Friday, 26 September 2014

Shelter (in London?)

Home: a basement flat in a converted victorian house, originally meant for storage and not for living in. But in 2014 this is a 'well-situated conversion', which is cheap for London but still out of our budget and it's a miracle they let us rent it.

But despite its price, the summer ants, the damp bits, the faulty fridge and single glazing, we really love it, because it's the first place that feels like home.

In our situation we are incredibly lucky to even have a home. I know there are so many unexpected parents forced into temporary shelters, with no hope of a council flat, no relatives to lend them deposits or donate furniture. But it is ridiculous to say that having your basic needs met is 'lucky'. All children deserve to grow up in a stable environment, to have friends at a local school and parents that are not wracked with stress and depression from living life constantly on the edge of destitution. Sadly this is far from the reality faced by hundreds of London families.

I'm not in this city 'because it's London', the adventure playground for rich people, with all it's restaurants and clubs and fabulous arty events. I'm here because here happens to be home, the city I work in and where my friends are. But it's quite clear that ordinary people are no longer welcome. I grew up in an amazing Central London social housing co-op, there's still a great sense of community there but no way of staying in the area if you don't end up earning £60,000+. There are no spare flats in that co-op, and no chance of getting one if there was. Believe me I have tried.

We've lived in 4 different places since Boo was born 20 months ago, and it's always bittersweet when I meet a mum in the area or make a new friend, because we'll probably have to move and the friendship won't last. I've lost count of how many library cards I've got in my purse, and the number of baby groups I've been to.

I've never migrated out of London though but since we're living in zone 4 now there's an obvious direction I'm going in. It's just too expensive to stay. 'Affordable housing' makes me feel like crap because I can't even afford it. I haemorrhage at least 10 quid just leaving my house everyday. Even the great free stuff in London (museums, etc) cost loads to travel to, it's a mission with a buggy, it's too crowded to see anything anyway and then the cafe rips you off.  You have to be stupid or stupidly rich to put up with it all.

But what else is there when it's all that you know? It's where your friends and family and job are. We love the area that we live in, the garden and the proximity to the park and shops. And gradually we are making friends and might even feel part of a community, just in time for the rent to go up and for us to have to move further away to somewhere we can only just afford, again.

We have low-to-ordinary salaries and I don't think we're asking for much. The hope that we can settle in one place for a while, to hang up our coats, stick magnets on the fridge and plant some flowers. It could be anywhere, all I know is our future home is a long way from where home is now.

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