Launch of “Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London”

The 35-page booklet “Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London”
was launched at Queen Mary’s University, Mile End on Thursday 12th June, to a packed lecture room of housing activists, campaigners, academics and those affected by the government’s social cleansing policies. Several speakers took the podium to present their campaigns in 10-minutes slots, with strict time-keeping by the facilitator. Those that presented included:

Just Space: pool knowledge & resources for communities facing displacement, and attempt to get academics to do useful research around planning policy. They are especially focused on influencing the London Plan (public hearing in September), which will see mega-development sites destroying many of London’s existing communities.

Elephant Community Network: made up local residents and businesses in the Elephant and Castle area, who have seen several waves of displacement already, eg with the decant of the Heygate Estate. Displacement in one area only creates a ripple effect of displacement in others as people are moved further out.

Research on Displacement at the Alyesbury Estate: a reading of the evidence/ research around tenants displaced from the estate, due to regeneration and social cleansing. Statistics about the people interviewed and voices of those affected were pretty powerful.

Walteron & Elgin Community Homes: a case study on the clever use of existing legislation intended to favour landlords (ie Right to Acquire/ Tenants Choice – repealed 1996) into an opportunity for the estates to create their own democratically-run and managed housing, much to dismay of the government. Hoping to replicate this strategy on the Gibbs Green estate using current Right-To-Transfer legislation.

Cressingham Gardens: their beautiful and vibrant estate on the edge of Brockwell Park has been earmarked for demolition by Lambeth council. They have been looking at various ways to save it (eg applying for conservation status) and fight the council decision. They will be running guided tours in September during Open House.

St Clements Community Land Trust: using the Right-To-Build, they are creating a self-build community in East London. However, the price of land was identified as the biggest stumbling block for any such development, and councils must be pressured into gifting land if more of this is to happen.

Other groups represented/ speaking:
Games Monitor: resource showing how mega-events like the Olympics are used for land-grabs and displacement
Our West Hendon: fighting gentrification regeneration in West Hendon, Barnet [Broken Barnet article on demo when MP Matthew Offord came to visit]

Some points raised during the discussion:

  • Getting organised can lead to positive, limited outcomes, which is the best that can be hoped for at the moment
  • In Newham, the council is fining landlords who house multiple occupants but this has only lead to small landlords forced out in favour of big housing associations, and an indirect form of social cleansing.
  • Commercial space is just as important as housing in sustaining local communities, and both are under threat from regeneration/ gentrification.
  • Need to pressure the Labour Party to commit to public spending on building and maintaining quality social housing for the general election
  • Tory ideas (anti-working class/ demonisation of the poor/ hate campaigns, eg London riots were started in council estates) have become entrenched with all parties/ a broad spectrum of the population. Campaigners need to use media tools to undermine this narrative in order to empower communities under threat.

The booklet, put together by London Tenants Federation, Loretta Lees, Just Space and Southwark Notes Archive Group (SNAG), deals with three key areas:
1) What is gentrification regeneration? (background)
2) What can you do about it? (organising)
3) What are the alternatives? (strategy).

Free copies of the booklet were distributed to the attendees, and the pdf resource has been now been published; please print, distribute and generally make available, as this is a great resource:

http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/staying-put-an-anti-gentrification-handbook-for-council-estates-in-london/

The talks were followed by drinks and snacks in the courtyard outside, where mingling and networking happened in the cool, summer evening. Even though smoking was forbidden on the private Queen Mary campus, puffers took the liberty to spark up in defiance of privatisation. The event, feedback and discussion were all positive, but the road ahead still just as daunting….

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