Background Poor quality housing and insecure tenure have a substantial negative impact on physical and mental health. Newham, the Olympic borough, is in the grip of a housing crisis, with 32,000 people on its social housing waiting list and almost a quarter of its housing stock deemed to be sub-standard. Olympic regeneration brought both lucrative private housing developments and legacy commitments to ‘affordable’ housing. At present, there is sparse literature on the Olympic housing legacy for East London and none that examines it from a public health perspective. This longitudinal qualitative study investigated how local residents framed housing and health in the context of Olympic-related change.
Methods This study is part of a mixed methods project on the health legacy of the London Olympic Games (The ORiEL Study). Participants in the quantitative cohort study were invited to participate in qualitative data collection immediately after the Games. There were two waves of data collection, 12 months apart. Narrative family interviews and go-along interviews were conducted with 39 Newham residents at wave one and 28 at wave two. The sample comprised both adults and adolescents. Interview transcripts were uploaded to NVivo9 for qualitative longitudinal analysis. Narrative analysis was used both to identify how participants constructed causal accounts linking housing conditions and health, and to explore how Olympic regeneration was incorporated into these accounts.
Results Local narratives of housing and health depicted a struggling social housing system which had an impact on wellbeing via stress and insecurity. Physical health was reportedly affected by living in overcrowded, dilapidated and unsafe housing. Olympic-related changes, most notably the housing redevelopment of the former Athletes’ Village, were implicated in broader narratives of ‘the housing’ in that they were not perceived to have addressed the shortage of social, accessible or affordable housing, thereby failing to alleviate associated distress and health risk. And yet, the new housing also represented an aspirational space, in some ways tied to fears about gentrification and exclusion and in others to hopes for a cleaner and safer place to live.
Conclusion Olympic regeneration had little impact on local narratives of housing and health in the year directly following the Games. The promise of an Olympic housing legacy to benefit relatively deprived communities in east London appears to have been a symbolic rather than material one. These findings indicate a dilution of initial legacy commitments to improving health and quality of life for Newham residents.