Listening in Barton House

I am currently working on gradually listening to all the residents of Barton House. Barton House is interesting to me, because although it was due to be demolished, in the early 2000′s its tenants campaigned to save it from demolition.

Opened in 1956, Barton House was developed in accordance with the ‘neighbourhood unit’ principle which was fashionable among planners at the end of the Second World War. Along with several other tower blocks in the area, Barton House was built in order to preserve’ a sense of community’. The Council was clearly very proud of them: their opening ceremonies were formal affairs attended by the Lord Mayor and other official guests.

Today, people have strong and very mixed feelings about the blocks. Often when I ask people what their vision for the future is, they say, “I’d like to see all the blocks torn down.” Poor maintenance, filthy or malfunctioning lifts, laundry conflicts, damp, asbestos, lead water pipes… these are just a few things people mention when they discuss living in their blocks. One tenant showed me how he can scrape thick asbestos from the walls of his kitchen. He’s been trying for 5 years to have his kitchen replaced, with no luck.

One tenant told me he’d been trying to get the Council to deal with his asbestos for five years.

Asbestos scraped from the walls of a Barton House kitchen.

In fact, a housing and community safety ballot in 2001 identified high-rise Barton House and low rise Chetwood and Hartland Houses as suitable for demolition.So why did tenants fight to save Barton House?

Perhaps the answer lies with what people imagined would happen if demolition took place. I asked the staff at Housing Solutions TMO what would have happened to tenants had Barton House been demolished. They told me that people would have been relocated outside the area, ideally with some kind of priority-status for moving back into Barton Hill once more housing had been contstruction. However, not everyone displaced would have qualified for housing. Anxiety around where they might end up living in the future and whether they’d be able to come back to the area seems to have been what prompted tenants to save Barton House.

However, the story is actually a little more complicated.  At first, the ballot in Barton House was actually 71% in favour of demolition, but at a New Deal for Communities board meeting, a further group of residents asked for the decision to be reversed. The minority who wanted to save the building had formed into a more organised group. After fuller debate some people decided to change their minds, so the board agreed to retain the building.

Now the opportunity for demolition seems to have passed. I wonder how most current residents would vote if they were asked today?


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