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Housing

Social housing: How one social enterprise is giving shelter to thousands

Its been 20 years since the formation of Cromwood and they have thrived in the social housing market by making a real difference.

Having a roof over your head is a fundamental human right but, for many social housing tenants in the UK, the conditions are appalling. Official statistics show that 13 percent of social housing properties have failed to meet the decent homes standard.

This makes it all the more urgent for companies like Cromwood Housing Group, a social enterprise helping to safeguard tenants by increasing the number of social housing properties which are liveable.

In the 20 years since Cromwood was founded in 2002 it has housed and supported nearly 35,000 people across London and Greater Manchester.

“Helping those who needed accommodation is very much the driving force,” Kevin Murphy, head of housing at Cromwood, told The Big Issue.

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Cromwood provides housing for people experiencing homelessness, rough sleepers, domestic abuse victims, and asylum seekers. In 2021 the organisation — which is supported by Big Issue Invest, The Big Issue’s social enterprise investment arm — purchased 135 homes through the Greater London Authority’s [GLA] rough sleeping accommodation programme and £19.5 million investment from a pension fund. This allowed them to house hundreds of rough sleepers in permanent one-bedroom flats in London, at the discounted London affordable rent rate, set by the mayor’s office.

While Cromwood has many strands in its social mission, providing accommodation for rough sleepers is where the team feels it has the biggest impact.

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“We’re most proud of the recent achievements through the GLA funding we’ve had through the rough sleeping. We’ve been able to house rough sleepers into accommodation,” he said. 

“Our success is around making sure we provide really high quality accommodation that meets the long-term housing needs for those more vulnerable clients”.

In Cromwood’s latest report they highlighted the increase of vulnerable communities seeking help during the pandemic, and specifically domestic abuse victims. In 2020 Cromwood offered housing for around 1,020 rough sleepers, 1,502 asylum seekers, and 104 domestic violence victims.

But the poor management of social housing across the UK has left many families living in appalling conditions. A recent example is Dawn Page and her 11-year-old daughter who had human waste dripping down their walls in their flat in south London.

Housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa brought Dawn’s case to light and has documented the harsh realities of the social housing crisis across London.

“The condition of Dawn’s property is one of the worst I have seen having spoken and visited hundreds of social housing residents,” Kwajo told The Big Issue in December 2021 when interviewed about the conditions of Dawn’s Property.

The failure of landlords — whether councils or housing associations — to provide safe housing for the most vulnerable communities in London makes Cromwood’s efforts all the more urgent, but its work with rough sleepers is seen as just as important. During the pandemic the government provided shelter to rough sleepers through the Everyone In scheme, but Murphy argues that this should not be a one-off.

“Covid gave the opportunity to not lose them back onto the streets – this needs to happen going forward, making sure the whole pathway for rough sleepers is there,” Murphy said.

And that support is one of the achievements which Murphy is most proud of.

“I think it’s how we’ve been able to grow in a way to make sure we are providing housing towards those who are most in need,” he said. “We’re going into new developments which we haven’t done previously, that’s exciting.” 

Last month, Cromwood announced it had received further funding from the GLA, allowing them to purchase 140 one bedroom properties across London and Greater Manchester for rough sleepers.

The expansion will allow them to enrich the lives of these vulnerable groups by allowing them to call somewhere a home.

“Those vulnerable groups, sometimes people feel as though we can’t possibly accommodate those because of all the risks. For me the rewards are just so great to see… it’s that feeling you’ve made a real contribution,” Murphy said.

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