Building on our heritage



Building on our heritage
Registered office:
Level 6, 6 More London Place
Tooley Street, London SE1 2DA
Telephone 0300 100 0303
London Boroughs
1 Beginnings
2 The Inter-War Years
3 Post-War
4 Cathy Come Home
5 Right to Buy
6 Large Scale Voluntary Transfer 26
7 Entering the New Millennium 30
8 Challenges for the Future
Page 22: Right to buy
© Copyright Press Association
Page 28: Changing housing market chart from
Pawson, H & Mullins, D (2010), After Council
Housing: Britain’s New Social Landlords. Palgrave
Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Page 37: Communities and Local Government
Housing Statistics. Table 241: Permanent dwellings
completed, by tenure, United Kingdom, historical
calendar year series. Available to download from
Page 38: Average wages required to pay rent
for working households in the lower quartile of
earnings (England and London). Taken from
Bridging the Affordability Gap (2011) available to
download from:
Other images from the Affinity Sutton archives.
London Boroughs
With thanks as well to:
John Bell, David Chaffey, Kathy Ellis, Mike Herring,
Mark Hewson, Arthur Holden, Nick Jones,
Hannah Liddle, Simon Schoon, Alan Wayland,
The Bromley Archives, London Metropolitan
Archives and The Kentish Times.
Barker, K (2004) Delivering stability: securing our
future housing needs. Available to download
Garside, P.L. (2000) The Conduct of Philanthropy,
The Athlone Press, London.
Other Source material:
Garside, P. L. & Morris, S (1994) Building a Legacy:
William Sutton and his Housing Trust. Published by
the Trustees of the William Sutton Trust.
Lewis, B(ed.) 1999 The People and homes of
Ridgehill, Pontefract Press.
Phillips, E. M. (1999) Growing Old Gratefully,
Published by William Sutton Trust and printed
at William Caple & Co. Ltd, Leicester.
Alan Wayland (unpublished) Downland
Background History 1964-1990.
| 43
Building on our heritage is our
story. As the next chapter unfolds,
this is a timely opportunity to
reflect on Affinity Sutton’s long
heritage and what the lessons of
the past 111 years can teach us
now and in the future.
Latitude Walk, Ashford
William Sutton
Helping people gain access to decent housing
has been our goal throughout our history. This
has been challenged by housing shortage, lack
of funding for development, changing views
on what constitutes a fair rent and differing
priorities on who should have access to
our homes.
In October 2011 our three operating companies
merged, bringing together William Sutton,
Downland and Broomleigh formally and
legally into one organisation, Affinity Sutton.
Together we are stronger, able to lay new
foundations for our future and well placed
to take advantage of the opportunities in
the challenging current environment.
We are proud of our heritage and the many
people who have worked to achieve it over
Affinity Sutton’s combined history. They have
witnessed the birth of council housing; the
establishment of a welfare state; the rise of
Housing Associations; rapid growth of home
ownership and right to buy and large scale
voluntary transfers. From model estates, garden
cities, high-rise tower blocks and sustainable
housing, we have been at the forefront of the
sector, pushing new ideas.
Our experience stands us in
good stead to anticipate and
react to current and future
changes to the housing sector,
and to continue our mission of
helping people put down roots.
In this short history, we have not been able
to include every part of our story but we have
sought to include as many of the major steps
that helped shape Affinity Sutton today
as possible.
In 1896 King George I of
Greece opened the first
modern Olympic Games
in Athens; five years later
an Italian entrepreneur
named Marconi amazed
critics by sending sound
waves around the
curvature of the earth –
from the Isle of Wight
to Cornwall.
Left: Bethnal Green estate,
London. William Sutton
Trust’s first estate built
in 1909. See p42 for
full photo credits.
Right: Arnold Circus,
Bethnal Green, London.
London’s first council estate,
built in 1900 by the London
County Council, now
managed by the London
Borough of Tower Hamlets.
© Copyright Rodney Burton.
Below right: Map
of Hampstead Garden
Suburb in 1911, showing
the emphasis on open
green spaces and
spacious street layout.
This was a time of great industrial expansion
and entrepreneurialism and as people poured
into cities looking for work, overcrowding
became severe. There was no such thing as
council housing in the late-19th century and
the poorest city dwellers were forced into
squalid slums that were cramped, damp and
dangerous. Only workers lucky enough to
serve benevolent employers such as Rowntree,
Cadbury and Lever could escape destitution,
living in model towns with shops and schools.
The only other housing options available were
almshouses, providing relief for older people
since the year 990 and still housing 36,000
people in 2,600 properties today; and on a
larger scale, homes built by philanthropists’
trusts such as the Peabody Trust (1862) and
the Guinness Trust (1890).
A report commissioned in 1885 into the
Housing Conditions of the Working Classes
persuaded local councils to take ownership of
the issue. The 1890 Housing of the Working
Classes Act gave local councils authority and
loan funding to purchase and demolish the
slums, then build new homes.
The first council housing was built in Liverpool,
followed in 1900 by Bethnal Green’s Arnold
Circus on the site of the Old Nichol slum.
Elsewhere, support was growing for Ebenezer
Howard’s ideas about Garden Cities. His
book Garden Cities of Tomorrow – written
in 1898 and republished in 1902 – set out a
vision for towns free from overcrowding and
slums. He wanted to develop places to live that
combined the benefits of the town (opportunity,
entertainment and higher wages) and the
countryside (open spaces, fresh air, pleasant
surroundings and lower rents).
In 1903 Howard planned and built his first
‘Garden City’, in Letchworth, which was
followed in 1906 by his first ‘Garden Suburb’,
in Hampstead. His ideas were very popular
because his emphasis on light and space
contrasted directly with the squalor found in
inner London’s slums. The designs were greatly
admired by Government and citizens, and fed
a fashion in the pre-war years for lower density,
village-style estates in suburban areas.
In 1900 William Sutton,
one of Britain’s most
successful Victorian
bequeathed £1.5m
(now the equivalent of
£200m) to build houses
for the working classes
in London and other
populous places. This
was by far the largest
sum that had ever
been donated by a
philanthropist for
the purpose.
William Sutton rose from humble beginnings
to emerge as one of the key businessmen of
his generation. The youngest of five children,
he was born in 1836 or 1837 in Foster Lane in
the City of London, where his father Frederick
Wilson Sutton kept an inn.
Even as a boy, William Sutton was credited with business
acumen. His first enterprise was Sutton & Co Carriers,
which started in the basement of the Foster Lane inn. He
exploited a loophole in the postal system and undercut the
postal service’s rates by accepting lots of small packages,
parcelling them up and shipping them in bulk around the
country. Employees in other towns would then unpack and
re-distribute the goods.
By 1861, this business had grown to allow him to open
a new head office in Aldersgate Street. Despite many
challenges in the courts from the railway companies,
Sutton’s business continued to grow. By 1899 it was listed
as having a royal warrant from Queen Victoria and had
more than 600 branches upon his death in 1900.
During his lifetime there had been no real
indication of his interest in philanthropy and
his family, shocked to discover they had been
largely disinherited, contested the will. They
objected on the grounds that the work William
Sutton donated his fortune for would not count
as ‘charitable’. The trustees were forced to fight a
legal case, redefining charitable work to include
the building of housing for below market rent.
The financial size and the broad remit of Sutton’s
will also caused a great deal of concern among
other property builders, causing debates
between the London County Council (LCC) and
Parliament about the possible impact of the
bequest on local housing markets. The will was
finally upheld in 1927 and the Sutton Dwellings
Trust was established.
Yet, the trustees did manage to start building
while the will was being contested. The Trust’s
first estate, Bethnal Green, was built in 1909,
half a mile from the council’s Arnold Circus site.
The homes were built to cutting edge architectural
designs following a competition between
famous architects of the day and the term model
dwellings seems highly appropriate. Internally as
well very high specifications were used.
Sutton spent a lifetime carving out a series of niche
businesses and sidestepping new regulations to allow
them to flourish. He was also known for his breweries
and distilleries – a matter of great interest to Victorians –
and diversified into making all kinds of soft drinks.
Sutton’s major contribution to society spans 150 years,
from sending those early packages in 1860 to the
continued impact of his legacy on Affinity Sutton today.
Below left: William
Sutton and his cart.
Right: Alum Rock estate,
Birmingham, built 1914.
Bottom right: Chelsea
Estate plan, built 1913.
All except the smallest bedsits were fitted with
baths when practically all tenement buildings
elsewhere shared them. The flats also had
fold-down worktops in the kitchens, rooms
10% larger than existing tenement housing
and access to coal and pram sheds.
edge of Birmingham opening in 1914. All homes
were fitted with green Venetian blinds, which
connect directly to the green used by Sutton
and Affinity Sutton in their branding today.
One resident who lived at Bethnal Green
after the First World War recalls that: “this
was a real des res and people would bend
over backwards to get here … when we got
our own place, it was like comparing a rabbit
hutch to Buckingham Palace. And it was ours.”
In January 1909, the first baby
was born in a ‘Sutton’ home and
christened Rose Sutton Higby
after the great benefactor.
Throughout the first quarter of the 20th century,
the trustees capitalised on Sutton’s investments
and consolidated his assets as they prepared to
establish the trust. Two more estates were built
in London at City Road opening in 1911 and
in Chelsea completed in 1913. The first estate
outside London was built at Alum Rock on the
On 28 July 1914 the
invasion of Serbia by
Austro-Hungarian troops
marked the beginning of the
First World War. The conflict
resulted in the loss of more
than nine million lives in 52
months until Armistice Day
ended fighting on
11 November 1918.
Left: William Sutton Trust’s
Killingbeck estate, Leeds,
Right: Turpington Lane
house plans, 1920s.
Taken from the Bromley
Below right: Turpington
Lane houses as they stand
While the nation fought, building activity came
to a virtual standstill. Following the ceasefire
and the General Election in 1918 the country
faced an acute housing shortage. Inflated
building costs alongside scarce materials
and labour meant private developers couldn’t
provide houses at rents the average working
class family could afford.
Lloyd George’s famous ‘Homes fit for Heroes’
campaign highlighted the need to reward
returning soldiers with decent homes. The
campaign was regarded as vital for post war
social stability so it was accepted that central
Government spending would have to support
councils’ efforts.
The national programme promised 500,000
new homes within five years. But the scheme
was about much more than building houses: it
sought to shape the behaviour of an emerging
nation of suburban house-dwellers. In reality,
the programme ran for two years and delivered
213,000 homes.
In tandem with ‘Homes for Heroes’, the Tudor
Walters Report (1918) had a major influence on
housing standards. The report recommended
standards for new council houses, called
‘cottages,’ which would comprise a spacious twostorey home with at least three bedrooms and a
‘through’ living room to allow maximum natural
light and ventilation. The report was inspired by
Ebenezer Howard’s designs at Letchworth and
Hampstead and recommended the layout of
estates on garden suburb style principles.
A year later, the Housing and Town Planning Act 1919
(known as the Addison Act) proved to be a turning
point in the provision of council housing as subsidy
arrangements shared the costs of building new
homes between tenants, local ratepayers and HM
Treasury. By 1921, only two years after the Act was
passed, 170,000 ‘Addison’ houses had been built.
Between 1919 and 1929, London
County Council (LCC) constructed
eight new cottage-style estates,
the most ambitious being the
Becontree estate in Dagenham,
which became the largest council
housing estate in the world.
In 1927 LCC started to build flats in higher
density estates as well as cottage-style estates.
The flats were of a higher standard than the
pre-war tenements and limited to five storeys high
– considered ‘low rise’. By 1930, more flats were
being built than cottage-style homes as rent levels
on these were lower.
Almost three decades
after William Sutton’s
death, laborious
negotiations over
his will finally ended
allowing trustees to
found the Sutton
Dwellings Trust in
1927 and start
building homes
with unprecedented
Between then and the outbreak of the Second
World War, the Trust built 17 new estates, adding
6,000 homes to its assets. The first was Barrack
Road in Newcastle, built on a slum clearance
site and completed in 1928.
The Trust’s inter-war developments were largely
built in the garden suburb style ‘model dwellings’/
fine contemporary architecture similar to the
then-customary council housing – a stark contrast
to the slums from where many people had come.
As one tenant, who had moved from London to
the Bradford estate when it was built in 1934,
says: “It was very wide, very well laid out and
everybody had a garden. I remember having
lots of playmates and a door at the front and a
door at the back, which we’d never had. This was
because the real goal of all new inter-war tenants
was getting their own front door, rather than
sharing a home.”
Ma Kirk also moved onto the Bradford estate in
1934. She recalls the privileged environment of
those early years as a young child on the new
estate. “First thing I’ll tell you, we were posh,” she
says. “All our friends used to say: ‘She lives on
Sutton estate; they’re posh’. And we were – we
couldn’t believe we had inside bathrooms!”
“There was a man who all the children called
Pop Needs, the superintendent. Every night
you could bet your life at nine o’clock he’d walk
round the estate, and any children still out he’d
pick up by the scruff of their neck and tell their
parents ‘that child should be in bed. If I see them
out again I’ll fine you’.”
The sentiment is echoed in Sutton papers, which
depict the typical ideal estate manager of the
1930s. “He is usually an ex-sailor or soldier,
who has reached the rank of chief petty officer,
and married with adolescent children. His
household is a model that his fellow residents
can respect. He and his wife know every
resident, including children on the estate.
He is the man to go to both to pay the rent
and to see when the window jams.”
Above: Bradford play
area, Dick Lane, 1930s.
Left: Making up the
roads with horse and
cart, Bradford 1932.
Below left: Sutton
outing, Trent Vale estate,
Sutton engendered a real sense of community in
its estates. Each estate had a Sutton Fund, which
residents would pay into. The fund was often
used for trips to bingo evenings, evening dances,
tennis and cricket tournaments, and usually
two annual trips to the seaside for children.
The tradition continued into the post-war years.
Bradford resident Betty Waterhouse recalls:
“A train would be hired and the whole estate
would go off to Blackpool or Morecambe,
where each resident would receive fish and
chips and a stick of rock. Once the local station
shut, ten coaches used to be hired which lined
Sutton Road to collect all the residents. One
committee member used to be on each coach,
so you had to behave!”
Other Sutton estates built during this rapid
expansion phase of the late-1920s and 1930s
include Gorton in Manchester, Killingbeck
in Leeds, St Quintin Park in West London,
Cleadon in South Shields, St Budeaux Plymouth,
and Brislington in Bristol.
By the outbreak of the Second
World War, the Sutton Trust was
housing over 32,600 people.
The inter-war years also marked a rapid
expansion of council housing across the country
and the building of these estates in the 1930s
helped to ease unemployment. In South London,
areas such as West Wickham, Orpington,
Beckenham and Bromley lost fields to develop
housing because the prevailing emphasis
was on providing new homes. While this did
not affect the Sutton Trust directly, a good
amount of the housing stock being built at
that time would later come to Broomleigh
and subsequently Affinity Sutton.
In 1939 Germany
invaded Poland and
sparked the deadliest
conflict in history,
with some 100 million
military personnel
mobilised worldwide
and an estimated 70
million people killed.
Left: VE day celebrations,
Bethnal Green.
Right: Prefabs at Magpie
Hall Lane, Bromley, Kent.
© Copyright Kentish Times
In a quick fix to the immediate housing shortage
half a million ‘prefabs’ were constructed. Prefab
homes were factory-built, one-storey, temporary
bungalows. Each one took only 40 hours to
assemble and came complete with plumbing,
heating and fully-fitted kitchens and bathrooms.
They were only expected to last for ten years,
but they proved to be popular with residents
and a small number are still standing today.
The Second World War obliterated housebuilding plans once more and by 1945 an
estimated four million British homes were
destroyed or damaged. Rebuilding Britain
was in the hands of the newly elected Labour
Government, and the 1942 Beveridge report set
out its expectations for the welfare state. Minister
for Health, Aneurin Bevan, was responsible for
the housing programme and primarily focused
on local authority involvement rather than a
return to the reliance on the private sector.
Despite all this building, Britain was still
unable to meet the massive housing demand
and waiting lists continued to increase. House
building remained a Government priority
and work battled on against the odds,
including during the terrible winter of 1947
and a scarcity of labour and materials.
Between 1946 and 1957, 2.5 million houses and
flats were built, 75% of them by local authorities.
The long-term housing programme called for
greater variety and Government programmes
focused on building mixed development
schemes, including flats, to create the type
of balanced communities favoured by
Affinity Sutton today.
During the 1940s, local authorities
agreed to include purpose-built
housing for the elderly in their
housing programmes.
From 1945 to 1951, estates were planned as a
welfare right, with high-quality, rented housing
for all sections of the community. Allocation was
based on housing need, with priority given to
bombed-out families and those made homeless
by slum clearances.
Previously, retirement housing had largely been
met by charitable almshouses for the privileged
few who could gain access.
The change of Government in the 1950s brought
a different focus for council housing policy. The
rapid growth of inner-city populations coupled
with derelict sites damaged by bombs gave
rise to a new urban vision of ‘streets in the sky’.
Councils could act under new slum clearance
powers to forcibly purchase land and housing for
redevelopment. Building upwards meant more
generously-sized homes could be provided and
communities could be rehoused close to existing
employment opportunities.
This era of council house building also included
the development of ‘out of town’ estates. The
post-war building surge had virtually exhausted
inner-city sites and the continuing high demand
meant development turned to the peripheries,
with city boundaries sometimes expanded to
facilitate new estates.
Bombed out areas
were commonplace
across Bromley due to
its proximity to London
and the World War Two
Biggin Hill airfield. The
building and development
by the local council
produced what are now
considered among our
best known estates.
The 3,000-home St Paul’s Cray estate was built
from 1950, comprising mainly two-storey houses
and maisonettes with small back gardens.
Queen Adelaide Court in Penge stood five storeys
high and was officially opened in 1951. Early
residents recall regularly meeting next to the
boiler room to play darts, table tennis
and snooker.
The Ramsden estate was occupied from the
mid-1950s and the Bromley Archives record
that, in September 1957, Ridgeway Contractors
submitted a quote to Orpington Urban District
Council to build 40 new houses at Ramsden.
The total cost was £64,933 plus six shillings
and two pence, little more than £1,600 per unit.
Further development of Ramsden continued
into the 1960s including the ‘House Blocks’
and the ‘Court Blocks’, the latter of which
were demolished by Affinity Sutton in 2010/11
to make way for new and better homes.
Broomwood Road, St Paul’s
Cray built 1955 (taken
1965). © Copyright R.A.
Clockwise from right:
Air raid shelters in Penge,
Bromley (taken 1950)
© Copyright Ian Muir
Key ceremony to mark
the opening of Queen
Adelaide Court, Bromley,
1951. © Copyright
Ian Muir
Ramsden from the air,
showing the terraced
housing and the later
court blocks on the right
(taken c.1995)
Cotmandene Crescent,
Bromley, built 1950 (taken
1965). © Copyright R.A.
Len Tillott, 88, and his wife Lorraine, 86,
moved to the St Paul’s Cray Estate in 1954
after London County Council (LCC) ordered
a slum clearance in Oval. They had grown
up in Southwark and could have chosen to
relocate as far afield as Cornwall, but they
decided to move to St Paul’s Cray, which
Len remembered from his childhood.
When they moved in the couple paid a rent of three
pounds and sixpence a week direct to LCC. It was
worth every spent penny because for the first time they
had an inside toilet and bathroom. “Before, we had
an outside toilet,” says Len. “You had to take a candle
with you to light the way. We had a tin bath. We’d fill it
up with a geyser – awfully expensive to run – first she’d
have the tub, then I’d have it.”
The couple moved to an area known locally as ‘God’s
half acre’, which backed onto large cornfields and was
detached from the rest of the estate. Back then St Paul’s
Cray was rural but a lot of industry and a social dance
scene emerged. They felt the town had “things going
on” and their social life included thrice-yearly dances at
nearby Sanderson Hall. “Some people knew ballroom
but most were just jumping up and down,” says Len.
When she was seven, Barbara Bailey also moved into
the estate. She recalls that only the first road and part
of the estate were complete. Her parents paid £1.50
a week in rent but there were no shops or schools built;
only a local hut school, which she attended with other
local children.
“All the development near here happened at around
the same time, but in phases.” Mrs Bailey explained.
“I know people who lived in the villages here before,
and all around here was just fields – strawberry fields
and the like.”
The new decade brought
cultural change, rock and
roll and teenage identity.
Despite all the building
programmes of the 1950s,
access to decent housing
remained a problem for
many, especially those
in the grip of unscrupulous
private landlords such
as Peter Rachman.
Their difficulties were dramatically presented in
Ken Loach’s powerful BBC play, Cathy Come
Home, which raised issues that were not then
widely discussed in the popular media, such as
homelessness, unemployment and the rights of
mothers to keep their own children. The play had
a fundamental impact on public opinion relating
to housing and other social issues and helped
foster the set up of many important new Housing
Associations, often with strong leadership from
local churches.
From 1964 the new Labour Government was
strongly in favour of large municipal building
programmes. It envisioned Housing Associations
as the ‘third arm of housing’ alongside local
authorities and private house builders.
For several well established housing trusts, including
our own Sutton Dwellings Trust, the 1960s marked the
start of significant public funding.
Left: Still from Cathy Come
Home, first broadcast on 16
November 1966 on BBC1.
© Copyright BFI
Top right: The William
Sutton Widnes estate,
built 1971.
Right: The William
Sutton Chelmsford estate,
1970. The Trust acquired
the properties as part of
the transfer of stock from
the Kingsway Housing
Local authorities were still building council
estates but some Housing Associations including
the newly formed Downland Housing Society
took advantage of changing policies to offer
a new type of tenure called co-ownership.
The concept meant a Housing Association or
council developed a new estate of houses and
flats with half of the funding loaned by the Housing
Corporation and the other half borrowed from
a building society. Unlike the current shared
ownership model, residents did not part-own their
home but co-owned the whole development along
with the other inhabitants.
The process successfully moved people towards
home ownership because the property was
valued at the beginning of the tenancy, then, after
a minimum stay of five years, they could move on
and the home was re-valued. The resident then
received half of that equity to put a deposit on a
new place, the vacant co-ownership home was let
to a new resident and the virtuous circle continued.
The face of Britain was changing.
By the end of the decade, two million immigrants
from the West Indies and the Indian sub-continent
had settled in Britain and needed housing. The
National Federation of Housing Societies actively
opposed racism and encouraged its members to
help accommodate this large and vulnerable
group of people.
In 1964 seven
local professionals
formed Downland
Housing Association.
Reflecting William Sutton’s entrepreneurial spirit,
these founding fathers, all active members of
the Chichester voluntary scene, spotted an
opportunity to help those in need while also
developing their practices.
Downland’s first three estates were built in Havant
in Hampshire, in Bognor Regis and in Worthing,
West Sussex. They were built to rent through the
then-popular funding regime of ‘cost rent’ and
financed by the Public Works Loan Board. Cost
rent was calculated on the cost of producing the
scheme, but turbulent public finances would
soon make the model unsustainable.
Mary Smith worked for Downland
Housing Association for 43 years.
She was initially employed as a development
assistant but worked for most areas of the
association in her long career. She recalls
that when she began in 1968, staff worked
on manual typewriters and the first rent system
was based on cards kept in drawers with
payments recorded by hand. At the month end
all rent balances had to be calculated manually.
“In the days of ‘cost rent’ applicants were vetted
by interview, often at the applicant’s existing
home,” says Mary. “Interviewees were judged
on the way they kept their home and their ability
to pay rent and keep the Downland property to
the necessary standard.”
Having started when Downland’s three staff
members looked after three estates, she retired
from an organisation that managed almost
12,500 properties across 40 local authorities.
“It was in the 1970s and 1980s that a large
amount of the development took place. The
merger of other societies and transfers of
engagements were always a challenge, but
working at Downland meant there was always
some new initiative,” she says.
This period saw a dramatic
rise in the number and size
of Housing Associations
in an era of economic
There was political dissatisfaction on all sides
of the spectrum with both private landlords
and council housing. Housing Associations had
escaped association with the problems of mass
housing estates and were boosted by alliances
of social activists focussing on the need to
address poverty and inner city regeneration.
Left: Mary Smith with
her colleagues, c.1971.
Right: The office in Little
London, Chichester, West
Sussex, where Downland
was based between
1964-1969. © Copyright
Mary Smith.
Below right: A paper rent
card from William Sutton’s
Birmingham estate, 1967.
The Government introduced the 1974 Housing
Act, which introduced 100% funding of Housing
Associations. There was no vision then that
associations might eventually displace local
authorities as landlords, rather associations were
seen as a way of fostering alternative ownership
of rented housing and part of a policy shift from
slum clearance to urban renewal.
Public funding led to the formation of many new
bodies, the transformation of existing voluntary
bodies and the development of financial and
organisational capacity that would serve
associations well later on.
Housing Association market
share increased from less than
5% of social housing in 1974
to 11% in 1988.
‘Fair rents’ were set by the local rent officer for
the new Housing Association homes. These
subsidised rents were achieved by Housing
Associations entering into loan agreements
with the Housing Corporation or local authorities
to provide the necessary finance to build
new homes. A mix of 60-year loan terms
for new developments and 30-year terms
for refurbishments were agreed with the
Housing Corporation.
This system encouraged Housing Associations
to develop rapidly, but as costs again began
to rise after a few years, the Government
encouraged them to refrain from building
general needs accommodation. Instead, it
asked them to complement rather than replace
local authority activity and focus on tenures that
councils were not providing, such as supported
and retirement homes.
Halfway through the decade a buzzword,
accountability, was gaining momentum. It was
no longer appropriate for Housing Associations
to be run by a Committee of Management
whose members had direct financial interest
in its activities. This approach may seem
like common sense now, but in 1976 the
Government issued an ultimatum: committee
members’ practices were no longer allowed
to accept work from the Housing Association
if they wished to stay in office.
In addition, any Housing Association with
designs on grant funding had to register with
the Housing Corporation. The era of tighter
regulation had begun.
In 1973, Downland
Housing Association,
Downland Salvington
Housing Association
and 23 separate
co-ownership societies
worked together
as the Downland
Housing Group.
Left: “Be Your Own
Landlord!” – a headline
from an article about coownership, from Practical
Householder magazine,
November 1973.
Below left: Image from
the same article, showing
an interior from one
of our co-ownership
schemes in Chichester,
West Sussex.
Bottom left: Kestrel Court
in Chichester, West Sussex,
built in 1978.
Right: Fulmer Place,
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.
A transfer of engagement
from Meruit Housing
Society, originally built
in 1975.
Bottom right: Charles
Avenue estate, Chichester,
built in 1979.
The group managed 750 homes – 180 for ‘cost
rent’ across three sites and 570 for co-ownership
tenure in Brighton, Chichester, Farlington, Lancing,
Poole and Selsey – with a hundred more under
construction. In the same year, Sutton Dwellings
Trust was renamed the Sutton Housing Trust.
Downland was able to take advantage of this
because the Housing Corporation only registered
Housing Associations willing and able to comply
with the registration rules, locking many with
substantial management and development stock
out of the system.
Then, in 1976, the Government’s ultimatum to
bar anyone with financial self-interest from
housing association committees meant the
founding professional members at Downland
had to cede power to a lay committee. But,
much like the ever-resourceful William Sutton,
they refused to be swallowed up by the policy
challenge. They simply reformed Downland
Housing Society as a non-charitable Housing
Association and registered it under the Industrial
and Provident Societies Act 1965 and with the
Housing Corporation.
Between 1976 and 1978, Downland accepted
‘transfers of engagements’ from Broadwater
Housing Society, Foreland Housing Society,
Meruit Housing Society and others, moving it
towards the 1980s with an appetite for growth.
This became the catalyst for rapid growth
in stock through transfers from other
Housing Associations.
Brenda Sharp moved into
Downland’s Charles Avenue estate in
Chichester when it was built in 1979.
Also in Chichester was Peter Watt,
who moved into Kestrel Court when
it was built in 1978.
Her husband was ill so they were rushed into
the property. “I remember coming in to the flat
when it was still a shell – they were still putting
in the bath,” she says. “Everyone seemed
to be around 50 years old and there was a
tight-knit community. We all got to know each
other, grumbles were talked over and none of
the doors were locked.”
“No roads had been built so it was a mass
of mud – it was rather comical trying to move
in through all that mud”, he says. “We’d been
moving quite a bit and were on the verge of
being homeless. Rent was negligible, about
£20 a month. For that sum, you thought you
were king of the castle.”
One winter, during the 1980s, there was
a blackout for a whole week. “A couple
of people had paraffin stoves and we had
paraffin lights. We moved between each flat
and huddled around. And when the snow
came, we all took turns clearing
all the pathways.”
In 1979 Margaret
Thatcher was elected
as Prime Minister. After
successive Governments
had spent much of the
1970s designing policy
that enabled Housing
Associations to build
up their stock, the
new Government was
determined to follow a
different course – which
involved giving tenants
the Right to Buy their
council properties.
High interest rates and restricted income made
building and maintaining council housing
expensive, and the era of the yuppie and
upwardly mobile individualism meant the policy
was popular with the electorate. But many
Labour Councils opposed the scheme because
of the loss of housing for those in need.
Despite large receipts from Right to Buy sales,
investment in social housing fell dramatically
during the 1980s. New laws prevented councils
from reinvesting money received from Right to
Buy sales into current or new housing. Councils
were falling behind with asset management and
maintenance and council housing was sliding
into disrepair. By 1986, almost 7% of council
homes in England were classed as legally
unfit for human habitation.
homes in the more affluent estates to the private
sector. Less desirable properties such as onebedroom flats or those on unpopular estates
came to represent a higher proportion of the
social housing sector’s stock.
Left: Margaret Thatcher
hands over the deeds to
Right-to-Buy purchasers
in Essex, August 1980.
© Copyright Press
Right: The Right to
Buy gave tenants more
control over their property,
including the ability to
choose the colour of their
front door. © Copyright
Shutterstock Images
Right to Buy discounts were calculated on a
sliding scale. In 1980, when the Act came into
force, a 33% discount off a property’s value was
offered if a tenant had lived there for three years,
rising to 50% off if they had lived there at least
20 years. To prevent abuse, the discount would
have to be repaid if the resident moved within
five years of buying the property.
After a healthy initial uptake, the Conservatives
quickly formalised measures to build on this
success. In 1984 they reduced the length of time
tenants would need to live in a property to two
years and increased the discounts available.
The 1984 Act also allowed the Secretary of
State to intervene in cases where the council
was perceived to be obstructing the purchase
of council homes.
By 1999, 30% of British council
tenants had exercised their
right to buy.
The quagmire of the Right to Buy era also
undermined the balance of estates. As the more
affluent tenants moved out of the social housing
sector, an increasing shortage of homes meant
that tenants increasingly came from a narrower
social base with a higher proportion of lowincome and unemployed households, often
reliant on welfare benefits.
But the Government didn’t stop there. A new Act
in 1986 allowed former tenants to keep their
purchase discounts unless they sold within three
years. This paved the way for many council
tenants to sell their home for a profit fairly soon
after purchase and ceded many of the largest
Right to Buy:
the different impacts
The original 1980 Right to Buy legislation
had also been intended to apply to the
tenants of charitable Housing Associations.
This meant Sutton and other Housing
Association associations founded by huge
legacies such as Peabody and Guinness –
stood to lose a great many homes.
low incomes seeking accommodation in some
cities could become worse than any period since
before the First World War’. After a huge effort,
the campaign was successful and charitable
Housing Associations remained exempt from
Right To Buy.
Not surprisingly, Right to Buy proved to be
immensely popular with anyone able to buy
their home at a fraction of its value. But the
impact of reduced housing stock for subsequent
generations would be profound and as
independent charitable bodies, many Housing
Associations objected to the plans.
This achievement was an
enormous victory. It ensured that
charitable assets were protected
and would be preserved for the
benefit of future generations of
those in housing need, rather
than given away cheaply to
the people lucky enough to
be living in them at the time.
The Sutton Trust – together with the National
Federation of Housing Associations – enlisted
the support of bishops and other sympathetic
peers to stop the Government from making it
a compulsory policy. In 1983, in the House of
Lords, they argued that the ‘plight of people on
There was undoubtedly a strong sense of
self-preservation in the Trust’s action, which
reflected one of the features of Sutton’s own
life as he fought off legal challenges to his
parcels business.
Joan Dorrington from
Borehamwood took part in
the Right-to-Buy process. Joan
was a single mum and saw the
scheme as an alternative to paying
increasing rent costs. Joan realised
that service charges would still
apply, but calculated the cost
of adding them to a mortgage
would eventually leave her
financially better off.
The decision to buy was controversial.
Some people feared that the condition of
the properties and surrounding areas might
deteriorate if residents fell outside the strict
regulations set by the landlord.
For Joan, the decision to buy her home was
not easy. “I thought about it for about a
year, but I spoke to a few people and in the
end I thought ‘yeah, go for it’.” With mind
made up, she bought her homes in the
late 1980s.
Owning her flat brought Joan increased
independence and security, and allowed
her to make more decisions about the
interior and exterior. She also enjoyed the
security of knowing she no longer had to
worry about rent payments. On a personal
level, these returns made Joan feel that
participating in the scheme was beneficial.
Downland and many other non
charitable Housing Associations
weren’t protected from Right to
Buy and lost a large number of
properties to the private sector
as tenants took advantage of
the scheme.
Under the same Act, co-ownership societies
were also able to purchase their own properties
if 75% of the development’s residents agreed.
As the co-ownership societies began to run their
own affairs, Downland lost management income
worth £75,000 a year. Such a severe financial
blow meant the association had to develop fresh
ideas to continue its work.
But, just as William Sutton had expanded into
making soft drinks as water supplies improved,
Downland shifted its attentions from the closing
door on co-ownership homes to the open one
of homes for retired people and those with
learning disabilities.
Left: Joan Dorrington
outside her front door
in Borehamwood.
Top right: Mid Sussex’s
500th Right to Buy resident.
Right: Nyetimber Mill,
Downland’s first commercial
retirement scheme, now
managed by Grange.
Bottom right: Diana,
then Princess of Wales, at
the formal opening of 5
Grand Avenue, Worthing
- a Downland scheme
for people with physical
In a display of entrepreneurial acumen, Downland
used its income from Right to Buy property sales to
broaden its offer. Between 1985 and 1989 ‘managed’
rather than ‘owned’ properties increased from 25%
to 50% of Downland’s total stock.
Downland became adept at generating revenue
through different avenues. “Downland has always
been a business for social purpose,” says Mark
Perry, who was its last chief executive. “During the
property boom, a lot of private retirement estates were
developed in Bognor and Selsey and we responded
by creating a management company, which became
Grange. Founded in a leafy, conservative area along
the West Sussex coastline, branching into retirement
housing felt very natural.
“At the time a lot of large institutional care arrangements
were being questioned too, so Downland accessed
Housing Corporation grant funding, found partners
such as Mencap and won many contracts to build
and manage the day care of these homes. This was
quite unusual as many organisations were becoming
general needs or retirement specialists, but Downland’s
philosophy has always been to provide a complete
range of housing solutions.”
Between 1988 and 2011,
many local authorities
in England transferred
housing stock under the
Large Scale Voluntary
Transfer regime (LSVT).
Right: Bromley Council’s
consultation document,
which was sent to residents
to tell them about the
option of transferring
to Broomleigh Housing
Many believe the shift from council to Housing
Associations has also stimulated greater resident
involvement. As the ‘voluntary’ part of the name
suggests, such transfers have always required a
resident vote to take place to sanction the transfer,
but they also relied on the fulfilment of promises
and often established a governance structure that
encouraged resident-led accountability.
The transfer of council estates into Housing
Association ownership between 1988 and
2008 completely transformed the structure of
social housing across Britain. By 2008, council
housing had ended in half of all English local
authority areas and with more than 1.3 million
council homes transferred, Housing Associations
have become the nation’s biggest provider of
social housing.
Left: An aerial shot of
Borehamwood, Hertsmere,
which transferred its council
housing to Ridgehill Housing
Association in 1994.
Councils made transfers for four main reasons:
to tackle an increasing backlog of repairs; to
avoid making large rent increases; to secure
new sources of investment and to provide
resources for the development of new social
housing. As a result from 1988 to 2011, around
600,000 transfer properties in England have
enjoyed £24 billion of investment.
Mid Sussex Housing
Association (MSHA)
was the first organisation
that would ultimately join
Affinity Sutton to take
advantage of the new
regime, with the transfer
of 4,400 properties from
Mid Sussex District
Council in 1990.
MSHA would later merge with Downland in 1996.
Although Downland was less successful when
residents on a large estate in Bexhill voted narrowly
against plans to transfer 650 homes from Rother
District Council.
The most significant step came in 1992, when
after the Government abolished an initial
5,000-home transfer limit, Broomleigh Housing
Association moved rapidly to take on Bromley
Council’s entire stock of 12,000 properties.
It was the first metropolitan large scale voluntary
stock transfer and remained the largest for many
years. But it almost never happened.
Broomleigh only narrowly won the ballot of
tenants and leaseholders by 5%, despite a
mix of promises to improve service delivery,
accountability and investment. These included
a rent guarantee that limited rent to RPI +2% for
four years – a real vote winner as some local
authorities had become infamous for levying
higher increases.
Broomleigh also pledged the reintroduction of
directly employed caretakers and promised to
tackle outstanding repairs and improvements.
In the ten years after the transfer to 2002,
Broomleigh delivered on its promises by
cranking up its promised regeneration,
repairs and improvement investment to more
than £140m. They also improved the responsive
repairs and maintenance service and involved
residents in high-level decisions by inviting them
to constitute a third of the board.
Black Wednesday,
Booming Broomleigh
The events of ‘Black Wednesday’ on 16
September 1992 were the catalyst for a massive
upturn in fortunes for Broomleigh Housing
Association, which had to pay the council for
the transfer of homes and fund the enhanced
service and home improvement promises made
to tenants. Achieving this meant taking a £136m
loan from a syndicate of lenders.
The critical decision taken by the Broomleigh
Board was to fix its interest rate for only six
months, in anticipation that rates would soon
fall in. By doing this, Broomleigh avoided being
‘locked-in’ to a long-term fixed interest rate
as high as 15%.
It turned out to be an inspired
gambit that literally transformed
Broomleigh’s fortunes.
Everything became clear during Broomleigh’s
first strategy planning meeting. “During the day,
TV reports revealed an emerging financial crisis
in Europe, panic in the city and a run on the
pound,” says Keith Exford, then chief executive
at Broomleigh. “Many people were anxious
about the scale of the association’s debt. But
the financial director and I knew that if Britain
dropped out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism
(ERM), base rates would fall, thereby enabling
us to fix Broomleigh’s long-term debt at much
more competitive rates.”
Britain duly dropped out of the ERM and within
six months interest rates had dropped to single
figures, leaving Broomleigh to take advantage.
Its finances rapidly improved. “Ultimately, we
were able to reduce rents to make them more
affordable, especially for those in larger homes
whose rents had become too high under council
ownership,” adds Keith. “We also enhanced
tenants’ homes with higher levels of investment than
originally envisaged and simultaneously started
a development programme of new homes.”
English social housing restructuring, 1981-2008
tock transfer
Housing Association
T raditional Housing
ouncil Housing,
ALMO managed
Council Housing on the traditional model
On 31 March 1994 Ridgehill Housing
Association was formed when it took
over the management of around
5,000 properties from Hertsmere
Borough Council. In another tight race,
residents only agreed the transfer
after two rounds of voting.
Hertsmere had commissioned its last building
in 1984 so one of the most important promises
Ridgehill made was to invest in new housing.
After the transfer, Ridgehill used its borrowing
powers to build several new schemes.
Fountain Court became the area’s first scheme
for the frail and elderly, and new housing was
provided in Corfe Close and St Paul’s Close,
where Ridgehill built a new church.
The stock transfer also led to changes in
resident involvement. Ridgehill established
a management board, inviting tenants to
become members so they could question
managers and help set policy.
Left: Table showing the
changes to the social
housing sector as a result
of LSVT. Adapted from
Rawson & Mullins (2010)
Top right: Joan
Dorrington on the front
cover of Ridgehill Review,
the magazine for Ridgehill
tenants, December 1997.
Right: St Paul’s Close,
Borehamwood, showing
the church on the left.
Bottom right: Jean
Beckley and other
Lewisham residents
celebrate the Lewisham
regeneration with Affinity
Sutton staff, 2011.
Long term resident Joan Dorrington served as
a resident board member. She explained she
couldn’t remember much involvement when the
council ran things. “There was much more when
it became Ridgehill,” she says. “A publicity officer
went round setting up residents’ associations in
every block – there were absolutely loads. There
was one for my block, one for the retirement block
next door and many more – and all of them
had their own space in which to meet.” Joan
even interviewed the then housing minister for the
residents’ magazine.
Elsewhere, Jean Beckley, who has lived on our
Lewisham estate for around 42 years – since
the days of Greater London Council control –
felt the impact of another stock transfer. She
campaigned to get Lewisham to transfer her
estate to Broomleigh. “The council weren’t
against it,” she says. “They gave us their
staff’s help and access to legal advisers. The
renovation works by Broomleigh made such
a lot of difference – they really were a success.”
After the unfounded fear
that the Millennium Bug
would melt down the
cyber network, Britain
entered the new century
with a sense of optimism.
But, as the decade shuffled to a close, that
optimism had been ground down by recession,
high unemployment levels, slashes to public
spending and changes in Government policy.
These factors have combined to spark some
of the biggest shifts the housing sector has
ever seen.
The New Labour era of ‘Decent Homes’,
efficiencies and delivery ended the supremacy
of municipal landlords and moved social
housing firmly into the hands of the third sector.
The sector responded by partnering and
merging in a committed attempt to improve
homes in an environment of reduced funding
with greater expectations on delivery.
These mergers resulted in a 50% increase in the
average size of Housing Associations between
2001 and 2007 and created a new breed of
larger Housing Association, which operated in
a more commercial way. They drove through
savings and efficiencies and drew funding from
the financial markets, while playing a major
role in increasing new housing delivery.
In 2004, leading economist Kate Barker published
her HM Treasury-commissioned report on UK
housing supply. The report tackled its boom and
bust nature and stated that up to 200,000 extra
new homes would have to be built annually for
housing supply to catch up with the backlog
and match demand. The Government’s new
homes funding vehicle, the Housing Corporation,
responded by cultivating partnerships with
associations to deliver new homes.
Left: Durand Close,
Sutton, after regeneration.
Right: Atalanta, Brighton,
completed 2010.
By 2009, Britain was officially
in recession. The Bank of
England base rate dropped to
a record low of 0.5%, house
prices and inflation initially fell,
and unemployment reached its
highest point since 1996. The
pressure and focus on social
housing had peaked.
Mergers in the
new millennium
Broomleigh entered the new decade with a
reputation for strong financial performance,
becoming, in 2000, the first Housing Association
to gain a Standard & Poor’s credit rating. But
despite such foundations, Broomleigh was
hindered by its Bromley legacy and found
it difficult to take advantage of the external
opportunities to expand and diversify.
To counter this and achieve its ambitions, the
board agreed to the creation of a new group
structure in 2001, within which Broomleigh
became a subsidiary to a new parent Housing
Association, the Affinity Homes Group. Affinity
was a non-asset holding registered social
landlord, which provided the infrastructure
and distance to allow Broomleigh to focus on
providing first-class local services while Affinity
worked on growth and financial strength.
Seeking high-calibre partners, Affinity started
discussions with the Downland Housing
Group, with whom it merged in 2003 to create
Downland Affinity – one of the sector’s largest
groups with more than 25,000 homes.
A year earlier, Sutton was also looking
to expand and joined forces with Bristolbased Aashyana, England’s first association
to specialise in housing for South Asian
In January 2004, Tor Homes – which was a stock
transfer of 3,000 dwellings from South Hams
District Council in 1999 – also joined forces with
William Sutton. They were followed In 2005 by
Ridgehill, the product of the Hertsmere Borough
Council stock transfer and formed the William
Sutton Group. Ridgehill brought with it CBS, its
own dedicated repairs service, which had been
set up in 2000. By then operating nationally, the
group comprised around 25,000 homes and
before long it attracted BHT, a Brighton-based
association providing specialist services for
residents with support needs which remained in
the Group until 2011.
Meanwhile, Downland Affinity became a Housing
Corporation preferred partner with a building
programme to create 1,200 new homes a year.
Housing Associations faced intense pressure to
deliver efficiencies and, keen to demonstrate the
success of their merger, Downland Affinity began
a three-year plan whereby a simplified structure
would generate 12% in savings a year.
In 2005, Affinity and the William Sutton
Group submitted a joint funding bid whereby
economies of scale and volume procurement
offered national coverage and opportunities to
deliver new homes at competitive grant levels.
The bid proved to be incredibly successful and
helped the organisations to become leading
developers, managing to secure the largest
grant allocation in the South East.
With an appetite for mergers unabated, the time
had come to build on this success and hundreds of
others dating back to William Sutton’s penchant
for packages. The two parties entered merger
discussions and, in 2006, created the Affinity
Sutton Group with 49,000 homes. This would
have been the largest association in the UK but
for the fact that, at the last moment, the board of
Tor Homes decided not to join the group.
A year later Affinity Sutton celebrated the
completion of its 50,000th home and returned
to William Sutton’s London roots by establishing
its head office in Southwark.
Affinity Sutton’s roots
Affinity Sutton
Formed 2006
William Sutton
Affinity Group
Housing Association
Formed 1992
Housing Association
Formed 1964
Sutton Dwellings
Originally formed 1927
Mid Sussex
Housing Association
Formed 1990
Housing Association
Formed 1994
Originally formed 1982
Formed 2000
Aashyana Housing
Formed 1995
Left: Aashyana residents,
photographed for the
2006 annual report.
Above: Affinity Sutton’s
Towards the end of the
decade, the first cracks of
the looming financial crisis
began to appear.
To secure and safeguard Affinity Sutton through
what was set to be a major financial crisis, its
leaders looked to the bond markets.
Echoing the financial innovation shown by
Broomleigh before Black Wednesday in 1992,
the now ‘super’ Housing Association secured
huge interest from investors and launched a
£250m bond – the day before Lehman Brothers
declared bankruptcy. At the time, it was the
first to follow a corporate bond approach
and was the largest own-named bond by
a Housing Association.
Having maintained a consistent and robust
approach to financial management, Affinity
Sutton reviewed operations to ensure it would
remain fit for purpose. The review showed that
it could continue to deliver excellent services
and create efficiency savings by centralising
structures, simplifying its governance and
operating as one business: Affinity Sutton.
Championing residents’ lives as well as their homes
has been the Sutton way from the outset of William
Sutton’s will, right through each of the organisations
now under the Affinity Sutton banner.
The financial crisis has thrown the
lives of many residents into flux.
Lesley Muzzall became a tenant at a supported
housing scheme in Brighton in 2006 after a
mental breakdown had led her into emergency
accommodation. “I also injured my spine so I use
a mobility scooter to get around the shops and
my side door allows me to drive straight in with
my scooter,” she says of her one-bedroom flat at
the Affinity Sutton scheme. “My support worker
has been fantastic and helped me to take charge
of my bills. It’s a big weight off my shoulders to
have someone there who genuinely cares.”
In 2009, Affinity
Sutton returned to
its philanthropic roots
as Sutton’s first estate
in Bethnal Green
celebrated its centenary.
The housing group created a dedicated
community investment team to support
its residents into work and training,
help them to manage their money
and invest in our neighbourhoods.
This positive impact was recognised in 2011,
when Affinity Sutton won Business in the
Community’s Building Stronger Communities
Award and received one of its ‘Big Ticks’.
Michael Jones, from Oldham is a
resident at the Bethnal Green estate,
which celebrated its centenary
in 2009.
He says: “The estate has changed a lot over
the years and it’s now a mix of indigenous
East Enders and Bengalis. It’s always been
like that – Huguenots, Jews, Irish, Bengali,
we all become East Enders eventually”.
“We have a great community spirit. We get
together to meet up and share time, skills
and memories and hold coffee mornings and
drawing classes. For our centenary we all
came together at a big party that celebrated
all this, from Pearly Queens to Bangladeshi
dance troupes.”
Affinity Sutton has always had
to look at new ways to raise
finance to regenerate old homes.
One such approach was the innovative self
financing partnership approach that was
adopted for the £130m regeneration of
Durand Close Estate in Sutton.
Work began on the main estate in 2009 and
in 2011 the first phase of 110 new homes, a
community centre and shop was completed.
Judy McDaid, chair of the Durand Close Estate
Residents Association and a resident of Durand
Close for 19 years, said: “It is really exciting to
see some work start. I think the redevelopment
will mean a better quality of life for people living
here, especially for those with children.”
Built in the 1960s and suffering from chronic
social and economic problems, Durand Close
comprised 295 homes of mainly three and
four bedroom apartments.
Over 80% of the residents who lived there
thought the estate should be demolished and
replaced with new homes, a new layout and
improved landscaping.
Working closely with residents a masterplan
was developed for Durand Close, which created
470 new homes that would be for affordable
rent, part buy/part rent and outright sale.
Additionally a series of off estate sites were
developed to help facilitate the decanting process
and also cross-subsidise the affordable homes.
Overall the project will provide 800 new homes.
Top left: Michael Jones
Left: Bethnal Green
centenary celebrations
Top right: Residents of
Durand Close inspect plans
Near right: Residents
look on at the demolition,
Durand Close
Far right: Judy McDaid in
front of her new front door
Two World Wars,
almost a dozen mergers
or partnerships and a
lifetime of policy, funding,
architectural and cultural
changes have shaped
Affinity Sutton from the
ideas written by William
Sutton’s dip pen to its
modern form.
This has been driven by four interconnecting
But, despite the varied wheels of social
evolution and reinvention over 111 years,
the challenge of meeting rising demand for
good quality, affordable housing for the least
prosperous has prevailed.
3 Difficulties in consistently defining what
constitutes a ‘fair’ or affordable rent
Subsidised housing
The widespread shortage of all types of
housing has significantly impacted on
housing affordability.
1 Building programmes have seldom kept pace
with the needs of a growing population that
has fragmented into ever-smaller households.
Mass migration to London has put the Capital
under such severe pressure that its first net
shortfall of homes has arrived
2 Funding such programmes has posed a
challenge to Governments and associations –
hardly surprising given how sub-market rents
are never going to achieve commercial-size
returns and that subsidised housing needs
public subsidy
4 In an environment of short supply, balancing
the housing priority of lower income working
families against those people in greatest
Left: The
Despite a welter of initiatives, house building
has remained far below post-war levels, at
a time when the population and number of
households have been growing.
Right: Permanent
dwelling completed,
by tenure, United
Kingdom. Adapted
from CLG Housing
Statitsics (2011).
New home completions,
United Kingdom 1946-2010
46 51 56 61 66 71 76 81 86 91 96 01 06
19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 20 20
Private enterprises
Local Authorties
Housing Associations
All dwellings
By 2010, the average house
price in England had exceeded
average incomes by ten times
and 13 times in London.
Inevitably, this has created ever-greater
demands for affordable housing and by
the beginning of 2011 nearly two million
households (comprising almost five million
people) were on council housing waiting lists.
Another major factor has been the price and
availability of land. Housing associations found
it hard to compete with private house builders,
especially when the market was at its most
buoyant. Also public investment terms generally
required much higher standards of space,
accessibility and improved sustainability.
Affordable rents
If rents are to be set at sub-market levels, as
required in William Sutton’s original will, some
form of subsidy is essential – but from where?
Sutton and other Victorian philanthropists made
major donations through their foundations to
provide the initial capital, but there is an ongoing
need to generate surpluses for reinvestment. This
has always been difficult to achieve, especially
in periods where social rents have fallen
significantly below market levels.
This raises the question of who sets rent levels
and by how much they should undercut market
rents? To one man at least, the answer was
simple. A century ago William Sutton’s will gave
trustees complete discretion, so long as some
rent was paid. The question remains a thorny
issue as the executive team at Affinity Sutton
look to balance the conflicting challenges of
social inclusion with commercial sensibility.
Since the credit crunch, bank loans and other
finance have become less readily available in
terms of debt pricing and duration. Meanwhile,
the coalition Government clearly stated in 2010
its intention to further reduce public investment
in housing and cut the budget by a whopping
60% – more than any other major public
expenditure priority. The Government expects
that by allowing social housing rents to rise,
Housing Associations will be able to borrow
even greater amounts to fund new homes.
At various times, concerns about rent affordability
have led to the imposition of rent controls,
such as between 1939 and 1954, after 1972
with the introduction of the ‘fair rents’ era and
latterly through the ‘rent re-structuring’ regime
under which rents are linked to local property
values and earnings. Throughout modern times,
rent levels have been politically sensitive with
divergent opinions about whether they should
encourage work or be kept as low as possible to
help the poorest people. There are few signs of
this political tension ending soon.
England private rent
Average rents to lower quartile incomes (England and London)
England Housing
Association rent
London Housing
Association rent
London private rent
Left: Average percentage
of wages required to pay
rent, for working households
in the lower quartile of
earnings. From Bridging
the Affordable Gap (2001).
Right: Styles Lane,
Wealden, completed 2011.
Below right: George
Calver’s submission to
our design competition,
‘Make Bethnal Green’.
Who should benefit from
affordable housing?
Both William Sutton in his will and the Attlee
Labour Government believed the beneficiaries
of affordable housing should encompass
broad sections of society, with a general
focus on the poorest working families. Indeed,
Sutton’s trustees encouraged the prioritisation
of lettings to those with the lowest income.
Debates rage on the relative
merits of prioritising those in or
out of work and whether higher
earners should pay more for
their social housing or even be
encouraged to move out of the
sector altogether.
But the decline of availability in recent decades
has lead to the rationing of access to social
homes. Inevitably, this has meant a much
greater focus for new tenants in greatest need,
who are often completely reliant on benefits to
fund their rent.
The legal requirement since 1980 that tenants
should benefit from ‘lifetime tenure’ has
ensured that any change to the structure of
new tenancies is controversial and to alter the
balance of a community takes a long time.
Looking Forward
Home ownership
The housing sector outlook
A vital question is whether the UK has seen
the end of the long running surge in individual
home ownership, which rose from less than
10% in 1914 to 71% in 2000. Initial signs
indicate that the high watermark came
a decade ago. Since then, we’ve seen the
first falls in home ownership since the 1950s.
It is always dangerous making predictions about
the likely future shape of the housing sector, but a
number of assumptions seem plausible. Although
initiatives will inevitably attempt to improve the
situation, it seems likely that the credit crunch
and restrictions on finance will ensure that social
housing supply will continue to struggle to keep
pace with demand.
At around 67%, home ownership
trends are in decline – hardly
surprising when prices are
so high and viable mortgages
so difficult to find.
The challenges will remain particularly acute in
London and the South East, where employment
prospects are best, but demand is greatest and
land and property prices least affordable. Sadly,
with this housing supply shortage and increasing
barriers to buying a home, housing affordability
is likely to be an ongoing concern for growing
numbers, including not only those in greatest
need, but also those earning relatively
healthy salaries.
Housing Associations will also face increasing
conflict between investment in housing and
broader non-housing investment in local
communities to help those communities to flourish.
This review was written
in the summer of 2011,
some 111 years after the
original publication of
William Sutton’s will, at
the time a new Affinity
Sutton Homes Board was
being constituted as a
single entity to replace its
Downland, Broomleigh
and William Sutton
Left: Affinity Sutton’s
scheme at Graylingwell,
Chichester, the country’s
largest zero carbon
Top right: From left,
Peter Berry, Alan Forbes
and Mike Herring, the last
Chairs of the Broomleigh,
Downland and William
Sutton boards.
Right: Older residents
take part in one
of our Community
Investment initiatives.
We have aimed to be progressive, selfconfident and businesslike from the start. This
remains so today and is our approach for the
future. We are extremely proud of our history.
Indeed, we use our heritage and fresh thinking
to help people put down roots. We believe this
is consistent with what William Sutton and all of
those that established Downland, Broomleigh
and the many other organisations that make
up the group would have expected of us. We
have always aimed to build homes that people
are proud to live in and sustain the communities
where these homes are built.
Our progressive approach has most recently
been demonstrated in many ways, including the
creation of a Community Foundation in 2010
that aims to secure our community investments
long term. Already, the £180,000 nationwide
grants programme has helped to fund youth
centres, new allotments, IT training and a BMX
play area.
As a business for social purpose, we manage
our money well so we can invest our surpluses
in what we believe in – our residents and
our communities.
Throughout our history we have been driven
by strong guiding principles. Like the founders
of Broomleigh and Downland, William Sutton
felt that to be successful, his trust should be run
as a business, employing appropriate staff.
This belief is as much in evidence by Affinity
Sutton today as it was 111 years ago. We have
also insisted on high standards of design and
architecture. Today’s developments have a very
different appearance to our earlier estates, but
fundamentally still reflect the highest standards
of design.
Ultimately, Affinity Sutton’s
principles haven’t strayed from
those of our founding fathers:
we want to maximise life chances
for our residents and create places
for communities to thrive.
Our properties
0 to 100
101 to 250
251 to 500
501 to 1000
1001 to 5000
5001 to 10,000
Above 10,000
London Boroughs
London Boroughs
Credits and references
Written & researched by: Heather Dunnett,
Lisa Louis, Julia Seggie, Xanthe Smith, Hester
Steedman-Thake, Tom Vaughan and Jo Warburton.
Edited by: Dominic Wood.
Page 13: Prefabs on Magpie Hall Lane
© Copyright Kentish Times.
Contributions from (interviewees):
Barbara Bailey, Jean Beckley, Joan Dorrington,
Keith Exford, Michael Jones, Margaret Kirk, Judy
McDaid, Lesley Muzzall, Mark Perry, Brenda
Sharp, Mary Smith, Len Tillott, Lorraine Tillott,
Betty Waterhouse and Peter Watt.
Page14: Broomwood Road
© Copyright R.A. Coleville
Photo credits:
Page 5: Arnold Circus
© Copyright Rodney Burton and licensed for reuse
under the Creative Commons Licence.
Cotmandene Crescent
© Copyright R.A. Coleville.
Hampstead Garden Suburb Unwin & Parker
map. 1911, from Unwin, R (1994) Town planning
in practice: an introduction to the art of designing
cities and suburbs, pp. 438-9. Reproduced with
permission of Princeton Architectural Press, LLC via
Copyright Clearance Center.
42 | Page 9: Plans of Turpington Lane houses,
taken from The Bromley Archives.
Page 15: Penge Air Raid shelters and
Queen Adelaide Court key opening ceremony
© Copyright Ian Muir.
Page 16: Cathy Come Home.
© Copyright BFI
Page 19: Little London Office, Chichester.
© Copyright Mary Smith, 2011.
Page 20: Be Your Own Landlord & Chichester.
Interior, from Practical Householder magazine,
November 1973. Reproduced with permission
from IPC Media.
London Boroughs
1 Beginnings
2 The Inter-War Years
3 Post-War
4 Cathy Come Home
5 Right to Buy
6 Large Scale Voluntary Transfer 26
7 Entering the New Millennium 30
8 Challenges for the Future
Page 22: Right to buy
© Copyright Press Association
Page 28: Changing housing market chart from
Pawson, H & Mullins, D (2010), After Council
Housing: Britain’s New Social Landlords. Palgrave
Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Page 37: Communities and Local Government
Housing Statistics. Table 241: Permanent dwellings
completed, by tenure, United Kingdom, historical
calendar year series. Available to download from
Page 38: Average wages required to pay rent
for working households in the lower quartile of
earnings (England and London). Taken from
Bridging the Affordability Gap (2011) available to
download from:
Other images from the Affinity Sutton archives.
London Boroughs
With thanks as well to:
John Bell, David Chaffey, Kathy Ellis, Mike Herring,
Mark Hewson, Arthur Holden, Nick Jones,
Hannah Liddle, Simon Schoon, Alan Wayland,
The Bromley Archives, London Metropolitan
Archives and The Kentish Times.
Barker, K (2004) Delivering stability: securing our
future housing needs. Available to download
Garside, P.L. (2000) The Conduct of Philanthropy,
The Athlone Press, London.
Other Source material:
Garside, P. L. & Morris, S (1994) Building a Legacy:
William Sutton and his Housing Trust. Published by
the Trustees of the William Sutton Trust.
Lewis, B(ed.) 1999 The People and homes of
Ridgehill, Pontefract Press.
Phillips, E. M. (1999) Growing Old Gratefully,
Published by William Sutton Trust and printed
at William Caple & Co. Ltd, Leicester.
Alan Wayland (unpublished) Downland
Background History 1964-1990.
| 43
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Tooley Street, London SE1 2DA
Telephone 0300 100 0303