This is a tribute to our great friend and colleague, Ben Pattison, who died on March 19th at the age of 40, after a year long battle against myeloma and amyloidosis.
Ben joined CRESR in 2015. He had recently completed his PhD on the growth of the private rented sector at the University of Birmingham, where he also worked as a teaching associate and researcher. Ben had previously worked for the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) on a variety of topics including Housing Benefit, self-help housing and the private rented sector. He was also a trustee of a charity which provided accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers in the East Midlands. Ben was a member of the executive committee of the Housing Studies Association from 2012 to 2018.
When Ben joined CRESR, he undertook a calibrated induction programme, carefully designed for new research staff. Actually that wasn’t the case. He was thrown in at the deep end, and started doing research even before he had formally started the job. Kesia Reeve and I were having to complete a research report for Crisis at double quick speed in order to meet a government policy timetable. One of us had over-promised, it was August, we had our seven year old daughter with us… and some very quick data analysis was needed. So my first conversation with Ben was to ask him for an enormous favour and he stepped in, did the job, effectively, accurately, to time and, above all, with good humour. He was unflappable and wryly amused about working overtime on a project he knew nothing about without any prior warning. Of course, he produced the goods on time. And that epitomised Ben’s contribution to every subsequent project he worked on in CRESR, which covered topics as diverse as homelessness, social lettings, Housing Benefit, the housing options of younger people, and mental health and homelessness.
In addition to his project work, Ben had also started to publish more widely from his research. Last year his article with Jenny Preece and Paul Hickman on Local Housing Allowances was published in Housing Studies, and Ben and I had a paper published in the International Journal of Housing Policy on extending the Right to Buy to housing associations in England. There would have been many more papers to come, and Ben would have developed his high standing within the housing studies academic community still further. It is tragic that he was not able to fulfil this immense potential.
Ben was very dedicated to his work, but he was always quick to grasp some of the more surreal elements that can attend to academic life in general and contract research in particular. He loved a good gossip, too, but always shared his opinions in a generous spirit. And Ben could dig his heels in when he thought it justified. I remember asking him to gross up the amount of expenditure that might be required to fund a nationwide RTB programme for housing associations on the basis of our research on the pilot programme. He was not convinced about the quality of the data he was working with, so he was not going to budge one inch beyond where the data could take us. Not one inch. And that sort of integrity commands due professional respect. He had a strong sense of social justice, especially in relation to those suffering extreme disadvantage, such as asylum seekers, refugees and people who are homeless. This was evident in much of his own research, and in his voluntary commitments outside work.
I really don’t think there is another person in CRESR who was held in higher esteem by his colleagues. Many people have referred to Ben’s dry sense of humour, his collegiate manner, his capability, the breadth of his knowledge and his skills evident at each stage of the research process, from project design to publication. Ben was naturally modest, but always quick to show his appreciation for team members. When he was off sick for an extended period, he always kept in touch with us, and always asked first about our own work, and our family life, putting others ahead of himself. His last text to me, not long before he died, ended with “hope you’re ok.” Ben offered tremendous support for new staff starting at CRESR. As one colleague summarised it: “Ben was kind, erudite, generous, effective and witty.”
It is not just the personal qualities that Ben is remembered for. It is for the small acts as well – the card and present he left for a colleague when he passed his viva, helping another colleague when she was undertaking her PhD so she felt that academic life was ‘not so scary after all’, chairing sessions and encouraging junior researchers at HSA conferences and so on. His advice was also not confined to the finer points of research methodology. He shared with one colleague the trials of attempting to work in the midst of young children with the comment that “sometimes you just need to put CBeebies on or you’ll go mad.” That was the voice of experience.
All of Ben’s qualities shone through brighter than ever during the final year of his life when he was suffering with myeloma and amyloidosis, with one test after another, long periods in hospital and then in a hospice, new hopes, false hopes, brief interludes of respite… all handled with unbelievable fortitude. There was never an ounce, never a smidgeon, of self-pity from him, which showed quite remarkable inner strength and courage. Ben was at least able to witness the very high regard in which he was held by colleagues in CRESR, across the University and in the wider housing studies academic community, from the lovely messages of support and great financial contributions made when I ran the Leeds 10k in support of Myeloma UK last July. He was incredibly appreciative, and indeed rather abashed, by the wonderful response from everyone.
Kesia and I visited Ben during his confinement due to illness and we met Liz, Ben’s brilliant wife, and what really stood out was for us that this was a home filled with love. It did not need to be signalled, it was just part of the feeling of home and it shone through, despite the darkest of shadows in the background. In particular, one of the unassuming photos of Ben’s children, Daniel and Amie, has stayed with me ever since. The experience was both incredibly uplifting and absolutely heart-breaking at the same time.
It was wonderful to have worked with Ben and to have become his friend as well as colleague. He was an outstanding researcher, had extensive, in-depth knowledge of scores of topics, not just those within the housing studies academy, and was great fun to spend time with. And, more than anything, Ben was a lovely, lovely man.
Professor Ian Cole, CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University