Tale of Two Cities: New Era Tenants In Lambeth

We all know the New Era tenants are awesome, so if you didn’t come down to see them at the Karibu Centre on Monday night you missed out on a good thing.

Not because Russell Brand thinks so, but because these women are fierce and smart and inspirational.

They have injected some hope into the struggle for the right of everyday people to continue to live in London, and a bit of much needed pride in being a resident of social housing.

 Comedian Russell Brand joins residents and supporters from the New Era housing estate as they deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This is from The Independent:

Russell Brand suggests New Era estate’s victory is the start of revolution: ‘There’s a little of this spirit in all of us and it’s beginning to awaken’…the New Era estate’s ‘victory’ represents ‘the start of something that will change our country forever’.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Unite the Community Lambeth hosted the meeting, and Lambeth Housing Activists were there as well to build the momentum for the ongoing housing campaigns here in Lambeth.

Some pearls of campaign wisdom from Lindsay Garrett, Lynsay Spiteri and Danielle Molinari, who didn’t at first know much about campaigning:

  • Their objective was clear, they knew that they were going to fight the whole way. The only way the company was going to get them out of their homes was to physically drag them and their children out of the doors.
  • So much of this was about people being able to stick together. They worked hard to make sure everyone was up for it. They let everyone know exactly what was happening, putting leaflets under doors, holding meetings, posting notices on letter boards, talking over what these evictions really meant with other tenants. They created a tenant association, had house reps for each block, developed networks to keep people informed.
  • They knew their targets — they sat and made a list of everyone who could be pressured, from the owners to the investors to local Councillors and MPs and Cameron himself. They were up for it.
  • They dug the dirt — like the numbers behind the millionaire MP Richard Benyon who was the first to try and evict them, his own publicly funded house could have house everyone on the New Era Estate with room to spare
  • They knew it was not about legal rights, it was about moral rights
  • They looked for help and solidarity. This came from organisations like Hackney Digs (doing some awesome campaigning around renters rights) and Unite, local institutions and businesses (schools and local shops and cafes and such), and of course the local and national press. Celebrities don’t hurt at all.

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They certainly brought inspiration to the hall. One of the key questions they answered was about how they managed opposition and apathy on the estate.

They didn’t find much opposition, but a lot of people didn’t want to know or think about what was happening, just wanted to bury their heads in the sand. So a few key people had to take the lead, be the public face for the campaign.

They spoke out, but never without letting absolutely everyone know exactly when and where and what was happening. The more people could see that they were making a difference, the less fear they had about joining in.

Other tenants just didn’t believe they could win. Now, of course, they do.

This still isn’t true of all the tenants on the Guinness Trust Estate here in Lambeth. Residents spoke out about the difficulties they are having keeping their own campaign momentum going as they face eviction due to regeneration. Calls for support will be going out as they continue their campaign.

Tenants from the Cressingham Gardens Estate were also in the house, discussing their own ongoing campaign.

After a series of marches and a Question Time session with housing experts and local Councillors, on Wednesday they are returning to the full council meeting to present the Save Cressingham petition a 2nd time, because the council has failed to acknowledge the petition handed over by the resident delegation in December.

They’re asking for people to come for at least the photo shoot on the steps of the council. (6.40pm at TownHall)

Residents of the Knights Walk Estate were also present, facing their own issues of regeneration.

The other speaker of the evening was Adam Lambert from a labour campaign at St Mungo’s (you can read about their campaign here).

He made the important point that as Housing Associations lose what ideals they had to become ever more like corporations paying their directors six-figure salaries, workers as much as tenants are getting screwed.

They themselves are often tenants of social and other at-risk housing, and should be part of these campaigns as both workers and residents.

An RMT member emphasised the similarities between councils running down housing in order to then argue that it is beyond repair so they can sell it off — another connection between work and housing.

A number of people expressed frustration with political parties who refuse to put social housing on the agenda.

There was wide agreement that bigger and broader actions and marches need to happen, people need to keep coming together. Tenants from New Era, workers from St Mungo’s and many of those present in the hall were all planning on attending this Saturday’s March for Homes.

 

March For Homes, Control Rents, Hands off Council Housing; Affordable and Secure Homes for all
Saturday 31st January 12 noon
St Mary’s Churchyard, SE1 6SQ (near Elephant & Castle)
(first posted on Brixton Buzz)

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