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“There is no shortage of housing problems – what is needed are solutions.”        Peter Elderfield, founder, Building and Social Housing Foundation

The first 40 years, 1976 – 2016  

The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) was established in 1976 to identify positive and inspirational examples of good housing practice and to share those examples with others. Whether developing new technologies, housing finance mechanisms, community development approaches or urban renovation programmes, the organisations BSHF has worked with over the last 40 years have achieved outstanding results in their efforts to address a range of housing issues.

In 1946 a small group of homeless ex-servicemen with an initial capital of just £39 and 10 shillings set up the East Midlands Housing Association (EMHA). Led by Mr Peter Elderfield, founder and Chief Executive of EMHA, it 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. In 1976 BSHF was established with a gift from EMHA of all its non-state aided assets. Mr Elderfield, became the BSHF Director and remained so until his death in January 2001.

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.

Over the last 40 years BSHF has built up an extensive body of research into sustainable and innovative housing solutions. In addition to our own in-house activities, we have commissioned research from external bodies and worked collaboratively with organisations that have similar aims and objectives. At the heart of all our activities is a long-standing commitment to bringing together people with a wide range of expertise to consider an issue of topical housing concern in order to advance thinking and understanding, and to develop a practical agenda for action. This work has often led to the development of publications.

Preferring a practical emphasis to its work, BSHF has always sought to identify housing solutions rather than housing problems. In 1985 BSHF 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.

Through our work we have developed a global network of innovative organisations who share our goal of better housing. International links have been established both within Europe and beyond, including with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). In 1988, BSHF was one of the founder members of the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing (Housing Europe) and has held Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2006 for our work supporting the goals of UN-Habitat.

BSHF has always sought to encourage self-help and self-reliance, encouraging people to recognise and use their own skills and abilities. Within our local area, BSHF supported the fledgling Care and Repair service, and helped promote its work as it pioneered new ways of helping older and disabled people to live independently in their own homes. There is now a national network of nearly 200 home improvement agencies and handyperson providers across England.

BSHF has never shied away from tackling the most difficult issues – always seeking to identify solutions to the most challenging problems and actively bringing people together to solve them. For example, at a time when forced evictions were increasing dramatically worldwide, with devastating effects on millions of children, women and men, BSHF led the way in bringing together people to find workable solutions. In 2010 BSHF worked across 8 countries to identify examples of good practice in response to forced evictions and organised an international exchange in Istanbul, for people with direct experience and expertise. The resulting report, “How People Face Evictions: Lessons from people-led initiatives” brought together the practical experiences and strategies of communities successfully resisting forced evictions and key lessons for everyone interested in social justice in housing.

Over the last 40 years there has been rapid social, economic and political changes around the world. The early twenty first century is a period of enormous social change. Our world is being reshaped by globalisation, rapidly developing technology, climate change, polarising wealth and a growing population exploiting limited resources. These changes are having a profound impact on where and how people live. All too often the worst effects are felt by the most vulnerable people and those on the lowest incomes.

At BSHF we have continued to adapt and respond to these changes; reflecting the pioneering spirt and practical nature of our founder, Peter Elderfield.  In 2015 BSHF published its 2015 – 2018 strategy, setting out how we will respond to the challenges and opportunities of the early twenty first century, building on the strong legacy of the last 40 years.

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