Professor Ray Forrest, 1951-2020

Ray Forrest, Emeritus Professor of Urban Studies and former Head of the School for Policy Studies, died on 16 January, at the age of 68. Alex Marsh leads the remembrance of an inspirational scholar whose research and academic leadership profoundly shaped the fields of housing and urban studies globally.

Ray’s early programme of work on the privatisation and commodification of public housing under the Right to Buy is the paradigmatic example of sustained, critical engagement with an evolving policy agenda; one that also drew out broader questions about social divisions and spatial dynamics that presented challenges back to the disciplines of sociology and geography. He continued to be committed to the belief that work done in the field of housing studies has important things to contribute to core disciplinary debates in the social sciences. His work intentionally spoke directly to these broader audiences. 

Ray had a knack for identifying the issue of the moment and his interventions were therefore often hugely influential. Following his work on the Right to Buy he pursued a succession of pressing and timely topics: struggling home owners, ageing and negative equity in the 1990s; neighbourhoods and social cohesion in the early 2000s; the impact of the global financial crisis on housing in the late 2000s; housing and the super-rich in the 2010s; an ongoing research programme on housing assets and intergenerational relations. His recent work included revitalising the topic of urban managerialism; exposing the contradictions of the neoliberal project in housing; and exploring the commodification of the city. Over time the geographical focus of his work expanded and his interest in global housing – and East Asia in particular – strengthened. 

Collaboration was central to Ray’s research philosophy. He collaborated with colleagues from many institutions and across continents. This included collaborating with several of his former doctoral students who had gone on to forge their own successful academic careers. My experience of collaborating with Ray, both on research and writing, was that he was always engaged, unfailingly energetic, and driven by insatiable curiosity.

Not only did Ray make an enormous contribution to housing and urban research but also to the institutional architecture of our field. He was one of the small group of friends and colleagues who founded the journal Housing Studies in the mid-1980s. He subsequently acted as chair of the Management Board and, between 2005-2008, as a Managing Editor. Ray was also a founding member of, tireless champion for, the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research. And he was a great believer in bringing people together to facilitate intellectual exchange. He was almost invariably cooking up a plan to organise a panel, workshop, symposium or international conference. His reputation, diplomatic skills and dynamism allowed him to assemble stellar events: these not only initiated conversations and built networks but as often as not yielded a special issue, edited collection or new writing collaboration. 

Ray was born in Edinburgh in April 1951 and educated at Daniel Stewart’s College and Heriot Watt University. He moved south to Birmingham in 1971: first to complete a postgraduate diploma at Aston University and then a research Masters in Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham. He spent six years as a researcher at Birmingham before moving to Bristol in 1981. At Bristol Ray hit his research stride: he delivered a remarkable series of research projects, usually in collaboration with colleagues, and a formidable portfolio of publications. He was appointed as Professor of Urban Studies, at the School for Advanced Urban Studies, in 1994. After SAUS was absorbed into the School for Policy Studies Ray acted as School Research Director before becoming Head of School, 2001-2004. This coincided with his role as Co-Director, with Ade Kearns of Glasgow University, of the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research. Ray then went on to found and co/direct the University of Bristol’s Centre for East Asian Studies, 2004-2008. 

Since the 1990s Ray had developed strong connections with higher education institutions in Hong Kong and after leaving the University of Bristol in 2012 he took up the role of Chair Professor of Housing and Urban Studies and Head of the Department of Public Policy at City University of Hong Kong. This was a fruitful research period for Ray, but the role also represented a significant managerial commitment. In 2017 he decided to move to Lingnan University, Hong Kong, to the role of Research Professor in Cities and Social Change. He was the first ever Research Professor appointed by the university. 

Ray Forrest’s contribution to his academic field is incalculable. He enthused generations of students. He was an inspirational intellectual leader. He was also a pleasure to spend time with – either in work or in the pub. He was always a genial host to the many members of his extensive academic network who passed through Hong Kong. Ray was a human dynamo who seemed bulletproof. I certainly thought of him that way. But he wasn’t. And our community is in shock that he leaves us too soon. 

Ray is survived by his wife, Jacqui, and children, Robert and Hana.

If you would like to add a tribute or share a memory of Ray, please write in the comment box below.

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13 thoughts on “Professor Ray Forrest, 1951-2020

  1. Prof Ray Forrest, your memory will continue to remain in the minds of many, especially, students and scholars at Lingnan University HK, City University, HK and University of Bristol, UK. You taught me how to make my research internationally relevant that speaks to diverse audiences even when I draw on locally-based and restricted data. I will forever live with this pointer. May your soul rest in peace eternally.

    – Razak M Gyasi, PhD

  2. Ray Forrest was a close friend and I’m devastated by his passing. We’d known each other since 1977 – initially as colleagues at CURS/Birmingham. Over the years we had a great deal of fun….intellectually and socially. Among other things, we co-founded, with other colleagues, the short lived – but influential – Birmingham ‘school’ of critical urban analysis. I engineered Ray’s introduction to Hong Kong (in 1989) when I organised a visiting fellowship for him at the University of Hong Kong where I then taught, and many years later (in 2008) he encouraged me to take a chair in the Centre for East Asian Studies at Bristol. You’ll be sorely missed, dear friend, by all who had the privilege of knowing you.

    Jeff Henderson, Professor Emeritus of International Development, SPAIS, Bristol.

    1. I have only just learned of Ray’s passing and really can’t come to terms with it. Ray and Jeff were inspirational in my life during those wonderful years at CURS. Great times. I was so fortunate to keep in touch with Ray over the years – and to see him on many recent visits to Hong Kong in 2018/2019. A wonderful, generous and talented man.

  3. Ray’s obituaries will naturally dwell on his abilities and achievements. For balance, however, it might be good to focus a little on his character, and in particular Ray’s sense of humour. At times, especially when he was younger, this took on a particularly mischievous tone when it came to ‘April Fool’s Day’. On one occasion I told Ray about an ESRC media training event for academics that I had attended along with Bob Jessop, Gerry Stoker and a few others and from this chat the idea of media training prompted the distribution of an invitation that Ray sent out to staff at the School for Advanced Urban Studies. It spoke of the benefits of media training and identified a range of training activities, which notably included elocution lessons for people who ‘had strong regional accents’. The following year on April 1st Ray sent out a staff opinion poll to gather views on relocating SAUS from Clifton to Cribbs Causeway and asking them to send their views to the head of School. The case was well presented and had an authenticity that one member of staff replied, in no small detail, that he would be much in favour of the move to the retail park and to benefit from improved transport links, new offices etc. Julian Legrand, then head of school, felt it necessary to bring colleagues’ attention to the date on which this opinion poll was written.

  4. Alex Marsh’s inspiring tribute to Ray reminds us of the remarkable depth and range of Ray’s contribution to Housing Studies, emphasising also his gift of collaboration and his topicality and energy.
    My memory of him, from the time I arrived in SAUS in 1994 is indeed of boundless energy and quickness of thought, always in a hurry because there was so much to be done. . But he was also notable for being without snobbery, academic or otherwise, treating people with respect and thereby giving the best encouragement. I did not often get to talk with him, but when I did I always wished there could have been more of it.
    Housing in the UK is in a dire state. Housing academics are rare. I hope that maybe in Ray’s memory there may begin to be a fight back for the issue that underpins the issues of inequality, education, crime, health and family well-being.

  5. I was very saddened to hear of Ray’s passing and for the loss for Jacqui and the family. Ray and Jacqui were both such a large part of the life of the Faculty for many years and that memory will always be part of it. I very much enjoyed Ray’s company and recall that once every year or so we would meet quite by accident on Priory Road when he was returned from Hong Kong and catch up on all things HK, (of which we were both very fond), and the world in general. In themselves these ad hoc conversations were a momentary escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life and I always felt better for having them, so thank Ray and rest in peace.

  6. Whenever I’d arranged a trip to Hong Kong, I’d email Ray in the hope that he’d be in town for a curry and a chat. The first time, he insisted that we went to a ‘special place’ he knew in Kowloon. It wasn’t easy to find. It turned out to be a dingy dive, with few other diners. The food wasn’t bad, I must admit. The conversation was great and I was only occasionally distracted by small furry animals scuttling under the tables. I don’t think that this was one of Ray’s celebrated jokes being played on me. Over the years, we graduated to rather more respectable restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong with better food, but the chat was just as good. Ray, I’ll miss you, as will many others. John

  7. On behalf of Ray’s friends in the Department of Urban Planning and Design and Faculty of Architecture, I would like to say a big thank you to him for his friendship and invaluable contribution to our activities.
    In particular, as the Chairman of the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research, I’d would like to particularly thank him for working with other founding members to set up the Network in 2001. The Network was the first of its kind in Asia then, and it has been important in promoting and advancing housing research in the region.
    Ray was an enthusiastic member and his wise counsel and seasoned research experience were very helpful for developing the Network. Today the Network’s conferences are often attended by participants from more han 20 countries. His world class research has definitely left significant marks in Hong Kong’s and Asia’s housing and urban research, and undoubtedly in the international academia as well.
    Ray liked the bar restaurant at HKU and he would contact me at least once a year to have lunch there. The last time he came over was in last July. We had the best chat that we ever had. He was relaxed, happy and content with his second job in HK.
    His happy face and his outstanding work will continue to be remembered and read by many for many years to come.

  8. When Ray joined SAUS in 1981 I was an impecunious PhD student and having played a few games of squash together and enjoyed a beer or two, he invited me to become a lodger in his house in Southville. Along with Gill Whitting and Martin Boddy we established a bridgehead in south Bristol at a time when few academics ventured south of the river. We would meet most evenings in The Bell in Bedminster, and subsequently The Albert, to put the world right and listen to jazz on a Sunday evening. The joys of parenthood put an end to much of this as we entered new phases of our domestic lives and academic careers and Ian, the landlord of The Albert would have been amused to learn that Martin, Ray and I all went on to become Heads of the School.
    I worked with Ray on a few projects – looking at the resale of former council houses and at the interaction of housing and labour markets in booming towns around London – and for a number of years we coordinated some European projects on urban living conditions and on youth homelessness. Coordination meetings in various European capitals were always interesting and Ray was an excellent travelling companion.
    Ray’s intellectual leadership never involved tub-thumping and was rather more subtle but persuasive. He helped me understand (if not experience) ontological security although this is no reflection on his role as my landlord all those years ago.
    Although I hadn’t seen Ray in person for a few years, we corresponded about him visiting Australia and I was pleased to help set up a student exchange between our universities.
    My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Jacqui, Hanah and Robert.

  9. Ray was very generous, even to a young foreign researcher like me. During our brief encounter in a 2009 housing conference in Hualien, Taiwan, he gave me very warm encouragement on my study. Later when I emailed and asked for his opinions on a journal paper, he gave me useful advice. Although these might be small favors, they really helped me a lot to move forward.
    I am sorry that I haven’t got the chance to directly thank Ray in person.

    He would be remembered.

  10. I was at Daniel Stewart’s College with Raymond and remember him as a charismatic, shrewd and clever operator who had natural leadership qualities though a bit of a rebel. He ran a good line in selling second hand Commando Comics once persuading me to pay the almost new price ( a shilling!) for one he told me was particularly good. He gave me my first ever Embassy fag at Carbisdale Castle in form 3 when we went up there for a week.
    I googled him a few years back and exchanged E Mails. I told him that I always thought he would end up in organised crime but I was impressed by his academic success. I tried to get him to go to the school reunion last year( 50 years!) but the dates didn’t work for him. A great shame as I hadn’t seen him since our school days. I was very shocked to hear of his sudden death. I just wish we could have met up again!

  11. When Stewart told me about Raymond’s death yesterday, I was shocked. The Raymond Forrest I knew was a wee, fair haired rascal with a keen sense of humour. A great scrum half. We went our separate ways after school. I am so happy that he went on to have a successful and worthwhile career. His family must have been so proud of Him and my deepest sympathies goes out to them.

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