Experiments In Living

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Social historian Juliet Gardiner questions the 1930s dream of a semi-detached home in the suburbs, where 'a man's home is his castle' to live in splendid isolation with his nuclear family.

This ideal was born out of the raw memory of the over-crowded slums which had only recently been cleared, making the idea of a home of one's own so precious. But Juliet argues this dream is doing us no favours at all when facing the challenges of how to live today. She asks if we really want or need as much privacy as we think we do.

Today we are in the throes of an acute housing crisis and people are being forced to experiment with new ways to live to put a roof over their head. Juliet draws parallels with the housing crisis after World War Two, when slum clearances and bombs led to a huge housing shortage. What ideas and lessons can she bring from the experiments of the past to the experiments of the present?

Juliet shares her knowledge of the post-1945 period when people began to live more communally. While they were glad to be out of the shelters, many wanted to retain the greater sense of community, camaraderie and communal living. Big country houses were sold off cheaply and bought by groups of families, sharing resources and child-care.

She meets participants in 'Home Share' an initiative which matches older people who live alone and want company, with younger people who are struggling to afford rents. She also hears about 'property guardian' schemes, whereby participants live in an empty property for a low rent, matching their need for affordable housing with the owner's need to protect the security of their property.

Do any of these experiments present an answer to the housing crisis?

A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.