The spectacularly successful Homes for Britain rally - held last month within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament - was attended by over 2,500 people from all corners of Britain. The last of the campaign’s six milestones before the UK general election, it attracted over 200 press stories, an extraordinary number. On the day itself 26,000 #homesforbritain tweets reached an estimated 5.3 million people. With the election campaign now well underway, many people are asking how do we ensure that we keep the need to solve the housing crisis within a generation high on the political agenda of the next government? How do we ensure that on the first anniversary of the rally we are not quietly shaking our heads and thinking of what might have been?
It was by some considerable distance the biggest housing rally for many years. In fact, almost no-one could actually remember a bigger event. You can read an excellent account of the whole day's events produced by the organisers. Over the course of three hours we witnessed speaker after speaker putting forward solutions to build the new homes we need. As the Guardian reported those solutions included UKIP leader Nigel Farage suggesting we needed curbs on immigration to the left-wing filmmaker Ken Loach advocating a mass government building programme. The chair of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps, turned up and gave his support, as did Caroline Lucas from the Greens, Labour’s Hilary Benn and Ed Davey for the Liberal Democrats
In many ways the Homes for Britain campaign is perhaps the most unlikely coalition ever put together. It is also one of the most ambitious. All credit to David Orr and the National Housing Federation (NHF) for having the vision and the sheer courage to believe it could work and to centre the campaign of what might well turn out to be one of the most effective one line campaign calls to action of all time: We are calling on all political parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation.
I was lucky to be able to attend the sold-out event put on by the very able James Green and his team at the NHF. The RTPI's Chief Executive, Trudi Elliott, had the foresight to see very early on the potential for such a housing campaign and the RTPI became one of the 8 founding members of a grouping of organisations that now runs into the many hundreds.
By being able to wonder about behind the scenes on the day (with my camera and little podcast machine) as Trudi (pictured right, being miked up) was chosen to run a session with the filmmaker Ken Loach, I had perhaps a unique and very personal opportunity to witness the truly enormous range of supporters the campaign has as well as being able to talk to them. The support from so many different quarters that I had read about on the campaign’s web site, across twitter, in press notices and a multitude of articles, became very real, was made flesh on the day: senior politicians from the parties as I have already noted, Maz Ahmed from The Youth Homeless Parliament, Rhian Kelly from the CBI, Frances O’Grady from the TUC, James Langstaff, the Bishop of Rochester, and veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, to name just several of them.
I sneaked into the ‘green room’ where all the speakers gathered before it was their turn to get up on stage. A live tv feed relayed the rally. There was a great buzz, a sense that everyone was about to participate in a significant event, an event that would be remembered, something of real importance. As someone who has worked around politicians and business leaders for 25 years this was clearly no ordinary rally on a particular cause at which you turn up, say the right things and then depart for your next engagement.
Therein lies the strength of the campaign, I think. This is an issue that matters and touches almost everyone. This is not a cause that will be swept away by the out come of the general election. For many causes the rally is often the end in itself. Not for Homes for Britain. We will finish what we have all begun, should maybe be the post election slogan we adopt.
And as David Orr said in his closing remarks at the very end of the rally: We will not accept any more excuses for not building more homes.
Read the RTPI's report on the rally
Hear the podcast of our session with filmmaker Ken Loach