As people begin to understand the real causes – and very real dangers – of hoarding, bpha’s work to improve the lives of tenants living with the disorder has been shortlisted for a national award.

It’s only been four years since hoarding was officially classed as a disorder in its own right, but bpha has been aware of the issue – and has been working to help its tenants live with it – for some time.

Still largely misunderstood by the general public, hoarding can have a serious impact on a person’s life, affecting how they live in their own home. It can even create a fire hazard for them and their neighbours, as clutter takes over living spaces and spills into shared hallways, gardens and onto the street.

Cathy*, 69, has lived in her bpha home in Clapham, Bedfordshire, since 1976. She moved in with her husband just before Christmas of that year, and remembers they spent an enjoyable – if a little unusual – Christmas Day taking down the sheets at the windows and putting up curtain rails. It was their first real home together and now she can’t imagine living anywhere else. Cathy describes herself as a collector, but admits that her love of ornaments, books and clothes probably began to worsen after the death of her husband in 1995.

Her collections steadily built up over the years, until bags of clothes and stacks of books and ornaments covered nearly every inch of living space. ‘I couldn’t get into the front room properly without moving bags that were sat on the table and the settee,’ says Cathy.

Before she found support with bpha’s De-Clutter Group, she had to stand up in the kitchen to read and eat meals. Now, thanks to bpha’s help, she’s able to sit on her settee and read – a passion she’s not been able to fully enjoy for ages, despite being surrounded by the books she loves.

‘I read a book [When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi],’ Cathy enthuses, ‘and I stayed up all night! I couldn’t put it down. I started reading at 11.30pm and I finished it at 5am! I was really interested. It’s been a while since I could do this. And I can sit at my dining table and eat.’

Success with support

bpha’s approach to hoarding has been so successful that it has been shortlisted in the Outstanding Innovation of the Year category in the UK Housing Awards 2017. After a successful bid to the Harpur Trust for funding, it began working with Hoarding UK to set up training for its Home Agents dealing with hoarding cases. It also created a support group for hoarders, which helps tenants to try to improve their situation, lower the risk to other tenants and retain their tenancies.

bpha’s monthly De-Clutter Group meetings, held in Bedford, are a mainstay of its support service, where tenants share what they have done with specialist workers like Janette Hayden. Janette encourages each person to give themselves an aim. For Cathy, with her love of clothes, this has been to buy something for somebody else instead of herself.

‘It was a good idea,’ says Cathy, who is now looking to buy something for women and children in the local refuge for battered wives. But her first purchase was a blouse for her friend, which she spotted as they wandered around Sainsbury’s.

Cathy describes the De-Clutter Group sessions as welcoming and friendly – almost like family – with biscuits and homemade cakes shared between members.

The support bpha has given Cathy has made a real impact on her quality of life, and she says she would endorse its support services to any bpha tenant in need. ‘I would recommend Janette’s group because it’s very friendly and helpful,’ says Cathy. ‘They’ve done a good job. I’ve found the group very beneficial. I do still like [having] things, but I do need to trim down a bit more.’

She adds: ‘I would say I’m happier now, I can get around my house better – I couldn’t get in my front bedroom before. I’m so pleased about that, it’s so nice to go in there. It’s nice to have [the flat] a bit tidier and be able to get around the place. Even though it’s nice to have a lot of things, it’s nice to be able to see the wood from the trees.’

Winners of the UK Housing Awards 2017 will be announced at a ceremony on 26 April, at the Lancaster London Hotel.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity