Journalist and activist Vicky Spratt
Posted on January 30 2019
This week, we catch up with Vicky Spratt - journalist, documentary maker, author and housing rights campaigner.
As ex Deputy Editor at The Debrief and Editor at Large at Grazia, Vicky's purpose seems to be giving a voice to the voiceless and sharing the stories that matter. Her campaign work includes Make Renting Fair which has led to letting fees being banned in England and Mad About the Pill, which looked at the under-reported links between contraception and mental health. Vicky's first book is called Tenants:Stories of Britain's Housing Shame and will be released next year. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? And what drew you to journalism?
Spratt: Very shy, always hungry but quietly determined! I didn't really find my feet until my mid-twenties, to be honest, so as a kid I was quite quiet, not confident enough to voice anything at all. As a teenager, I was awkward but increasingly determined to do something meaningful. And, by the time I got to my twenties I had started to find my voice and, most importantly, stopped diluting it by being in bad relationships with unsupportive partners!
I've always loved stories, reading them and telling them. I also can't resist researching the hell out of anything and everything. So journalism was a natural fit because 90% of the job is forensic research until you’re sure you have a story.
I really need to have the perfect fit. If there's a problem I won't stop until I've got to the bottom of it and tried to understand why things are the way they are. The housing crisis is a good example of that. I wanted to know why we were all being charged unfair letting fees and it turned out they'd been made illegal in Scotland in 2012. So, it made sense to me that they should be done away with in England too.
Newnham: On that subject - can you tell us about The Tenant Fee Bill and your role in getting tenant fees banned?
Spratt: The Tenant Fee Bill came out of a campaign I ran while working at the (sadly) now closed website, The Debrief. The campaign was called #MakeRentingFair. At the time I had just paid over £600 in fees to move, which I had actually got into debt to pay. I was feeling powerless and frustrated, wondering if I'd have to leave London and the industry I worked in in search of a more affordable life.
I wrote about the issue, got Shelter (the housing charity), Generation Rent (a housing campaign group) and a Lib Dem peer called Baroness Olly Grender involved. The Debrief audience got behind it in a huge way - because it was affecting them too - and the government took notice. They called me to say they were going to ban the fees but it was clear that this was something young people really cared about it. It's worth pointing out, though, that it's not just young people who are affected by this issue. It's people on low incomes and increasingly older people who rent too.
Seeing the bill get through its final reading in the House of Commons, because of Baroness Grender's hard work, is the most amazing feeling ever. I'm so proud and I am over the moon that this will help millions of people to save thousands of pounds. I can't quite get my head around how huge it is!
Newnham: Huge congrats - such great news for all. Can you tell us a little more about your career so far, including some other highs and, also, some lows?
Spratt: I don't think any job (no matter how much you love it) is ever easy. Whenever I see those 'do what you love and never work a day in your life' memes, my eyes roll. I have had to work really hard to get to the point that I am at - where work is steady and financially rewarding - and, the better I get at what I do, the harder it is in some ways. Highs include the Tenant Fee Bill passing after the long and sometimes draining #makerentingfair campaign, hearing from people who it will help and other stories I've written which have helped people - including one for the iPaper about emergency accommodation in Lewisham which is unfit for purpose. It resulted in a single mother being moved somewhere more suitable.
Lows - too many to mention. Some of them are funny now, with hindsight, but at the time, were actually rather devastating. They include arguing about feminism with a now very famous and pro-Brexit politician and losing in my first ever job, trying to work in live television while experiencing severe anxiety, constantly being asked to write for free and being spoken over in news planning meetings when voicing ideas.
Newnham: You have covered so many important topics from abortion rights to the housing crisis – what drives you? What do you feel is your purpose in life?
Spratt: That's a huge existential question which I'm not sure I can answer now... Perhaps I'll never be able to answer it. I think having purpose is important though, both in your professional and personal life. Privately, I want to live well, be around the people I care about and remain open-minded. Professionally, some of those drivers definitely translate.
Above all, I'd like my work to be about more than me. So, I suppose, what drives me is raising other people up, giving their stories oxygen, providing people who might not have a platform with one, pursuing the truth with accuracy and, where possible, changing things for the better in a tangible way.
Newnham: Sounds good to us. What advice do you have for other women who are looking to effect change?
Spratt: Know that you can change things. You have power. You have a voice. I know politics seems far removed and impenetrable but there are systems in place to make sure you're heard. Write to your MP. Start a campaign. You can do it.
Newnham: What’s next for you? (Can you tell us about your book etc?)
Spratt: Right now I'm focused on several investigations, one about housing and one about abortion rights. I'm also writing a book about the housing crisis called Tenants which will be published in early 2020.
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time, what one piece of advice would you offer a younger Vicky?
Spratt: She would hate me for saying this...but...please don't worry so much and stop being so hard on yourself. You're going to be fine.