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:

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You win some, you lose some

Our community house is now facing imminent eviction, we shut down Barnet Homes for 2 hours, a judge told Barnet Council that they can’t use high court bailiffs against Mostafa, and we were told that ‘no county court bailiffs will touch Sweets Way with a barge pole’!

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COMMUNITY HOUSE FACING EVICTION
Thursday began with an early start, prepping for and heading to the courts in Finchley Central in the rain. Our five-month old community occupation was up against a possession order. We knew there was precious little legal defence for our presence in the house, since most judges don’t seem as impressed as us that we have used our occupation to reinforce a powerful community in the face of deliberate attempts to destroy it, but we had to give it a go.

Unsurprisingly, we lost. Quickly. And the judge accepted the claimant’s assertion that High Court (not County Court) bailiffs would be required to remove us, since, according to the claimant’s barrister, ‘no county court bailiffs will touch Sweets Way with a barge pole.’ This comment was probably the only silver lining of a pretty bleak morning, and seems to be an indication that we’re doing something right. We assume all the county court bailiffs in London are taking a principled stand in solidarity with our struggle for housing justice by refusing to evict us.

WE SHUT DOWN BARNET HOMES!
IMG_20150827_124448From the courts, we went to Barnet Homes to protest the treatment Mostafa and his family have faced, and to make a series of demands that Barnet Homes needs to meet immediately to address the family’s needs. We shut down the building, at both entrances at several points over a two or three hour period, making crystal clear that if they continue to fail Mostafa and so many others, we will continue to make business-as-usual impossible for them.

MOSTAFA’S TEMPORARY COURTROOM VICTORY
Then, just as we were leaving, we heard from Mostafa, who had spent the morning at the Royal Courts of Justice, applying for a stay of execution on Barnet Council’s decision to allow High Court bailiffs to evict him without offering a time and date. What we all thought would have been a bureaucratic formality, turned out to be a major victory for the family and the campaign. Mostafa saw a judge, who was able to see Barnet’s utter lack of sensitivity over his needs as a person with disabilities and made clear that the Council would need to immediately cease any pending High Court bailiff actions and find a date to have a full and proper hearing to justify why they think they needed to do so in the first place.

This means that there will be at least weeks, possibly months, before the family have to leave their home, if Barnet continues to fail to offer them a suitable alternative. It also mean Mostafa will finally get a day in court to explain why he feels a High Court bailiff eviction is entirely unfair and disproportionate to the situation, after the decision to use High Court bailiffs against him was taken in secret, without his knowledge.

For once in the campaign, the justice system actually ruled on the side of justice! We won’t get too used to this, but it certainly helped balance out the legal ruling against our community home.

WE NEED REINFORCEMENTS
For the immediate future, we need people who are able to come stay the night at 76 Oakleigh Road North, to be able to help defend this crucial pocket of community strength we’ve held onto since Annington began evicting families from the estate.

If you think you can come along, please drop us an email on: sweetswayresists[AT]gmail.com

THURSDAY! Two key ways to defend Sweets Way

We’re fighting in court for our community house at 9am, then doing a lunchtime protest at Barnet Homes to demand decent accommodation for Mostafa and the last family left on Sweets Way. CAN YOU JOIN US?

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KEY INFORMATION FOR THURSDAY, AUGUST 27:

Sweets Way Resists courtroom solidarity
9am – 12pm
St Marys Court
Regents Park Road, N3
Near Finchley Central tube (Northern Line)

Barnet Homes Lunchtime Protest: Give Mostafa a home!
12:30pm – 2:00pm
Barnet House
1255 High Road, N20
Near Totteridge and Whetstone tube (Northern Line)

Two weeks ago we got notice that after five months in our second occupation house, we are going to have to go to court to defend our protest there. After months of bungling between Annington and the Ministry of Defence as to who is responsible for us being there, the MoD apparently agreed to take us to court over a home that Annington owns but lets back to the Ministry.

The community house at 76 Oakleigh Road North is our base of operations. We’re fully aware that the law will always defend private property rights over our rights to protest and to homes, but we need a strong showing outside and inside the courts to highlight that the law has positioned itself on the wrong side of justice.

CAN YOU JOIN US AT THE COURTS AT 9:00am?

After the courts, whatever the verdict, we will be marching on Barnet Homes, across the road from Sweets Way, to demand that Mostafa and his family – who have been barricaded into their home for over two weeks, bravely resisting their eviction – are properly rehoused.

Mostafa uses a wheelchair, following a spinal injury incurred working as a carer for the elderly three years ago, and has been bounced between inappropriate temporary accommodation by Barnet Homes ever since.

Just today (Wednesday), Barnet Homes made Mostafa an offer of a multi-level house in Enfield, miles away from his hospital appointments. It was also a 4 bedroom property (the family only needs 3 bedrooms) so will inevitably be well beyond their price range, given what housing benefit is allowed to pay. So in essence, this is a non-offer, designed to let Barnet Homes tell the media tomorrow as we protest outside their offices, that they have carried out their duty to the family, and that they must leave Sweets Way immediately.

This is of course utter bollocks. For years Barnet have had information about Mostafa’s health needs, yet they made this ‘offer’ a day before we are due to protest at their offices. We once again make the following demands of Barnet:

  • Provide SUITABLE housing for the family, based on the needs
  • Immediately reclassify Mostafa from Band Three to Band One housing priority, based on the provided information about his health needs, his children’s needs and the ongoing cumulative impacts of his mistreatment by the Council
  • STOP the current high court bailiff eviction process until Mostafa has been moved into SUITABLE alternative housing
  • Adhere to the LAW to assess Mostafa and others like him, who are at risk of homelessness, BEFORE they are made homeless
  • STOP the sell-off/give-away of public housing stock, and the approval of home demolitions, until the families of Barnet are properly served by Barnet’s social housing provision.

We would also like to clarify that the family have NOT given Barnet Homes permission to discuss details of their case with the media, though they have done just that, breaching the family’s right to privacy.

Because of the horrible treatment they’ve received, and the lack of alternatives made available to them, the family have vowed not to leave 46 Sweets Way until they are offered something that meets Mostafa’s needs. They have been bravely resisting eviction with the help of dozens of supporters for over two weeks since High Court bailiffs were first sent round to chuck the family out on August 10, but were sent away by our resistance.

JOIN US AT BARNET HOMES FROM 12:30 – 2:00pm TO MAKE SURE BARNET HOMES FEELS THE PRESSURE OVER THE LUNCH BREAK.

YOU CAN ALSO TWEET @BARNETHOMES OR WRITE ON THE COUNCIL’S FACEBOOK WALL TO TELL THEM TO LIVE UP TO THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES TO THE FAMILY.

 

Bailiffs sent away! Mostafa still at Sweets Way!

On Monday, people kept a family from being evicted and pushed a council to reverse the decision that would have left them homeless. But we need to keep up the pressure to keep Mostafa and the family safe.

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Photo by Hannah Nicklin

On Sunday night, many of us didn’t go to sleep. Bailiffs were due at 46 Sweets Way and because we had seen what Mostafa and his family had gone through, and we had seen them failed over and over again by the various systems that are meant to protect them, we knew we needed to prepare with them to stay in their home.

We were prepared to do everything peaceful within our power to stop High Court bailiffs from entering the home of the last family at Sweets Way and making them homeless. Some of us planned to take photos and document the experience, others were prepared to take civil disobedience and face arrest.

But whatever kind of action we spent the night before preparing to do, we prepared to do it because it was right.

As it turned out, there were enough of us there that sending away the bailiffs proved to only require a very passive form of resistance: being there! Enough of us, even, that they didn’t show their faces or even make an attempt to breach the gauntlet of more than 60 people (including allies from Our West Hendon, Barnet Housing Action, Haringey Housing Action Group, Barnet Alliance for Public Services and Black Dissidents) and an extensive array of amateur barricading.

In fact, we only even found out that the bailiffs had come and gone when we called Barnet Council’s lawyers. We asked if the bailiffs were still scheduled to arrive and were told that the two of them that had been dispatched knew immediately they were no match for our collective power, and left. (They didn’t use exactly those words…).

You could feel the sense of collective power in the air – we knew what we had achieved, and the energy was electric! A group of regular people had sent away the bailiffs and kept a family in their home! And we knew we would be able to do it again.

Better yet, as Barnet had been punishing the family over the a small amount of rent arrears accrued since the Council unexpectedly cut their housing benefit, they received a message this afternoon informing them that their housing benefit had been reinstated, retroactive a month ago. This will address their arrears and allow Barnet to once again own up to their responsibility to house the family appropriately.

This is a clear victory spurred by our collective action to highlight the Council’s many failures to Mostafa, and the number of media requests that came off the back of our action. Once again, Barnet need to find the family somewhere to go. And it’s up to us to make sure they have a home until the point where they have an alternative that truly meets their needs.

This will require a lot of work from all of us, preparing to fight off the bailiff threat whenever it rears its ugly head. High Court bailiffs don’t normally offer a time or date when they are coming, and are entitled to use physical force to enter and remove families from a house. Because of this, Mostafa and the family remain barricaded in and ready for an attack.

We need to be there with them.

We have a strong contingent of occupiers staying around Sweets Way at the moment, but we need more people who can stay there (or who live very locally) in the coming days, to ensure an initial line of defence when bailiffs do return. It would be tragic if all our hard work yesterday was lost because a few of us slept late one day.

Get in touch if you live within in a few minutes of the estate, or can come stay over during the coming days. sweetswayresists[AT]gmail[DOT]com / 07812 372 298

We are all inspired by what we were able to do yesterday – let’s be sure it continues to grow!

PS – having made it through many months of intense campaigning without any way of receiving cash donations beyond the bits of cash visitors would sometimes pass along, we have set-up a PayPal account and would appreciate any help in covering some of the extra costs that several of us incurred, personally, during the People’s Regeneration Show Home project. Thank you so much!

PPS – We are lucky to have a whole bunch of pics from yesterday that have been shared with us by Hannah Nicklin!

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STOP MOSTAFA’S EVICTION, Monday, 8am!

CALL-OUT: Keep Mostafa’s family in Sweets Way, Monday, August 10, 8am, 46 Sweets Way, N20 0NT (Meet at Sweetstopia, 95 Sweets Way)

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Mostafa’s family are the last remaining family on the Sweets Way estate. They have fought to stay where they are because Barnet Council have failed to provide alternative accommodation suitable to Mostafa’s physical health needs, having developed a serious disability while working as a carer three years ago.

Now they have been told that High Court bailiffs will be coming to evict the family of six on Monday morning, and we are committed to helping them stay in their homes until Barnet Council have found a truly suitable alternative accommodation for them.

In the midst of the eviction process, Barnet cut off the family’s housing benefit, leading to rent arrears, and are now using this as an excuse to avoid their duty of care to them. Both because of the Council’s horrendous treatment of Mostafa and his family, and because they are the last family standing on the estate, it is critical that we mobilise to stop this eviction!

There will be roles for people who are comfortable with different kinds of action on the day. There are always legal risks involved in stopping evictions, but we aim to make sure that everyone who is present can play a part, no matter what their level of comfort with different forms of direct action.

Regardless, we will need as many people as possible if we are to keep Mostafa in his home. Please arrive at 8am outside the gates of Sweetstopia (95 Sweets Way) for a 9am start.

DETAILS: Monday, August 10, 8am, 46 Sweets Way, London, N20 0NT (Meet at Sweetstopia, 95 Sweets Way)

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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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.

The struggle continues…

Mostafa in his home at Sweets Way

Mostafa in his home at Sweets Way

After a long drawn-out hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, we saw the British legal system do what it does best – rule in favour of private property ownership above all else – as it granted Barnet Council a possession order against Mostafa and the last family left on Sweets Way.

However, the judge – in spite of being bound by a set of laws that will always prioritise property rights – seemed to do what they could for Mostafa’s family, perhaps recognising the implicit moral criminality of the law, as it was playing out yesterday afternoon. Though the ruling was ultimately unfavourable, the judge made it crystal clear to Barnet Council that they need to take greater efforts to rehouse the former-carer, whose life has been hampered by a serious back injury for the past three years. They also granted six weeks’ notice before the possession order can be executed, an almost unheard of timeframe, when one-to-two week possession orders are often the norm.

But Barnet Council have had three years to find Mostafa a place to live that is suitable to someone with a spinal injury. In that time, Sweets Way is the closest they’ve had and the family are going to keep fighting to stay where they are. Of course, all of us here will continue to support them to do so. And the courts are but one of the ways we can help.

ACTION CALLOUT: Stand with the last Sweets Way family!

COURTROOM SOLIDARITY NEEDED!

Where: County Court at Royal Courts of Justice,
Thomas More Building, The Strand, WC2A 2LL

When: Monday, June 22, 10:00am rally before 10:30am hearing

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Mostafa and his two daughters at their home in Sweets Way

On Monday morning, the final household on the Sweets Way estate goes to court to fight against their eviction by Barnet Council. The family of six are the last of the estate’s residents left in their home, after winning a previous case against Barnet and Notting Hill Housing Trust in late March, on the basis that the eviction process had failed to take into account the father, Mostafa’s, disability.

Now they are back in court, fighting for their home and they need support, inside and outside the courtroom on Monday morning. Protecting the estate and bringing our community back together relies on Monday’s court case. If Mostafa is evicted, it will be far easier for Annington to start destroying our homes.

Until three years ago, when a spinal injury from heavy lifting on the job forced him to stop working, Mostafa was a carer in a hospice in Hackney. Now he struggles to even stand up and can’t leave the house without extensive support. For four years Mostafa had worked to help others in vulnerable positions, and now Barnet Council have failed to adequately support him at a time when he has needed their help, refusing to offer suitable housing to someone with such clear and urgent disability.

Barnet have threatened the family with £40,000 in legal fees for having the nerve to stand up for their right to decent homes. They have also told them to vacate the property immediately, though they haven’t yet offered the family somewhere to go that would be appropriate for Mostafa’s health needs.

So they remain – the only household standing in the way of the destruction of the 142 homes of Sweets Way.

We have done whatever we can to support their legal case, but we need to make clear that there is widespread public support for them and all the others of Sweets Way who never got a day in court to make their cases for a decent home.

Can you join Mostafa at 10:00am, Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice to support the last family standing in the way of the social cleansing of Sweets Way?

If you can’t make it in person, send Barnet Council a message on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Barnet-Council/345382132326295) or Twitter (http://hrefshare.com/93fd0), telling them to drop their possession order against Mostafa until they can guarantee the family a home that meets their needs!

Join the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/822345027851879/

EVENT: The Barnet Alternative Housing Agenda, June 29, 6:30pm

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WHERE? In front of Hendon Town Hall (NW4)
WHEN? Monday, June 29th, 6:30pm

In recent months, Sweets Way Resists families and many others, have been denied entry to countless council meetings, public offices and Councillor surgeries meant to be open to the public.

IF WE ARE NOT WELCOME IN THE PLACES WHERE DECISIONS ABOUT OUR LIVES ARE BEING MADE, WE WILL CREATE OUR OWN SPACES TO MAKE THOSE DECISIONS TOGETHER.

Join us in front of Hendon Town Hall as the Barnet Housing Committee meets, to discuss what we – the people of Barnet – can do together, to make sure our borough is not socially-cleansed of all but the ultra-rich.

We are not going to beg, or make demands even – we are going to create our own housing agenda that reflects our needs and realities, and figure out the steps needed put it into action together!

We want everyone in Barnet who cares about housing to get involved. There is no agenda, just a mutual commitment to figuring out what kinds of direct action we can take together to secure the housing we need, given the failure of the council or the market to provide it or protect it.

ALL ARE WELCOME! SPREAD THE WORD!

Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/382843121911597/