What can be done about overcrowded housing?

Some description

We walk shoulder-to-shoulder down bustling roads, jam ourselves on to buses and trains and queue for services. There are people everywhere and there is not a lot of space to go round.

In fact, there are 8.5 million (correct of 2015) people living in London with nearly a third of a million people living in Lambeth. While most people can seek salvation in the comfort of their homes, for over 17,000 families their homes are not a respite from the masses. They are overcrowded and there is no escape.

What’s it like to live in an overcrowded house?

Imagine a whole family living and sleeping in one room, with the children sharing a bed with their parents.

Imagine having a double bed in your living room, because you live in a one bedroom flat and your two children are in the one small bedroom.

Imagine having nowhere to escape in your own home, so when your children go to bed you go and sit in the empty bath in the dark just to have a bit of peace and quiet.

Imagine your home being a place where it feels like the walls are coming in on you, that you would rather be anywhere else but there.

Imagine feeling such a great sense of shame about your living conditions that you never have anyone over to visit.

Imagine all these things and we are only at the tip of the iceberg… As one mother I met said, “a home is meant to be your castle, this is not my castle”.

How it can effect families

The effects of overcrowding are massive. It effects mental wellbeing and the physical health of adults and children. It effects the development of children, who have limited space to learn to walk, play and learn.

Practically it is a problem too; no one has any privacy, there’s queues for the bathroom, there’s a lack of storage and increased damp and mould in the house from everyone breathing. You can’t sit down and have dinner as a family or find a place to relax.

All this can cause tension and damage family relationships between parents and children.

What can be done?

LEAP and Lambeth recognise that the effects are serious, and something needs to be done because so much is at stake.

There is a limited number of social houses in the borough, budget reductions and private renting prices are unmanageable for many families. Therefore people are doing what they can to get by.

I have been working in the Overcrowded Housing Service which has been set up in the last two months to work with families to lighten some of these problems.

I am still in the exciting first stage of development; the service design phase, where we test different ideas, meaning we are very open and flexible to family’s needs. We are not looking for a one size fits all fix as every family and property is different and with waiting times for bigger properties being years and years (and years…) long, we have to look at options that will grow with families as children get older.

There has been four areas that have been key to families I have spoken to:

  • Housing Advice and options,
  • storage solutions, furniture provisions and rearranging households,
  • signposting,
  • and connecting people to their communities to use spaces outside of the home.

A large part of maximising space has been around decluttering, which parents have found “overwhelming” and “unmanageable” on their own, so myself and the LEAP team will be rolling up our sleeves to give a helping hand!

When visiting people’s homes, families have told me about the need for more storage solutions. However, there is often also a lot of dead space that families are not using, for example, an empty wall that could be used for shelves. By highlighting this line of thinking, most of the families we have worked with have started to look differently at their space and how they use it.

As a result, we will soon be running projects that examine how we can use free space in different ways. We are giving parents the skills to make changes themselves by running DIY workshops where participants will learn basic DIY skills and get creative about designing and creating shelves, tables and multipurpose seating. Excitingly, I have also formed some links with some fantastic creative organisations in Lambeth such as the Remakery and Spacemax and we have also had interest by social architects to join in our work with overcrowded homes.

Importantly, I want to open up conversations about overcrowded homes and the people who live behind those doors and to remove the shame, because everybody deserves a place to escape, everybody deserves to have their castle.

Nicola Doal is a Family Housing Advisor working on LEAP's Overcrowded housing project.

DIY workshops run on Wednesdays, 10-12pm at The Remakery (excluding half term) from 17th of May. BOOKING REQUIRED

51 Lilford Rd, Brixton, London SE5

For more information or to book on, contact Nicola Doal on 07740 745 620 or ndoal@lambeth.gov.uk