ Mr Atkins recalls. ‘They had made an amazing pot of the local brew for me, they had cake. I was just this very young human rights messenger really.’ Maria Antonieta Saa, ‘one of the most wanted women in Chile’, later to become a leading senator once democracy was restored, drove him back into town so he wouldn’t break the curfew imposed by the Pinochet regime, despite the risk of her being caught.
‘I asked, why are you doing this? [She said], “I’m not going to let them control my life.” That early experience, with people like that, doing such courageous things for their own country, shaped me.’
At 52, in a fashionable grey suit and expensive-looking shoes, sipping an Earl Grey tea, Mr Atkins seems a million miles away from that risk-taking human rights activist of the 1980s. We meet amid the modern comforts of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, around the corner from London’s Savoy hotel.
But it would be a mistake to judge Mr Atkins by appearances. Despite the more genteel surroundings, this is a man who has kept that early passion for change through his career – and used it to good effect.