Gospatric Home turned an $80 investment into London’s largest landlord, founding not-for-profit housing organisation L&Q. His story is extraordinary.
The former British Army Major, who served in the Korean War, became a serial entrepreneur and director of IPC media. His greatest achievement was to launch a not-for-profit Housing Association, aged 30, that now holds a $43 billion property portfolio and houses hundreds of thousands of Londoners. Home, who died aged 87 of health complications following heart surgery over the Easter holiday, has no Wikipedia profile, and no photographs on the Getty Image Library; a very low profile indeed, despite creating houses for 250,000 people over the last 57 years.
The inspirational cofounder and chairman of L&Q leaves a legacy of 110,000 homes, with 100,000 more in the pipeline. We should take time to appreciate the extraordinary impact he has had, as a social entrepreneur, as a philanthropist, and indeed, cultural billionaire.
The benefits of his work will impact generations to come. But Gos’ entrepreneurial contribution to society has been largely overlooked, which is likely a reflection his extraordinary modesty. Perhaps too, our cultural obsession with personal wealth, over more meaningful successes.
Gos and cofounder Rev Nick Stacey did not set up L&Q for money, or for attention. Neither of them became rich from this multi-billion success. They did it for others.
It seems at first counter-intuitive; that they created a $43 billion empire from scratch, by leading with social values over profits. In doing so, they have produced a historic return on investment, which continues to grow apace. It was never about money. It is an innovation story about people. An idea that became an ecosystem. One that puts social impact, people, and long-term interests front-and-centre of business plans. Let’s hope it catches on.
L&Q’s Lean Startup Story
In 1963, cofounder Reverend Nick Stacey, was an assertive 35-year-old, recently-appointed Rector of Woolwich. The job put Stacey in daily contact with local families in urgent need of help. The WWII veteran, Oxford University graduate turned Olympic athlete, turned South London vicar. The recurring problems of his parish turned him into a dogged social entrepreneur, and a formidable business partner and friend for Gos Home.
The two young ambitious founders sought to understand the real-world difficulties of London’s poor and homeless by visiting them in person. On a visit to one homeless hostel, that smelled “like cabbages and stale urine,” a mother showed 30-year-old Gos and Rev. Stacey to the terrible basement where her children slept; her four-year-old girl suffering a rat bite to her cheek. Such were the depravities. This was real London in the “swinging sixties;” humiliating poverty, in one of the most prosperous cities in the world. Typically, for middle-class professionals, this scene would be out-of-sight, and out-of-mind. It was evidently a powerful wake-up call for both of them, and a motivation for life. This was the problem to solve.
In 1963, around half a million Londoners were on a housing waiting list.
With its legendary slum landlords, failing housing market and failing local government, novel solutions were needed. The pair somehow needed to find a way to help poor families, by buying or building their houses, with money they didn’t have.
Raising seed capital of $80 (£64) from 32 business friends, the founders’ mission was to help London’s poor and homeless into better quality housing, one way, or another. That’s $677 in today’s dollar value, adjusted for inflation. Volunteers rallied by Gos and Reverend Stacey set about this, as rank outsiders looking for properties and clever ways to pay for them. They were two ex-military men, seemingly unintimidated by their lack of experience, or lack of funding. Naiveté, determination and a little creativity took them forwards step-by-step to buying the first house, at 2 Wrottesley Road, for $4,300. A bargain. The idea was see if they could make things better, by converting this house as a pilot project for the homeless. They formed Quadrant as a new Housing Association. The property remains a hostel to this day, helping single mothers and their babies.
“None of us had any qualifications in housing management. This meant we weren’t stuck in our ways – we were more adventurous. We did everything ourselves in our spare time,” Home recalled when interviewed in 2013.