Local authority-owned and maintained housing doesn’t always have the best reputation in the UK.

But pride was one of the main emotions when councillors, council officers past and present and tenants young and old gathered at the civic offices in Euclid Street to celebrate a centenary of council housing in Swindon.

The event was opened by the borough’s deputy mayor Garry Perkins, who himself grew up in a council house in the 1960s.

He said: “It was excellent for us. My parents had been in private rented accommodation and then we were offered a council house, and it was a world of difference – we suddenly had an indoor toilet and bathroom, the rooms were of a good size and the houses had gardens.

“It made a real difference to my family.”

Coun Perkins added: “When Swindon council started building lots of housing in the immediate post-war period, it was explicitly designated as houses for the working-class – people came to Swindon to work for the big employers and the houses were built specifically for them.

“It’s different now, we allocate housing by need.”

The council’s head of housing Mike Ash said: “For many years council housing was the difference for perhaps the majority of people between decent living conditions and quite often squalor. It was very important in improving the conditions for thousands of people.

“I’m very proud and I think most of the people we have working in the housing department now are proud to be a part of that history and to be continuing with providing good housing for those who need it.”

Keith Badenski, 79, who lives in Arthur Bennett Court, near Faringdon Park, is proud to be a council tenant.

He said: “I’ve got no complaints. I love in a one-bedroom flat and it’s very comfortable. The rent is very fair and I’m happy to pay it and I feel happy that it’s going into the maintenance of the houses and not just into a private landlord’s pocket.

The flats are well kept up and they do a major job of maintenance every eight years.

“Of course there are sometimes problems, there are with anything – but I think I’d have to get a very, very good private landlord if they were to be better than the council.”

Among the displays of old photographs and maps at the centenary celebrations were stands manned by officers discussing housing today.

One, tenant participation officer Claire Cuthbert, showed how the authority’s interest and responsibility didn’t just end with the bricks and mortar.

She said: “From our point of view important we have good relations with our communities and we get their feedback so we can improve the services we deliver.

One of the schemes the council teams organise are warden and street representatives, particularly among younger tenants.

Alice Stanton, 19, and Brendan Pithers, 18, are both street representatives in their area of Penhill – and were proudly decked out in their bright pink tabards.

Brendan said: “We organise activities to try and bet people together, to get them out of the house and meeting their neighbours, especially for children.

“One of the things we do quite often is a playing out day – we block off a road and we’ve got all sorts of gamers and equipment for children to use.

"They have to be accompanied by their parents and there are trained marshals – we’ve got things like Swingball and croquet, we set up table tennis tables and we give out chalk so children can draw or set up a hopscotch game.

"We get a lot of help from Aldi supermarket, they supply us with a lot of equipment.”

Alice’s participation as a street rep saw her invited to the Eden Project in Cornwall recently to take part in a conference.

She said: “There were 60 people like me from all over the UK and it was good to hear the things they do and take the good ideas to bring back.It’s rewarding to know I’m doing some good in my own neighbourhood.”

'I'm proud to make a difference'

Naomi Smith has more reason than most to want to help the borough council’s tenants with their housing.

The 19-year-old, who has worked as a housing department apprentice for the council since April last year, was given a personal development award at the celebration of the centenary of public housing in Swindon.

And her experience of being in the council’s care before being fostered as a young child means she is very aware of the importance of having a safe and secure place to stay.

Naomi said: “It really matters to me that I can help people with their housing.

“My background means I think I understand what it feels like to be unsure about where you are going to live, so I really do want to help if I can.”

But most of Naomi’s day, which runs from 7am to 4pm, isn’t helping people experiencing a housing crisis.

She is one of a number of people who man the phones at the council’s housing department and they are the first point of contact when someone calls with an issue or just needing some help.

Naomi said: “It can be almost anything, all the calls are very varied.

“Sometimes it can be quite a minor issue that’s easy to resolve, or quite often I speak to elderly people who want some help with an application they have to make, or they’ve got questions and I find the answers for them.

“But I’m really proud to work in council housing and I try my best to help people and it’s very rewarding when you know you’ve made a big difference to someone.

Post-war growth fuelled housing need

Swindon council may have been building housing since 1919 in its various guises – but it is since the Second World War that it really took off.

Although the town was a major centre of industry – particularly famous for its railway works, but also aircraft manufacturing before 1945 – its population at the war’s end was just under 70,000.

That’s a third of what it is now.

One of Swindon’s major expansions came in the immediate aftermath.

More industries decided to set up in Swindon, attracted by its location, its good transport links, which would be improved soon by the construction of the M4, and the fact it had space to grow.

As London’s slums were cleared in the 1950s, many of the inhabitants also moved to the town, attracted by new opportunities for work, and by the chance to live in modern, well-built housing in attractive surroundings, with plenty of open space, and the countryside just a few miles away.

Housing estates in Penhill, Walcot and Park North and South grew up in the town throughout the 1950s to house the new influx coming to work for major employers like Plessey and Vickers.

Names of the neighbourhoods – Pinehurst, Parks and even Penhill, which was originally Pen Hill Farm – betray the rural and semi-rural origins of the new districts which were soon built on.

A film of the construction of Penhill shown at the celebration shows workers digging sewers by hand surrounded by sheep still grazing the land.