Pulling Together


Doorstep applause or hazard?

In today’s Press Briefing, Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, spoke approvingly of those who came out of their houses last night to applaud NHS workers. He spoke of it as a sign of national solidarity supporting a service we all value. The sentiment is one which will garner much sympathy, but was it consistent with his other advice?

I spoke on the phone last night to a friend who lives in a narrow street of Victorian terraced houses who was deeply alarmed by what she saw when the residents there came out to partake in this ritual. There were just too many people out socialising together at the same time. As I wondered what was worrying her she explained that in such terraces the houses are small, and every other house is “halls-adjoining” with the doors hinged against the party wall, so it is impossible for two people leaving or entering adjacent houses simultaneously or standing on the doorstep to be more than about one metre apart. Moreover, if a household has more than a single occupant and both or all stand on the step together, one of them will be standing right next to the boundary. If both houses contain a couple or family, the two groups will be standing almost shoulder to shoulder.

Maybe this is a consequence which needs be brought to the government’s attention. It occurs to me that, as Conservatives, they are probably less accustomed to this kind of close proximity in housing. Most semi-detached houses, for instance, are not halls-adjoining. Though that has noise-nuisance advantages for the occupants, it is evidently less convenient for the developers and, as Le Corbusier pointed out nearly a century ago, houses are more likely to be built to suit the needs of builders than occupiers. (He went on to contrast that with the builders’ attitude when buying site machinery and queried why they did not consider their customers entitled to the same consideration, ending with the famous rhetorical question, “What is wrong with these developers? Do they not understand that a house is a machine for living in?”). However, I digress.

While it is definitely good to celebrate those putting themselves at risk and working hard to benefit the rest of us, that should obviously not be done in a way which undermines what the lockdown is intended to achieve. If applauding in public is to be encouraged there is a need to ensure that encouragement does not put the government’s entire strategy at risk. The encouragement needs to be modified or an alternative practice should be sought.

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