Make do and mend: Tenements

Living in a tenement? Jacqueline Omoniyi of Under One Roof explains the part you can play in furthering housing sustainability.

The concept of make do and mend was coined during WWII by the British Ministry of Information, designed to help housewives repair, reuse, and reimagine clothes during rationing.  It’s an outdated concept in the modern day, but it’s a useful reminder today of what individuals can do as part of a wider effort by the housing sector to ensure the Scottish Government’s focus is firmly on sustainability in the housing sector during this cost-of-living crisis and beyond.

The groups involved in Scottish Housing Day have put forward a report on what the focus should be for Government, which will be released on September 14, but what can owners of tenement flats do themselves to play their part in furthering housing sustainability?


Managing and maintaining a tenement building can be a daunting task and often it falls to the bottom of a to-do list.  However, taking stock of your building and starting to work on management and maintenance issues that may have fallen by the wayside could save you considerable time and money in the future.  

Getting ahead of repairs and prioritising importance will prove invaluable in tenement buildings. Under One Roof has resources on our website to help people living in tenement buildings get to know their building, what to look out for, and where to find help.  

As Scottish Housing Day offers opportunities to seek more economical and sustainable approaches to maintaining buildings, we have a handy guide on DIY building surveys to help get you started.

We all know it can be difficult to get owners together to discuss their buildings and make decisions.  Getting to know your neighbours or even setting up an owner’s association will be a great benefit when it comes time to organise shared repairs and making voting arrangements.


Decarbonising heating is a huge challenge we will all face soon; rightfully the fabric-first approach turns our attention to how we can improve the energy efficiency of our homes. 

Tenement buildings, for instance, can be challenging to insulate and draught proof without specialist help and advice, however there are steps that anyone can take at the outset. 

Start by carrying out a visual check of windows, floorboards, doors, and skirting boards, and look for gaps, cracks, mould or dampness – all signs of draughts that may be fixable without the need for replacement.  

DIY tools readily available on the High Street can help with repairs, and Under One Roof provides a number of resources and ideas on its webpage, but do seek professional assistance for undertaking any significant work in your home.


We are all spending much more time at home these days and social sustainability and the benefits of a healthy household and living environment are so important to our health and wellbeing.  Working together with neighbours and co-owners can be a vital part of this when looking to, for example, improve the condition of communal hallways and entrance doorways. Critical in this effort to address issues such as stair cleaning, replacing faulty stair lighting, identifying and removing hazards, and keeping a proactive approach to regular maintenance checks is forming an owners’ association.

In addition, creating space is a key aspect of social sustainability and one area in tenement buildings that can be realised is the communal garden.  Did you and your neighbours pay attention to your garden space over lockdown?  Is it somewhere that you could get together to clear out, carry out small repairs and make into a useable space, not just for clothes drying but also for a social space to get together with neighbours, friends, and family or to simply have a break from working at home?  

Feeling connected to community and having a thoughtful approach to how communal areas can help everyone’s health, wellbeing and sense of home, is worth serious consideration.

Sustainability in Scotland’s housing stock, and the connected social aspects of this, is something owners, landlords, housing professionals should continue to encourage the Scottish Government to focus on, and through the work of these groups as part of Scottish Housing Day, and individuals, it is an achievable goal.