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This photo shows Rose Bush, Lindsay Burnet and Mora Burnet at Rose Bush Court, Hampstead: three stalwarts of the Humanist Housing Association in one of the homes they helped to build. The Humanist Housing Association (founded as the Ethical Union Housing Association in 1955) was one of the core expressions of humanist values in the community from the mid-1950s onwards. It epitomised the ideal of helping others and working for human flourishing, while supporting independence and personal dignity. By its 25th anniversary in 1980, the Association had 19 homes across London, Essex, Kent, and Hertfordshire – each containing a number of individual flats. Although part of the impetus behind its formation was the dominance of religiously-owned Housing Associations, the HHA did not discriminate on grounds of religion and belief, welcoming religious and humanist tenants alike.

Many of the Association’s homes were named for long standing committee members and major benefactors. Their existence today (under different management) serves as an ongoing reminder of the efforts of humanists in the provision of equitable housing: a very visible humanist heritage! As well as Burnet House and Rose Bush Court, these include Ashton Court, Camden (named for Ashton Burall); Blackham House, Wimbledon (named for H.J. Blackham); Dawn House, Chelmsford (named for Alex Dawn); Erica House, Wimbledon (named for Erica Haslam); Fairhall Court, Surbiton (named for Edwin Fairhall); and Robert Morton House, St. John’s Wood (named for Robert Morton).

One example of a number of major social initiatives undertaken by members of the Ethical Union (now Humanists UK) during the second half of the 20th century, the Housing Association was not the only member-led effort for safe, supportive living. In 1966, Edinburgh Humanist Group opened Crescent House, Edinburgh, a ‘family-type home for unsettled boys between the ages of eight and eighteen’. There, ‘house-parents’ worked closely with social workers to provide a nurturing environment for the young people who lived in the home. Describing the project, Nigel Bruce wrote:

Our Youth Home is based on the belief that personal contact and friendly environment can change the direction of a young person’s life and that we can influence one another by understanding, by example, and by joint effort.

The Humanist, May 1966

Testifying to the success of the first, a second Edinburgh home, Kincraig, was later opened. As with the Humanist Housing Association, humanists from throughout the UK and around the world gave generously in support of Edinburgh Youth Homes.

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Humanist Housing: A History of the Association | Produced by Origin Housing

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