APRIL 16, 1948
LONDON, Thursday—The other morning, I went with Lady Reading to visit various housing projects. The London County Council has done a remarkable building job, both in restoring houses which were bombed and in erecting new housing. This has required ingenuity in finding new materials and using them in many ways, but the greatest difficulty has been the shortage of labor.
I saw several apartment-house projects and then a number consisting of small houses. Even before the war, there was an effort to move people out of the congested areas into the outskirts of London, and to build complete living areas, with shopping districts, churches, schools, recreation fields, moving picture theaters, and so on. This would be a vast improvement over the way of life which many people have to endure in the heart of London.
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Housing needs are different here from those in the United States. For instance, we would consider it impossible to keep house without a small refrigerator. Here, they are planning to put refrigerators into the newer types of houses and apartments, but they say that refrigerators have not been a real necessity as yet because no one could buy enough food to keep any on hand. Not even milk could go bad, because there is just enough for the children to drink immediately.
I saw some very substantial plywood houses, which come in sections and take only about two weeks to put together, with plumbing and painting included. The heating would not seem adequate to us, but they have managed to put a little coal fireplace in every living room. Without such a fireplace, the center of the home would vanish, for it serves more than the purpose of just heating that room. Sometimes the tenants heat water there as well.
Instead of using just coal, they can use wood or even refuse of some kind. Their coal storage seemed to me a little awkward, but since they buy coal in 100-pound bags and, I suppose, get very few at a time, they do not complain at having to carry the bags up several flights of stairs to their own coal bin, which is in a closet off the hallway.
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One feature of these projects which, I think, is given more careful attention than we give it is the training of the management. The London County Council has a course for the people it hires for this purpose. Anyone with a college degree can get through in two years, but if you are only a high-school graduate, you must take a four-year course. While you are studying, you are paid five pounds a week besides your tuition fee. Both men and women take these courses.
As a rule, in every housing group, there is a man manager who collects the rents and has charge of the porters. One group that I saw had 900 dwelling units, served by four or five porters. All minor repairs, the cleaning of halls and stairs, and certain work in landscaping are done by this staff.
There is also a welfare officer who calls on new tenants, explaining how things in the house work and trying to make the newcomers feel generally at home by telling them about the shops, the recreation facilities, and so on. These managers, of course, both men and women, must be pretty good psychologists and must like people—especially children.
At present, land which may someday be used for purely decorative purposes, such as lawns, is divided among the tenants, who use it for vegetable gardens. These help out their ration points. Certainly, the children look healthy and well-fed.
On this tour of housing projects, I again felt the British people's friendliness for the United States. In each place, as soon as word got around that I was visiting Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So's apartment, people would begin to gather outside and they greeted me shyly but warmly.