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:
- Whether the builder and architect (pre /post planning) have worked together before.
- How they will agree and communicate any design modifications
- 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.
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
This week, I have been procrastinating over our response to the Mayor of London’s Draft Homes for Londoners consultation. We love regeneration, not just for its own sake but because done well it can genuinely improve lives. But so many landlords seem to be hungry to realise land values at the expense of carrying local communities along with their plans. That is my major problem with the Guidance – that it stop shorts of giving existing communities a genuine say in the future of their homes and estates. In fact it even shies away from a test of opinion in case some conscientious independent tenants and leaseholders advisor interprets that as a ballot. It’s extremely short-sighted to believe that gentrification can continue at the current rate and surely nobody believes that there is not a price to pay for clearing working class residents from high land value areas.
Affordable homes can be built with the approval of residents, it’s not easy but infinitely doable. What is required is for landlords and their consultants to listen as well as speak. To develop business plans and programmes which protect or enhance the lifestyle of existing residents and place value on protecting affordable low cost renting options in the Capital.
Recently, I have heard planners talk about existing estates not being “dense enough”; landlords contemplating demolition of perfectly good social housing to maximise land use; and architects report that the requirement to make play provision is challenging. No wonder residents are angry. With thousands of families in temporary accommodation, nobody can argue with the need for more housing, indeed I have never heard a council tenant dispute the need for more housing they are the sector’s strongest champions. But turkeys will never vote for Christmas and tenants and leaseholders will never vote for redevelopment unless they can see something in it for them and the next generation.
So landlords must present proposals which protect secure tenancy rights, do not disadvantage leaseholders and create great places for people to live in. There will still be painful choices but surely we can get residents to agree that:
- Some blocks are beyond the end of their useful life (if they are)
- Garages and car-parking are less important than new homes and open space
- Community centres don’t have to be single storey standalone buildings
Certainly a compromise can be reached, and tenants will (and have in Hackney) vote in a ballot for good regeneration.
Failure to provide appropriately priced rented housing for the families of bus drivers (Sadiq Khan please note) or shared ownership options to which teachers can aspire will have a catastrophic on London’s economy and therefore the UK.
With respect to the presenter, our session with the committee members of a developing tenant management organisation to seek to negotiate the contents of their management agreement with their Council was not the most exciting prospect for a Saturday. A view obviously shared by some absent members.
However, aided by a presentation referencing real life experiences and a small, fully engaged group of participants: the event was not only informative but stimulating and yes there were even some laughs. I was reminded of one of the reasons I started working in housing in the first place. A roof over your family’s head is one of the most fundamental desires for anybody and, increasingly, a precious commodity. The investment made by society in trying to ensure every family has a home is very special in the UK.
It can be pleasurable to be part of introducing a new tenant to their home – especially as housing applicants in the most need may have come from quite traumatic circumstances. Tenants at our event have lived in their council homes for up to 35 years and remain grateful for them.
Each potential problem that can arise in a tenancy involves a real human problem: repairs, rent arrears and benefit claims, debt, transfers, succession on death of a tenant, troublesome neighbours, their kids and their dogs – this session explored them all.
Watching this committee develop their ideas to make the experience of renting a home in their tenant management organisation something to be proud of and something they would value through behaviour was inspiring. From the moment a tenant views their home on this estate, the tenant management organisation wants them to feel at home, part of a community. However, they will expect every resident to adhere to a good neighbours’ code of conduct and tenants to pay their rent on time. In return they are determined to provide a best value service, protect the rights of quiet enjoyment and ensure that their staff provide compassionate support when needed. They’ll go far.