Introducing John Coward, our first Chief Executive

Anthony Taussig shares his memories of our first Chief Executive John Coward and the impact he had on Notting Hill Housing and the housing sector in the first of his three-part series this week. Anthony is a Notting Hill Housing Trust shareholder and has been involved since its early days. He joined our Finance Advisory Committee in 1964, became a board member in 1968, and was Chair from 1988 to 1993.

“The Trust owes its creation and initial impact to Bruce Kenrick. In many ways it owes its subsequent success to John Coward and I would like on this anniversary to say a few words about him.

I first met John in 1965 shortly after he joined the Trust as its first paid employee. At the time the Trust owned 5 houses – roughly 30 flats – all of which were unimproved.

In 1966, when Bruce Kenrick reviewed the year 1965 in his second annual report he said this: ‘What has the Trust done? During the year it increased the number of its houses from five to twenty-two.’

He went on: ‘It would not have been possible to get so far so fast had it not been for the fact that the Trust was fortunate enough to find a first-class housing manager; Mr John Coward left his appointment as deputy housing manager of the Borough of Richmond and brought to the Trust his twenty years’ experience of housing and also his ability to bargain for houses with such success that every house he has bought for the Trust has been purchased at a price below the valuation of independent qualified valuers; we owe Mr Coward a great debt and I am sure we shall owe him an even greater debt in the future.’

Those were prophetic words.

A few months later in December 1966, Shelter was founded by Bruce Kenrick and Bruce retired from the Notting Hill scene.  From that date until his retirement in 1986, John Coward was the Director (Chief Executive) of the Notting Hill Housing Trust.

A very simple way of judging John’s achievement is to look at the numbers. When he joined the Trust there were about 30 flats. When he retired 21 years later, there were about 8,000 permanent social housing units – including 900 shared ownership units.

And this amazing growth from 30 to 8,000 in 21 years took place in an area of the country – mainly the London Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham – where there were immense obstacles and was largely achieved by the purchase and conversion of individual properties with, I think, no major mergers.”

Read the next two parts of Anthony Taussig’s series, John Coward: the man and John Coward: innovator and strategist.