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:

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

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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Help us rebuild the People’s Regeneration Show Home!

New occupation and community-led refurbishment will highlight that ‘regeneration’ doesn’t need to be another word for ‘social cleansing.’ Come down now and help make it happen!

Good morning London! As most of you started your work days today, dozens of us began to repair the damage inflicted by Annington Properties to one of their buildings – one of our homes – on the Sweets Way Estate.

Today we start work on the ‘People’s Regeneration Show Home’ at 153 Sweets Way (N20 0NX). Over the next 72 hours we will demonstrate that a group of committed and skilled volunteers, with (almost) no money between us, can turn a smashed-up shell of a building, into a lovely family home. And all without the ‘help’ of either the council or private developers.

Can you come down and help us make it happen? Families are welcome!

Shortly after the bulk of the evictions began on Sweets Way, Annington sent in contractors to make the houses unliveable while they prepared to demolish them and build luxury flats in their place. Rather than letting us stay in these homes and avoiding the inhumane evictions they put so many of us through, they paid workers to break windows, strip piping, knock holes in the roofs and smash up the porcelain of dozens and dozens of otherwise-liveable family homes.

This is what some of them looked like!

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The kitchen of the People’s Regeneration Show Home, after Annington ripped it apart, but before we started refurbishing it.

This morning we started the process of putting one of those homes back together to shine a light on the regeneration racket. Across London, councils and developers work hand-in-glove to argue that it is impossible to maintain – or to build new homes – that people can truly afford to live in. Sometimes they blame austerity, sometimes they blame the conditions of the buildings or unseen market forces, but the result is always the same: private development is the only way forward.

But we’re not having it! Our homes were never in need of a refurb until Annington ripped them apart, and even if they had been, we won’t accept that demolition was ever the only choice. So we’re putting another option on the table: People’s regeneration.

We’re fixing plaster board, replacing flooring, building cabinets, reinstalling plumbing and collecting furniture to make this possible. Can you come join us this weekend?

We’re still a relatively small group, with a very short window of time to make this happen. If you can come get involved, spread the word, contribute some furniture or building supplies, you will help make the case that what we are doing is a viable alternative to the brutal kind of ‘regeneration’ London has come to know!

We hope that this will spread. London has countless homes and whole estates that have been left to get run-down, which a bit of collective action could easily make liveable again.

Regeneration doesn’t have to be a horrendously expensive code word for social cleansing; it can be a collective, sustainable and affordable way for people to come together and improve their homes and their community. We’re just highlighting something communities across London can do wherever they are, to make sure the homes they need are there for those who need them.

So come get involved! Help make it happen on our estate and then take the lessons back to your own! The Councils and developers don’t give a toss about our communities or our homes, so let’s do what is needed to hold on to, create and rebuild the places and spaces that matter to us!

Show up at 153 Sweets Way any time this weekend and get stuck in! We can make this happen!

Get the latest from @SweetsWayN20 / #SWShowHome

Read the press release here.

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/

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

The family was growing and it was time for a bigger place… The Sweets Way social centre has moved!

Sweets Way Resists responds to a predictably unfair legal decision and gets on with fighting social cleansing.

Today one of the most long-standing principles of British law was reinforced: that private property rights hold greater importance than human rights. A Barnet County Court judge decided to rule against our protest and social centre occupation on the Sweets Way estate, in favour of social cleansing property firm, Annington, even though agreeing with most of our arguments in the courtroom.

Not only did they grant Annington possession over the 160 or so homes of the Sweets Way estate, they even gave them an injunction against future protests taking place anywhere on the site! This is unprecedented and a worryingly draconian case for all involved in housing justice work. However, as long as private property is deemed more legally important than a range of human rights, this kind of thing will happen.

But what happened after the injunction is truly remarkable!

Upon our return from court, we found that the social centre at 60 Sweets Way had been emptied of all the things that made it beautiful. Meanwhile a new property – a five bedroom at 76 Oakleigh Road North also slated to be demolished as part of the Annington ‘regeneration,’ but just beyond the injunction and possession zones – had been occupied and filled with all the makings of a new social centre!

There’s a Mexican proverb that feels appropriate for us today:

‘They tried to bury us, but they forgot that we were seeds.’

The courts may be stacked against us in the fight for decent homes, but the courts have never been where our power lies. Every time they try to shovel another heap of dirt on top of us and hope we’ll go away, we shoot up through the soil with another burst of strength!

So we lost in the courts, but we won in the homes of Sweets Way! And we’ll be here to keep the question of social cleansing on the agenda, and support one another as we fight to protect these buildings from demolition and secure decent homes for all those who have already been forced out of Sweets Way.

As always, come pay us a visit (We’re on Oakleigh Road North now, backing onto Sweets Way), send us food and household stuff if you are able to, keep calling Annington’s offices, and sign the petition to stop the demolition of Sweets Way!

Together, we can defeat giants!

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