Back in January I started door-knocking in Longlands House, one of the four iconic high-rise Barton Hill tower blocks situated around Urban Park. Working my way down from the top floor (I like to work with gravity not against it!), I asked people what they loved about the block and the area, what concerned them and what they’d like to see change in the future.
At first, nothing major seemed to jump out at me from the listening work. But then I noticed a theme to people’s concerns. Many people were experiencing inadequate heating after a newly-installed Integral heating system. People on the top floors of Longlands House were telling me that they were frequently cold and had resorted to buying additional blankets for the bed and wearing extra layers of clothing in the house. People with babies were especially concerned that their flats were cold. One man wouldn’t even get out from under his duvet to talk to me because he was shivering – I kept my coat on and crouched by the radiator!
As I continued listening, other issues emerged. After I’d listened to most of the people on each floor, I turned the list of loves and concerns into a flyer and posted it through every door. The result was a couple of phone calls and texts from people telling me they agreed strongly with the words on the flyer and wanted to see some change. I asked if they’d be prepared to come to a short meeting.
We had to meet at Barton Hill Settlement, since there is no accessible communal area at Longlands House. For a year or two, the community room at Longlands House has been used as a coffee break room by caretakers on the estate. This prevented tenants from meeting on site to organise themselves, and this was added to the list of concerns.
From the meeting, it was decided that things people loved about Longlands House were:
* Generally safe (thanks to gates and CCTV, although there are some issues around the usefulness of these)
* Generally quiet
* Nice people
The group then decided to focus on the concerns and ideas for change. The main things that came up were:
* Poor heating (radiators and water not getting hot)
* Inadequate cleaning of communal hallways and laundry areas
* The outside of the block being grimy and covered in moss (“It makes you ashamed to live here” as one resident said.)
* No community room
The group decided to draft a kind of consultation document – part petition, part survey. It listed the top 5 concerns and asked tenants to tick which they thought was the most relevant. They then created a row for each of the 86 flats and decided to get someone from every flat to sign. After much hard work door-knocking and setting up flip charts and “Cake and Chat!” tables in the lobby, the group managed to meet and get a signature from 66% of the flats. Except for one person, EVERYBODY they met readily agreed to sign the petition.
The next step was to get the petition to the council. Should we post it in or go in person, we wondered. Then we realised it would be much better to get the Council to come to us. The local housing officer, Maria Connor, agreed to come and do a walk-around of the building and officially receive the group’s petition. She was joined by Craig Boston, the caretaking site manager.
After listening to the group’s concerns, Maria has approached the relevant staff at Bristol City Council and asked them to respond within 14 days. We’ll see what the outcome is.
The group’s next move is to form a Tenant’s Association. But without any communal space on site, where will they meet? This shows how important space and infrastructure are to how power is organised. Without a meeting room, it’s hard to have a functioning group. However, Maria and Craig seemed to be listening to the group and have put the wheels in motion for returning the community room back to its intended users – the residents.
What have your experiences been of voicing concerns to the council about housing? Perhaps you have concerns about your social housing or landlord? It would be good to hear about it.
Longlands House Action Group have achieved 3 positive results!
1. A fourth washing machine has been given the go ahead for installation.
2. Overtime has been agreed for caretakers to better clean maintain the laundries.
3. Caretakers have been given the go-ahead to clean the full length of corridors and up to people’s front doors.
Great results! Now we just have to ensure everything goes ahead as agreed.