Jongleurs & Troubadours #1 – Homelessness


Homelessness is no laughing matter… Pictured: Sad Jester (puppet), by Emellena (Source:

The Story: Homelessness

I believe in my outrage knowing that people are living in boxes on the street. – Bertrand Russell

Homelessness statistics are a confusing, murky thing, with puzzling inconsistencies in the way homelessness relief and homelessness prevention are recorded by English local authorities – although Wales is, apparently, having some success in finding a better, clearer way of recording this data, following new legislation included in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

Whatever data methodology is used, however, it is difficult to live in a major city in the UK and not see that homelessness is a very real, very present (as opposed to past, i.e. historical) problem. Much like people who are currently homeless, the issue of homelessness is often overlooked by individuals and society alike; it is an uncomfortable subject, raising questions of care, dignity, wealth inequality, a lack of (social) housing, and who is to ‘blame’.

The world of the performance arts has never shied away from difficult topics, though. In this debut edition of Jongleurs & Troubadours I’m spotlighting a couple of films – and one film-related interest – that look at the subject so many seek to march quickly by. (more…)


Our Castle’s Retrospective 2016

Caption. Allan, add more details.

With less banners hung than ever before, has Our Castle’s Strength been exhausted? (Pictured: the ruins of 15th Century Lordscairnie Castle in Moonzie, Fife.)

The Story

In my 2015 retrospective I said that I wasn’t going to promise to write more in 2016 than in 2015. It seems I have made good on that…err, non-promise, because I’ve barely written anything in 2016. I’ve only put digits to keyboard a total of six times in the past twelve months. That’s not exactly…productive. More on why later. What matters right now is that we have just enough posts to rank my top five most-viewed posts of 2016!  (more…)

Sally Forth

A shot from one of my improvised comedy shows, wherein I'm warming the audience up for what happens next. Apropos...

Big energy! BIGGER! A shot from one of my improvised comedy shows, wherein I’m warming the audience up for what happens next. Apropos…

The Story

Without wishing to aggravate true believers, I think we all knew that England was going to be leaving this year’s UEFA European Championships without any gold. (I’m not a football person, and even I would have made that prediction.) Many didn’t predict that England would be leaving the European Union, but Brexit happened (or, at least, was voted on – pending Article 50, the country finds itself in a bizarre political purgatory.) Yet there is still one more exit you should brace yourself for.

Are you braced?

Very well.

I’m leaving my full-time housing sector job to work as a professional actor.

My last day at the office is Friday 1st July 2016, which will either be today, yesterday, a while back, or ages ago depending on when you’re reading this. (If you’re reading this yesterday, well…wibbly wobbly, timey wimey?)

What?! Why?! Interrobang?! Read on. (more…)

#UKHousingFast 2016 – Beyond Fasting



For the last two years during Ramadan – a month spent by Muslims fasting during daylight hours from dawn to sunset – #UKHousingFast has encouraged those who live and work in #UKHousing to fast for a day and raise money for the Trussel Trust. This year, that day is Thursday 23rd June.

I have written before about why I think #UKHousingFast is a good idea; the points of remembrance made in my post Remember Why – those of Gratitude, Dedication, Servitude, and Kindness – still and will forever stand. Fellow Neil and housing blogger, Neil Goodrich, has also written up some Food for Thought about the impending day. Indeed,  you can find a host of guest blogs about #UKHousingFast on the official blog.

What all these writings have in common is that while #UKHousingFast – and, by extension, Ramadan – is ostensibly about fasting, there is far more involved beneath this surface understanding. (more…)

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle


With the Housing and Planning Bill now having received Royal Assent – thus, becoming law – social housing is under threat more than ever before. The right-to-buy – revitalised and now extended – continues to cripple social housing stock, and with no government strategy, investment, or will to replace social housing stock that has been lost, favouring instead Starter Homes and other ironically unaffordable ‘affordable’ housing in its blinkered pursuit of home ownership above all other tenures, the death of social housing is not an apocryphal wolf a boy might cry about but a very real beast at our door, jaws already chomping on uncaring commercial sacrifice and the bones of broken communities.

This is not asset maintenance; it is asset stripping. (more…)

Nuts & Bolts #11 – Brandon’s Bits

Insert Caption Here

Due to the way this photo is framed, it kind of looks like Boris Johnson (circa 2013) is playing table tennis with a basketball hoop…

Nuts & Bolts – a light(er) look at some bits of housing stuff from the past few days.

(Keep an eye out for (er) and ‘bits’. That’s foreshadowing.)

Ping-Pong Ding-Dong

The Housing and Planning Bill has entered the ‘ping-pong’ stage of debate. Regrettably, this doesn’t involve an epic table tennis tournament involving killer whales and spaceships – rather, it refers to the “to and fro of amendments to Bills between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The etymology of ‘ping-pong’ in the tennis-played-across-a-table sense is not especially interesting – supposedly, it is imitative of sound of the ball hitting a hard surface. What might our other sports be called if, like table tennis – and Pokemon – they were named after what they sound like? Fancy going out for a whizz? Playing a bit of pock? Oh, look, VVROOOOOOOOOM is on the telly.

Given reactions from much of the housing sector and many in the House of Lords, the Housing and Planning Bill could well be named the NO-WHAT-A-TERRIBLE-BADLY-THOUGHT-OUT-SET-OF-IDEOLOGICAL-NONSENSE-WHERE’S-THE-SUPPORTING-EVIDENCE-OH-THAT’S-RIGHT-THERE-ISN’T-ANY Bill. Not a great name admittedly, but Pikachu didn’t choose to sound like an adorable, helium-filled sneeze either.

Brandon’s Bits

One of the most controversial aspects of the Housing and Planning Bill (more…)

Vox Vulgaria

Heckling may well have been a mainstay of parliamentary debates, but that doesn't mean it should remain so.

Heckling may well be a traditional part of parliamentary debates, but that doesn’t mean it should remain so. To improve political engagement, we must hold the political process to a higher standard.

The Story

If, at school, a student was giving a talk to the rest of the class and, during that speech, one of the other children interrupted them by shouting our “Who are you?”, that child would be rightly admonished for their juvenile disrespect.

If, at a workplace meeting with key stakeholders where a very important topic was being discussed, I decided to yell out “Who are you?” while a visitor was explaining their position, I would not be cheered and clapped – I would be dragged before senior management for justly deserved castigation and probably formally disciplined.

You see, school children are taught to listen to their teacher and each other during debates and conversation, regardless of whether they personally agree or not – that is to say, they learn good manners. As adults and professionals, we understand that some situations require us to be professional and treat them with respect.

Such virtues are clearly absent from parliament (more…)

Our Castle’s Retrospective 2015

What banners have hung most proudly from the ramparts of Our Castle's Strength in 2015...and which post is languishing in the rarely-viewed dungeon?

As the year comes to a close, which banners have hung most proudly from the ramparts of Our Castle’s Strength in 2015…and which post is languishing in the barely-viewed dungeon?

The Story

Another year, another ‘look back at the year’ blog post!

Statistics suggest Our Castle’s Strength has improved its reach substantially in 2015, amassing 2759 views (as of 30/12/2015) compared to the 1128 views it picked up in 2014 – a 145% increase in viewership! This despite the number of blog posts…err, posted (!) this year dropping from 25 to 19 (not including this retrospective).

Quality over quantity, perhaps? Maybe we should take a look at the top five most-viewed posts of 2015 to see? Segue!

Top Five Most-Viewed Posts of 2015

In ascending order… (more…)

(No) Lifetime Guarantee – In Defence of Scrapping Lifetime Tenancies

There has been much furore from the #ukhousing community re: proposals to scrap council lifetime tenancies, but is the backlash justified?

There has been much furore from the #ukhousing community re: proposals to scrap council lifetime tenancies – is the backlash justified, or is the sector ‘crying wolf’ again?

The Story

You’ve probably heard the news by now: lifetime tenancies are to be scrapped.

An amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 means that after the bill comes into force new secure council tenancies will be of a period of 2-5 years, rather than traditional ‘lifetime’ tenancies.

I’ve been an outspoken supporter of social housing, railing against the idiocy of right-to-buy – both in its classic and recently extended forms – and extolling the virtues of a large-scale building programme of social housing, which, short of regulating rents in the private rented sector, is probably the best way of addressing a growing housing benefit bill…so, I’m opposed to the scrapping of lifetime tenancies, right?

Well, at the risk of alienating much of the #ukhousing community, my initial reaction, perhaps controversially…is that I don’t necessarily have a problem with it. (more…)