Hugo's story. ' I’ve always worked - no rent arrears, no defaults.'

“I first came to London to get out of conservative Ireland in 1987 when I was 20. I used to be an engineer on construction sites for the banks and news centres on the docklands. You could walk out of one job and walk into another back then, but it gradually became much harder.

I lived in squats for a long time, sometimes in London and sometimes in Europe. A lot of people like myself were quite lucky to have the ability to live in shared spaces and do things that now all seemed to be licensed. It’s like they’re tightening the screws everywhere. There was a lot more freedom and trust back then.

I do have regrets about not going back to Ireland. You really appreciate the environment, the beaches and nature when you’re not there. I’ve still got two sisters there who have families, and my mum and dad are there. I’ve got some family here but not really a support network. It’s not so conservative now and I know some people talk about economic recovery, but I think that’s just a myth.

Living in London I miss the space though. The building controls in some boroughs make it seem like the space is shrinking around you, and a lot of these housing redevelopments have affected people I know. One of my mates has some mental health problems and he isn’t dealing with it so well. There was a cohesiveness before where he lived, and now he’s been moved to a different area and he can’t deal with the fragmentation.

The old areas have become gentrified and soulless too and even though there’s plenty of real estate developments going on, no one can afford them, so let’s say there’s another financial crash, we’re going to be left with a lot of unfinished expensive ghettos. Are the investors going to pay the money for security to keep out a load of homeless people?

I’m fortunate that I found a good housing association because there was not much housing being built back then, not in London anyway. I’ve been sporadically employed enough to keep a roof over my head ever since but my housing situation is still precarious. I’ve worked in theatre lighting and as a sign writer and painter. I’ve always worked - no rent arrears, no defaults. But if I was in private housing I’d be on the street. If you’ve got a home in London now – hold on to it.” 

Hugo, Haringey, London

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