Barnleigh Housing Ltd

History of the Association

This is a summary.  For the detail in a recently published book (2020) see below.

Barnleigh Housing Association originated as a Public Utility Society set up to provide small affordable homes with reasonable comfort for single working women. Catherine Severn Burrow was principally responsible for both the concept and launching this project, where women took full responsibility for providing housing for working women.

The Society was the first of its kind in the UK and was copied elsewhere. The Society was supported by the National Council of Women(NCW) and was registered in 1920 under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act with the name Workers Ltd. The property portfolio was funded by a combination of Government Grant, privately raised loans and shares issued locally. The society’s first housing estate at Pickersleigh Close, providing 18 flats, was completed in 1923.  A further estate of 24 bungalow flats was built at Barnards Close between 1925 and 1927. The bungalows were built to provide 3 sizes of self-contained flat, each with its own front entrance.  The greatest need in the 1920s was for the smallest (single bed-sit type) flats, which the society was eager to provide.  


Where many Public Utility housing societies got into financial difficulties and failed, this one survived - aided by strong leadership from Miss Catherine Severn Burrow and the voluntary management committee which kept a tight grip on the expenditure while providing very cheap accommodation in accordance with the ethos of such societies. Tenants were required to be responsible for part of the maintenance of flats and gardens and it remained thus for five decades - a very effective cost reduction measure.

 Planned expansion of the property portfolio was prevented by the economic depression of the 1930s and the loss of land at Barnards Close, to the War Effort, that was never recovered.  In 1951 two bungalows, offering 4 flats, were added at Pickersleigh Close but, that was all between 1927 and 2003.  In 2003 a house adjacent to Pickersleigh Close was purchased and converted into two Flats.

Socio-economic changes had raised tenants expectations over the years so that by the 1970s the largely unmodified housing had by then what was described as ‘an olde world rustic charm’, which was no longer attractive to tenants.  The accommodation demands from single working women diminished over time and progressively more of the tenants were retired women, retired couples and also single men.

High levels of monetary inflation in the 1970s escalated maintenance costs while the rental income was subject to constraints that brought the organisation near to a crisis point.   The name Workers Ltd was no longer meaningful so the name was changed to Barnleigh Housing Association Ltd in 1977.  Measures were then taken to begin the overhaul of the Association’s finances and upgrade properties. The original ethos was modified to reflect a more commercial stance.  For the first time men were permitted to join the management committee. Three retired men with architectural, business and financial expertise helped set the organisation on a path to financial security and property modernisation.  

Since the 1980s a programme of work has progressively modernised, refurbished and extended the properties to more fully meet modern expectations for space and facilities.

DCC Williamson

26Jan 2009


A Unique Undertaking

By David Williamson

This most informative and readable book describes in 195 pages the history of the Association over the last 100 years.  It places in the context of the difficult times of the 1920’s and 1930’s the energetic and foreseeing character of Catherine Frances Burrow and her passion to help the underpaid working women.  The story continues up to the present day.

The book (ISBN 9781909219755) is available from Aspect Design (Malvern) at £12.50