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Margaret Thatcher and the Patterson Family

By the time of Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 Conservative government, all such restrictions were removed and massive discounts on the market value were instituted in law (the Right to Buy). No council could now refuse to sell a property to its sitting tenants. By the time of the 1983 general election, over 500,000 tenants had bought their homes.

The Right to Buy brought a fundamental change to local society, not least by fracturing the community. Previously, every tenant had one enemy: the council. Now, people’s problems were more personalised – everybody was seemingly each fighting their own battle rather than one big, collective threat. Brenda Dreyer, a former vice-chair of the Harold Hill Tenants’ Association, views this change negatively:

‘I think that the downfall of Harold Hill started when they started selling the homes, because, all of a sudden, you have a break in the community. You have people who suddenly have a chance they never thought they would have – to own bricks and mortar – and they then considered themselves middle class. It was a breakdown, and we had to change the name of the Tenants’ Association to the Tenants’ and Residents’ Association. But, of course, the residents never really supported us because they didn’t have the same problems.’

On 10 August 1980, the Tory prime minister, nicknamed the Iron Lady, visited Harold Hill. Her purpose was to visit the Patterson family, who were the 12,000th household to buy a council home under her new legislation.