“Decent housing is a right”

I am thinking back to 1979. My husband and I desperately wanted to stay in Rutherglen to be near our families.

Just like now affordable decent housing was just not available, we were starting married life and had no housing priority. We decided to buy a room and kitchen, a living room and bedroom. We could not afford much and only just managed to put a deposit down on a tenemental flat and pay the remainder by installments. We would not have gotten a mortgage; our income was low. We bought the flat from a factor and were glad to have it. It cost £1,300, but the price reflected the property condition.

Our wee hoose had an outside loo, no hot water, no double glazing and just an electric fire in the small living room for heating. It was beside a railway line and if you were having a cup of tea when the London Express passed you didn’t have to stir. The building movement did it for you.

A year passed, we didn’t pay factor fees because no factor was interested in doing communal work. The building was getting more and more dilapidated. Our wee baby came along and it was like an obstacle course in the flat: baby paraphernalia and baby necessities in every available space.

I had left school with no qualifications, but had gone to college and gained sufficient Highers to go to University. My study routine was my husband came in from work and I had a sleep, as he was going to bed I got up and could use the living room to do essays etc. God knows how many Mars Bars I got through whilst looking out the window at 4am wondering what the world was doing. I got my degree a few years later.

Katy (our daughter) was about two when I met a woman who was to help change mine, and hundreds of others, living conditions. In those days smokers went upstairs on the bus, rightly so! I started to chat to a woman called Ann Rosengard. Ann was lecturing at university and we began to talk about the substandard housing in our community. Ann told me about the community-based housing association movement. I was enthralled and excited: could we start an association? If we could, not only would we see all the below-standard properties benefitting from a total rehabilitation but best of all the members of the local community would be making the decisions.

That’s what happened. Ann and I brought people together to form a steering group and from this a proud Rutherglen Housing Association was registered in 1983. Since then Rutherglen has benefited from millions of pounds, channelled through the association, invested in homes and environment. The association has built new homes, extended the association’s area to include Cambuslang, and built an iconic building on the Main Street called “Aspire”. This was built to provide a base for employers to provide employment opportunities. That’s just some of the work!

I must love being part of it. I was chairperson for 30 years and am still on the committee.

It troubles me that there are people living in the conditions I was, in fact in much, much worse. When are politicians going to agree that good, decent, housing is a right not pot luck?

Ann and I are still friends. It was a good day when luck brought us together even although it was a bad day when we smoked those dreadful cigarettes.