15 Dec 2021

Celebrating the life of Bennie Duncan Matheson Affleck MBE FCIH MRSH

Last week, we were saddened to hear of the passing of an incredible CIH fellow, Bennie Duncan Matheson Affleck MBE FCIH MRSH. Bennie was an inspirational member of the housing industry and was a fantastic supporter of CIH for the whole of his career.

Sharing more about Bennie’s incredible life and exceptional achievements, his daughter-in-law, Sandy Affleck writes for CIH.

Bennie (known fondly as Ben) was born in Manchester on 25 November 1920 and raised in Rotherham. He was brought up in poverty – his family often going without food. However, he managed to get into Rotherham Grammar School, achieving a good education, but Ben had to leave school at 16 so he could work to help the family. His first job was at the Park Gate Iron and Steel Works in Rotherham doing clerical work. Then in 1938, at 17, he went to work for Rotherham Municipal Council in the Rent and Housing Department as a rent and wages clerk. When the Second World War began, he joined the Home Guard, but in 1940 sadly both his parents died. After this, he joined the RAF as a radio operator and spent much of his time stationed in the Shetlands.

In 1946, after the war, Ben returned to his job in Rotherham. During the war, the department had been run by 30 women who were all studying for the Women's Housing Management exam. He found himself being the only man employed by the Society of Women's Housing Management! In this role, as the only man, he was given all the worst jobs, but found the experience extremely useful albeit tough. By 1948, he had studied for and gained a diploma in housing and building related subjects and had passed the CIH exam in housing management. In November that year he was elected an associate of CIH, becoming a fellow in 1959. He became a lifelong member of the Chartered Institute of Housing until his death in November 2021 (thus giving him a membership time of 73 years!).

Having gained membership of the CIH, his career in housing took off. Starting as an assistant housing manager in Rotherham Borough Council, he moved on to become housing manager in the Borough of Flint for two years. He then became housing manager for Cannock UDC where he stayed for 10 years, before going on to the County Borough of Solihull. He was there until 1968 when he took on the position of management officer of the Housing Department of the City of Birmingham, overseeing the general management of 15,000 properties for the expanding city. By this time, Ben was one of the most experienced housing managers in the country.  

In 1970, Milton Keynes was brought to his attention, and he subsequently applied for and was appointed to the position of director of housing and social development for the new town. He suddenly found himself going from having a staff of 450 to none at all. He appointed a brilliant secretary and then got down to work building up a housing department, bringing people in from London to get the management structure off the ground.  He became part of the executive management committee composed of chief officers and directors which had to produce everything necessary to build a new town from scratch. He was a key figure in directing the provision of good housing design and facilities for Milton Keynes, to make it a place where people would want to live and be happy.

Civil service rules meant that he had to retire in 1980, but he was then offered the ‘part-time’ role of director of the government's new National Mobility Scheme. This was set up to enable tenants to move from one part of the country to another. For successfully fulfilling this task he was awarded the MBE in 1984.

In addition to Ben's commitment to housing he was passionate about community and helping people. Wherever his family lived, he was always involved in all manner of charities, events and organisations.  He became the founder of many in Milton Keynes where he lived for 51 years, and remained an active member of several, including his beloved Rotary Club up until his death - caused by 'grand old age' at almost 101. He is survived by his daughter-in-law, four grandchildren and all their children.

It is interesting that at the age of just 17, when he came to leave his first job at the Park Gate Iron Works, his boss was so impressed that he wrote, ''Perhaps in the future when you have attained fame in the municipal organisation of some large town we may, with pardonable pride, bask in the reflected glory, and remember that you began your career with us.''

When asked about his achievements, aged 95, he said ''I've not really achieved anything.  This is no exceptional life of mine.  It's just an ordinary life lived to the best of my ability.''