The Colchester Quaker Housing Association was initiated by Friends in 1965; it eventually merged to become Family Mosaic in 2007. For many years it was run from the bedroom/sitting-room of founding secretary and Quaker Bernard Brett, a man with cerebral palsy who was well known in Colchester and a devoted campaigner for social justice. It didn’t take on its first paid staff until 1979, and even after that a huge amount of work was still done by volunteers.
In many ways, Colchester Quaker Housing Association’s work continues under a different name. Bernard Brett House still welcomes men and women, and helps them move on in their lives. The book Housing and Hope, which tells the story of the CQHA, explains: “New Hythe still gives a home to young parents and supports them in the crucial early stages of bringing up children. Hundreds of others live in flats and houses in the Colchester area and beyond, which were originally acquired and established by CQHA. And – just as important – there are thousands of people who can look back on a difficult stage in their lives and know how much they were encouraged by the skills of the staff and the practical help they received.
“It is too soon to know how these values will be maintained in the uncertain days of recession, rising unemployment and hardening of public attitudes to those living in poverty. Across the country, the temptation will be to pare support down to the minimum, expecting people to stand on their own two feet, come what may.
“The challenge will be to resist the ruthlessness that that implies. For what is certain is that many people young and old will continue to struggle as they make their way in the world, set up home or care for their families. They will need the kind of practical help and imaginative support that CQHA offered. They will need housing and hope.”
Housing & Hope, by Liz Taylor Jones, is in the library at Colchester Meeting House. It is published by Wivenhoe Bookshop’s Wivenbooks imprint. Any proceeds will go to the charities Quaker Social Action and Shelter.