Kelsey has been Communications and Tenant Engagement Officer for Caerphilly County Borough Council’s housing division since August 2013. Prior to this she spent three years as Community Investment and Involvement Officer at Tai Calon. Kelsey was also heavily involved in the transfer of housing stock from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to Tai Calon; as Communications Officer during the pre and post ballot processes. Her housing career began after graduating from university in 2003, when she became repairs clear in a busy local authority area housing office. Kelsey is passionate about addressing the stigma of social housing, tenant engagement and regeneration.
This is a photo of me at Christmas when I was 6 years old. Not long after this photo was taken my family became homeless….
After my parents’ divorce and the sale of our house, my mother, brother and I lived in a house in the private rented sector. My mother was in full time employment, earning a reasonable wage and always paid the rent on time. But one day our landlord knocked on the door to tell us his daughter had decided she wanted to live in the house, so our notice was served.
As a household with just one income and limited time to find another home, we had very few options available to us. Unable to find another home in time we were forced to put our furniture into storage and declare ourselves homeless.
This isn’t a sob story about how awful it was being homeless though, as for the 6 year old me living in a hostel with around 7 other families was a great adventure! I was never short of friends to play with and school night sleepovers were always allowed, as it usually meant just staying in the room next door!
Of course there are some memories that aren’t quite as pleasant. My brother, who was a teenager at the time, was so concerned about what his friends would think about us being homeless that he refused to move into the hostel with us. He went to live with a relative and, as a result, our family was separated.
After a short time in the hostel we were moved on to temporary accommodation, before finally being allocated a council house.
I spent the rest of my childhood and teenage years growing up in that council house. My fondest memories are of my time spent living there and the friends I had on that estate: birthday parties in our house where 30 of my ‘closest friends’ would squeeze into our 3 bed semi; long summer nights playing games in our street; ‘snow days’ when school closed and we would all hurtle down the hill on makeshift sleds; my mother making toast on our coal fire when we’d had a power cut.
My memories of happy times like these are endless and I can honestly say that the concept of us as ‘council tenants’ never entered my head. I know my story isn’t unique and I suppose that’s the point I’m trying to make. Homelessness can happen to anyone and at any time; when it does, social housing provides a much needed safety net for those in need.
I get angry by the continual demonisation of social tenants, perpetuated by media portrayals and stereotypes. Social housing tenants are people, just like you and me. In the 10 years I’ve been working in social housing I’ve met some amazing tenants who are doing truly brilliant things in local communities. I’ve also met lots of tenants who’ve been dealt a bad hand in life and need some support to help them get back onto the right track. We all have our stories to tell and until we have walked in another’s shoes who are we to judge?