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10 minutes with David Ireland, Director of BSHF

Meet the faces behind housing providers across Europe

Coalville, 18 July 2016 | Social, Urban, Economy, Energy
David Ireland, Director of BSHF
David Ireland, Director of BSHF

Every month we introduce you to one of the people leading the work of our member organisations. In this edition, we fly to the UK to visit BSHF. The Building and Social Housing Foundation carries out a range of research and knowledge transfer activities, both in the UK and internationally, including the coordination of the prestigious World Habitat Awards. We virtually met the Director of BSHF, David Ireland who introduces the organisation, gives us information about the perception of housing in the country and shares some thoughts about the current challenges at national and regional level. Plus, as usual, he presents his own way to strike a good life-work balance.



  • I would describe BSHF in 10 words as a Catalyst for positive change for people with few housing choices. (I know that’s 11 words)
  • Our key objective is to identify the best housing practice from around the world and help transfer it to where it is needed most.
  • Apart from housing provision, our mission is... We don’t directly provide housing, but we do run the World Habitat Awards, an international housing competition, and two core programmes. The first is to help end street homelessness in European cities by supporting the European End Street Homelessness Campaign, and the second is to help promote the growth of community led housing in the UK.
  • We joined Housing Europe because whatever the British electorate may say, the UK is a European country. Europe is rich with extraordinary people and has some of the best housing practice in the world. Why would we not want to be part of that? 

In the UK

  • Housing is considered to be in the UK a determinant of social mobility. In the past the UK was known for its class system. Mercifully much of that has gone, but we have replaced it by a new hierarchy based on what home you can afford. Those that are able to buy a decent home have far better life chances than those who rent. An increasing minority can’t afford anywhere to live at all leading to an alarming rise in homelessness.
  • Our key partners in the country are this year the World Habitat Awards that we run has joint British winners. Giroscope in Hull, and Canopy in Leeds two wonderful organisations that help homeless people develop their own homes from empty properties. 
  • Our main housing policy priority at the moment is encouraging more creativity. The world is changing faster than the ways we provide housing.  
  • The major challenge for the country today is to understand and respond to the real reasons behind the leave vote in the referendum. I am convinced that for many people voting leave was not so much a rejection of EU membership but a rejection of the status quo. A lot of people in the UK have a sense of injustice that the proceeds of economic growth have not been shared properly. The referendum was an opportunity to air that grievance and millions of people took it.

In person

  • I start my working day after feeding the cat and the chickens and listening to the brilliant Today programme on BBC Radio 4 – if I get up first. If my wife gets up first I have to endure the interminably awful Chris Evans on Radio 2.
  • After leaving the office I try, but frequently fail, to get our children to do their homework. If it’s still light I enjoy taking in some of the beautiful English countryside around where I am privileged to live.   
  • Currently I am reading… the news. If the UK’s political crisis has had one positive effect on me, I’ve started reading newspapers again.
    While listening to... David Sylvian’s music I can listen to again and again and always find something new and surprising in it. 
  • I move around by car - I am ashamed to admit. Coalville, where BSHF is based, is poorly served by public transport. Environmentally worse still, I have a 55-year old banger in the garage that I am trying to make roadworthy.
  • I prefer having on my table a cup of tea –milk, no sugar. 


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