A life more noble: compulsory reading for the housing & construction sector

May 9, 2023

Encouraging people to lead a noble life was one of the driving forces behind the work of social housing pioneer Octavia Hill. Reflections on her ambition and the extent to which we have achieved it (or not!) are relayed in a recent book by Octavia Housing Association. I would urge everyone to get it.

The book celebrates 150 years since Octavia bought homes with the intent of turning them into the first social housing in the country. An excerpt from Octavia’s writing recounts, “The houses were in a deplorable condition – the plaster dropping from the walls; on one staircase a pail was placed to catch the rain that fell through the roof”. You’d hope this isn’t the case for rented accommodation now (comments below for any contrary views)!

After setting the example in social housing, she went on to achieve even greater things. Most notably her work established the National Trust which has protected much of our natural environment for us all to enjoy.

Octavia’s aim was to satisfy peoples’ basic needs so they could enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer. Although the word “noble” may sound a bit archaic in the 21st century, the basic conclusion is the same. We all need decent and secure homes before we can go on to lead fulfilling and happy lives.

The book is an extremely enjoyable and readable. A diverse cross section of people give their perspective on what it means to be noble. Contributors include notables such as Ian Hislop and Sandi Toksvig; and politicians such as Alan Johnson and Baroness Greengross. They all give their thoughts about nobility and Octavia’s legacy. Uniquely, and especially interesting, the book also includes views from Octavia Housing Associations residents, volunteers, employees. All give wonderful and brief accounts of their lives and how social housing has made a difference for them.

I think this is essential reading for everyone in the sector. It may even be an eye-opener for those outside of the sector. The book is available from here The site gives background to the project and Octavia Hill as well as some excerpts from the book. All proceeds from its sale go to the Octavia Trust which helps transform the lives of disadvantaged people. The Trust does this through befriending services for older people, helping people to find work and providing activities for children who are living in poverty conditions.

Daniel Navarro