Posts Tagged ‘social housing’

6 Years Ago: 24 Sept 2014 Poor Doors

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Six years ago Class War were holding weekly protests outside One Commercial St in Aldgate against the seperate entrances to the building for those in social housing and private residents. The private residents came into a spacious foyer with comfortable furniture and a reception desk with a concierge on the main street, while social housing tenants entered a bleak corridor down a filthy and badly lit alley at the side of the building.

This was the ninth weekly protest and I think the eighth I’d photographed in the series, which continued for around another 20 protests. Although it didn’t succeed in its main aim, the protests did take the issue onto the national agenda, and the alley leading to the poor door was cleaned up, resurfaced and given new lighting.

When the building manager came and escorted one of the residents out through the rich door, one of the protesters standing close to it moved in front of it, preventing it being closed. The manager made the mistake of moving away back towards the reception desk, and the protesters walked in.

They brought their banners in with them, and Ian Bone of Class War began to speak about the protest. The protesters made no attempt to stop residents who walked in or out past them, mostly taking little interest in what was happening.

Some of them were tourists staying a week in flats that are let on Airbnb; other flats in the building are permanently empty or only used for perhaps a week a year from foreign owners who hold them as investments, taking advantage of rising London housing prices to earn a good income when they sell.

Ian Bone had picked up the framed notice from the concierge desk as he spoke, reading out from it and making comments about how differently the rich were treated compared with the poorer residents. The woman who had been at the desk (it has someone on duty 24/7) had retreated with the building manager and was watching from a distance. He replaced the notice carefully beside a vase of flowers on the desk when he finished speaking, and stood beside them.

Later as I was photographing others I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye Ian hook the curved end of his walking stick around the vase, and we all heard the vase shatter as it hit the floor.

A few minutes later a couple of police officers arrived and talked with the protesters and the building manager.

After a few minutes of argument the protesters left the foyer and continued their protest on the pavement outside. There were more speeches, including from a local resident who stopped as he walked past to talk with the campaigners and backed their protest.

More police had arrived, and as the campaigners decided it was time to end the evening’s protest and began to walk away, a woman officer stood in Ian Bone’s way. Other officers came to surround him, and after some talking he was arrested, put in a police van and driven away.

At the police station he was shown CCTV of him pulling the vase from the desk and then admitted he had deliberately broken it. He was made to pay compensation for the broken vase, but no charges were brought against him.

Class War Occupy Rich Door

Stirling (or Sterling?) Prize

Thursday, March 26th, 2020
ASH mocks the champagne celebration inside with Cava on the street

I was pleased to get this picture of what was a very difficult event for me to get any worthwhile photographs. I’m a great admirer of the work of Architects for Social Housing, a small group that punches well above its weight in pointing out the crimes, profiteering and failures of current housing policies pursued by local authorities and national government which amount to an attack on the poor.

A poster from a Class War supporter

Their detailed studies have laid bare the terrible effects of demolition of council estates, driving those on low incomes out of the central areas of London in a huge exercise of social cleansing and making excessive profits for the developers, as well as providing well-paid jobs for some council staff and ex-staff. Most of those London councils are Labour councils, including Southwark, Lambeth and Newham, though Tory councils are following similar shameful practices, and at the root of all this are the housing policies of Thatcher and New Labour.

A man holding his Stirling Prize invite stops to photograph the protest

Their reports have shown the financial incentives that result in demolition and new build schemes with little or no low rent social housing replacing large numbers of council homes, as well as the hugely damaging environmental consequences of such large schemes. Their detailed alternative development plans have shown how estates could be renovated and the number of housing units greatly increased without the huge social costs of destroying existing communities and retaining existing low cost housing, without the need to evict existing tenants and leaseholders.

Following the disaster of the Grenfell fire, they published a report within weeks that clearly identified the problems which had made it inevitable. ASH called for those responsible to be brought to justice, pointing out that similar disasters in other countries such as Japan had led to prosecutions within a few weeks – while we have an inquiry that is still proceeding which seems to have as its major aim the deflection of blame from those responsible for the defects and failures to the actions of the emergency services on the night of the fire. It’s right of course that these should be examined and lessons learnt, but it wasn’t the Fire Service which created a fire trap through cost-cutting , avoidance of proper fire safety measures and a sheer disregard for the safety of the people who lived in Grenfell.

Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture and design critic speaks before going into the prize event

ASH were protesting outside the highly prestigious Stirling Awards ceremony condemning architects for social cleansing, council estate demolition and housing privatisation and calling on architects to end wanton environmentally disastrous demolitions and to serve the needs of citizens with socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable architecture rather than corporate profits. You can read more on their web site.

In particular they had come to point out that the winning entry, widely lauded in the press as marking a new era in social housing, is actually a  a commercial venture owned by Norwich council and will not be offering secure council tenancies and that council homes were demolished to build it. They were particularly incensed that it was also nominated for (and won) the new Neave Brown Award, set up to honour the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing; they see this as an insult to the memory of our great architect of council housing.

A woman came to shout at Simon Elmer and pushed him

ASH’s approach represents a threat to many architects who rely on the highly lucrative projects of major developers (named for Sir James Stirling (1926-92) whose 1977 major public housing scheme in Runcorn was demolished only 15 years after it was built, it should perhaps be better re-named as the ‘Sterling’ prize) and the protest was not well received by many of them – with one woman going as far as coming to assault Simon Elmer of ASH. But there were also some largely younger architects who expressed support.

It was a small protest and started rather late, when many had already gone inside to enjoy the ‘free’ champagne their very expensive tickets provided. The light was falling fast and it was hard to find an angle which worked to connect the protest and the event. I was pleased when the protesters decided to mock the champagne celebrations inside with a few plastic cups of cheap Cava (and I was holding cup of it myself when I took the picture at the top of this post. I left as it got too dark to photograph without flash, though perhaps I should have stayed, as more people arrived and the protest apparently got livelier later. But I’d been on my feet far too long and needed to get home and eat.

More at Stirling Prize for Architecture


Hackney Housing

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

I took a short walk in Hackney before the protest outside the town hall to remind me exactly where Marian Court was, just behind the rather empty ‘fashion village’, an implant into the area with government money, £1.5m of Boris Johnson’s regeneration funding after the 2011 riots. It seems if anything to have been an expensive way to prove that gentrification isn’t an effective way to combat racist policing with a shoot to kill policy, and has failed to generate the promised jobs.

Marian Court appears to have been a well-designed small estate built for the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney in the late 1950s. It was built to the standards of the time and was in need of modernisation, and had been allowed to deteroriate. But as on many other council estates, rather than investing in the relatively modest cost of the necessary refurbishment, the council decided on an expensive scheme involving total demolition and the building of roughly twice as many housing units on the site by private developers, with a large proportion for sale at high market prices and others also at high prices as ‘affordable’ or shared ownership properties. Reports say that despite the roughly doubling of the number of units there will be 40% less social housing than at present.

The replacement flats in such schemes are almost always built to lower space standards than the existing properties, and demolition and rebuild involves an enormous environmental impact. Given our current problems with global warming and the impending threat of human extinction unless we take urgent actions to avoid this, demolition of existing buildings such as this should now be a rare last resort.

The human impact is of course also huge, with the estate being emptied. Those in social housing will have been offered rehousing, but usually in far less convenient places than this, targeted in part because of its central location and close transport links, and also probably with less security of tenure and higher rents. Leaseholders typically get compensation at far less than the cost of a similar property in the same area – or the new properties.

Schemes such as this effectively lead to social cleansing, despite the promises often made (but seldom kept) by local councils about residents being able to stay in the area or move back into the redeveloped properties. Those on low incomes are forced to move to the peripheries of the borough, to outlying borough or sometimes well outside London, away from jobs, schools, friends and other links in the community.

The protest at Hackney Town Hall, organised by East End Sisters Uncut and London Renters Union was over the failure by Hackney Council to provide suitable rehousing for two families remaining in Marian Court, both of whom attended and spoke at the event, and who seem to have been victimised because they particular housing needs and have stood up for their rights. You can see more about both of them and their issues with the council at Hackney don’t victimise housing activists.

And a few pictures of the area including Marian Court in Hackney


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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Highgate to Stoke Newington

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

On the early May Bank Holiday – the one that should have been on May Day but isn’t – Linda and I walked another short section of the Capital Ring, from Highgate to Stoke Newington.

After a short walk along footpaths and roads, the route joins the former railway line which is now the Parkland Walk. Quite a lot of this is in a cutting, though there are some embankment sections, but except where the line has bridges over roads the view is often very limited by trees and bushes which have grown beside the former line.

A long bridge takes you across the East Coast main line and its suburban outliers and into Finsbury Park, where both cafe and toilets were very welcome.

Across the park you join the New River, supplying water to London since 1613, thanks in particular to the efforts of Sir Hugh Myddelton, though I expect he had quite a few others to dig it for him (and it wasn’t his idea in the first place.)

This goes along the edge of the Woodberry Down Estate, a large area bought by the LCC for housing in 1934, but only developed after the war as a ‘utopian estate of the future‘. Building began in 1949 and the 57 large blocks of flats were only completed in 1962. The estate included the country’s first purpose built comprehensive school and a medical estate opened by Nye Bevan, but unfortunately was allowed to deteriorate over the years, and beggining in 2009 became one of Europe’s biggest single-site estate regeneration projects.

The controversial scheme by Berkeley Homes, Notting Hill Genesis and Hackney Council will involve a loss of around a fifth of social housing in the area estimated by the council at around 320 homes and has been described as ‘state-sponsored gentrification‘ with 3 bed flats selling for around £800,000 and many being bought up as investments by foreign investors rather than used as homes.

On the opposite side of the path, across the New River are large reservoirs of open water, part now a nature reserve with public access (and another tea room with toilets) and another used for sailing and other water sports. The remarkable Scottish Baronial castle built as offices for the water board is now a climbing centre.

From there it’s a short walk to Clissold Park (another cafe and toilets – this must be the best provided section of the Capital Ring) and Stoke Newington Church Street, often described as a ‘hipster hub‘. Next to the park are the two churches of St Mary, the older locked but with an atmospheric and overgrown churchyard and the Victorian built in 1858 to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott,  open and well worth a visit.

As a final climax we came to Abney Park Cemetery, one of London’s finest, set up in 1840 as a burial ground for non-conformists and the final resting place of around 200,000 Londoners, now a nature reserve. We looked up the train times from nearby Stoke Newington station and rather than rushing through to the station spent some time wandering around and finding a few of the better-known graves and some other interesting monuments.

In our rush from there the few hundred yards to the station I lost a little concentration and we went down to the wrong platform and caught a train going into London rather than out and had to re-plan our journey home. It turned out to be almost as fast.

More pictures from the walk at Highgate to Stoke Newington.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
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Haddo

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

I woke up early this morning worrying about this picture, and that below of the Haddo estate in Greenwich, around Tarves Way off Norman Road close to Deptford Creek and Greenwich Station.

How is it that an estate which seems so neat and tidy and so well-loved both by the council and the residents behind their trim net curtains some 15 or 20 years after it was built in the 1960s (I can’t find the exact building date) had deteriorated to such an extent that the Haddo Estate around Tarves Way was one of the first to be ‘regenerated’ under New Labour with the homes emptied and demolished only 20 years later around 2003 at a cost of £90m?

Back around 2000, and to some extent now, politicians indulged themselves blaming the architect of these and other schemes, though more often it was perhaps the builders or system developers who were at fault for disasters such as Ronan Point, a short distance across the river. But many of the estates that have been or are being demolished were well designed, decently constructed and basically sound, perhaps good for at least another 50 years.

Many of the faults were faults of their time, which could have been prevented by proper maintenance or corrected with relatively inexpensive melioration – new windows, insulation etc. Resident caretakers and appropriate security systems – like those that turned Trellick Tower from sink to highly des res could perhaps have saved Haddo. Instead even many estates that were built with resident caretakers lost them, replaced by the occasional quick drive-by visit from a man in a council van – and the occasional heavy-handed police raid.

More fundamentally we have to ask how it happened that a housing policy once driven by social justice and civic pride that built many fine estates changed over that period to one led by estate agents, developers and profit. It happened under a regime that sought to remove all power from local authorities by a process of pauperisation and emasculation, forcing them to sell off properties at cut price and preventing them from using the proceeds to replace them.

And of course it goes wider than housing. Under Thatcher and Thatcherlite New Labour, greed and personal ambition at the expense of others became the order of the day. Our ideas about community, strong after the war and the era of the welfare state which followed it where whittled away by a leader who stressed self-reliance and the individual (or at best the nuclear family) and told us there was no such thing as society. Back in the early 80s I could walk around estates like this carrying a large bag of expensive camera gear and never feel any danger, but fifteen years later things had changed.

Part of the equation was certainly the relatively high standards, both of internal space in the dwellings and the green spaces around the buildings which make them such delectable targets for demolition and replacement with properties at high market or near market (the unaffordable “affordable”) returns.

I don’t know much of the details of the Haddo estate, either before or after its replacement, but have seen what has happened and is if anything now accelerating at other council estates in London, the majority in Labour-run boroughs.

Plans outlined in the building press showed ‘New Haddo’ was to have 510 homes, around half built for market rate sale, a third for some kind of so-called “affordable” rent and 85 for shared ownership. In most such regenerations by the time they come to completion, ways have been found to increase the proportion at market rates, by claiming that the developer cannot make sufficient profit – a figure set ludicrously high.

There appear to have been no homes in the new development at real social rents which most of those in the properties in my pictures will have been paying, and which will almost certainly have been sufficient to have paid off the council’s investment in building the estate.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images