The occupation down at the Loughborough Park Estate has already been covered by the Buzz over the last few days, both management’s attempts to smash up the occupied flat to make it unliveable, and the ongoing protests every morning at 9am.
While much has been won, and the occupation is at an end, the struggle continues to win secure tenancies in Brixton for the tenants.
There were a handful of people in the evening as I joined them, half of them residents, the room dominated by the chatter of kids colouring and playing. A table full of food was in the other corner, and there are now lights and warmth and a working toilet.
This was a space of protest and a place for residents to meet together and get support from the wider community. Since they moved in — up to ten to eleven years ago now — the Guinness Trust has denied all use of the Loughborough Park Estate community hall to shorthold tenants.
I talked to Helen, an assured shorthold tenant (an AST) and one of around forty long-term tenants with shorthold status being displaced by Guinness Trust’s redevelopment plans. A musician with Yaaba Funk and other groups and a capoeira teacher (don’t know about capoeira? You need to find out more about this awesome Brazilian dance/martial arts mix invented by slaves), a filmmaker and artist, it isn’t hard to see she is one of the people that have made Brixton what it is.
We sat in the smaller room and talked briefly about what is happening at the occupation and the goals of the campaign from her point of view:
Q: So if you could just tell me a little about yourself and how you are connected to the occupation
H: I’ve been here– I didn’t take this place over but I am a supporter—and they’re supporting me. I live just over the road and I’ve lived here for eleven years, so I might be one of the longest ones. I’ve been to the meetings, the radical housing activist meetings, so I knew it was a thought, I knew it was going to happen and it’s good, it’s a good little office.
They’ve done this because there are so many people out on a limb, like ourselves who are literally going to be homeless, you know, we are literally going to be living on the streets, we’ve got no where to go. It’s a very difficult time. A very difficult time.
Q: So can you give me just a little back ground on what is happening here, and with Guinness Trust?
Helen: It’s been a long struggle, it’s been going on for a while, and we’ve been fighting for a while with people like the filmmaker Rashid Nix who used to live here.
We’ve kind of known since 2011 or 2012, they started demolishing back about 3 years now– but bit by bit they’ve knocked down bits of the estate and then built it up and people have been, what’s the word? Decanted.
With some people, you know, you’ve got your golden ticket, you’re a tenant and you get into one of the new flats. I’ve been into one of them and they’re really nice. But they’re selling some of them off as well, we know that now.
Some tenants are still chatty and nice, they’ve got a completely different aura. They’re getting somewhere better to live. Our places are a bit knackered really, they need doing up. My boyfriend was asthmatic and it’s nasty with all the green on your walls unless you’re really handy and you’ve got to do it yourself, because they never came in once in 11 years.
Lots of things have gone by the wayside because you know, let’s demolish it, let’s redo it. And there’s all sorts of classes here, it’s a complete class system. You know, you’ve got your tenants, who will be able to stay here, you’ve got your ASTs who are going to get a little pay off, you’ve got your Camelot who are groups of young people who get cheaper rent than what we’ve got and they’ll get a month or two weeks notice and then they’ll get put into another place to oversee and look after.
Q: They’re the company that puts tenants in empty buildings aren’t they.
H: They’re to keep people from squatting, to keep things like this from going on.
Q: So you’re a shorthold tenant?
H: Myself and Betiel, that’s what we are. Didn’t really have any way to change the tenancy, to get a full tenancy, to see a way to do it.
Q: So basically Guinness Trust has been taking your rent for eleven years, without giving you the same status as other tenants?
H: Yes. You know, a funny thing happened the day before yesterday, we were picketing and protesting and I saw this woman that I’ve known, she’s a tenant, and she came over and I suddenly realised she has been here less time than I have, and I thought oh my god! How did that happen then? So there’s not, there’s something wrong going on. She’s got a tenancy, she’s got a flat.
Q: And what about the other tenants?
H: Some of them are supportive, some embarrassed, some just don’t want to know.
Q: What would it look like if you won?
H: One of the flats [laughs]. But I don’t know, so many of my friends are gone now, they were ASTs and they’ve gone.
Q: But were they able to stay in the area?
H: Not all of them, some have gone to Hackney, some to Earl’s Court– It’s really expensive in Brixton, it’s very expensive here, there’s a complete – let’s call it gentrification, regeneration.
As a person who has lived here eleven years I’ve watched it really change. I’ve watched the shops that were vegetable shops change to champagne bars and, you know, the whole sort of different feel of the place.
Places where people lived for thirty years and have now been gutted, they’ve been thrown out, done up, and now you’ve got people who look like Prince Harry’s girlfriend who live there, to be honest [laughs]. Its not even Shoreditch, it’s like Chelsea, it’s very high end, I don’t know what’s happened, I mean, I’m living in it. I’m looking around trying to move and the rents are really high, I’m not sure what to do, I’m a part time worker, I’m an artist and a musician who works with kids. I don’t always earn that much money, so it’s hard.
Q: So what can people do to support you?
H: We’re just hoping to get people together in support, and it would be fantastic if we can actually change things. I just think it’s really wrong the way they’ve treated people.
First posted on the Brixton Buzz, 20 February, 2015