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Message for us from this 1950s housing estate

28 September, 2018

Arts champion Sheila Chapman outside ‘iconic housing project’ Bevin Court

• ISLINGTON is home to some fantastic buildings, both historic and modern, and there was no better time to explore them than during Open House London at the weekend.

As Islington’s new arts champion, I was pleased to join a group of other architectural enthusiasts on a tour of Bevin Court, an iconic modernist housing project designed in the immediate post-war period.

Our Clerkenwell and Islington Guide Association guide, Jiff Baylis, explained that the first tenants of Bevin Court came from the overcrowded, rundown, private rented sector.

For many of them, it was the first time they had hot and cold running water, an inside toilet and that most precious of things – security of tenure.

Everything, from the bold red and white spiral staircase to the mustard-coloured lobby with its deconstructionist mural painted by Peter Yates and the spectacular views across the City, reflects the architect Berthold Lubetkin’s belief that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”.

Working with what was then Finsbury Council, Lubetkin delivered social housing in Cruikshank Street that was both functional and inspiring. That is an impressive feat, given that the early 1950s, not unlike our own, were a time of austerity and global political uncertainty.

Lubetkin’s ethos is reflected in that of the Open House London project itself. Open House, founded 25 years ago by Victoria Thornton, provides free access to some 800 of London’s most remarkable buildings, with the aim of showing how great design can transform lives.

I am proud to have been elected as a Labour councillor in May. As well as being an advocate for Junction ward, where I live, and arts champion, I am a member of the planning committee.

As I get to grips with these new roles and responsibilities, I will carry with me the message from Bevin Court – nothing is too good for ordinary people. Even in difficult times we can and must deliver housing that empowers people.

That message is particularly resonant as Islington is experiencing the effects of a severe housing crisis, which the Labour-led council is committed to tackling by building the new, genuinely affordable homes local people need.

CLLR SHEILA CHAPMAN
Arts champion and Labour councillor, Junction ward

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