East London Residents Talk About Gentrification
Three women from the Fredd Wigg and John Walsh Towers in Leytonstone, which will soon be part-sold to private developers, tell VICE how they feel about the prospect of losing their homes.
All photos by Carl Wilson
As you approach them from the Wanstead Flats, the Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers in Leytonstone jut into the skyline like the last two teeth in a gummy mouth. The towers have provided affordable council housing for local residents since the 1960s. But under new development plans from Waltham Forest Council, one of the two tower blocks will be sold off and become private housing to fund a refurbishment. 74 council houses are expected to be lost in a borough with a waiting list as high as 20,000.
Everybody agrees the flats are in need of repair and maintenance; the outside paintwork is discoloured, the two stairwells are cold and damp, and the kitchens and bathrooms are a bit of a state. But the council's plans seem to use that desire for refurbishment as a stick with which to poke residents out of the door. "We know that residents on the estate want to see their estate improved and that is why we will be investing in the area," they say. "Investing" here includes getting rid of much needed council stock. Residents feel poorly consulted and disenfranchised.
It's a story replicated across London as the housing crisis continues, and the only homes that get built seem to be ones that the city's poorer residents can't afford. Here, three women living in the towers explain what they think of the redevelopment in their own words.
I've been here for the last 29 years and I've got a family that live around Waltham Forest. We're a good community and we look out for each other. Now the council have come along and they're trying to make one block private to make money. They want to decant some people and find them properties. But as we know Waltham Forest doesn't have any council homes – it's all housing association and going to be very expensive.
I will fight as much as I can because I hate the way they have treated us.
They've run these two blocks down into the ground. Why? I don't know. Maybe they just don't care about Leytonstone. In 2011 we were treated badly after a fire. In 2012 during the Olympics the council went ahead and put missiles on the top of our roof, then published it and told everybody in the world where they would be. They made a target out of us because they don't care about the people.
I'd like to see those that want to move – those that are overcrowded – be allowed to. But those that want to stay should be able to stay. If they can give me and my son a two bedroom council house in Leytonstone then maybe I will take it. But for now, I'm staying where I am. I will fight as much as I can because I hate the way they have treated us.
I've been here almost 18 years. I moved in with my first child in 1998 when I was pregnant with my second. At the time I wanted to be in a flat rather than a home because of personal circumstances. When I moved in here I felt safe and secure. I brought up five children in this flat. For me it's been my home. Over the years there isn't a face that I'd say I wouldn't recognise. Everybody is like a family.
Out of three options presented by the council, I said all I wanted was a new kitchen and bathroom. But Ascham Homes and Waltham Forest Council feel that they don't have to consult us on anything. We pay our rent, do up our homes, but we feel like we have no rights.
Boris Johnson is pushing people out of London because of the prices. I'm an estate agent so I know what the housing market is like. I get phone calls every week from people saying they were thrown out of their home and sent into Birmingham and asking whether I have any properties in London. The council has got no homes to offer. So far I've been offered Billericay, which is too far. I want the comfort of knowing my own area, the shops, and knowing my kids can go outside without having to worry.
At the moment, we're united and saying we're not moving.
I moved in here in 1992 and have been here for the past 23 years. I believe that they are using our homes as a cash cow. When you sell off one block and lose 70 council homes, you're not solving the problem, you're adding to it.
When it comes to these two blocks, you have to fight, scream and shout to get Waltham Forest Council to help. When I first moved in the kitchen and bathroom were very old fashioned. But it wasn't until 2002 that they came in and changed it. There's a rich part and a poor part of Leytonstone and this is the poor part. As you can see we don't get any money pumped into here.
I won't accept them telling me I have to pack up 27 years, remove my son, break away from the community and my family and turn my life upside down because they want to make money out of the two blocks.
In September 2013 the council put on an event and said we should come down and tell them what our ideas for the blocks were. They came with architects and told us we could choose the design and even the colours. But as time went on, we started to hear less and less about the community and what we want.
I'm not moving. If I have to move it'll be my own choice. I won't accept them telling me I have to pack up 27 years, remove my son, break away from the community and my family and turn my life upside down because they want to make money out of the two blocks.
The residents were speaking to Philip Kleinfeld
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