Preserving Dawn’s legacy

With the Dawn Foster Memorial Essay Prize awarded, Red Pepper's editorial collective reflects on how the process has honoured the brilliant housing journalist's memory

May 31, 2022 · 4 min read
Author Lynsey Hanley awarding the £1500 first prize to Jessica Field, alongside runner-up Connor Woodman

In the months following the death at 34 of journalist Dawn Foster in July last year, it became clear that preserving her legacy wasn’t going to be an uphill struggle. Her body of work speaks for itself, and her readers, colleagues and friends were in no danger of forgetting her.

Beyond the numerous obituaries and appreciations of her journalism, the Dawn Foster Memorial Essay Prize emerged as a positive move towards keeping her name relevant for a new generation of writers.

Acknowledging Foster’s significant impact with her work on housing, the Housing, Construction & Infrastructure (HCI) Skills Gateway at Edinburgh Napier University stepped forward to fund the prize and we at Red Pepper committed to publish the winning essays and assist the judging process.

A representative from the HCI Skills Gateway noted:

‘Our aim is to build inclusive, innovative and sustainable careers in future construction and the built environment, to decarbonise the communities where we live, work and play. Based at Edinburgh Napier University and part of the Edinburgh & South-East Scotland City Region Deal, we’re committed to finding new and better ways to inspire people to consider how we imagine how and where we live, and the diverse range of skills we need to achieve zero carbon in construction.


‘Dawn Foster and her astonishing writing about housing encapsulates how we want people to consider and challenge our housing status quo, and we are honoured to support this essay competition in her name.’

The prize was open to any UK-based writer aged 35 or under, for a 1,500 word essay on Britain’s housing crisis, offering a £1,500 first prize. We received 66 entrants from all across the UK, the majority of whom were previously unpublished.

The housing crisis was an intentionally broad topic, and this was reflected in the range of responses received. Entries in the shortlist included explorations of homelessness, student housing, modular construction, home insulation, migrant housing, Right to Buy, illegal eviction and more. Some gave overviews of the housing crisis and its varied repercussions, others took a case study approach, often with personal experience or interview material woven in. A few bristled with righteous anger or dark humour, which was certainly in keeping with a prize in Foster’s memory.

Red Pepper hosted the prize-giving on 24 May, with author Lynsey Hanley awarding first prize to Jessica Field for her essay ‘Fighting for Cardboard City: The drudgery of activism on the frontlines of the housing crisis’. The essay looks at the #SaveOurHomesLS26 campaign, and Field’s parents’ community in a 1950s estate on the outskirts of Leeds being slowly torn apart by developers.

Hanley, who judged the shortlisted essays, said that she ‘loved this essay, because it completely encapsulated so much of the spirit and the not-holding-back-ness of Dawn’s own writing.’

The runners-up were Jon Bailey for ‘The housing crisis is the result of a failed economic experiment: I know, I’m from Hull’; Kathryn Wheeler for ‘The pre-teen and the influencer: how the rise of the landlord class hurts us all’; and Connor Woodman for ‘Life and housing on an Oxford estate’.

The winning essay was published in full in Red Pepper’s summer issue, and all four will appear on our website during the summer.

You can read more about Dawn here and here, and some of her own articles for Red Pepper here and here.


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