The Peabody Trust is a non-profit organization that builds and manages high quality social housing for people on low incomes. Their fund had its greatest impact on the London housing market during the first fifteen years after its founders death in 1869; unfortunately, no major projects were undertaken between 1885 and 1900, the worst years of the housing crisis, as the Peabody Trust had at that time to pay down the huge loans taken out during the first twenty years of its existence (Tarn 10).
Peabody Trusts approach is truly innovative. Taking a long-term view of regeneration, the organization works closely with its customer (the tenants of its homes) and suppliers to alleviate homeless and provide opportunities for quality accommodation and employment. Core to the organizations work is the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of urban development. An outstanding commitment to empowering staff, suppliers and customers has created a culture of creativity in which growth is almost inevitable.
In the last decade, the number of properties owned by Peabody has nearly doubled. A similarly innovative approach to raising funds ensures that finances pose no barrier to this substantial growth. In fact, the Trust is one leading raisers of private finance in the housing association field, raising ? 80 million through Business Expansion Schemes and ? 200 million through debenture stock issue. Peabody Trust has one major advantage over most organizations; most of its employees have bought into the Trusts ethos and work before they walk in through the door.
The management, however, is far from complacent. In addition to the culture of openness that permeates, employees are genuinely empowered. Peabodys innovative approach to fundraising means that they find it fairly straight forward; finances have not represented a barrier to development as an active developer at all. Key to the success of the scheme was the creative approach of the financial director, who shares Peabodys commitment to innovation. The financial regime is unusually free, enabling the organization to act innovatively.
On the other hand, in 1883 the Peabody Trust was severely criticized for housing only the aristocracy of the working classes, it is clear that wherever the Trustees built they provided rooms at rents lower than those generally prevailing in the immediate neighborhood. It is significant that in an area of Westminster where there were only ninety-six one-roomed tenements available, the Peabody Trust added sixty two, but just as important is the fact that in a congested part of central London they were able to offer three rooms for about the price of two in neighboring streets.
No wonder that the Peabody superintendent wrote that in his twenty-eight years of managing various model dwellings, he had never experienced so great a rush for places. If the buildings had been six times as large, he declared, I would have no difficulty in letting the rooms. (Medical officer of Healths Report 58). The Peabody Trust, of all the mode dwelling companies, appeared to have had the greatest and most continuous demand for its rooms.
The rent structure and activities of the Peabody Trust were bitterly attacked by several of the model dwelling companies. In part this stemmed from the definition by the other companies of Peabodys original intentions, in part from jealousy and rivalry. Many felt the Trustees should concentrate on building in the most run-down areas of London (FRSS 103). The other companies feared that the activities of the Trust would jeopardize the entire working-class housing movement by thwarting the principles of five percent philanthropy.
Meanwhile, one of the representatives of the Peabody Trust admitted before the same committee that the Trusts policy of letting at well under market rates might discourage commercial and semi-philanthropic builders, but he suggested, perhaps not too seriously, that the only solution then was for the Trust to buy up its competitors and reduce their rent levels, a solution which would certainly have made the Trust a public body.
There even existed a widespread feeling that at the rate the Trust was accumulating money and property it might one day become the sole builder of working-class housing in central London. Like the other companies, the Peabody Trust was very careful in its selection of tenants. The Trust often turned down applicants whom it considered able to afford other accommodation, and it was very strict in its determination to obey Peabodys injunctions concerning moral character.
One can only hazard a guess that the Peabody Trust and the model dwelling companies which cooperated with the Board under the Cross Act attracted to their model dwelling well paid labourers and artisans from nearby streets, and thus, through the leveling-up process, made it easier for those displaced under clearance schemes to find vacant lodgings in the immediate vicinity.
Hardship and dislocations inevitably occurred, but without the willingness of the Peabody Trust to assume the duties of a semi-public body and build on a scale matching the demolition work of the central London government, the first large attempts at slum clearance would either have been totally abortive or would have even more harmful effects. Of all the agencies erecting model dwellings, the Peabody Trust excited the most interest and stimulated most controversy. It did more than any other model dwelling society to draw attention to the peculiar difficulties involved in constructing dwellings in central London.
They are actively involved in a number of urban regeneration initiatives, their approach is a holistic one, embracing social, economic and community development issues as well as physical improvements. In 1999 Peabody joined forces with South work Housing and appointed ECD Architect s to prepare a master plan for the redevelopment of the Coopers Road Estate. Shortly afterwards they acquired an adjoining site, fronting the Old Kent Road, known as Success House and invited proposals from ECD for a mixed-use high-rise building.
Concurrent with these activities, Peabody have been carrying out a community mapping exercise, liaising with a developer to redevelop the site of neighbouring redundant pub and planning improvements to Ken House, an existing Peabody estate that abuts both sites. The redevelopment of these sites will act as an important catalyst for regeneration of the wider area. Planning approval for the Coopers Road site was obtained in November 2001 and a start on site is programmed for January 2003.