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Today is our birthday – but it’s nothing to celebrate.

Debbie King
Written by Debbie King

You may have seen or heard in recent months that this year is Shelter Scotland’s 50th anniversary. Well today – October 3rd – is our birthday. Half a century ago today, we were founded into existence in Scotland. It’s a significant milestone and it’s prompted us to reflect a bit on the past 50 years of our work.

The signs of Scotland’s housing crisis were much more visible 50 years ago. There was slum housing in many of our cities. One bathroom and shared cooking facilities, in run down tenement blocks with rat-infested properties, were not unusual. These conditions resulted in significant health problems for tens of thousands of families. In Glasgow alone 11,000 homes were declared unfit for human habitation in the 1961 census. Nick Hedges’ photos vividly show the level of housing need 50 years ago. You can see more of his photos online.

Mother and her baby on the staircase of her condemned Gorbals tenement, 1970
Photographers notes:
At the end of one such block which seemed completely empty I found evidence of life. A baby in a pram, I looked up and saw his mother at a window two floors; I waved and we shouted greetings. Mrs Harley, her husband and baby son were the sole occupants of a block of tenements that at one time must have housed 150 families.
Nick Hedges

 

Mother takes her baby into a condemned Gorbals tenement
Photographer’s Notes:
Mr and Mrs G lived with their 4 children in a ground floor tenement flat. Their bedroom floor was covered in pools of rainwater. At night they sleep with the light on, to keep the rats away. One night they counted 16 rats in the room.
Nick Hedges

 

Children playing in the street, Leith, Edinburgh 1972. Nick Hedges

Shelter Scotland’s first annual report reflects on their successful fundraising activity during the first year.  Without the generosity of people who cared about homelessness and bad housing we wouldn’t have been able to establish a campaigning organisation, which has now developed into the housing and homeless charity in Scotland.

The BBC television play ‘Cathy Come Home’ by Ken Loach was screened again in 1968 and galvanised many people to raise money for Shelter Scotland. 

A fundraising ‘Youth Campaign’ was launched to raise money in 1968 and managed to secure a third of the organisations income in the first year from young people. And this desire to make a difference continues to this day.

Shelter sponsored walk in Dumfries in 1967.

Many people were involved in sponsored walks. Almost 50 years since they led their school in a sponsored walk to raise funds for our fledging homelessness charity, a group of former pupils from Dollar Academy headed back to their old school for another fundraising mission. The group, now in their 60s, returned to raise more funds for Shelter Scotland on its 50th anniversary. The members of the original organising committee and their family and friends led around 1,000 pupils on a 12-mile fundraising walk through the Ochil Hills.

Pupils past and present of Dollar Academy walk to raise money for Shelter Scotland.

Former pupils of Dollar Academy who walked to raise money for Shelter in 1969, now doing the same for our 50th anniversary.

Once the fundraising targets had been met, we were able to create and launch our first policy campaign called ‘Face the Facts’. This campaign fought for the changes needed to eradicate slum housing in Scotland and it put Shelter Scotland firmly on the map, establishing us as a campaigning organisation.

Face the Facts, Shelter report from 1969

In Shelter Scotland’s first year we also supported the newly formed housing associations to rehouse homeless families. From the start we were established as an organisation which campaigned about housing issues and provided services, which supported people to find and keep a home. The evidence gathered from the people who came to us for support has always informed our campaigning activity.

We have moved on since 1968 – there has been significant progress with new housing and homeless legislation, more affordable homes being built, and standards have improved. As we look at the current housing landscape it is less obvious where the housing problems are, as slum housing has long gone, and the issues we are facing today are less visible.

Our 2017/18 Impact Report.

We know from the people who come to us for help that far too many people are STILL struggling to find and keep a decent home. Last year more people than ever before came to us for help and the majority were needing support to keep their home, they were struggling to afford their housing costs or were facing eviction.

The housing emergency must urgently be tackled – we live in a society where every day 38 children lose their home and every 18 minutes a household become homeless. Behind these statistics are people, families and individuals. As a nation we have failed if we think this is acceptable.

There can be no denying the scale and reality of Scotland’s housing crisis and the very human cost that it carries. Too many people’s lives are being devastated by an acute shortage of affordable social homes, harsh welfare reforms, stagnant wages and the prohibitive cost of keeping a roof over their head.

So, 50 years later, despite the progress we’ve made, we will continue to fight for people to have access to a decent and affordable home where they can thrive, in communities where they are safe and have access to the services they need.

We still need YOUR help. The experience from the last 50 years has shown that TOGETHER we can make a difference. If you would like to support us, please sign up here to find out how:  shelterscotland.org/50

Or text SHELTER to 70007 to donate £3

About the author

Debbie King

Debbie King

Debbie is the 50th Projects Coordinator for Shelter Scotland.