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Interview Darinka Czischke: ‘Everyone should have access to decent housing’

Everyone should have access to decent housing – this is the vision of the UK-based housing research charity, the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF). Darinka Czischke has recently taken over as Director of BSHF and introduces the organisation and its priorities.

So, what makes BSHF different?

Czischke:’Preferring a practical emphasis, BSHF identifies housing solutions rather than housing problems and has a distinct approach of bringing together research and best practice via a unique blend of activities. In addition, our work spans across geographical boundaries, having a strong UK focus while at the same time engaging with European and wider international issues.


Another important and rather unique feature of our organisation is its financial independence – which is closely linked to the organisation’s history. This independence has enabled BSHF to develop creative solutions and ideas and has freed it from a reliance on external sponsors or funders.’ 


What about BSHF’s UK work?

Czischke:’BSHF seeks to contribute to the improvement of UK housing policy and practice.  One of our flagship initiatives in this field is a series of consultations at St George’s House in Windsor Castle addressing UK housing policy issues. These consultations were initiated by BSHF in 1994 as a platform for ‘high-quality disagreement’ and they continue to play a significant role in the UK housing and planning policy debate.’


How do these consultations contribute to the improvement of UK housing policy?

Czischke:’The Windsor consultations bring together people with a wide range of expertise and experience to consider an issue of topical housing concern in a progressive way to advance thinking and understanding and to develop a practical agenda for action.


A report is produced following the consultation, which summarises the discussions that took place, illustrates good practice case studies and identifies the key recommendations for action. These are widely disseminated and form a key part of the activities we undertake directly with policy makers.


To give you an example: the 2013 Windsor consultation, which took place in May, had as its theme ‘Delivering New Settlements’ – thereby focusing on a topical but also potentially controversial solution to housing shortages. While this event focuses on UK housing policy in the main, our consultation includes experts and case studies from North America and Europe. A report in relation to this event and topic will be published later in 2013.’

What about BSHF’s international work?

Czischke: ‘Since it was established in 1976 BSHF has adapted to changing contexts and has often created opportunities to develop partnerships and programmes to take forward its vision. International links have been established both within Europe and beyond, including with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).


At a European level for example, in 1988, BSHF was one of the founder members of the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing (CECODHAS Housing Europe) and continues to be an active member, supporting the sharing of good practice between social housing providers in Europe. We also support a number of other European initiatives in this field and plan to expand and further diversify our engagement in this area.


On a global scale, in 1985 BSHF established the World Habitat Awards as part of its contribution to the United Nations International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. Each year the organisation funds and co-ordinates the awards to identify and showcase good practice in housing from around the world. Awards of £10,000 are given to two projects that provide practical and innovative solutions to current housing needs and problems.’


What makes these awards different?

Czischke: ‘After almost 30 years, the World Habitat Awards are going ‘from strength to strength’ and are more than just a list of winners and projects.


The World Habitat Awards website – - is now an extensive database of creative housing solutions providing a rich resource of housing solutions, regularly accessed by practitioners, researchers and academics. I would like to invite readers that didn’t know about this database to browse and use it! 


As part of this work, I would like to highlight the BSHF International Peer Exchange visits to previous World Habitat Award winners. These provide housing professionals with the opportunity to learn from the good practice identified through the awards and to consider the possibility of transfer to their own context.  BSHF funds these activities and co-ordinates them in partnership with the winning projects. They are key to the organisation’s work in supporting the scaling up and transfer of good practice. 


To support the sharing of good practice BSHF also publishes reports on the International Peer Exchange activities and these are available to download free of charge from the BSHF website –’


Darinka, you have a considerable international experience in housing, particularly in Europe, how do you feel this will help you lead the organisation into a new phase?

Czischke: ‘BSHF is already well-positioned internationally as an experienced and credible organisation within the housing research arena.


I am looking forward to consolidating and strengthening its existing high profile activities as well as looking to develop new and innovative initiatives. Given my background and experience I am particularly keen to focus on further opportunities for capitalising on our well-established UK and international work and look to explore new, productive partnerships.’


If you would like to know more about the BSHF and its activities please visit the BSHF website or the World Habitat Awards website. You can also follow the organisation’s activities on Twitter @bshf and @bshf_WHA.