Democracy in Barnet

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Not even Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council was allowed into the AGM!

Tonight was an absolute disgrace at Hendon Town Hall! Barnet Council refused to let any of us from Sweets Way Resists or Our West Hendon into a *public* meeting where decisions about our lives were being made, even though we had 200,000 combined signatures on our petitions to present to them!

But that didn’t stop us from shouting loud enough that we could be heard in the meetings over the Mayor of Barnet, who was busy lying to the Council, telling them that residents were being let inside, when Barnet Council staff had told us in no uncertain terms that none of us would be allowed into the Town Hall tonight!

In truth, the line of cops and private security did occasionally part and make way for people to enter… As long as they were in formal attire! The rest of us proles were pushed and shoved by privately hired heavies for trying to take part in our local democratic process!

We stuck it out though! And we were there at the end when people in formal wear began to trickle-out from the post-AGM reception. We made sure they knew we were weren’t going away!

Tonight made the sorry-state of democracy in Barnet clear for all to see: even with the strength of 200,000 petition signatures, privatised security guards, backed by the force of the Met, kept families from taking part in a discussion with the council that sold off or approved the demolition of our homes.

But democracy isn’t really about what a bunch of posh folks in suits get up to behind police lines. It is about what we do to shape our lives, in the places we live. So we’ll get on with democracy at Sweets Way and West Hendon. If Barnet Council don’t want to let us into their meetings, we will just get on with our own and make the decisions together that will allow us to live the lives we deserve. We’ll see how long it takes before they come knocking at our doors…

People power doesn’t wait to vote

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The response to the call-out for Juliet on Monday was amazing! More than 1000 of you shared and Tweeted the blog and dozens more wrote to the local MP and councillor, in less than 2 days! Today we saw the results. Massive thanks to everyone who came out and braved the torrential rains, as well as those that sent emails in support!

First, Juliet, who had been discharged by Barnet Homes with her four kids, was offered a three bedroom house in the borough! She hasn’t been able to see it yet, but we know that without all our voices online and outside, she wouldn’t have had the offer.

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Unfortunately, the other two families who had meetings with Barnet Homes today didn’t have the same response (though their cases were not yet as dire as Juliet’s had been). While Juliet’s offer was a big win, considering the harsh wording she had received in her latest rejection letter from Barnet Homes, we knew that it was only ever a stage in the campaign, and that the dignity finally afforded to her family must be the default, and not the result of mass public outcry.

…So we blockaded the A1000 – London’s main commuter road – outside of Barnet Homes’ offices at 4pm to protest the wider social cleansing patterns we’ve seen with families being pushed beyond the capital and forced through immeasurable stress, so companies like Annington Properties can bulldoze good houses, to make way for high-end flats!

Following the blockade, we marched through Sweets Way and broke Annington’s undemocratic injunction against political protest on the estate! This injunction should never have been granted in the first place, and since we were walking around in the road with banners anyway, we thought: ‘why not break that stupid injunction while we’re at it?’

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So we did. Then we went back to our occupied social centre (which will be two months old on Friday, by the way!), drank tea and discussed the day’s events. We also got to know lots of new faces who had responded to the call-out online and were all-the-more-committed to getting involved in the campaign, having felt a bit of what people power can achieve.

Apparently there’s an election tomorrow and it’s a big deal and stuff, but when we know both of the main parties are committed to the kinds of destructive policies that have created the mess we are fighting, it is clear that we are not going to vote our ways into the homes we need. People power doesn’t wait to vote; it is the daily vote we are always free to cast.

Today we had a partial victory – on a day when, if we hadn’t come together, a family would be at risk of being turfed out on the street. In the days ahead – with our growing numbers and profile – we are sure to have more, as fight alongside other Sweets Way families that continue to be moved around like furniture.

Tomorrow, some of us will vote, some of us may not, but we’ll all be here together on Friday, fighting for our homes and for a London that is truly a city for all, not simply those who can afford the kinds of properties Annington is destroying Sweets Way to build.

If you want to get involved, pop by the social centre and say hello this weekend as we celebrate two months of occupation!IMG_20150506_162318

Bringing Homelessness Home, Round Two: Tom Davey, Head of Social Cleansing

We paid a surprise visit to the home of Tom Davey this morning, Barnet’s ‘Head of Social Cleansing,’ coinciding with the Independent’s new report that 50,000 families have been socially cleansed from London in the last three years.

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The other day we pitched up a series of tents and umbrellas in the front garden of Richard Cornelius’ house, the leader of Barnet Council and ward councillor for Sweets Way. We wanted to bring homelessness home to one of the individuals most responsible for the decision to demolish 150 good family homes on our estate.

This morning, as the Independent leaked figures from London Councils that over the last three years, 50,000 homeless families had been forced-out of London by local authorities, we showed up at the home of Barnet councillor and Chair of Barnet’s Housing Committee, Tom Davey, to send a message about what his housing policy is doing to Sweets Way families. We delivered a full-sized grim reaper model, with Davey’s face on it, and the label ‘Head of Social Cleansing,’ placed amongst the same ‘temporary accommodation’ tents that we used to decorate his boss’ garden with last week.

Just days ago, one of the final Sweets Way families left on the estate was forced to move up to Luton, one of the cities that has received a significant number of homeless London families via Council social cleansing policies, according to the Independent.

Davey, described by a fellow councillor as ‘not fit for office’ over offensive comments made on Facebook about almost everyone you can imagine offending, is the latest public figure who we are throwing into the public spotlight for their role in kicking families out of the borough. Like with Cornelius, as long as their decisions rob us of our right to homes, we will go to theirs to make our voices heard.

However, we know that the problem isn’t limited to Barnet’s ‘ultra-Tory housing policy’ – London is cleansing its poor and working people at an unprecedented rate, as today’s Independent story makes crystal clear. In every London borough there is a Tom Davey, a Richard Cornelius and a fight that needs to be fought and won if London is going to avoid becoming one great big investment property for the rich. For now, we will keep bringing homelessness home to those who are making it happen in our neck of the woods and encourage others, around London to keep doing the same!

They forgot that we were seeds…

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On Friday we paid another visit to Annington Properties at their 1 James Street address in Central London (feel free to pop by and let them know what you think of their plans, by the way). Given the events of the last couple of weeks, it felt important to let them know we hadn’t disappeared and were just as committed to challenging their ‘regeneration’ plans as we ever have been.

Accordingly, we rolled up with a coffin covered in flowers, and a giant banner emblazoned with the slogan we have adopted from Mexico: ‘They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.’

We know that everything about our fight is a David and Goliath-uphill battle, since Annington (and parent company Terra Firma) have the backing of Barnet Council, a Tory Cabinet Minister, and billions of pounds in the bank. However, that is not enough to stop us. Annington and countless other developers have scared others into the silent suffering of those who have been socially cleansed from London, but not us! We know that the very issues we are battling are being felt by literally millions of other Londoners, and that it is our responsibility to ourselves, and to everyone else facing the spectre of gentrification that we stand up and fight it. With every blow they deal us, our resolve to make sure London doesn’t become an enclave for the super-rich just grows stronger.

And that’s why we’ve taken on that Mexican slogan, and why we made that visit to Annington on Friday. We’re not going away. We may be small, but we can continue to break through the concrete of regeneration in a thousand little ways, and will continue to do so as long as Annington acts like their profits are more important than our rights to a home and a community!

Bringing homelessness home… Round One

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

A week under threat of brutal eviction by high court bailiffs is bound to put most people into a pretty bad state… but it will take more than high court bailiffs to silence the Sweets Way community!

It was a week ago on Friday that Annington Properties had everyone left on the estate’s possession orders moved from County Court to High Court bailiffs. This meant that as of Monday morning, families were facing the prospect of goons kicking in their front doors, unannounced, at 6am, leaving them with ten or so minutes to empty all of their belongings into the street. Luckily, this didn’t transpire, though it did set-off a real panic amongst the remaining families at Sweets Way. In the panic, we all headed to Barnet Homes and demanded immediate rehousing. What families got varied considerably, and continued the pattern of people being moved into places that are simultaneously:

  • More expensive than Sweets Way,
  • Of worse quality than Sweets Way, and
  • Further away from the schools, jobs and health care needs of the residents of Sweets Way.

We continue to be disgusted by the social cleansing of our community, but we are no less committed to fighting it, even if the estate is almost empty.

With this shared resolution in mind, we decided to pay a visit to the home of Councillor Richard Cornelius, who is both our ward councillor, and the Leader of Barnet Council, who of course approved Annington’s development plans for Sweets Way, among many other scuzzy moves. (Check our friends at Barnet Housing Action or the Broken Barnet blog for more on the dodgy dealings of Barnet Council).

As it turned out, he wasn’t around, but that didn’t stop us from launching a ‘grassroots regeneration scheme’ in his front garden, with tents and brollies labelled ‘temporary’ and ‘emergency accommodation’ to highlight the precariousness that the families of Sweets Way have been forced to live with. Some families have moved FOUR times since February! Others have been without heating and hot water! Most have been moved so far away from the places they need to be to live their lives, as to have affected children’s schooling and parents’ work.

So as the children pitched tents and sang songs in front of the Cornelius’ family home, we took our first steps to bringing homelessness home to one of the people most responsible for creating it. Richard Cornelius has led on countless decisions that have made Barnet a far harder place to be poor and working class, yet has been able to return each day to his Totteridge home and sleep-easy without having to face the consequences of these decisions.

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We don’t have that luxury. As long as we aren’t able to live with dignity in our own borough, neither will those who have constructed this so-called housing crisis in a borough:

  • With 3,400 empty homes (2.14% of total properties in the Borough),
  • Which has approved the demolition or sell-off of thousands of council flats, and
  • Which has only built THREE new council homes in the last 22 years (zero from 2003 – 2013).

As long as Barnet Council makes social cleansing their official housing policy, those who have constructed these policies, and those who have benefited from them, will continue to hear from us…

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CALL OUT FOR URGENT SUPPORT: Sweets Way families ALL given High Court bailiff notices!

IMG_20150323_100607Yesterday, all of the remaining families on the Sweets Way estate were given notice from Annington Properties Limited, that their individual cases – despite later-scheduled individual eviction dates – had been transferred from County Court to High Court Bailiffs, effective immediately!

Though we are going through every legal channel we know to challenge this abusive move by Annington, at this point, HIGH COURT BAILIFFS – WHO IT IS ILLEGAL TO RESIST – WILL ARRIVE AT THE REMAINING SWEETS WAY FAMILIES HOMES ON A MORNING THIS WEEK, WITHOUT NOTICE!

This is truly a horrible move by Annington, placing the order on a Friday when, legally speaking, it is nearly impossible to challenge either the lack-of-hearing made, or that all cases were treated as one, despite differences in individual situations, and expected eviction dates.

We need a few things from all of those who have supported the campaign and who oppose the social cleansing happening across London:

  • Support at the Sweets Way social centre from Sunday night. The social centre falls just outside of the housing protest injunction zone (that Annington got a judge to apply to the estate on March 30), so is close enough to respond to urgent calls first thing in the morning on Monday. If it doesn’t come on Monday morning, we will need people around on the following nights. If you can come to stay and be around for a few hours the next day, please email us to let us know when you can be here, and leave a number we can call you on to arrange times: sweetswayresists@gmail.com
  • Urgent phone calls to Annington. We need to demand that their order to have high court bailiffs execute their possession orders against the families of Sweets Way be set aside IMMEDIATELY. They had County Court possession orders against each of these families already, all of whom have been trying their hardest to find alternatives accommodation that is both affordable and within reach of their family’s health and education needs, to no avail. Now Annington are telling them that the most brutish kind of bailiffs will show up at their doors unannounced, any day now, and turf them out on the street!

You can reach Annington on the following numbers:

  1. 020 7960 7500 (head office)
  2. 0800 358 1118 (sales freephone)
  3. 020 3757 6743 (Andy Martin, media relations)

If you leave them a message, be sure to say:

  • We demand that Annington’s order to have high court bailiffs execute their possession orders against the families of Sweets Way be set aside. Not doing so is cruel and makes an already stressful time unnecessarily traumatic for the families who still call Sweets Way home.

We hope you’ll try to make the trek to Barnet this week and do what you can to help stop Annington and to support all of us here at Sweets Way to fight social cleansing!

Barnet and Annington: Partners in social cleansing

Friday was a busy day for all of us here at Sweets Way. At lunch time many of us headed into Central London to make another attempt to deliver our previously-rejected open letter to Annington’s £2.5million/year Chief Executive, James Hopkins. Once again when they saw us coming, they locked the doors to the building, inconveniencing their staff, as well as those of all the other companies that share the building. And all over not wanting to see a letter written by a community they are trying to destroy!

10411736_679610915498887_7613767584106975262_nFrom there, we headed to Barnet Homes again, just across the road from the Sweets Way estate, to give leaflets to employees as they came out of the building, and to try to speak to someone there about addressing the collective homelessness problem that the Council’s approval of the Sweets Way demolition was creating. However, when we arrived, they locked the doors after only a few of the group had gone in, locking some of us inside, and some of us outside, separating parents and children. When we tried to get in, the security began physically shoving and threatening us. It was scary, there were tears, and the police were called… against us! But we stood our ground and did get to speak to the Deputy Chief Executive of Barnet Homes, who agreed to meet with us on Monday morning!

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In brief, on a quiet Friday afternoon, we managed to give grief to both of the institutions that have orchestrated the social cleansing of our estate, and untold stress in all of our lives. Annington are making the profits, but Barnet is refusing to offer viable alternative homes to those being turfed out in the name of Annington’s profits. We will let neither rest until they can offer answers acceptable to those still living at Sweets Way, and those who have been forced off into horrendous emergency accommodation.

We hope Friday was a reminder to both Annington and Barnet that we are not going away!

PS – if you can join us outside the courts on Monday morning as we fight Annington’s attempt to evict our social centre protest, your support would be massively appreciated!

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Court adjourned!: Another week to fight social cleansing!

Impromptu march by residents and supporters of Sweets Way Resists, following the adjournment announcement.

Impromptu march by residents and supporters of Sweets Way Resists, following the adjournment announcement.

When a giant box arrived at the gate of the occupied Sweets Way social centre on Thursday around 4:30pm, we were all a bit stunned. Inside were a dozen or so copies of a two-finger thick document. These documents were the court papers from Annington Properties Limited, trying to get us removed from our current occupation, via a possession order hearing on Monday, March 23, 10am.

There was a lot to get through, and by the time we realised what was happening, the working day was done. Friday was spent bouncing between advice providers, but none included barristers who were qualified to make an out-of-hours request to the court to have the case delayed, given the lack of preparation time given to us.

Even without that, we went to Barnet County Court this morning, with at least 50 supporters who made the trek up to Barnet, handing out Sweets Way sweets and leaflets, and getting people to sign our petition. The twenty-minute slot we’d been allocated wasn’t nearly enough, but after an hour or so highlighting the complexities of the case, the judge finally agreed to grant us another week to get our arguments together and return next Monday to take on Annington properly.

This is a real win! A week may not seem like long, but the last two weeks have seen:

…With this in mind, we intend to make the most of the coming week!

We have fought to create a safe space for our community, and we will not give it up quietly, so ‘regeneration’ can carry on, unimpeded. We will continue to shine a light on the social cleansing at the heart of Barnet’s housing policy and Annington’s ‘redevelopment’ plans!

Come join us! It’s usually buzzing here between 4 and 6pm on weekdays, if you feel like popping by at 60 Sweets Way 🙂

And be sure to join the new event page to say you’ll be coming along to the courts again next week to help us fight!

https://www.facebook.com/events/433124830197068/

A visit to the great leader of Barnet

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Young former residents of Sweets Way brought to tears by the lack of support from Barnet Council.

Saturday morning involved a visit to the monthly surgery of local councilor and leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius. A month ago, we’d paid him a visit and he’d taken everyone’s details and promised to follow-up with all the individual cases. But he didn’t. And so everyone was a little less patient with him this time round, some having been moved out of borough since, others living in extreme precarity, with no sense what kind of support they will be able to receive from the council, after having been repeatedly rejected by countless private landlords. Several mothers powerfully told the stories of dispersal and inadequate accommodation that the council had forced them into, while teenagers and children were brought to tears during the confrontation.

When asked why there wasn’t any truly affordable housing (as in social or council housing) in Annington’s planning application, approved by Cornelius’ council, he was clear: it wouldn’t have been profitable enough to have any. And that’s what this comes down to: if a home isn’t profitable, it should be knocked down to make way for one that is.

Barnet Homes’ website makes perfectly clear where they stand in regards to those who can’t afford highly-profitable homes:

“There is very little affordable housing to rent in Barnet. If you have a low income you will need to consider looking for a home in areas outside of Barnet and even outside of London which are more affordable.”

But we won’t have it. So we will continue to fight against the demolition of the place we call home.

If you’re around Barnet on Monday morning, come join us as the Sweets Way social centre goes to court with Annington to fight their attempts at social cleansing, 9:30am at Barnet County Court: https://www.facebook.com/events/916567795031609/918777254810663/

We’re also at nearly 50,000 signatures on our Change.org petition! Please sign and share if you haven’t already!

An open letter to the Chief Executive of Annington from Sweets Way Resists


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This morning nearly 20 Sweets Way residents – including children and teenagers – arrived at Annington Homes’ Central London offices to give a letter to Annington’s Chief Exectuve James Hopkins (who, it is worth noting, makes over £2.5million a year to socially cleanse communities like ours). When the children arrived, security locked the door and hung-up on us every time we tried to call them.

This is the letter we finally pushed through the mail slot, though police told us that Annington told them that they would not receive our letter. So here it is for the rest of you!

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TO: Mr James Hopkins, Chief Executive, Annington

Dear Mr Hopkins –

We are a group of concerned residents and ex-residents of the Sweets Way estate in Barnet and our supporters. We, the people who have lived here and made this our community, feel our needs have been completely ignored by your plans to ‘regenerate’ our estate.

Since you announced that your 2nd planning application was given the go-ahead by Barnet Council, our lives have been turned upside down. Some of us have been uprooted from our homes, others are holding on to them with everything we’ve got, struggling with the daily stress of not knowing what lies ahead.

Your choices are physically, emotionally and financially affecting us for the worse. Our lives and our children’s lives have been thrown into chaos, whether we are those still on the estate, or those moved into far-flung emergency accommodation.

Our kids struggle to get to classes from emergency flats several boroughs away; the travel required is expensive and exhausting; we live each day uncertain if bailiffs might come knocking at our doors.

We have searched high and low to find alternative housing that is appropriate for our health, our work and our children’s education. We have repeatedly hit dead ends, knocking our heads against the walls with both Barnet Homes and countless estate agents. There is nothing out there for us, yet these perfectly good homes are facing demolition.

You can blame Barnet Homes for our situations, but you are the ones who have made the choice to bulldoze the perfectly good homes we’ve got, and replace them with ones that none of us will be able to afford. The utter lack of truly affordable housing in your planning applications demonstrates that you have chosen to put your own profits over all of our lives.

There are countless planning options that your company could have explored, that would have kept us together, but you chose to ignore those of us that your website claims that you ‘bring life to.’ The content of your two planning applications makes perfectly clear what you think of those of us who live here; that if we can’t afford full market rent, than we simply have no right to a home and a community. This is nothing more than social cleansing and we will bring back life to our estate together.

Thankfully we are not alone; we have supported one another through these terrible times and grown closer as a community. We have also met supporters and allies from other housing campaigns around Barnet and London, and we are committed to standing together to fight social cleansing, across the borough and the city. We would like to invite you come to Sweets Way and see the community you are breaking up, and the homes your plans will leave empty. Maybe these buildings aren’t enough for your tastes, but for us they are still home.

We have occupied one of the recently empty homes at 60 Sweets Way and turned it into a buzzing social centre where we can organise together and support one another. We’d like you to come see this space in action and experience the situation at Sweets Way from our perspective.

We hope you will take our lives and our community as seriously as you would your own.

Sincerely,

Sweets Way Resists

sweetswayresists@gmail.com / 07751687326