Yet again, local residents facilitated by the Vange Hill Community Group are getting the job done where the authorities have failed. In this case, it was one of those corner plots on the Vange Hill estate in Basildon that was getting the attention. Corner plots designed into the estate with the best of intentions back in the day when there were the resources to maintain them. Corner plots that for years, have been neglected through a combination of the impact of austerity and the incompetence of the authorities. Corner plots where the shrubs have been allowed to grow out and obstruct the path while acquiring a layer of litter (and more dubious items) that never gets cleared because it’s impossible to reach.
Well, that all changed yesterday (Tuesday 19th June) when residents at the foot of Dewsgreen got to work cutting back and trimming shrubs and trees, and clearing a pretty disgusting smelling accumulation of rubbish from underneath them. This is just a start – more work is scheduled to enhance this plot and make it attractive to look at. Something that will boost morale on an estate that has more than its fair share of issues to deal with. What was also pointed out by the volunteers from the Vange Hill Community Group was the role these work parties pay in getting people out of their homes, talking to each other while working together to make their estate a better place to live.
Before and after residents action in the Dewsgreen area of the Vange Hill estate in Basildon
You what it’s like when you walk down a poorly maintained path and you’re having to dodge and duck overhanging branches because the council seem to have forgotten about its existence – it’s bloody annoying! You think – is it worth going through all of the hassle involved in reporting the job to the council and then having to chase them up to make sure they send someone round to cut back the branches? If maintenance of roads and paths is split between Basildon Council and Essex County Council as it is on the Vange Hill estate, who the heck do you report the overhanging branches to in the first place? If you report it to one authority, will they try to say it’s the responsibility of another authority?
You know what – it’s easier for residents to do the job themselves! Which is exactly what the Vange Hill Community Group did with clearing the path shown above. Granted, through their council tax they’ve already paid for the job to be done and they’re entitled to tot up the time spent on the work and bill the council accordingly. Having said that, they saved themselves the hassle of dealing with the bureaucracy of reporting the job to the council and in the process, empowered themselves. Which is exactly what we want – empowered residents working collectively to make their estates better places to live by taking power from the council and doing the job themselves on their terms.
We went on the May Day march in London yesterday. It was midweek so numbers were low and as expected, it was pretty much the usual suspects marching along the route from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square. However, we did manage to shift a fair few copies of the Stirrer and gave the new South Essex Working Class Action banner an airing.
Of considerably more interest was the Precarious Workers Bloc march after the rally which numbered around 100. This march was in solidarity with UVW members about to be balloted for strike action at Ministry of (In-)Justice, UVW members fighting for equality at King’s college, BECTU members fighting for a living wage at Picturehouse, BFAWU members on strike for a living wage at McDonald’s and Unite members about to strike for fair tips at TGI Friday’s!
Sadly we couldn’t stay the pace for the whole event as the comrade on the other end of the banner crocked her knee:( Despite this, we came away from that action feeling pretty positive. The reason being that apart from a few faces we knew, most of the people on that action were a) young and b) we’d never seen any of them before. So, despite all of the ructions within anarchism at the moment, there are some glimmers of hope for the future as a new layer of activists are emerging:)
The working visit of Trump to the UK on 13-14th July has predictably generated a lot of excitement in many sections of the left and also in a fair few sections of the anarchist movement as well. There’s already discussion and debate about what form the protests against Trump’s visit should take. Suffice to say, it looks as though there will be a variety of actions and protests to mark the occasion. It’s also a reasonable assumption that whatever takes place on the streets in central London will be met with a heavy police presence. One that could well drain police resources away from other areas of the capital and from surrounding counties.
Let’s play a game of imagining what could happen with a mass of cops in central London and the rest of the capital somewhat short of cops on the streets. What if there were enough motivated class struggle activists across the capital who could see the opportunity provided by the distraction of the protests against Trump, and the cops diverted to police them, to use the 13-14th July to undertake actions that will aid our class? It’s not hard to draw up a list of issues that could be highlighted by a series of nimble, well planned, creative actions if you want a bit of a thought experiment.
Purely as an exercise, these are these are the ones we’ve thought of. Abandoned council estates awaiting the right offer from a developer that could be re-occupied. High end estate agents complicit in the agenda of making London a welcome home for the super rich while ordinary people are socially cleansed from the capital – could it be that they may experience some creative ‘inconvenience’? Housing associations actively complicit in socially cleansing people from London being paid a visit by people who refuse to be moved away from friends, family and support networks? Exploitative outsourcing companies who treat their precarious workforce like dirt perhaps being given a lesson in manners? The list could go on if you really want it to…
The point we’re trying to make, without getting done for incitement, is that a) in situations like this, the left and a fair number of anarchists could do with being a lot less predictable and knee jerk reflexive and b) we need actions that advance our class interests rather than those that make the participants feel good about themselves but have no impact on the real world.
Residents doing it for themselves, that’s what it takes! Two women, both with disabilities to be precise. Using improvised equipment to do the job. This happened on the ¾ estate in Vange which is on the southern fringes of Basildon.
With Basildon not being a unitary authority, the responsibility for paths and roads on estates is split between Basildon Council and Essex County Council. Which means that on an isolated estate on the southern fringes of Basildon, it’s easy for authorities to a) ignore problems or b) try to fob them off onto someone else. We all know that in the 21st century with the information systems that are potentially to hand, it shouldn’t be possible for a drain in a close to be blocked for seven years. However, we don’t live in an ideal world and both Basildon Council and Essex County Council have a long record of ignoring or failing to deal with numerous problems on the ¾ estate.
Which is why two residents who’d had enough of banging their heads against a brick wall decided to take matter into their own hands and do the job themselves. Even though they pay Essex County Council through their council tax to supposedly do the job. We suggest that both residents bill them for the work done – we’d be more than happy to publish the bill on here.
This is the way things are going though. Residents starting to take on more maintenance jobs because the authorities can’t be bothered. While it’s a pain to do a maintenance job you’ve already paid someone else to do, it’s also the start of the growth of people power as residents start to take on more of the maintenance and running of their estates.
In an earlier post – A different way of thinking about community activism – we presented what some may see as a rather ambitious plan to transform the ¾ estate on Vange Hill, located on the southern fringes of Basildon. In a subsequent post – A transformation is underway in Vange Hill:) – we wrote about how this transformation is starting. As you can see from the above image from the Gambleside area of the estate, things are happening there as well.
It’s a simple act of a resident taking a wooden pallet, breaking it down and using its component parts to construct a border around a small patch of land surrounding a tree, making it look tidier. What’s great about this is its symbolic value – it’s sending out a signal that residents care about their close and will put in the time and effort in improving it themselves. This is exactly the kind of autonomous, unilateral action we love! With this and the newly established pocket garden on nearby Swanstead, there are two examples of what DIY guerilla gardening can achieve in making the estate look better.
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s work like this in existing areas of enhancement on the estate that we hope will act as an inspiration to residents elsewhere on Vange Hill. Momentum in achieving this aim is slowly starting to grow. As the weather starts to improve over the spring and into the summer, we look forward to seeing more autonomous, unilateral actions like this springing up across the estate.
What’s really good about this is that the first we knew about it was when we checked the Facebook page of the Vange Hill Community Group and saw the images of the finished job. Basildon & Southend Housing Action had no involvement in this at all in terms of providing materials or facilitating the work. This is exactly what we’re after – independent action by a resident feeling empowered to go out and make a difference to their community.
Bin workers at Thurrock Council are set to strike in protest at the installation of cameras on the refuse trucks which will livestream 360 degree images to the manager’s desk. It would appear that not only will the cameras monitor the workers, they could also be used to look at the homes of residents for any possible infringements of bin etiquette. This is coming on top of management not listening to the concerns of workers which has lead to a decline in morale. See here for the full story: Bin collectors in Thurrock to strike over ‘big brother style cameras’.
The signal the council are sending out with installation of cameras is that not only are the workers not to be trusted, it’s residents who can’t be trusted either. When every function a worker performs has to be monitored and recorded on a continuous basis, it inevitably leads to a decline in morale as bin workers lose the autonomy they have to collectively decide how to get the job done as efficiently as possible. When residents are also monitored like children for any infringements in bin protocol, it leads to a breakdown in trust between them and the council who are supposed to serve them. This breakdown of trust says a lot about where we are as a society, namely in a pretty bad place where social solidarity is replaced with mistrust and fear.
We offer our unconditional support to the striking bin workers. Sure, people are going to be inconvenienced but that’s the whole point of a strike – to get the point across that society cannot get by without the labour of a key group of workers. A few days of the trash not being collected will hopefully make people appreciate what the bin workers do and show them the respect they deserve for a dirty, physically demanding job. In an ideal world, that would go beyond appreciation to active solidarity. However, we do not live in an ideal world – we live in an atomised, dysfunctional one so there’s a lot of work to do to build that solidarity.
From the Save Southend NHS Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SaveSouthendNHS/
We shall be making our feelings known to the Joint Council Committee by holding a peaceful protest outside the Southend Civic Centre All welcome. We are coming close to the end of an incredibly poorly delivered public consultation by the Mid and South Essex STP who want to downgrade our general hospital and risk the lives of critically ill local residents by centralising services at Broomfield and Basildon. #NotSafeNotFair #CutsCostLives #SaveSouthendNHS
Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and supported by a number of residents got their teeth into the community clean up on the ¾ estate today (Saturday 17.2). The main areas of focus were Oldwyk and the top end of Dewsgreen at the top end of the estate and Gambleside and Sturrocks at the bottom end.
These are areas where VHCG and BASHA have an active presence and are working to establish what are effectively ‘zones of control’ where we can move forwards from fire fighting with rubbish clearance onto enhancements such as pocket community gardens. The idea of establishing these zones is to set an example of what can be achieved by residents working together which will hopefully inspire other people across the estate to do the same. This is already working as we were able to expand operations down into Sturrocks with residents coming out to clean up their close. The long term aim is to start linking these zones up and to start really transforming the estate.
More work was undertaken on the small community garden that’s been created at the top of Oldwyk and there was bulb planting, strimming and tidying undertaken on Gambleside and Sturrocks. As you can see from the images below, a lot of rubbish was collected. A heck of a lot of rubbish considering the small area we were operating in…
There was an agreement with Basildon Council to pick up the rubbish we had collected. The Oldwyk pile was eventually collected. At the time of writing, the pile at the end of Gambleside hadn’t been collected. To say this is disappointing is an understatement as it makes a mockery of all the hard graft that was put in today. VHCG are already chasing up Basildon Council to ensure that the pile at Gambleside is collected as early as possible on Monday.
All in all, it was a reasonably successful day. However, it was just one day in a long campaign to start to turn round the fortunes of an estate that has more than its fair share of problems. A campaign that will only succeed when residents really start to turn out in numbers on clean up days and in between, do what they can to keep the estate maintained. That means a combination of doing it themselves and working with VHCG to put pressure on Basildon Council to do their job. We will be back to support the work of VHCG and BASHA as and when required in the months to come.