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Housing - then and Now...by Brenda Walton


My parents moved to Oxford in 1955. Failing eyesight meant my father could not continue in his job and needed to look for other work. This was not to be found where we lived. Why Oxford?

My father had a sister who lived here and our family had visited Oxford several times and liked the area. Work was readily available but accommodation was another matter.

My parents found a man who had a son willing to let us have two rooms in return for my mother cooking, cleaning and acting as general housekeeper as well as paying rent. We ate and lived in one room and my parents and myself shared a bedroom (I was ten at the time) We had shared use of the kitchen, bathroom and outside toilet. Hot water was only available when the owner was using his fire (which heated the back boiler).

My parents went for an interview and were accepted for the housing list. Then we waited for five years. I remember the excitement – my parents were offered a two bedroomed end of terrace new build on Blackbird Leys. I finally at the age of fifteen had my own room, We had hot water provided either by the back boiler or an immersion heater and our own bathroom with an inside toilet. My mum discovered the joys of gardening and my father learnt how to cope in a safe environment as his sight was almost lost.

Trying times but has anything changed? Accommodation is still a problem. In the fifties many of the homeless we see would have been locked away in institutions. Releasing them gave them liberty but many struggled to cope without help. We have seen the diversity of the city grow enhancing many aspects of our lives. The universities have grown as many more expect to go on to further education (No more leave school as early as possible and jobs for life). The seventies nurtured the hunger to own your own home so that many council houses passed into private ownership.

I won't go on listing the many factors but we all know the present situation – too few homes for people.

What for the future – many more flats will be built – bringing problems of their own. Families living in these boxes with no access to gardens for children to play safely, flats without adequate sound insulation leading to neighbour disputes , lifts breaking down causing access problems – none of these are new. Then there is the unknown – no one could have predicted the Grenfell disaster – are there any other construction nasties that we are going to encounter? Buildings may pass tests at present but could there be features which will cause failures? The houses that are being built are much smaller than those built in the 50/60/70s. Many are for private ownership not social housing.

I don't have the answers. What I do know is that accommodation was hard to get in the fifties but I am so glad I am not a ten year old girl arriving with my parents now in Oxford. I wonder where we would have lived? How would my father have coped with the numbers of increased residents or the present day traffic? How would they have coped with the modern technology necessary in the bidding process? As we plan forward let us never forget the individuals behind the statistics – many need help in so many ways and we should strive to see that is available to them.

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