Meet Trisha Shirt

Trisha Shirt started working for Notting Hill Housing (NHH) in October 1973 and retired in 2006. Over three decades, she saw NHH (then referred to as the NHH Trust) go from a fundraising stall in Portobello market to a 19,000-unit behemoth with more than 700 staff. Here she shares some of her experiences and memories during her time at NHH.

“I first became interested in housing when I did a week’s work experience at Sheffield Council’s housing department during my final year at university. I joined the Trust as a housing assistant and worked in development and research before settling in supported housing in 1987.

One of the first shocks when I joined NHH was the standard of the homes we bought – I’d never seen slum housing before. We even bought several houses that had gas lighting, but no electricity.

I started off collecting rent over the counter at 37/39 All Saints Road and, once a week, from six elderly tenants in their homes, each visit requiring an obligatory cup of tea.

My next job was in the development department, where I stayed from 1976 to 1982. It was here that I experienced the rapid expansion NHH was undergoing from the front line of North Kensington. We were churning out more than 700 units a year – at times it felt like a sausage machine. It was mostly about refurbishing street properties, rather than estates. In those days, that was how development happened – there were very few new-build schemes.

We used to rely a lot on volunteers and once I persuaded my boss into letting a few of them go into a flat over a weekend to decorate. I came in on the Monday to find they’d left me a message saying the ceiling had collapsed – I didn’t dare tell the boss for a week.

At one point, NHH was accused of patronising its tenants, but we did provide a service that benefited a lot of people. For example, social workers in NHH’s welfare department, set up in 1972, used to help tenants move by having curtains made up and hung for them, and also by arranging for moving vans. We don’t do that these days.

Over the years, how we delivered our service changed as we made the people a part of it. You didn’t have concepts like that in 1973.”