#WomenBehind18Keys: Octavia Williams

Octavia is an Operations and Compliance Director for social housing provider Dolphin Living in London.  She has worked in social housing for 17 years and is a trustee of The Connection at St Martin’s, as well as a member of the 18 Keys campaign committee.

Can you share a bit about your background?

I’ve worked in social housing for about 17 years, doing a variety of roles. My interest started when I worked at a local council and I understood how crucial it was to have a home and address, and more importantly, a front door that you could shut on the world. 

I then went on and did a masters in housing regeneration to understand how public policy influenced and designed the current system, and how that has evolved over the last 60 years since Cathy Come Home. That was a big moment within the sector. 

Since then I’ve worked in a variety of roles, from public policy to the trade body for social housing, to running a homeless hostel in North London and becoming a board member at The Connection at St Martin’s where I once volunteered.

In terms of homeless provision, women have been a bit of an afterthought. Maybe they’re falling out of the system or coming out of relationships, where there was domestic violence. 

There’s nothing very specific or women focused, and 18 Keys gives that opportunity to really support women and understand that they have their own journeys and need specific support to help them. 

One of my favourite things is always unlocking a front door. I think that just gives you so much freedom of your own time and being able to just shut the front door and just stop.

What does having a home mean to you?

When I worked in my local council, I had to reassess people’s applications for housing. On one of the days I actually took a tour with the housing officer and went to meet some people. One of the people we went to meet was a man who had epilepsy because he was a drug addict and he’d got himself on the straight and narrow. 

And the lady I was with said: “He will only open the door to us and let us in if he’s feeling strong and resilient to seeing people and not back on the drugs.” About two weeks before we went to visit him, he had an epileptic fit in the middle of the road and when he came around, all his bags had been stolen from him. That pushed him back and he didn’t open the door to us.

I realised that what the door meant to him was so much more. It was his safety. He could, if he wanted to, say no, he didn’t have to have a housing officer come and visit him.  And behind that closed door was his life and his world. I realised at that point, when I went home that night, he had an address, he had a sense of purpose. 

That old classic, ‘your castle is your home’. But it is everything, because behind that you have all your worldly goods and security from the rest of the world.

What sort of feelings come to mind when you’ve had a difficult day, when you come home and you can shut the door behind you?

One of my favourite things is always unlocking a front door. I think that just gives you so much freedom of your own time and being able to just shut the front door and just stop.

It’s just complete silence and it’s your own inner sanctuary. So if you want to take your shoes off, you can take your shoes off. If you want to stomp around or just get into bed, you can.

What is your favourite room at home?

Probably just the sitting room because I can sit down and have a cup of tea and watch my babies all around the place. I was going to say my bedroom, because I can sleep, but mothers don’t sleep very much!

What do you like to do for fun, when you’re not at home?

I’m a regular swimmer in the Serpentine in central London. I used to take on challenges such as long distance swims, or sailing across the Atlantic. And anything that would challenge me and push me outside of my comfort zone, I tend to do every year. In 2023 I want to swim Lake Zurich, which is a 30km swim.

The 18 Keys project will come to life in a redeveloped property owned and managed by The Connection at St Martin’s. 

Our goal is to raise £2.3m. Your support will help pay for the redevelopment, which will include one-to-one therapy rooms, studio apartments, emergency bed spaces and a new communal area.

You can make a one-off donation, or set up a regular donation. Donate here.

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