The almshouse movement: As vital as it’s ever been

With the average house price in Hammersmith at more than 25 times a nurse's salary, almshouses like ours are as vital now as when the movement began hundreds of years ago.

With the average house price in Hammersmith at more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, it is no surprise that many workers are reaching retirement without the safety net of their own property. That’s why almshouses like ours, providing older people an affordable home in the community where they belong, are as vital now as when the movement began hundreds of years ago. 

By Victoria Hill, Chief Executive – Hammersmith United Charities

The coronavirus has seen an outpouring of appreciation for key workers who leave the safety of their home to work keeping their community safe, fed and well. In the frightening early days of the first lockdown, we stood in the street and clapped for healthcare workers, carers, shop assistants, cleaners and more – all the people who put themselves at risk for the sake of others.

The contribution of key workers is rarely highly valued in monetary terms and these are often the very people who struggle to find an affordable home near their families and vital services as they grow older and become more in need of care themselves.

The average house price in Hammersmith is more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, and so it is no surprise that increasing numbers of workers are reaching retirement without their own property to fall back on. And with the average rental cost of a one-bedroom flat at two and a half times the state pension, it is easy to see how so many older people are also priced out of the private rental market.

With one in four older people in our area now living in poverty, the mission of almshouses like ours is as relevant as it was 400 years ago when Hammersmith United Charities was founded.

The almshouse movement has been around for hundreds of years but the Almshouse Association and the Charity Commission have only recently created a formal definition of what it means to be an almshouse. It describes exactly what we do here at Hammersmith United Charities.

Our charity was founded in 1618 with a gift of £100 to provide housing for the relief of the ‘elderly poor’ of Hammersmith. This gift has been added to and grown by generations of trustees and we now have an endowment and 92 flats on two sites just off the Goldhawk Road. These properties are highly protected and cannot be sold or used for any other purpose. Our residents must be over 60, have lived in Hammersmith for at least five years, be of limited means and in need of sheltered accommodation.

In human terms, our status as an almshouse means that the Charity can provide housing to the people who have often contributed most to our community but feel valued least. We believe that no one should be denied the opportunity to live in a decent home simply because they were never given the opportunity to climb the property ladder. The cost of our flats is regulated by statute to ensure that anyone can live here without causing hardship.

For us, almshouse living is about much more than just affordable housing. We know from research by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing that where we live and our relationships also have a significant impact on our wellbeing. For Hammersmith United Charities, what defines us is our ability to provide a home where people feel safe, in the place where they belong, surrounded by a community who values them for life, not just for lockdown.

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More information:

Over 60 and looking for a new home in Hammersmith? We provide beautiful, welcoming sheltered housing with award-winning communal gardens. Flats available now from £870 per month.

Opening our doors to older people in need of a home

We’re inviting older people on a low income and looking for an affordable new home to tour our Almshouses.

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“There is a real beauty in humans connecting through music”

Passionate about the “endless possibilities” of disabled and non-disabled artists dancing together, one of our grantees Turtle Key Arts is bringing our community back together again with its integrated dance events this summer.

With life slowly getting back to some sort of normality, many community organisations are relishing the thought of more in-person time with their beneficiaries at last. As Kelly Bray, Turtle Key Arts producer, puts it: “I am so thrilled to get back out there. Most of our projects this year are about getting people back together – they are so desperate to perform again.”

For Turtle Key Arts, creative producers based in Hammersmith and Fulham, that means helping disabled and non-disabled people find expression and connect through dance and music. Dancing can increase physical fitness but can also have other benefits for people with disabilities, like improving motor skills, building friendships and boosting self-esteem. But with 11 million people with a disability in the UK, many find themselves locked out of the world of performing arts. “People with disabilities are often put ‘in a box’ and given little chance of mixing with people creatively,” says Kelly.

Making dance accessible to all is at the heart of Turtle Key Arts’ work; it celebrates the power of ‘integrated dancing’ with both disabled and non-disabled artists. Kelly believes that this kind of dancing creates all kinds of creative and social opportunities. “Our approach is to bring down the barriers. We highlight abilities, rather than disabilities. There is a real beauty in humans connecting and exploring in different ways to music. They might be working with a wheelchair, or crutches – it makes you realise how much people can do. It feels like the possibilities are endless,” she says.

This year the team is bringing back two in-person summer projects, the Joy Festival and the Young Amici Summer School, which are funded by Hammersmith United Charities.

Joy Festival
The Joy Festival is a disability arts festival and is on track to run in real life this year. It’s a celebration of disabled and non-disabled artists through a programme of visual art, music, theatre and dance. The festival includes a week-long programme of integrated performances at Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre in September. There will also be 3 big family fun day in August, with dance, circus and art sessions, along with creative workshops in the community.

Joy was founded in 2018, says, Kelly, “because there is just not enough celebration of disabled artists in the borough, and not enough networks for them to connect with others. We really needed to create a community where we can share stuff.”

Young Amici summer school

Another project is the Young Amici Summer School by Amici Dance Theatre Company which Turtle Key Arts produce, is for disabled and non-disabled people between age 11-25. This free summer school in August is for any young people interested in dance and developing their skills in a fun and safe space. The programme aims to deepen young people’s experience of participation in dance and spark curiosity and creativity.

Throughout the week, young people can pick and choose which classes they join and then take part in improvised dancing with props. The idea, says Kelly, is for dancers to use their ability as their strength. Then the dancers share their piece at the end of the week. Pastoral care is part of the creative process, so there are chill out spaces and experts who can support where needed.

The positive impact on young disabled people in this creative environment is striking, says Kelly: “I remember a young person who had learning disabilities – they were so nervous and thought everyone was judging them. Now they are doing solos and making friends so easily. It’s lovely to watch – they just enter the room so confidently and start dancing. One of our dancers says that taking part is the most free she’s ever felt.”

More information

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7 ways to improve your visual storytelling 

Want to make a film about the amazing work your community organisation does? Keep some of these visual storytelling ideas in mind to make your message unforgettable. 

By Carolyn Defrin, artist and Hammersmith United Charities collaborator. 

 

  1. Be specific
    Charities often have a similar remit to each other, working within the broad themes of ‘care’, ‘community’ and ’support’. To stand out from other organisations, consider a particular aspect of your work to bring the broader theme to life in an original way. 

    ‘The power of bicycles’ is a specific, meaningful story which shows how the project impacts many lives more broadly: watch here
     

  2. Be personal

    A great way to get specific is by telling personal stories from your staff, the people you serve, or both. This can be through an interview or someone telling a story. These stories open your audience up to emotional connection, allowing you to humanise your work.

    ‘An introduction to StoryCorps’ is a conversation between the founder and his young nephew that shows how you can be personal, emotional and humorous while clearly telling the story of your organisation: watch here
     

  3. Experiment with content

    How we tell stories visually doesn’t always have to be literal, especially when subject matter might be difficult (in the context of charitable work). Seeing a bird’s eye view of cakes being made or a close-up of a child’s green-painted hand – these images and perspectives invite us in emotionally, personally and memorably and enable us to engage with complex content in a new way.

    West London Death Cafe’s short film focuses on making cakes. This choice offers an unexpected and welcoming view of a charity focused on bringing people together to discuss a delicate subject: watch here 
     

  4. Consider all the senses 

    When we talk about film, we usually think of just sight and sound. But what about texture – how can you suggest how something feels to the touch? How can you suggest taste and smell, too? 

    ‘At home with: Carolyn Defrin’ is a short film demonstrating how close-ups of food can create a multi-sensory experience. Through opportunities to look at the texture of cabbage, hear the boiling of water and see the bright purple, orange and green vegetables together, we can be immersed in a new view of the story of migration being told: watch here
     

  5. Play with different points of view 

    Different camera angles and points of view will help you convey different emotions. For example, what might bird’s eye view or worm’s eye view help communicate? How might you share a perspective from a chair, or a building, or a specific person? 

    ‘Suspending Home’ is a film made by artist Khaled Barakeh that reflects on a project he made called On the Ropes where he suspended his studio as a way to reflect the groundlessness he felt as a migrant artist. He films from many different points of view to help capture this feeling: watch here
     

  6. Still photos can be just as effective

    You don’t always need live action footage – still photographs can offer a powerful tool in your film. When combined dynamically with thoughtful voice over, text, and/or music they can have just as much impact. 

    ‘Universality’ is a simple and effective use of pictures and voiceover: watch here
     

  7. Consider who is telling the story

    Consider who is telling the story of what you do. Can you engage those you serve to tell their own stories or offer their own points of view? Is there value in staff sharing their personal perspective on the work? Always stay mindful to the ways you ask those you serve to share their stories. 

    ‘Real Heroes’ is a great example by Rainbow Collective of children sharing their view of heroes during the pandemic. Through their voices, drawings, and music, we get to know their perspectives through a fully
    dimensional and creative lens: 
    watch here 

 


Find out more

Artist Carolyn Defrin worked with Hammersmith United Charities on our film project community@hammersmith, which provided a free workshop for local community organisations to learn about visual storytelling and filmmaking. Read about community@hammersmith. 

 

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