My home was burgled recently, and the effect of it led to questions about local opportunities: where are they and who are they for? Then questions about ownership: who owns what, where, why and how? Inevitably, I found myself thinking about revolt. Why do people push back and when they do are they heard?
The council has major plans to demolish many estates and areas in Tottenham, be it Northumberland Park, Broadwater Farm, Love Lane, Wards Corner or St Ann’s; some are signed off to developers, and others are still at the consultation stage. The only way to keep hold of what we own and built for a purpose – real affordable housing – is to speak up and say we know what’s happening and we do not agree. It’s still quite hard to get all the facts about demolition plans in Tottenham, and as a result, many locals don’t have any information about what will happen on the roads they live.
Some campaign groups in the area have been asking questions and trying to expose plans for a while. They are shouting, and more of us should get behind them so the shouts can get louder. This can be a great example to us. We want change but a change that will benefit us all. Yes, make improvements, add to our buildings, refurbish, manage our blocks and maintain our streets. Provide us with tools, help us with opportunities and help us to build on what we have but don’t turf most of us out. Do not let parts of this area rot and then have the perfect excuse to shove us out. Don’t pour all of our resources into projects that will not benefit locals when they need basics like better street lights.
We welcome a genuine improvement to this area. We welcome education, advice, and ways to help us make a living – for people with all different experiences and education levels. We welcome talent development and skills sharing, we do. But who should decide on the right schemes? What is a good business for an area like this and is it affordable? How can a community project or a local business start off and remain inclusive? And why should they? I went to a talk that explored the subject of Britain’s post-war housing estates. A discussion led and fueled by all of those for and against estates and their reasons why.
The speakers for Forgotten Estates were Mark Crinson, Jessie Brennan, Paul Watt, Kate Macintosh and Owen Hopkins. They all said some great things that should be said more often and weighs in on the need to help communities being pushed out of their homes.
Quotes from the debate:
“Give it back to the people it was built for.”
“Nobody is saying there are no problems…”
“Due to insufficient maintenance and management..”
“Just places where people live.”
“Looking down on them but not engaging with them.”
“We don’t need to knock down council estates to build new ones.”
“What the outsider sees…”
“States and capital build housing, not architects.”
“London council estates, they are the jewels in the city.”
Read the council’s Tottenham Area Action plan and you will find research conducted to provide evidence and stats for investment and redevelopment. I have paid closer attention to Northumberland Park because I grew up and still live in the area. And also because the various plans suggest this part of Tottenham will probably change the most with around 24% (at a recent minimum) of affordable housing in the new homes proposed. If the plans go ahead, many families can no longer afford to live in Northumberland Park or Tottenham. They will be priced out, possibly out of London. Where will they go? These are extracts from the document in favour of redevelopment:
pg 18: on Northumberland Park: “It is one of the poorest performing areas in the country for income, education, skills and health. 41% of local children live in poverty, compared to a UK average of 20.9%, and around 40% are in workless households, compared with the London average of 21%. 25% of households are experiencing overcrowding. Much of this deprivation stems from Labour market disadvantage, with unemployment and a low skills base being the two biggest issues facing Tottenham today.”
Pg. 25: “More than 60% of the Borough’s social housing is in and around Tottenham, approximately 40% of that being located in the Northumberland Park ward alone (the Borough has around 30,000 social homes of which 16,000 are owned by the Council).”
Pg. 34: “Comprehensive estate renewal is proposed for both Northumberland Park and Love Lane which includes a programme to deliver better mix of social housing, tailored to meet residents housing needs, particularly for affordable family housing, alongside a mix of market, private rented and intermediate housing, providing for a substantial increase of 3,850 net new homes within this neighbourhood.”
This document should state that existing locals do not want to lose their homes. Improve their living conditions but don’t take away their homes. This document should also say that Park Lane has empty shops and buildings – it’s been that way for some time. These stats should be used to draw improvements and real solutions like community building, more green spaces, dedicated art, refurbishments and plenty of other ideas we can all think about. Maintaining our buildings and living conditions should be first on that list. I would also add healthcare at the top. We need more surgeries and health centres now, not when most of the existing communities have been moved out. We need advice on education. We have broken bus shelters, broken street lights, broken block doors, unkempt roads, old pipes, overflowing bins. We have empty buildings, shops, epic spaces all left empty, dusty and rotting while many locals are homeless. Why have these spaces not been given to existing groups in the area? Why are we not making use of these spaces to help build and nourish the different communities we have? What is keeping us from asking for it? How can a community with needs go unheard and overlooked?
The V&A has an excellent exhibition on at the moment entitled, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 70, it’s on from 10 September – 26 February 2017. The protest and political activism space is my favourite part of the exhibition – it demonstrates the reach when groups speak up. It charts how many in the late 1960s shouted about their growing issues and used videos, art and music to express their position. The videos in protest of the Vietnam War and the music celebrating feminism have both stayed with me. Even the fashion, music and club culture areas are fun. Although very glossy and colourful, the spaces still highlight how passionate communities can drive contemporary culture, make changes and push us forward. It is well curated and builds a great sense of what it might have felt like to be part of a movement heard all over the world.
In the book Estates, Lynsey Hanley explores how “boxes” built for the working class are often designed to keep them there. She clearly and carefully explains how. If a system of housing the working class, all in one place, has proven not to work, why repeat it over and over again? Especially when uprooted from a place they call home – a place they have built a community – and then rehousing them without any structures or resources to help. Why should their homes be taken from them when the land is suddenly deemed profitable? There are moments in this book when I want to hug someone or cry, purely because I am so grateful that she writes and admits, with complete honesty, the things that only someone who grew up in an estate would understand. Knowing all the things we love and hate about estates, we still ask to keep them.
Here is a brilliant end to her introduction:
“There is always a voice inside, telling me to be grateful that affordable housing for those in need exists at all. A second, idealist voice responds by saying that there shouldn’t be anyone living in need in the first place. A third grinds it’s teeth at the idea that, today, ‘affordable housing’ usually means a plasterboard box next to an electric generator two miles from the nearest bus stop. A fourth wonders aloud whether I am not, in fact, completely delusional. And so on. A multitude of conflicting voices say one thing and then another, but even that chorus cannot drown out the conviction that working class people are not rabbits, but people, and as such should not be housed in hutches away from the higher, richer orders.”
Let’s speak up to save estates built for a purpose – to house those who need it most.