05 Feb 2021

Flapjacks and feudalism

As a housing person, I am sure I am not alone in taking my professional experience into other areas of life. I’m interested in the housing choices people have and the decisions they take – whether they are real or fictional.

One way this has played out for me is through my parallel love of The Archers, the Radio 4 continuing drama, which recently celebrated 70 years on air. (I am a relative newcomer to The Archers, having only listened for 18 years).

Because I’m interested in housing I notice the housing issues which come up in the storylines. Now I have had the chance to contribute a chapter to the latest Academic Archers book, Flapjacks and Feudalism, considering what the experience of characters in the programme can tell us about housing policy and rural affordable housing issues. 

My analysis looks especially at intergenerational housing pathways, comparing the tenure patterns of different generations, from baby boomers to generation Z, with a particular focus on the experiences of the Millennial generation. 

As in the outside world, the children of owner occupiers were more likely to become owner occupiers themselves. Indeed the “Bank of Mum and Dad” was more evident the small rural community of Ambridge compared to national trends. Limited housing supply, low incomes for all but a few and dependence on the goodwill of friends and family were key drivers of housing decisions in the programme. The role of farm accommodation was also significant, perhaps unsurprising given the setting.

Emma Grundy, the character whose struggle for affordable housing has been most clearly played out in the drama, made for an interesting case study which illustrates some of the key housing policy issues over the last 40 years. 

For example she grew up in a council home, which her parents bought through the Right to Buy scheme whilst she was young. Later she lived in the same home as a private tenant, after the house was bought as an investment property – a common narrative for many former council homes.

In recent years, she has lobbied for affordable housing, and joined the parish council to support a local housing development which included some affordable homes. At one point the developer tried to reduce the affordable housing requirement but was refused. However, a change of circumstances led to Emma and her family losing their coveted affordable home just as it was being completed. Her desperation to own a home, in the face of inaccessible prices and low wages, is a familiar one for the millennial generation, especially those wanting to stay in rural locations. Since leaving home in 2004, she has been an example of the 'boomerang' generation, returning to her parents’ home four times since. Indeed, she has lived with either her parents or her in-laws for over ten years out of the last sixteen, preferring to rely on family rather than apply for any public support – possibly a feature of rural exclusion from services. It could be said that the most unrealistic aspect of her housing story has been that she never moved out of the village to somewhere more affordable – a decision many people are ultimately forced to make.

Written by Claire Astbury

Claire Astbury is a CIH member and works for Luton council. The chapter in Flapjacks and Feudalism: Social Mobility and Class in The Archers is an update of a presentation to the 2018 Academic Archers conference, which is viewable at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9-eiA-KL1A&list=PLSCQCP7Aa-Q-TsLB5J1my0d1hg6yve5lW&index=2

The book is launching at the 2021 Academic Archers conference (tickets at https://www.tickettailor.com/events/academicarchers/456161/) and is available from Emerald Publishing https://books.emeraldinsight.com/page/detail/Flapjacks-and-Feudalism/?k=9781800713895