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The irreplaceable Dawn Foster

Former Inside Housing journalist Dawn Foster has passed away at the age of 34. Jess McCabe remembers Dawn, for her housing journalism, as a colleague and as a friend

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Dawn Foster receiving an IBP award in 2014
Dawn Foster receiving an IBP award in 2014
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Dawn Foster has passed away at the age of 34. Here Dawn’s colleagues pay tribute to her, for her housing journalism, as a colleague and a friend #UKhousing

Dawn was a brilliant journalist and writer, who you might have seen on the BBC or Sky, or read in The Guardian, or numerous other publications.

For one year, she was also our colleague, working as deputy features editor at Inside Housing in 2014-15. For me, she became a close friend.

Dawn came to Inside Housing from The Guardian, where she had been working on the comment moderation desk and writing opinion. In the year she worked opposite me at Inside Housing’s old Canary Wharf office, Dawn was hilarious, brilliant and relentless. She would say what she thought, even if it made people feel uncomfortable. She would always stick up for people, too.

“Dawn was someone who always fought for her values and would challenge everyone around her to up their game, in both the newsroom and the wider world. I think most of us have fond memories of her rolling her eyes as some old bore waffled on opposite her on Sky or BBC News”

As Rebecca Christou, who worked on the production desk here at the time, says: “Dawn had a way of taking up space, never contorting or shrinking to fit a mould prescribed by society, other people, or her job. She was brave and bold, and most importantly, she was brave and bold on behalf of others – and never afraid to roll her eyes on national TV. She truly took no shit, and we mourn an inimitable, irreplaceable friend.”

Martin Hilditch, editor at Inside Housing, says: "Dawn was a brilliant journalist and brilliant company, too. The newsroom was always a livelier place when she was around – she was full of ideas for stories that needed to be written and injustices that should be highlighted and tackled. What a writer she was as well – I don’t think she ever wrote a dull sentence in her career.

“She was someone who always fought for her values and would challenge everyone around her to up their game, in both the newsroom and the wider world. I think most of us have fond memories of her rolling her eyes as some old bore waffled on opposite her on Sky or BBC News.

“She was a phenomenal talent who will be badly missed.”

Dawn interviewing Alison Inman, in 2017 (photo: Tim Foster)
Dawn interviewing Alison Inman, in 2017 (photo: Tim Foster)

Dawn came from a working-class background, was born and grew up in Wales. She had spent time in care, before going to Warwick to study English on a scholarship. She was living with chronic illness, and wrote about the impact that had on her life. She brought all these experiences into her writing, and they made her all the better at her job.

She hugely deserved the award she won when she was with us – the IBP’s ‘new’ journalist of the year 2014.

All her stories were bursting with life, whatever the subject matter. Dawn has become known for her opinion and political commentary, but she was also a journalist who could carefully observe and report on any story.

Some of our favourites from her Inside Housing days include her interview with Tanni Grey-Thompson, a beautifully reported piece about the realities of hoarding, and a tour of Oxford with poverty researcher Danny Dorling. A piece about how homeless women cope with their periods also stands out, for tackling this topic well before it shed its stigma.

Her last story for us, freelance, was a wonderful interview with then-Chartered Institute of Housing president Alison Inman.

“She was bloody brilliant. Fearless, clever, outspoken, witty and a fearless campaigner against injustice. Called out crap where she saw it, too. Not many like her”

“In person, her candour was absolute and her sarcasm merciless," recalls Nick Duxbury, who was executive editor at the time. "When you worked with her, you quickly learned to recognise the signs she was about to call bullshit. The tell-tell purse of the lips. The withering glare. The eye-roll. As a colleague, it was apparent just how much Dawn cared – how deeply she felt the stories she published mattered. And they really did."

Her impact wasn’t just in terms of the stories she reported or her incisive and brilliant commentary, she also had a direct impact on how we, her colleagues, saw the job we do. Nick says: “Before I knew Dawn, I believed that journalists weren’t supposed to have a view, voice or agenda; that they should remain objective and neutral at all times. That anger was negative energy. That confrontation should be avoided where possible. That difference in background shouldn’t matter.

“Dawn forced me to challenge these assumptions. Was objectivity an aspiration or a shield to hide behind? What was the purpose of journalism if not to influence change? When anger fuels courage and commitment, how can it not be positive? And if you can’t taste real anger about inequality, then perhaps that’s because empathy isn’t the same thing as experience. So, yes, of course background matters. And being yet another white, male, middle-class journalist reporting from a place of comfort, it was about bloody time I learned this.”

Dawn laughing during a photoshoot with Alison Inman (photo: Tim Foster)
Dawn laughing during a photoshoot with Alison Inman (photo: Tim Foster)

Laurna Robertson, former Inside Housing web editor, says: “I was looking back through her stories for Inside Housing and the main thing that stands out for me is how her work speaks for itself and is a testament to her fierce indignance against every kind of inequality.

“Her tweets on the night of the Grenfell fire will stay with me forever. Fearless humane reporting”

“That fire that she showed at Inside Housing, and from what I can see that she continued to show throughout the past seven years, is what makes her loss all the more tragic because the UK really needs voices as clear, and passionate as hers. She had a singular talent for calling out inequality in a way that made it accessible and this encouraged readers to care about the causes she focused on. That takes immense talent.

She often made a big impression on people she interviewed, too. Tom Murtha, a co-founder of the SHOUT campaign and former housing chief executive, says: “I remember when Dawn rang for a comment on the Voluntary Right to Buy in 2015. I was driving home from speaking at the Nottingham City Homes AGM. As it was Dawn, I stopped the car and wrote a piece by the side of the road. She was like that.”

Aileen Evans, chief executive of Grand Union, says: “She was bloody brilliant. Only met her once mind, but will never forget her. Fearless, clever, outspoken, witty and a fearless campaigner against injustice. Called out crap where she saw it, too. Not many like her.”

Dawn was a good friend to many – unfailingly loyal and kind, even as she was hilariously good company. Many of her friends have paid tribute in the days since.

After leaving Inside Housing, Dawn went on to a brilliant career, although it was an often precarious freelance one. But she continued to report on housing, always from the perspective of fighting inequality and poverty. Alison Inman recalls: “Her tweets on the night of the Grenfell fire will stay with me forever. Fearless, humane reporting.” She had so much more to offer, and will be sorely missed by all who knew her, including the journalists she worked with here at Inside Housing.

Jess McCabe, deputy editor (features), Inside Housing

  • Dawn’s friends are suggesting donations in memory to be made to Ace of Clubs, a homelessness charity near to where Dawn lived in Clapham, where she had volunteered.

25.7.2021 UPDATE

This article originally stated the Dawn was born in Belfast - she was born in Newport, Wales. It has also been updated with details of a charity where Dawn had volunteered.

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