Washington celebrity architect George Clarke 'proud of council house he grew up in' as he slams social housing crisis

George Clarke has wanted to make a programme about the social housing crisis for 15 years, and he's finally made it happen.

Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 6:00 am
Photo from George Clarke’s Council House Scandal. Picture c/o PA Photo/Channel 4/Amazing Productions.

The architect tells Georgia Humphreys about the motivation behind the series, and what he hopes viewers will take from it:

George Clarke is incredibly proud of the council house he grew up in.

That much is clear in the first episode of his latest TV series, in which the architect, 45, shows us around his childhood home in Washington, where his mum still lives today.

Photo from George Clarke’s Council House Scandal.

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Discussing the reasons for making George Clarke's Council House Scandal (which will be airing on Channel 4), he stresses there should be no negative stigma attached to living on a council estate.

"It was a fabulous place to live - it still is," says the dynamic TV personality, known for shows such as Amazing Spaces and Restoration Man.

"It's a really, really good community, and that's the point - it wasn't just about housing, it was about great amenities, green spaces, safe spaces for kids to play. They built shops, pubs, schools, everything. It was fantastic."

He continues avidly: "I've never talked about it on screen before, I've never shown my mum's house off on screen before, but I'm happy to wax lyrical about it every single day.

Undated Handout Photo from George Clarke’s Council House Scandal.

"I just wish that governments and councils could build 21st century, low-carbon, very ecological and sustainable versions of what I grew up in in the 70s, 80s and early 90s."

It's a hundred years since the Housing Act (also known as the Addison Act, after its author, Dr Christopher Addison, the Minister of Health) which prompted widespread building of socially-funded new homes following the First World War.

To mark the anniversary of that movement, the new show follows Clarke - who started working as an apprentice for an architect when he left school at 16 - as he explores the latest in aspirational design and building methods, while helping create part of a mini-estate of 30 new homes in Manchester.

He also visits some of the world's most outstanding social housing schemes (Vienna's will blow you away).

Photo from George Clarke’s Council House Scandal.

But first and foremost, the programme was a chance for Clarke to raise awareness of the "terrible" situation we have in this country when it comes to affordable housing.

"The affordability crisis and the housing crisis has come about in the last 30/40 years because we sold off all the council houses under Right to Buy - millions of them!" he suggests plainly.

"Right to Buy as a simple concept is no bad thing - I wouldn't stop anybody from having some form of home ownership.

"But for every council house that we sold off, we should have built another one, we should have replaced it... And that's why it's a scandal."

The chatty father-of-three follows: "We are in one of the most developed countries in the world - why do we have one of the worst housing crises on the planet? Because we aren't providing housing to those most in need.

"We all need to look at ourselves, because we vote in these politicians, we vote in these governments."

Another point Clarke - who's an ambassador for charity Shelter - makes is that there are millions of people struggling when it comes to the roof over their heads.

He points to the people who have just come out of university, those who can't get on the property ladder, those living in unstable private rented accommodation, sometimes paying "80% of their salary in rent" - but they don't have enough for a deposit to become a first time buyer. Also, homelessness is worse than it's ever been.

"The system is absolutely screwed," Clarke summarises.

"There's so many people across society being affected," he elaborates, "and that's why I'm really hoping that the public see why I've made this series.

"It's been a selfless act; I've not done this for me, I've not done it for television, I've not done it for Channel 4.

"I've wanted to make this for years and years and, if I'm honest, the only reason why I've managed to get it away is because television loves an anniversary. It's the 100th anniversary of the Addison Act, therefore, 'Let's do it'."

However, as much as the housing crisis is something he's been very aware of for such a long time, he was still surprised by some of the things he learnt whilst filming.

"I've seen some awful places being built, it's like going back to the slum days of the 1950s - it's really bad," he declares.

"I've seen some shocking scenarios of where people are living. I've seen some really heartbreaking stories of people living in substandard accommodation that they pay quite a lot of rent for - and really struggling to pay their rent every single month."

Sounding more and more exasperated, he recalls interviewing a guy called Mark, who features in the first episode; his life and his family's lives have been ruined by their living situation, as they were forced to move from temporary hostel to temporary hostel.

"I have seen, and I continue to see, so many lives being wrecked by not having a decent roof over their head. Hard working families who really want to do good... And that makes me really upset.

"It makes me feel a bit ashamed that we've allowed the country to get into this position," he adds, his voice quietening.

"What frightens me most is... I hope that we're not in a society where we don't care."

How emotional did he find the process of making a show about an issue he's so passionate about?

"This is something that I've carried with me for a long time - if anything, it's been good to get it out actually!" admits Clarke, who is the creative director of London-based design and build company, George Clarke + Partners.

"Irrespective of your position in housing, irrespective of your social class, irrespective of how much money you've got, I'm hoping that people just look at it and go, 'Come on, we need to change this. As a society, collectively, we need to do better than this'.

"And then if they support the campaign, we can lobby central government and Parliament and the housing minister, and we can bring in changes that the country really genuinely needs."

George Clarke's Council House Scandal starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday, July 31