Cornwall’s housing crisis laid bare by woman who lives in a shed
Catrina Davies lives an alternative lifestyle because she feels there’s no alternative – By Jacqui Merrington 07 JUL 2019
Catrina Davies has spent the past six years living in a shed in west Cornwall.
Desperate to return to the place where she grew up but unable to afford a place of her own, she moved into an old shed that was once her dad’s office.
The ramshackle corrugated iron building was full of holes, rats and spiders, but she moved in, just to be back home. She thought it was a temporary solution.
Six years later she’s still there, not because she is desperate for an ‘alternative’ lifestyle – more that she feels there is no alternative. The housing crisis has left her with nothing but a shed for a home.
Catrina, 40, said: “I was living in a shared house in Bristol and I kind of ran away back to the shed which used to be my dad’s office in the 90s. I camped in it. It was supposed to be temporary but then I realised there was very little option for me.
“I really wanted to be here because it feels like home. I am lucky because I had access to this shed.”
An author and musician, Catrina works cleaning and gardening for people around west Cornwall, earning enough money to live, make music and write from her tiny corrugated home, surrounded by books.
She feels that while the housing crisis is a global problem, caused by capitalism and consumerism, it’s a particular issue in Cornwall where second homes price local people out of the market.
“Cornwall is very interesting because it has got this dual economy, this veneer of wealth and yet the actual economy of Cornwall is very deprived.
“For a lot of people growing up here it is hard to leave because you do fall in love with the landscape.
“Thirty years ago you could buy a small flat in Cornwall for £20,000 but now it would cost £200,000 and wages have not changed very much at all. I’m paid a bit more but nowhere near enough.
“It is beginning to polarise people because the life you can expect to live is very different depending on whether you bought a house 20 years ago or you didn’t.”
Over three quarters of neighbourhoods in Cornwall are more deprived than the national average, according to recent statistics. The county is actually among the 50 poorest regions in the whole of Europe.
Catrina says housing has become a commodity – hence the rise in second home ownership in Cornwall – and she believes the same drive to own homes and second homes is contributing to the global crisis around climate change too.
She has just written a book, Homesick: Why I Live In A Shed, which explores her own journey to Cornwall, her struggle to make it as a musician and writer and the alternative lifestyle she’s created here.
In it, she sets her own story within the context of all those struggling to afford a home – local families living in tents every summer to rent out their homes to tourists to help them pay the mortgage or teachers leaving Cornwall because they can’t afford a home.
“I wanted to write something that is not about a utilitarian view of the housing crisis – of people in boxes – but that explored the human side of housing, which is about a relationship with a place and the things that housing offer that is not practical, but emotional. It is about having shelter and autonomy and security.”
While the shed gives Catrina somewhere to live in the place she calls home, it’s a precarious lifestyle and the uncertainty over her future in her tiny space has been a “huge source of anxiety” for her.
She has applied for a lawful development certificate from Cornwall Council to enable her to continue living there in the future.
“Mustering up the courage to do this application took years,” she said. “When I realised the book was going to be published it dawned on me that I was going to be drawing attention to myself and I had to get that application in. I hope very much that it will be OK.”