ITV news has just exposed what experts are calling ‘the worst housing in Britain’ right here on our doorsteps in Croydon. Black mould-saturated walls were exposed in a South Norwood tower block, leaving families at risk of electrocution as cold droplets leaked on to the wires of lights and fridges. We are witnessing Grenfell levels of risk, but this time based on water not fire. We are calling on you now to help. We need your skills, your guidance, your expertise and your time.
This is not an isolated case; the problems are systemic, deep and impacting many who didn’t make it on to the cameras last night. We need your support to fix it. Perhaps the most harrowing thing about ITV’s coverage was the fact that no one seemed to listen to residents’ concerns. Complaints were reported for months, “at least 20 times”, but it was as if they had no voice. These residents share our streets and shops, they report their concerns, but they are not seen or heard. Particularly in lockdown, they and their problems are literally shut behind closed doors. As Fransoy put it: “I feel neglected. I don’t even feel like I’m human.”
Our campaign group Accommodation Action wants to change that. Founded just a few months ago, we are an alliance of residents living specifically in temporary accommodation and wider volunteers from across the borough. What makes us different is that many of our leaders have directly experienced these conditions and know what it’s like to suffer and be ignored. Like all great unions, we know that if you lack wealth or political office, the one way to get power is by standing alongside each other.
Unfortunately, ITV’s coverage was all too familiar to us. We have spoken out about how one of our mums shared a bed with her teenage son for over a year, about the fact that children are trying to study at home with no internet access and how families are struggling to keep clean during the pandemic with no access to washing machines. We’ve seen bedbugs and mould ignored or superficially treated. Safeguarding procedures feel patchy and inspections have been suspended or delayed during lockdown.
Working together, we have made progress. As reported by OnLondon, by shouting together we have been heard by one major private landlord who has rapidly introduced internet and washing facilities – we are in fact meeting later today to discuss plans for a new community garden for residents. Similarly, our collective voices, with support from local ward councillors, have enabled us to meet with senior managers at the council and for residents to speak directly to power about their concerns. The council listened and have committed to meet us again after Easter to report back on what has changed.
Now we want to get more voices heard. With so many leaders of our group living with these conditions, it becomes impossible to deny their testimony. When they work alongside sharp-elbowed and politically connected volunteers, our power increases. But perhaps our proudest achievement is something bigger than the physical changes we’ve made. Our campaign has helped build confidence, leadership and voice. It has educated those of us living outside these blocks, and it has forged new friendships. All of us have grown – and we want to do more.
We are calling for your help to expand our work. We have helped individual families and individual blocks: we want to campaign for system wide change. For this we need advice, skills and expertise. Lawyers, inspectors, child protection specialists, environmental health officers, fire safety experts, relevant charity leaders, those with examples of best practice, those with time, history and experience of fighting this or those who are living with it… anyone who might be able to help or inform us, please do get in touch. If you are suffering or know someone who is suffering with temporary accommodation, refer them on.
We are navigating a hugely complex area and we need back up. ITV News ended by interviewing Dave Judith Hackitt who led the government’s independent inquiry into building and safety regulation after the Grenfell Tower fire. She said that one of the biggest problems was not poor material conditions, but the fact that no one would listen. We want to change that. Please, if you can, help us get heard. Tweet us @acc_action or email to get involved.