This week Jennifer – the former Sweets Way mum we organised around last month – and her two boys moved into a lovely new build flat, near her work and the boys’ school. They will be the first family to live in the housing association new build, with social levels of rent, and a fairly secure tenancy. The flat is spacious, the price is right and the location is good, even if it is just outside of the borough.
This is more than any other family from Sweets Way has been able to say so far, and Jennifer, having been through so much already, is in equal parts thrilled and relieved.
This week, she went from being one of the people treated worst by Barnet Council, to having the best living arrangements of any former Sweets Way residents. After all she’s been through, everyone in the campaign is incredibly happy for her and glad she will be able to return to a life less shaped by inconvenience, insecurity, and fear.
However, we also need to be clear: Barnet Council and Barnet Homes failed Jennifer, repeatedly – even up to the previous Friday when they had another opportunity to support her when she declared herself homeless, and was rejected. Even just this past week when an email from Barnet Homes arrived reiterating their initial decisions, and arguing that Jennifer had not provided enough evidence of threat of domestic violence, and that threats online were not dependent on where she was living, and were thus inconsequential!
The institutions that were meant to support Jennifer failed abjectly, just as they have so many others from the estate and beyond. Particularly given the violence Jennifer had experienced, the failure of the council was particularly stark.
What succeeded in getting Jennifer a good place to live was the proactive good will of Alison Cornelius, Barnet Councillor and wife of Richard Cornelius, the leader of Barnet Council. Alison found the flat, arranged the details and went with Jennifer to sign the paperwork.
We were all amazed by the lengths she went to support her. This was clearly well above-and-beyond her duties as a member of Council, and has made an immeasurable difference in Jennifer’s life.
However, Alison Cornelius, no matter how kind a person, is not able to solve the housing crisis at Sweets Way, or across Barnet, through acts of charitable kindness alone.
This is because there are too many people, facing too many housing problems. Therefore, even with the best intent, the solution needs to be collective, not individual. Otherwise, we are left with a system in which those have been able to connect personally with those with more money and influence are more able to get the homes that they need. Everyone else still suffers. And there are a lot of us still suffering because of the Council’s neglectful decision to approve the demolition of Sweets Way at a time where the borough constantly reminds us that there is a shortage of affordable housing.
That said, we are very appreciative of the efforts Alison made after we had gone to great lengths to highlight the importance of Jennifer’s situation. Now Jennifer is settling in to her new home and that’s good news for all of us. We just feel there is a great need to change the policies and practices that led to a situation where Alison Cornelius needed to step up in this way at all. Jennifer’s situation should never have reached the point it did. Barnet had chance-after-chance to do the right thing, and refused. That it did is an indication that something is fundamentally broken in Barnet’s housing system, and has yet to be repaired.
We are writing this to be clear – we will continue to campaign to make sure homes are available to those who need them in Barnet. We are incredibly appreciative of the lengths Alison Cornelius has gone to for Jennifer, and out of that same sense of empathy and compassion that led her to take the steps she did, we will continue to campaign to ensure that no one else is ever left in the terrifying position that Barnet Council left Jennifer in.