BSHF was established in 1976 with a gift of non state–aided funds from the East Midlands Housing Association (EMHA). This housing association had been formed in 1946 by a group of homeless and penniless ex-servicemen led by Mr Peter Elderfield. In the following 30 years it had developed into a highly successful integrated building and housing organisation, providing both subsidised social housing as well as building affordable housing for sale. A change in the housing legislation in 1974 meant that EMHA could no longer continue to operate in its former integrated and holistic manner. There was therefore a formal separation of activities of the profit-making and non-profit-making sectors of EMHA, with all its non-state aided assets being transferred to the newly established Building and Social Housing Foundation.
BSHF was granted charitable status and it has continued EMHA’s pioneering spirit and innovative work in delivering affordable housing solutions. Mr Elderfield, founder and Chief Executive of EMHA became the BSHF Director and remained so until his death in January 2001. Later that year Mrs Diane Diacon was appointed to the position of BSHF Director.
One of the first major studies BSHF commissioned was the design for a self-supporting cooperative village. This work, carried out in the late 1970s, pioneered the sustainable lifestyle patterns that are now accepted as mainstream practice, with the use of renewable energy, home-based working and recycling of waste products. BSHF continues to carry out and publish a range of research into sustainable and innovative housing solutions. In addition to its own in-house research activity, it commissions research from external bodies and also carries out collaborative research with organisations that have similar aims and objectives.
BSHF has always sought to encourage self-help and self-reliance, encouraging people to recognise and use their own skills and abilities. It supported the fledgling Care and Repair service that is now a nationwide organisation, helping older and disabled people to live independently in their own homes. Participatory action research programmes were also conducted into the process by which people can be involved in the design and building of their own homes.
Preferring a practical emphasis to its research, BSHF has always sought to identify housing solutions rather than housing problems. In 1985 it pioneered the search for innovative and successful housing practice around the world by establishing the World Habitat Awards, an international competition to identify housing solutions that are making a very real difference to the lives of poor people. These Awards have helped to identify and make better known many successful housing solutions around the world.
In 1994, BSHF initiated its series of annual UK housing policy consultations at St George’s House in Windsor Castle. These bring together people with a wide range of expertise and experience to consider an issue of topical housing concern in a progressive way to advance thinking and understanding and to develop a practical agenda for action.
The Building and Social Housing Foundation has never had limited horizons and seeks to work internationally as well as in the UK. International links have been established both within Europe and beyond, including with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). In 1988, it was one of the founder members of the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing (CECODHAS) and continues as an active member, supporting the sharing of good practice between social housing providers in Europe. BSHF has welcomed many overseas visitors to the organisation and continues to offer annual internships to persons from overseas.