All posts by Carol Squires

About Carol Squires

Carol Squires is the founding partner at Source Partnership and a keen champion of social housing. the practice prides itself in developing projects to improve the lives of residents

Video killed the Radio Star

Or rather the resident consultation process. Oh the heady days of early 2020 – when residents flocked to events to see what their landlord has planned for their futures, when they could look architects in the eye and touch drawings and models, even point their fingers and shout a bit.

Since the end of March we have become slaves to our laptops, our phones and tablets. We have learned the best place in our homes to get good light (so people can see us look interested but not the increasing grey wild hair) and the best angle for WiFi connection to enable to us to do part of our job.

Finding it fascinating that as we (mainly professionals very few residents are engaging this way) are talking amongst ourselves about whether tenants displaced by demolition should get built in wardrobes or not – we can see colleagues with very nice custom built book shelves in their home office. On an untidy day I can put myself a minimalist background or even claim bandwidth failure and appear as a talking emoji. We have become acutely aware of the challenges facing families on lower incomes cooped up in small flats with limited outside space – a great time to consult about improved public realm if only we could talk to residents.

A Facebook group established on one of our projects has attracted more residents than come to the average drop-in event and the views from lock-down have been revealing and sometimes poignant. Here are just a few highlights:

“My priorities for all residents is to treat the exterior spaces as they would their living rooms. Inject some pride in the shared environment”

“Oh to have trees and to be able to look at it through my window”

“Next to the home we live in, I would like to enjoy as much peace and quiet as possible and see grass and trees instead of parked cars.”

“How about a pantry? Would that be something to think about too. From going through this pandemic virus. I’ve learnt a lot about food storage, and it is definitely handy to have.”

“We live in a busy city so home is more for relaxing. That’s my view”.

We all are more intimately acquainted with the joys and short-comings of our homes having spent an unprecedented amount of tine there, never will residents have more ideas about inproving their spaces.

Other platforms hosting virtual planning consultations and chat boxes opening when a resident logs in have been less successful with only the most determined residents being prepared enough with their battery of questions. Most just leave the site, perhaps feeling intimidated or watched? And telephone consultation? A tenant recently confided that she felt uncomfortable being cold-called by a landlord representative or consultant and felt that her views were being recorded and personalised and she wanted to know what her neighbours thought too.

Certainly every single project has lost resident momentum since lock-down began and when we can eventually face our public again – we’ll need to build up bridges again. Beware the clients who have moved design proposals forward in their Microsoft Teams Bubble you need to take residents on the journey.

As Fat Larry’s Band would sing “Oh zoom, you chased the day away”.

Regeneration in Lock-down

Up until 20 working days ago, we wondered how we would manage to speak to so many people about so many projects and ensure that at least 7 projects would get through the ballot and planning processes this year.

With some of our clients, this push took on a life of its own driven by balancing lots of proects,  staff and venue availability and stretching everybody’s resources to the limit. Our last public event took place on the second Thursday in March and it was clear the next day,  when the football season was suspended due to risks presented the Covid-19 virus, that our industry would need to think again.

We have shifted to virtual consultation and communications;  taken our computers home and rationalised what can be done without resident input. The truth is not very much can, and I am sure that other partners in our projects are realising just how pivotal gaining the the trust and belief of residents is. Nothing can proceed to ballot or planning applications without residents seeing, hearing,  touching plans. A timely reminder of where the power should rest, within the community.

Communities need to be supported to adapt to the new normal; to put themselves and their loved ones first; and lost of all forget the worry that regeneration brings with it as well as the advantages. Whilst we can’t meet face-to-face we are keen to keep in touch and alleviate any worries people may have. Even if you are feeling stir-crazy and just want a chat, give us a call or drop an e-mail.

We have made is a list of resources for families cooped-up at home and wanting a way to keep brains going Lockdown links Feel free to ask for a copy and share this widely we all need all the help we can get. The advice from an experienced home educator is to choose just one or two activities each day plus the PE class if your family is not active otherwise (walking / cycling / playing outside), rather than attempt a home education. If nothing else, it limits screen time. If we come across more we will send them on.

We really hope you all keep healthy and well and that we see you all at a community event before too long.

Our Best Wishes

Carol Rob & the Team

Democracy is Something to Embrace

We have been quiet on the social media and blogging side since December, been busy supporting residents through ballots and other regeneration consultations.

A couple of years ago we wrote about a test of opinion that was too close to call (50:50 by voter and 52:48 by household) and the landlord decided they did not have a remit to pursue their proposed regeneration.

Since then our clients have  been upping their game to develop proposals which, whilst they do not get universal support, are clear enough and beneficial enough to gain the support of the majority of those eligible to vote. These despite  noisy minority, external and political opposition. The process has been challenging for regeneration partners who have become used to imposing their professional judgement on what is needed to regenerate neighbourhoods – the “we know best” designers, builders and officers. For residents and other community stakeholders the process has been genuinely empowering.

Schemes that are developed in genuine consultation with residents are better, it was ever thus. The Greater London Authority’s  ballot guidance which also gives those waiting for housing a chance to vote (primarily homeless families in temporary housing and hidden households or adult children of tenants) discourages communities from voting for the status quo. However, regeneration schemes still need to be attractive and sustainable.

In our experience, there are some key factors to developing a scheme that will get a positive ballot:

  1. Social housing tenants universally think that social housing is amazing and want is retained or increased within reason.
  2. Nobody wants to be shipped out of their community to make way for gentrification
  3. Leaseholders and freeholders want fair treatment with regard to value and the ability to remain in their home area.
  4. Most people understand the broad economics of getting some new homes paid for via grant and the need to build for sale

For no voters, it is disappointing to learn that their neighbours do not agree with them and maybe they are personally not gaining anything

One or two landlords are thanking their lucky stars that their schemes fall outside the ballot guidance so that they can push through schemes which residents would never support. In the light of recent ballot results which demonstrate that communities can be trusted to make good  decisions that affect their futures, those proposals’  days are numbered

Moving Joe

We are all aware of sensationalist media reports depicting hoarders as freaks or health hazards but not many of us understand the extent of hoarding within the population or the complexity of this condition.  Working on rehousing projects in inner-London over the past 20 years has given me an insight into hoarding and the complex people who hoard. My experience indicates that 10-20% of people living in social housing have a hoarding issue –  they are primarily but not always single.

Joe was not my first hoarder or indeed the worst, but probably the most memorable  and certainly a “text book” example of the complexities of the compulsion. Joe was 80, born on a small Mediterranean island, he recalled traumatic childhood memories of WW2. How he ended up in social housing in London is unclear.   Joe lived quietly, until the day that regeneration arrived on his estate, resulting in the need for him to move to make way for demolition. Joe had no interest in improving his housing conditions, he believed that he was being systematically poisoned by the authorities, agents and persons unknown. He had created a makeshift bunker within his flat in which he felt safe, he was surrounded by his huge collection of useful things. Every ache and pain  he put down to substances to which he had been subjected; he believed he was being followed daily and photographed the people he believed were responsible sharing these photographs whenever we met. February 016

He traveled all over London to shake them off, he was forever on the move on some self-set assignment to get copies of documents and request that records held about him be destroyed. Joe was constantly surprising he visited book shops and knew all the latest titles, he spent afternoons at the cinema, he knew every bus route and public building in London He remembered the name of every council officer and had a clear view whether they were “part of it” – the conspiracy that is.

The day came when, supported by the excellent decant team at Hackney Council, a new home was identified for Joe and the long process of gaining his trust and relocating his bunker began. We started with single carrier bags, and odd things taken to charity shops; then boxes passed through the door; larger items too precious to be entrusted to strangers pushed on a makeshift trolley (sometimes under the cover of night); and occasionally via the boot of my car. Finally he trusted me enough to let me into his home and we could accelerate the process.

Almost two years later, having checked his new home daily  for “substances” and people getting in while he was not there; thanks to extremely patient council officers; the removal contractor who staged a phased removal; and repairs operatives –  the longest running decant move in the history of social housing was completed. Joe took me to breakfast to celebrate and paid me a touching compliment ” I have spent years running away from people because I had been in their home but couldn’t ask them into mine. Now you have been into my home – you are in my heart”.

Joe isolated himself from his brother and sister, he never married believing that contact with him would put others in danger. His delusions made him believe and say strange things, he lived a desperately lonely life and sadly died alone only six months after moving. Now he is in my heart too.

From my experience with Joe and many others like him – here are some tips for dealing with hoarders:

  • Most hoarders with them.
  • Hoarding is a compulsion not a lifestyle choice, professionals should not be judgemental, there are often other mental health issues at play.
  • Action should be person-centred, constant and at a pace comfortable for the hoarder, I recommend little steps daily.
  • Intervention should initially be limited to health and safety concerns
  • Be prepared for set-backs, major de-cluttering rarely works and generally results in compulsive re-collecting.
  • Follow-up regularly.

If you would like advice or practical support with a hoarder we are happy to help, we can agree strategies engage hoarders  and provide support workers to do face-to-face support.

Builders who can Talk – Meet the contractor

We have recently  introduced six or seven different demolition and construction firms to residents’ groups with whom we have worked for some time. What has really struck me is that the best firms have really upped their game in terms of talking and listening to residents.

Sure, most have all mastered the art of producing engaging PowerPoint presentations (or their marketing departments have)  with images of actual built projects mixed up with computer generated images of projects on site or still in dreamland. However, the people talking to these slide shows have developed a real understanding of their target audience and how to draw parallels between the glossy pictures and the estates they about to start work on.

One tenant recently said to me that she wished they had met the builders before they met the architects because only when the construction company came along did they feel they feel that a resident friendly scheme could come out of the upheaval that is estate regeneration. That firm had listened to over an hour of complaints about potential management issues in the new scheme; anti-social behaviour; and pigeons. Clearly,  they could do no more than empathise  and suggest secured by design solutions yet they won the residents group over through listening.

Residents feel that builders understand buildings and what it is like to live in social housing. Probably many of them did as children. Interesting as most landlords (including hers) spend a fortune on protracted design-led consultations to nail down every single thing it is possible to specify ahead of a planning application.  Landlords have rightly wanted to rely on good design to protect the end product from short-cuts and costs saving substitute materials The bad old days of design and build contracts which delivered quickly but to questionable standards.

The best firms are those who work closely with architectural practices to achieve great design features alongside practical niceties such as supply-chain availability, buildability and durability for the end user. Those schemes shine through, they may not win awards but they do deliver fabulous homes that the people, who are living in them, love many years after the grand opening.

Our hot tips are to ask:

  1. Whether the builder and architect (pre /post planning) have worked together before.
  2. How they will agree and communicate any design modifications
  3. Whether you can visit a scheme which has been occupied for more than 1 or 2 years

Well done, you all know who you are,  as do those who are more old school.

 

Community so much more than a Centre

Last Saturday a small enthusiastic group of resident volunteers from Kings Crescent Estate in Hackney, their newly re-elected ward councillors and some of their children  made the short journey to the Redmond Community Centre at Woodberry Down. This was intended as fact-finding mission as we seek to inspire residents to look at ways in which the proposed community centre to be built in the final stages of the regeneration might bring a new vibrant social and community life to the area. The Redmond Centre is managed by the Manor House Development Trust (MDHT) which has operated for almost 11 years at Woodberry Down.

The lovely temporary Vince Murrain Centre is under-used which is a shame and a cause for concern for the Council who have committed to reprovide the facility. It will be removed to make way  for the construction of the next phase and replaced in the ground floor of one of the new buildings.

We had struggled to get volunteers to attend but were grateful that a few people showed interest and gave up their morning. The first thing you notice about the Redmond Centre when you enter is the high ceiling, the next is the mass of activities taking place and  being advertised.  The map on the floor reminds you that you are just less than ten minutes walk away from Kings Crescent, not in another world. The children quickly realised that the more interesting feature of the Centre is not the building but the linked yet separate play area. The parents quickly realised that they could relax and absorb the presentation and tour feeling their children were occupied and safe.

As ever, Simon Donovan (CEO of the Trust) spoke passionately about the model he has established to ensure that the Centre is viable and how the business relies not just on a paid team; but draws volunteers from corporate and student organisations. The things that impressed residents in the tour were the small and simple things: the community fridge which has  given away 300kg of food; the recycled wood used for the ceiling and shelving;  the communal growing area; and the open design of the entrance.

Lessons learnt from the visit are:

  • Community is more complex than just an Estate
  • Linking indoor and outdoor community space works really well
  • Running a centre has to be treated like running a business
  • The building is just a platform for developing and implementing ideas

We hope to develop more ideas through visiting other centres and talking to more social enterprises over the coming months . Although Kings Crescent’s  Community Centre won’t have the back-drop of the reservoirs to frame their environment, there is already a playable street to which will be added high quality landscaping. Just add Community.

 

Applicants wanted to work in Regeneration and Social Housing

 

Last year, for  almost 6 months we tried to appoint a young person based in Hackney as a paid intern to gain experience of housing regeneration and community work. As we love our work,  we naïvely thought that this position would attract plenty of school leavers or graduates keen to get some practical skills to add to their CV.

Careers in housing seem to be reached almost entirely by accident, yet the range of skills that can be acquired and the diversity of areas you can work in means that there are very, very few boring jobs in the sector. The sector needs to do more to attract bright compassionate people to want to work in housing and community work.

Eventually we recruited Lydia through word of mouth and it was a successful six month internship on both sides. Lydia enjoyed the wide range of tasks we gave her and the chance to follow her own interests too. We appreciated having an extra pair of hands. She has gone on to be successfully accepted onto a masters degree in Urban Regeneration and follow her dream to work abroad.  Read her blog of December 2017 to learn more about how she felt.

This year we are busier than ever and hope to give another enthusiastic graduate or school leaver the chance to find out how fascinating working with a community as they face major changes to their homes and community can be. Our advertisement is on the Graduate Talent Poll website and www.indeed.com. We also will accept CVs via e-mail to rob@sourcepartnership.com or carol@sourcepartnership.com

 

When a Test of Opinion is Too Close to Call

We recently completed a Test of Opinion for a large housing association to gauge support from tenants for a full estate redevelopment versus a refurbishment scheme. This consultation came at the end of a full options appraisal which had engaged tenants of the estate in workshop events and two exhibitions over 12 months.

A Tenants Steering Group has led on selecting us as their independent advisors, selecting architects and commenting on each and every option are they were presented. As it often the case, a number of tenants volunteered hours of their time, using up precious leave from work, sacrificing family time and calling in child-care favours to ensure that proposals were the best they possibly could be. The estate blocks are  mainly heated by electrical night storage heaters and tenants report extremely high energy bills and lack of warmth and hot water. between 20 and 30 families are living in overcrowded conditions.

In the shadow of the Grenfell Tower fire, the refurbishment option excluded cladding as many tenants  were fearful of this and similarly installing gas in the taller blocks was dismissed. However gas central central heating is possible for the lower rise blocks and  this solution has already been applied to the ten town houses. There was proposed some small scale new build and garage conversions to create larger family homes.

The more radical and expensive option of complete redevelopment involved phased decanting of homes with 26 tenants required to move off the estate with a right to return. Tenants interrogated the architects about the extent of the disruption for those who would be living on a building site for several years so that tenants could realistically anticipate  the pain.

The test of opinion took place over two weeks following the final design exhibition.  There was a late campaign led by the tenants of the town houses to reject redevelopment and some misrepresentation of the facts were evident in this. However, in the main tenants participated with an 82% turnout being achieved by the deadline. We believe that this was because the test of opinion returns were confidential either on-line or by post.

The votes cast were split 50% / 50% for each option and only by analysing the results by household (very few joint tenancies) was identifying a marginal preference possible – our very own Brexit.

The landlord has decided to explore further the refurbishment option and to enhance the refurbishment “offer”  in an attempt to win over those who expressed a preference for redevelopment. The outcome of the findings regarding cladding at Grenfell Tower and  the outcome of the pilot renewal of an electrical storage system  over the coming cold months will be pivotal.

A Long Time Coming

In the blink of an eye (well to be honest 20 odd years since the demolition of the original tower blocks Barkway  and Sandridge Courts) a new housing development has risen on the western horizon of Clissold Park. Known locally as Kings Crescent Estate and to recent incomers as Clissold Quarter, this marks the half-way stage of the regeneration first proposed by Hackney Council back in the 1990s.

My first involvement at Kings Crescent was as the consultant helping the residents association to set up a tenant management organisation in 1998. Quite quickly, once the regeneration began, the core of dedicated activists found themselves drawn into a process to improve homes on their estate. Resident Representatives selected a developer RSL partner thinking that it would all be sorted by the new millennium but it was not to be. Further demolitions (Westmill Court and Codicott Terrace, part of Weston Court and Lemsford Court) followed and the tenants from these homes were decanted into the retained blocks with a right to return to a new-build home. One tenant was unlucky enough to be decanted three times and several moved twice as proposals changed.

There were various incarnations of the regeneration, with the first phase being the delivery of new homes on the Barkway Court site in 2002. The Decent Homes programme was delivered to the retained blocks between 2009 and 2012.  Around  this time, the Council decided to become  the lead developer for its regeneration programme and in 2013 a masterplan for the new-build and enhanced refurbishment works was agreed.

Hence, what has happened since 2013 seems – to residents – to be incredibly quick, compared to what went before. As the Council welcomes new residents into the community,  Resident Representatives remind the landlord that it’s only halfway through!

The tenants management organisation was put on hold in 2009 despite an overwhelming Yes Vote from the community, as the core of Representatives took on more of the tasks relating to regeneration and for a while I observed from a distance before returning as independent tenants and leaseholders advisor alongside HRS consultants in 2013 . When the lead advisor retired in 2015 Source Partnership was appointed to carry the baton.

When I started in the Estate in 1998, I stated that this was my last project I would finish before starting a family, a good job I didn’t wait. My son has now started sixth form and the remaining activists from 1998 feel like my family.