JeHee and Grace are two students from the USA who spent a month volunteering with Southern Housing Group to learn about social housing in the UK.
The two students from Northeastern University in Boston took part in ‘Dialogue of Civilizations,’ a Northeastern study abroad programme that focuses on critical social issues.
During their volunteering placement, Grace and JeHee interviewed older Southern Housing Group customers to find out their life stories and showcase the diversity of Group customers and their backgrounds.
They interviewed 23 customers, including 90 year old Tom, who lives in Ixworth Place in Kensington & Chelsea and who suffers from a knee injury following a football match with German POWs in 1945, and 74 year old Fred, who lives in Charthouse in Hackney, speaks five languages and spent his youth in North Africa.
Grace and JeHee’s involvement with Southern Housing Group began when a former student of Northeastern who had worked with the Group contacted them about offering voluntary placements for Northeastern students.
Grace, who is studying for a degree in behavioural neuroscience, said: “Social welfare and rent controlled housing has a negative connotation in the US. Having the chance to see social housing in the UK, where it is more established, has opened my eyes as to how it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I found it really interesting to learn about the different housing options that Southern Housing Group offers. Talking with older customers has definitely influenced how we view older people and their needs. The people we’ve met come from so many different backgrounds and their stories are fascinating. It has been a great experience and I’ve learnt a lot about the role of housing associations.”
JeHee, who is studying for a degree in communications, said: “I enjoy volunteering and interacting with people, so this opportunity was perfect for me. Hearing different people’s life stories is fun, especially when our interviewees have told us how their communities have changed over the years, what they’ve learnt, and what advice they would give to younger people.
“My volunteering experiences with Southern Housing Group will definitely help me with the rest of my degree and what I want to do afterwards. It’s been really useful to see how older customers have benefitted from different social initiatives, including the regeneration of where they live. I’m so glad I came here and did this.”
Grace and JeHee interviewed Southern Housing Group customers across London – in Stratford, Hackney, Kensington & Chelsea, and Tower Hamlets – and in the Isle of Wight and Kent.
Marian Patterson, the Group’s Volunteer Coordinator who oversaw Grace and JeHee’s activities while they were in the UK, said: “Throughout the course of my work, I have been amazed by the diversity of our customers and their fantastic life stories. I thought it was really important to capture these stories and shine a spotlight on our customers. Working with Grace and JeHee was a perfect opportunity to provide them with a useful and valuable experience that would benefit our customers and the Group.”