Council houses can look dull on the outside but on the inside they give an opportunity for the residents’ personalities to shine through. A Channel 4 documentary, Britain’s Weirdest Council Houses, explores the beautiful and eccentric designs hidden behind the monotonous concrete.
Britain’s public housing programme expanded in the post-war years to make accommodation accessible for people from all walks of life. The then Labour minister for health and housing, Aneurin Bevan, famously said that in the new estates “the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other.”
Over time this vision has made way for a more needs-based allocation of flats, although residency is not means-tested. Flats in housing estates are designed to be utilitarian and serve basic needs. They look along the lines of this:
But on the inside, as the Channel 4 documentary explores, they reflect a range of other creative visions.
Robert Burns is a former interior decorator who lives in a three-bedroom council house in Brighton. He has recreated the walls and ceiling to resemble the Sistine Chapel. But, instead of painting old saints and other religious iconography, he includes pictures of celebrities such as Wayne Rooney, Nigella Lawson and Simon Cowell.
Likewise an 82-year-old retired fashion editor, Molly Parkin, decorates her Chelsea council flat with many of her colourful works of art, including pictures representing her love life over the years. She told The Scotsman last year that after a cataract procedure she started seeing “everything in technicolour” and it seems that she’s making the most of her renewed palette.
Another council flat, this one in south Wales, was decorated by Barry Kirk to reflect his enthusiasm for beans. Kirk, also known as “Captain Beany“, is a Great British Eccentric Award Winner and his home is the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, “the world’s first and only visual haricot bean museum on the entire planet.”
Jam Imani Rad from Preston has also brought exciting design ideas to his council home. He hopes that his mosaic art, which he makes on both internal and external surfaces of his house, might bring change and peace to his local area, even if it’s just a small amount. As a pensioner, he is on limited means and he uses recycled ceramics thrown out by companies for his work.
“Creativity is what we need,” he told Lancashire News. “Creativity is what makes us a better person.”
These and other creative designs featured on the show demonstrate that, even within a basic space, creativity goes far. How people decorate and use their environments says a lot about who they are and what they value. The fact that these, and many other people, can represent themselves so vividly is indicative of their resourcefulness and resilience.
Britain’s Weirdest Council Houses is available to watch online.