John Hands devoted more than ten years to evaluating scientific theories about human evolution from the origin of the universe, resulting in the 700-page Cosmosapiens. He graduated in chemistry from the University of London, where he was the first undergraduate President of the Union. He founded the Society for Co-operative Dwellings, co-authored two research studies, published Housing Co-operatives, and scripted, directed, and presented a documentary More Than a Place to Live broadcast twice on BBC2 Television. He was the founding Director of the UK Government’s Co-operative Housing Agency and served on committees appointed by a Minister for Housing, a Secretary of State for the Environment, and a Secretary of State for Industry. He has tutored in both physics and management studies for the Open University and was Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of North London and then Royal Literary Fund Fellow at University College London. He has written three critically acclaimed novels, Perestroika Christi, Darkness at Dawn, and Brutal Fantasies, and been published in 10 countries.
John Hands was born near the then cotton mill town of Rochdale in Lancashire, England, the only son of John, an electrical fitter, and Eileen, a former mill worker. He won a place at De la Salle College, Salford, a direct grant grammar school, and was the first in his family to continue school beyond the age of 14. He played rugby and cricket for the school and was a member of the dramatic society.
He read chemistry at Queen Mary College, University of London, where he became active in the student union. He was elected External Relations Vice-President of the Queen Mary College Union and then President of the University of London Union (ULU), the first undergraduate to occupy that post. He successfully campaigned for student representation on university committees and student control of the ULU building, plus more and better student housing.
He founded Student Co-operative Dwellings (SCD) with other student leaders in London to pursue newbuild housing schemes to be run as self-governing co-operative communities. The board of SCD was expanded to include the heads of several University of London colleges.
After graduating with an upper second class honours degree in chemistry, he was appointed Executive Director of SCD, which became the Society for Co-operative Dwellings to widen its scope beyond students.
He co-authored two research reports, Housing Students in Scandinavia (with Roger Bingham) and London Boroughs and Housing Associations (with Brenda Barrett). Five years campaigning to overcome legal, planning, and financing obstacles, plus finding an affordable site, culminated in Government approval for a pilot project in the London Borough of Lewisham to build 14 communal houses and 3 self-contained flats to house up to 146 people. A year later the estate was opened in the presence of the Minister for Planning and Local Government, and a year after that ownership was transferred to a par value co-operative of the residents. This is described in three chapters of Housing Co-operatives and shown in a 40-minute television programme More Than a Place to Live, which John scripted, directed, and presented, that was broadcast twice on BBC2 Television. Such a housing co-operative provides the residents with all the benefits of ownership in terms of control and decision-making, but it is housing for use, not property for investment. The argument that this results in the housing becoming relatively cheaper over time is validated by the members’ weekly costs in 2015 shown in a new Introduction for the republished book.
SCD secured funding and approvals for a further 7 newbuild co-operative schemes purpose-designed for 1,857 young and mobile people in London and the South East.
During this time John had been appointed by the Minister of Housing to a working party to establish a national Co-operative Housing Agency (CHA). He was persuaded to apply for the post of Director and accepted on condition that the CHA would eventually become independent of Government. He wrote a report, Co-operatives and Housing Policy, adopted by the Government’s Advisory Committee on Co-operatives, that advocated among other things the creation by statute of a co-operative tenure quite distinct from landlord-tenant law.
He was also appointed by the Secretary of State for Industry to a working group intended to promote worker co-operatives, credit unions, and co-operatives other than those for housing. He co-authored the Minority Report on the Co-operative Development Agency, which argued that Government seed funding for the agency was essential if the agency were to be effective, but that permanent bureaucratic Government control of the agency would stifle the development of a third sector of the economy distinct from the public and private sectors.
By the end of the CHA’s first 18 months there were 3,295 co-operative homes and £9.5 million committed for a further 755. John’s recommendation to increase the number of Advisory Committee on Co-operatives members elected by co-operatives was never discussed: without consulting its own Advisory Committee the Government closed the CHA and transferred responsibility for housing co-operatives to the Housing Corporation.
John gave visiting lectures to graduate schools at Harvard, the New School for Social Research in New York, and the University of California, Berkeley. In the UK he tutored part-time in physics and in management studies for the Open University for four years, and wrote feature articles for several national newspapers, while researching and writing novels. To keep fit he began running and, aged 40, he ran the London Marathon in 2 hours 55 minutes. He also qualified as a PADI open water scuba diver.
After Perestroika Christi was published in the UK and the USA and in 6 other countries to critical acclaim, he became a full-time novelist and wrote Darkness at Dawn followed by Brutal Fantasies. He had researched another novel when his wife was diagnosed with cancer and he became her full-time carer until her death.
Afterwards he became part-time Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of North London, and was then appointed Royal Literary Fund Fellow at University College London, a part-time post he held for five years. The Graduate School asked him to develop his one-to-one tutorials into a workshop to reach a larger number of students, and he subsequently gave his Creativity and Craft for Your PhD workshops to most other universities in London.
The award of a literature grant from the Arts Council of England to help finance his research and writing enabled him to leave his fellowship at UCL in order to concentrate on seeking answers to what we are, where we came from, and why we exist by evaluating science’s explanation of human evolution from the origin of the universe. The result of more than 10 years work, his 700-page Cosmosapiens was published in the UK in 2015 and in the USA in 2016. In the UK it was chosen by two reviewers as Book of the Year in The Times Literary Supplement, selected as one of the Best Science Books of 2015 by The Telegraph, and won the Scientific & Medical Network Book Prize for 2016. In the USA it was given the starred review for nonfiction in Publishers Weekly, and subsequently published in Germany, Spain, China, Korea, and Romania.