The residents of West Hendon aren't taking eviction and gentrification lying down.
Two elderly West Hendon residents who face eviction
The story unfolding in West Hendon, part of the North London borough of Barnet, is in many ways the same one that's happening all over London: a council estate being demolished, the land sold off to a property developer and the construction of expensive new, "luxury" flats, with no space on the new development for many of the current, relatively poor residents.
What is perhaps different, is the level of militancy and organisation residents have displayed in fighting this process. For just over a month I've been following West Hendon residents who've been doing their best not to be dragged down this well-trodden and seemingly inevitable path. Their efforts have culminated in a series of protests targeting the construction site of the development.
Over the past month or so they've spent four days blocking the entrance to the site, with varying degrees of success. The first time they protested, they successfully stopped any trucks getting into the site for the whole day, effectively stopping construction. But the second time they tried this, the police quickly arrived, dispersed the protest and arrested two people. Residents say that a workman told them that it costs the developer, Barratt Homes, £30,000 every day they manage to halt trucks from getting in and out of the site.
The regeneration of West Hendon will see nearly 400 families moved off the estate. Developers say they are, "transforming what today are an unappealing group of buildings and disconnected external spaces into a thriving and cohesive neighbourhood." They say they will create 2,000 "high quality new homes in a pleasant environment and make the area a desirable place to live, work and spend time in".
Although details of how much the new flats will cost have not yet been released, it's unlikely they'll be affordable to those being moved off the estate. Those who own their homes on the existing estate are being offered far below the market value, which they're understandably not happy about. One home-owner summed up the general feeling about the regeneration at a meeting earlier this month, saying, "They're stealing this land by legalised fraud."
The council tenants are angry too. The ones who fall into the "non-secure" category - which is most of them - are being moved off the estate without any guarantees from the council about where they're going to be moved. Seeing examples from other boroughs of council tenants being offered accommodation as far away as Birmingham or Hastings, the West Hendon tenants fear the same fate. A West Hendon resident called Karen told me, "London will be a wasteland" of luxury flat developments - "No one's going to be able to afford to live here... it will be a desert".
The uncertainty caused by the redevelopment is having adverse effects on the residents. I met Alex, a non-secure tenant of West Hendon of nine years, who told me the building works were affecting his mental health. He said that he'd come to stay on the estate after being moved around London by various councils for several years. The estate was a respite after the stress of being moved all the time, he said.
Now all that's changed. "Outside from eight o'clock in the morning till five in the evening, we've got the constant noise of building works," he said. "Behind us they're building a 29-storey building. The apartments will be going for millions. So apart from the noise, you're seeing this development go up in front of you that you're never ever going to be a part of. And you really don't know what's going to happen to you."
I headed down to Hendon again yesterday morning to see the residents take on the developer's builders once more. A woman called Glynis who lives on the estate with her mother attached herself to the gate of the construction site with a D-lock, preventing them from opening the gates. As direct action goes, this was pretty effective. The gates didn't open for nearly four hours and several huge lorries, which couldn't get in, were forced to turn around and abandon the day's work. I spoke to one contractor who'd been due to begin work on a lift-shaft. He was forced to head home after not being able to get his materials into the site. "We just need 15 people a day to stop everything," one protestor said.
Given that she couldn't go anywhere, Glynis had plenty of time on her hands and was happy to shoot the shit. I asked her exactly why she was so opposed to the redevelopment. "People who live here are being treated abysmally, being treated worse than dirt being thrown out of their homes that they've lived in for years with no consultation, no nothing, people have been given a month to get out and are being sent all over the country," she said. "So yeah something's got to be done about it and yeah we will do it. We are the people, we are the power."
She said that regeneration only benefited the building firms carrying it out and the firms who owned the land. She mentioned her mum, who's lived on the estate for 40 years and her mum's next-door neighbour - in her 90s - who's been there since it was built in 1971. Both are being evicted. "Whole communities are going... people need to stand up for themselves and get out here and give us some support and we'll see what we can do about it and I think we're succeeding."
I spoke to another resident, Musah Hussein, who'd lived on the estate for 35 years. He owned his house, having bought it under right-to-buy in the 1980s, but now the council are trying to buy him out to get him off the estate and he's not happy. "They're offering me £165k - it's not good enough! What can you get in London for £165k? Nothing, is it?" I asked him what he was going to do if and when the council move him off the estate. "I don't think they're going to be able to move me out. I don't want to move out. I will only accept the offer if they give me a like-for-like property in the same area."
There are 148 other home-owners and their families on the estate, all are being offered similar amounts for their homes and they're angry about it. At a council run residents' meeting I attended in September, residents heckled the council and the developer, shouting, "you lied to us!" and complaining that their properties had been severely undervalued. Adam Langleben, a Labour councillor in the audience said, "It appears to be theft and that's how it comes across". "No one's happy," Mr Hussein told me.
At another residents' meeting earlier this month, a resident called Jasmin summed up why she thought the West Hendon struggle is important. "If you don't have a secure roof over your head, you're not going to be able to fight for anyone else," she said. There's a real feeling and understanding amongst the residents about how high the stakes are for them. "This is about political power," Karen said, "I would urge anyone in this country at the moment who wants to change or resist anything to take up direct action".
The residents of West Hendon are teetering on the edge of being chucked out of their homes and many of them have little to lose. With the towers already springing up around them, they seem to think they can't really stop the redevelopment in its tracks. But they appear determined to at least make it as difficult as possible for the developer, seeking ultimately to be offered a fair deal for their homes and the right to remain in the area.
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