Sunday 8 November 2020

John McCall Obituary

John McCall believed in improving community housing instead of bulldozing it

By Neville Kirk
4th November 2020
The Guardian

My friend John McCall, who has died aged 75 from cancer, was a leading architect who was committed to the green environment, social housing and civic provision. John designed pioneering low-energy and sustainable homes in north-west England.

He was also involved in a successful campaign to prevent slum clearance in Longsight, Manchester, and to save the homes instead. In Hayfield, High Peak, Derbyshire, he was centrally involved in refurbishing the Memorial Square, reviving a neglected central part of the village.

John was born in Glasgow, the only child of George McCall, a decorator, and Edith (nee Davis), a factory worker. The family moved to Hyde, Edith’s home town, while John was a baby. John attended Stockport school, a state grammar. He studied architecture at Liverpool University, gaining a first-class honours degree in 1969. He retained teaching and examining connections with the university up to his retirement.

John met Susan Hotchkiss, a student at Liverpool Art College, and they married in January 1971. Sue became an established artist. From 1973 to 1991 John was a key figure in Michael Hyde and Associates in Manchester. Between 1991 and his retirement in 2010 he was head of John McCall Architects, based in Liverpool and Hayfield.

In the 1970s John was involved in a campaign that prevented the demolition of many homes and communities in Longsight, as part of Manchester City Council’s slum clearance programme. As a key member of the Manchester and Salford Housing Action group, formed by radical architects and other professionals, he pioneered more democratic ways of working with residents.

They carried out surveys of targeted properties, costed the options and concluded that it would be preferable to save and improve the existing houses and preserve the strong sense of local community and identity than bulldoze the properties. They produced information for residents, including material in Urdu. They made their case to the slum clearance hearings and were successful. Seven out of the nine proposed slum-clearance areas in Manchester were saved and became general improvement areas.

In 1977 John and his colleagues, working under the auspices of the Help the Aged Housing Association, won a Civic Trust award for their provision of the first sheltered housing scheme in Norman’s Place, Altrincham.

In Hayfield, High Peak, he was centrally involved in environmental and civic projects, including the Sustainable Hayfield Energy Group, which secured funding to help villagers improve the energy efficiency of homes. The creation of an eco-friendly environment, including social housing and strong communities, underpinned John’s philosophy and practice.

John was a generous, caring and optimistic person with a passion for fairness and social justice. He was sociable, enjoyed the pub and music and had great joie de vivre. John played cricket, the drums in his own band and, unusually, supported both Liverpool and Manchester City. He actively promoted local fell-running and believed in wider access to the hills. He designed his boat, Muddy Waters, on which and he and Sue spent happy holidays.

John is survived by Sue, his children, Katy and Jim, and grandchildren, Arthur, Anna, Johnny, Etta and Rose.

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