How we debunked the ‘regeneration’ lie: One year since the People’s Regeneration Show Home

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Last year we turned a smashed empty building into a beautiful family home. This is how we did it.

One year ago, several dozen of us did something remarkable. In the midst of London’s still-ongoing housing crisis, and as Barnet Council and Annington Properties Ltd continued to push for the social cleansing of the Sweets Way estate, we came together to undermine the core argument behind the destruction of our – and so many others’ – homes across London: that the only viable option for the estate was demolition and developer-led regeneration.

Following each family eviction, contractors were unleashed on our former homes, smashing porcelain, wastewater pipes and removing everything short of the doors they used to keep us out. In building after building, we found a pattern of deliberate damage that could only be explained as a way to make these otherwise liveable homes unliveable, in the midst of a housing crisis! The consistency between the buildings made clear that this was not the work of a rogue contractor, but a deliberate strategy to justify the demolition of the estate and to prevent its reoccupation.

But rather than dwell on the sociopathic tendencies of Sweets Way’s legal owners, we decided to prove that there was – and is – an alternative to handing homes to private developers for so-called ‘regeneration.’ In just one week, with found and donated materials, a few hundred pounds and countless hours of voluntary labour, we turned a smashed up shell of a building into a beautiful family home, overflowing with character and the strength of community that made it possible.

Now, one year on, we wanted to share how we did what we did. In July 2016, London is none-the-better-off then it was then. Estates are still being given away to private property developers intent only on making profit from the places we call home. Families are still being pushed out of London and forced to choose between rent, food, bills, furniture and other essentials.

The need for us – all of us – to continue to stand together and take back the homes we need has never been greater. The People’s Regeneration Show Home was one way we tried to do this, and we hope the lessons it offered can be put to use by others working to bring their communities together to shine a light on the regeneration lie and to demonstrate the power of people to create the housing solutions we need.

The PDF below offers a detailed guide to the steps we took to create the show home. Download it, share it, put it to use where you are and feel free to drop us a line [sweetswayresists[AT]gmail.com] if there is anything we can do to help you make it happen!

Love,

Sweets Way Resists

Download the PDF guide here

Here are some of the things the media had to say about the show home:

D.I.O. Regeneration: Proving that we can Do It Ourselves

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As of last Thursday, Sweets Way Resists had succeeded in regenerating 1/142nd of the Sweets Way estate. We did so in just six days and for about £370, using a lot of volunteer labour and a mix of found and donated materials. We hope that the People’s Regeneration Show Home will encourage others around London and beyond to come together and reclaim – and when necessary rebuild – homes where they are, rather than leaving them in the hands of those who simply see them as investments.

Beyond inspiring others with a little taste of what regular people are capable of doing to a smashed up building, we also showed that we can do Annington’s job – regeneration – better than they can. We’ve shown that the story of private development offering the only route to quality affordable homes is a convenient myth that facilitates the decimation of socially-rented housing stock, for the benefit of private profits. There IS another way.

Remember what we’ve done in this past week every time you hear a council, developer or social housing provider argue that it would be ‘too expensive’ to do anything other than just sell-off public homes or leave regeneration in the hands of the private sector! Why not put that argument to the test?

By our math, if we keep up our regeneration plans at last week’s rate, we could make the entire estate re-inhabitable for a mere £52,540. Which is considerably less than we’re sure Annington have earmarked for the project, or what Barnet Council spend each year on housing benefit given to private landlords.

Needless to say, their regeneration plans are slated to be considerably more expensive and will yield far fewer units below market rent than the current 142 houses. Annington will argue that none were ever social housing, but doing so is simply a distraction from the fact that they were leased as such for the past six years, and so in practice, their regen plans will drastically reduce the number of houses available to those who can’t afford full market rent from 142, to 59. (And those 59 are in themselves a mix of so-called ‘affordable’ homes that will cost up to 80% of market rent, and part-buy-part-let schemes, neither of which will be accessible to the majority of former residents.)

When we went into 153 Sweets Way, its waste water piping had been deliberately destroyed; its toilet and sink were smashed to bits; its upstairs windows were left open, letting rain in. Very few of us have any specialist skills or experience in DIY or renovation work, yet with just a bit of skilled help from a plumber, an electrician and a cabinetmaker, we fixed-up a building that had not simply been left to deteriorate over time, but had been deliberately made uninhabitable by its owners.

Most of us agree that the council should be offering homes to those who need them – but given their abject failure to protect critical housing stock in the midst of a housing crisis, it’s up to all of us to protect and secure the homes we need. Until they prove they can do their job, we’ll do what is needed to keep good homes and strong communities from being torn apart.

We’d call this D.I.Y. but it is more collective, more collaborative than that. None of us could have turned this home around on our own, but together, we can outdo one of the largest property owners in the country at their own game.

This is a D.I.O project – Doing It Ourselves – and we hope that others will take it and run with it wherever they are facing the sell-off and demolition of their homes. It’s up to all of us to find our way out of this housing crisis – let’s continue to prove that we can do it ourselves!

Come to 153 Sweets Way (N20 0NX) to get a sense of what we’re capable of, and learn more about how you might create a People’s Regeneration Show Home on your own estate!

On Saturday (August 8) we’re holding an open day on the estate. You can join us for:

– Our weekly street stall, 11-1 in front of Waitrose on the Whetstone High Road
– Tours of the People’s Regeneration Show Home and it’s smashed up counterpart, the Annington Degeneration Show Home, next door, 2-3pm @ 153 Sweets Way
– An open meeting hosted by Sweets Way Resists and Sweetstopia after the tours looking at ways to protect our estate from demolition.

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Our occupation turned 4 months old today…

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Today marks 4 months since our occupation began.

It seemed like a good time to go down memory lane and have a look at how it all started…

Firstly however we would like to thank amazing Focus E15 Mothers, Barnet Housing Action Group, Our West Hendon, and all the other extraordinary selfless individuals. Their commitment to help people, and pure spirit made it all happen, and they were there through tears and laughter. We would never be able to thank them enough- they are truly inspirational.

We would also like to thank YOU ALL for your amazing support and heartwarming messages.

We are all so grateful for your ongoing support. Please continue to do so, after all, we all need homes…

NEWS: Jennifer moved into a new flat this week!

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

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.

Why I’m not totally devastated by the election…

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Post-election karaoke at the community house.

Nicked from Liam’s Facebook wall:

“So I woke up today to a torrent of misery on Facebook and Twitter over the election results. I felt a bit of it myself, though fighting government has become a bit of a given for me, and something that I’ve seen the desperate need for in both Tory + Labour strongholds, so didn’t expect a great deal from the election. Still – the thought of that many Tory voters wasn’t easy to wake up to…

Then I went up to the occupied Sweets Way community house in Barnet, for Daniel, a boy who used to live on the estate’s 7th birthday party. Sweets Way is at the frontlines of the fight against social cleansing, privatisation and inequality; we are organising there against evictions, housing demolitions and families being forced into properties miles away from the places they live their lives. This can be grim stuff, to say the least, but to leave it at that would be a disservice.

What was notable about today’s visit to Sweets Way? Nothing… Except that no one seemed especially fussed about the election. And everyone was having a great time together. There was a magician and cake and karaoke, all of which were thoroughly enjoyed on site at this protest occupation (which also happened to turn two months old, as Daniel turned 7 today).

A few comments were made about Tory bastards, but it was hardly the abysmal front page news my Facebook feed had been telling me. It was a given that the bastards would keep serving the interests of the powerful, and that we would keep fighting that. Of course that fight is a monumentally hard one, but at Sweets Way it was not the crippling loss so many others perceived it to be.

One thing I think has been abundantly clear at Sweets Way is the power of collective action. Together, we have fought the twin giants of an ultra-Tory council + a private developer w/ strong links to national Tory brass… And have secured some wins that may seem piecemeal to some, but which have been absolutely critical in the lives of the various families involved. We’ve also stood by one another, using the occupation as a multifunction community space that hosts organising meetings, collective meals, and 7 year old’s birthday parties, offering the emotional and practical support needed to deal with the bullshit.

We have been creating our own power at Sweets Way and it is not a power that was phased, one way or the other by the election results. It is a power that has emerged in spite of politicians, and which will continue to grow without them.

As my mate Nishma Doshi said earlier today: “I want to restart real community/workers kitchens. I want to build the co-op housing movement. I want to know my neighbours and I want to engage with them on issues they care about. We don’t need politicians to make that happen. We need each other.”

…and while we are not yet there at Sweets Way, we are closer to it than with anything I’ve experienced in 13 years of activism + organising.

If the families of Sweets Way can avoid being too demoralized by a Tory win, so too can the rest of us. Despair doesn’t make anything better… Taking back our power together does, and would have been essential whichever pro-austerity party won last night.

Let’s get on with it then, yeah? We can do this.”

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