Grace Dent: If every man or woman’s home is their castle, who cares if it costs £1 to buy?

This is a strange, slightly hippy commune vibe mixed with the arch-Tory values of “one’s home is one’s castle” and “get out and scrub your step”. I really rather love it.


Sometimes, just sometimes, councils do something that makes my heart soar with joy.

There are no magical solutions to our nation’s housing problem. No pixie dust to fling that will give every family a front door, a bed per child and a table to have jovial teatimes at. But I can’t help thinking that this week’s £1 home scheme in Stoke-on-Trent is a step in the right direction.

Stoke-on-Trent’s local authority has offered up 35 derelict homes for sale – mainly two-bedroom, terraced properties – for the pocket-friendly sum of £1. The homes, or shells of homes, are one mile from the city centre in the Portland Street area of Cobridge, currently standing boarded up, forgotten, neglected, the roads around a hot spot for fly-tipping. The corner shop and local pub disappeared in 2009.

Take away the cosmetic problems, however, and what you’ve got is rows of terraced houses. Like the one I grew up in during the Seventies. We were an army of kids playing day after day in the street on rollerskates and BMXs. Not remotely deluxe, yet secure, with a bed to sleep in, and happy. This shouldn’t be an impossible dream for new young families. Every corner of the land has houses standing empty. A similar scheme in Liverpool’s Kensington seems so far to be very successful. This is not bulldozing in the name of regeneration, but instead it’s a strange, slightly hippie commune vibe mixed with the arch-Tory values of “one’s home is one’s castle” and “get out and scrub your step”. Politically, it’s everywhere and I really rather love it.

The rules for the purchase seem refreshingly sensible. If you want to apply for a £1 home, you must have a moderate income or joint income of £18,000 to £25,000 a year. If you have kids, you are allowed to earn up to £30,000. On a salary like this, there is little way one can ever save up a deposit to buy unless you have a rich mummy and daddy who will help. This is very much a scheme to help local families get a leg up onto the property ladder; thus one must have lived in the city for the past three years. Likewise, property developers can sling their hook, and owning any other properties is strictly prohibited. Plus, your new £1 home must be your main residence for at least five years. Notably, if you do live in the homge for 10 years, then you’ll find yourself in the very freeing and zen-like position of being rent and mortgage free.

If you buy a £1 home, you will be offered a loan of £30,000 to make the house habitable. At last, all those years as a nation being dripfed Sarah Beeny have come to fruition. These £1 homes are for people who do not fear the clatter of the wallpapering table and the slap of emulsion. Or at least don’t mind making a lot of tea while a local painter and decorator does it. If you take out the loan, they want it back within 10 years – at an interest rate of 3 per cent above the Bank of England base rate, which is 0.5 per cent. Despite the strict rules, 600 people had applied for the homes within 24 hours. When something like the £1 house scheme seems as wholly reasonable and ethically watertight as this, I always try to envisage who could possibly be offended or alienated. This is what halts progress at a local level. I watched, with some fascination, a local Lib Dem councillor spend many years opposing the regeneration of a dilapidated building for flats due to his “concerns about parking”. There have been mumblings about the £1 houses, with claims that they are “patronising” and will only introduce ghettos. I’ve thought about this, and if it’s a ghetto of people who really love DIY and faffing about with soft furnishings, I should like to buy a home very near to it.

Others suggest they should give all empty homes to a co-op, which fixes them up for people with no desire “get on the property ladder”. But, I’ll whisper this, owning one’s own home, and answering to no landlord, is a wholly agreeable state. Bulldozing broken communities, then telling the £25k earning bracket they wouldn’t have wanted a £1 house anyway – now that sounds pretty damn patronising.

Paltrow’s recipe for eating disorders

Being a woman is very often hard. You may have heard me occasionally mention it. Thank heavens we’ve got Gwyneth Paltrow’s new quack-science, semi-starvation recipe book, It’s All Good, being shoved down our throats on every TV show to keep us zinging with energy.

Paltrow is a lovely, watchable actress. She has a likeable sense of humour in interviews. I like her husband Chris. I am not anti-Gwyneth. However, I am against the wholly cynical, harmful machine-pushing of a famous woman – who has endless Hollywood-style food allergies and phobias, and who arguably needs to fit into size 0 costumes to earn her living – into the role of food expert. I am not alluding to the idea that Paltrow barely eats; that’s there as fact in full colour with hundreds of feeble dinner-dodging words. Doctors – of whom she has seen many – have decreed Paltrow to be allergic to pretty much everything, including peppers, corn and aubergine. The book’s recipes are designed to facilitate a short-term elimination diet that eschews processed foods, coffee, alcohol, dairy, eggs, sugar, shellfish, deep-water fish, wheat, meat, and soy. Sometimes she lets loose and has pomegranate and quinoa. Behold the dinner suggestion – featured on last week’s Goop newsletter – of a small poached egg, three grilled spring onions and two small steamed pieces of broccoli. Two hundred calories of pure sustenance. Yummy. Back in the real world, if I was queuing up in the office canteen and saw a young girl with that on her plate, I’d think: “That’s an eating disorder. I hope she’s got someone keeping an eye on her.” But with an Oscar and an Emmy under her belt, suddenly we’re asking her for weight-loss tips. Life is short: get some macaroni cheese and a glass of red down your throat. I can assure you, it won’t kill you.

Twitter: @gracedent

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