Second decade: 1974-1984

Building on foundations

Derwent Housing’s second decade of development took place against a volatile political backdrop: consensus between political parties regarding housing eroded into polarised stances.

The colourful care-free era of flares and glam rock soon gave way to social unrest and anger which found its voice in the punk rock movement typified by the anarchic Sex Pistols. During the same period, the battle for power between trade unions and the government saw both main parties lose power in turn before Margaret Thatcher introduced legislation to try to ensure it would never happen again.

Right to buy was a central plank of her housing policy and one which still has a major impact on the provision of and demand for housing. Derwent Housing had to adjust to the changing attitudes of different governments and the changing needs and wants of an evolving society.

Changing attitudes

Labour isn't Working poster (from Saatchi & Saatchi's famous 1979 Conservative campaign)
Saatchi & Saatchi's famous 1979 Conservative campaign
The political and social upheaval during this period was extraordinary. Unions flexed their muscles with strikes by postal workers, miners and dustmen impacting on people’s everyday life and culminating in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79. The echoed the unrest of the early 1970s which had seen blackouts, TV shutdowns and three-day working weeks to conserve energy.

But the early ’70s also brought cause for optimism with the promise of improved trade with European partners and the hope of economic independence that came as the country tapped into the new found riches of North Sea oil.

Ted Heath’s Conservative administration saw right to buy take off as individuals were urged to share in this new optimism and the number of council houses sold in England rose from 7,000 in 1970 to nearly 46,000 in 1972. But Labour also encouraged ownership when they returned to power and in 1977, housing minister Peter Shore published a green paper claiming home ownership as a ‘strong and natural desire’ which ‘should be met’.  The warnings of Labour’s socialist old guard headed by Michael Foot that it would lead to a dangerous depletion in council housing stock did little to dampen enthusiasm.

Derwent Housing Society logoDerwent Housing Society realised once again that housing needs had changed but also spotted that this had created other development opportunities.

Branching out

New homes in Shrewsbury 1975
New homes in Shrewsbury 1975
As the country sweltered through the unprecedented summer of 1976, Derwent Housing was warming to its task. In 1975-76 work was completed on nearly 400 properties spread over three schemes across the East Midlands. At the same time it completed properties further afield – 100 houses in Shrewsbury, 91 houses and flats in Isleworth, West London, and 202 houses in Chatham.

Development of its core business in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire also gatherd pace in the mid-1970s. New schemes were started in Alfreton, Eastwood, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Matlock, Little Eaton, Kilburn and Kimberley accounting for nearly 600 new houses and flats. It also marked a shift in the mix of property being built away from houses, typically three bedroomed, in favour of flats.

Arthur Allcock
Arthur Allcock
Chairman Arthur Allcock noted in the 1976 annual report that “Land had been purchased for 21 schemes [...] and building work had been completed or was in progress on 11 of these.”

New face, new place

In 1974, John Martin was appointed by the Housing Corporation and given responsibility for its relationship with Derwent Housing Society. Five years later he became the Derwent Housing chief executive at the same time as a grocer’s daughter from Grantham swept into power as the country’s first woman Prime Minister. Just as Margaret Thatcher changed the political and social landscape, John Martin was to oversee Derwent’s own period of development and change.

John Martin and friends
John Martin (right)
He started with a staff of just five – Pat Hathaway, Sue Baker, Karen Clough, Jayne Marsden and Debbie Horobin, at the offices at 24 Iron Gate.  The board decided it wanted an independent leader to take the business forward - at the time Derwent had just 700 properties with a turnover of £430,000.

It was the early ‘80s before Derwent Housing really put itself on the map in Derby - although Derby itself wasn’t a city until 1977, granted city status as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. A number of moderately-sized schemes had been built around the outskirts - 84 at Pastures Hill, 75 at Hall Park Close, 40 at Darley Abbey and 32 at Lambourn Close - but it was 1982 before the building of a 194-flat scheme between Iron Gate and Bold Lane in Derby city centre made its mark. Tenants started moving into Cavendish Court at the end of ’82 and in October the following year it was officially opened by Hugh Cubitt CBE, chairman of the Housing Corporation.

By this point Derwent Housing had itself moved again - just down the road to number 20 Iron Gate.

Creating communities

A general improvement in health care and living standards led to greater life expectancy and this period saw the start of a growing population of people over the age of 65. This was to bring about a major change in society’s housing requirements.

The first Derwent Housing Society retirement scheme was Melbourne Court in Aspley with its 69 warden aided flats. One of its wardens Howard Walton recalled how the development created its own community spirit making it a popular choice with elderly people in the area.

“When I was appointed scheme manager the concept of warden aided accommodation had evolved into independent living with support services,” he remembers.

“With something over a third of the accommodation being occupied by couples the scheme comprised a community of more than 100 people, and a very thriving and vibrant community it was too.”

Residents at Melbourne Court formed a residents’ association organising events and activities in the communal lounge as well as outings and trips to places of interest.

“This vibrant community ethos was so valued by existing and prospective residents that during the majority of my time there I had a waiting list of applicants for any vacant flats,” Howard adds.

Chellaston Park Court opening, 1984
Chellaston Park Court opening, 1984
Derwent continued to develop bespoke retirement accommodation, especially in Derby, with schemes such as Beckitt Close in 1983 and Chellaston Park Court the following year. Admiral Close in Heanor was also opened in 1984 as Derwent Housing went on to capture the unique spirit of its retirement developments under the banner ‘Independent but never alone’.

Shaping up for the future

In keeping with many housing associations of the time, the period from 1974-84 was a highly active one for Derwent Housing as they expanded their property portfolio reacting to the social and political changes of the time. But their ability to do so was still highly dependent on the political will and economic ability of central government to provide the bulk of the finance.

When David Edmonds was appointed chief executive of the Housing Corporation in 1984 he recognised the need to change this model with housing associations relying on the Corporation for 90 per cent of their funding. “The sector was increasingly vulnerable to reductions in government expenditure, which happened in my first three years,” he recalled.

David Edmonds saw his role as making the Housing Corporation more professional and respected. “We persuaded the government we were a big investment,” he said. “We went out and invented the new system.”

In turn it meant housing associations had to adapt and diversify if they were to flourish. As post Falklands War patriotic fervour gave way to the harsh realities of the miners’ strike, Derwent Housing was about to embark on a significant period of development and change.