A new dawn?

Basildon Council have announced a series of community clean up roadshows in a number of wards across the borough: Community Clean-Up Roadshows. At these events, there will be information on dealing with these issues:

– Top recycling tips including recycling rules.
– Information about recyclable materials – with a focus on plastics.
– Help with setting up community recycling programmes.
– Information about flytipping and the correct ways to dispose of rubbish.

This all sounds good but, hang on a minute – isn’t educating residents on these issues what the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Housing Action (BASHA) have already been doing their level best to do? Both of these groups have been banging their respective heads against the wall to get a hearing from Basildon Council and to get some degree of support and co-operation for what they do on the ground. In return, all too often they’ve been treated with disdain and rudeness and any concessions that have been squeezed out of the council have come after unnecessarily long battles.

After all VHCG and BASHA have been through in trying to educate residents on the estates while battling against the council, the powers that be announce a series of roadshows to educate residents on rubbish collection protocol and recycling. You know what – VHCG and BASHA are both fully entitled to take the announcement of these roadshows as a resounding victory for all of the pressure they’ve had to put on the council! Let’s hope that from this point, it will be onwards and upwards in getting support and co-operation from Basildon Council for what residents are already doing for themselves on the ground.

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Resistance isn’t futile – don’t get sucked into the system!

A community group we’ve been working alongside in Basildon for the last nine months has been told by Basildon Council that if they want to liaise with their officers and councillors, they need to form a properly constituted resident’s association. They have been advised to speak to the Community Involvement Team at the council for advice on how to do this. We’ve spoken to our partners at Basildon & Southend Housing Action to ask them what they think of the Community Involvement Team and to be honest, while we do have a bit of swearing on this blog, for the sake of decency, we don’t think we could reproduce their response!

Getting away from this particular situation in Basildon, when councils want informally run but nimble community groups to constitute themselves as formal residents associations, it’s about co-opting and ultimately neutering them. Forming a residents association that’s acceptable to a council means adhering to codes of conduct that make it considerably harder for them to act as an independent pressure and direct action group. It also sends out a signal to the community they’re representing that they’re effectively getting into bed with the council. The end result of this is a residents association that’s so constrained by codes of conduct they effectively do the bidding of the council. As a consequence of this, the residents they’re supposed to represent become cynical, disillusioned and start to drop out of the association.

As a point of principle, councils, councillors and council officers are supposed to be the servants of the people. It’s not for them to start dictating terms and conditions to residents as to how they communicate and interact with the council. Residents pay their council tax and rightly expect that the council does the job they’re paid to do. In our view, it’s down to residents to decide how to communicate and interact with the council as they see fit. In an ideal world, this would happen – however, we do not live in an ideal world.

Councils, councillors and council officers do not want to deal with pressure group and direct action tactics from nimble, pushy resident groups. To do so means surrendering control and all too often, councils will do whatever they can to hang onto the power to control us. This is where the flaws of the system of local governance reveal themselves. A system of local governance that has been getting stripped of its powers for decades and has now been co-opted to deliver the government’s austerity agenda is not going to tolerate uppity residents holding them to account. This is why councils think they have the right to dictate the terms of engagement to residents in a bid to control them.

The system of local governance we have is broken. Turnouts of forty percent and often considerably less, are a clear signal that most people can see local government for the sham that it is. Why would any self respecting community group want to accept the terms and conditions of engagement from a council that’s part of this dysfunctional system? Resistance to being sucked into this farce is far from futile and any community group resisting this will get one hundred percent backing from us.

A transformation is underway in Vange Hill:)


This patch of land on Swanstead had been left as a neglected fly tip until Basildon Council finally cleared it up back in February


This is what residents facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action did on Sunday 8th April to start transforming this patch of land into a community pocket garden

In a previous 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. As you can see from the above images, residents from the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action are making a start on bringing that plan to fruition.

Spring is a time for new beginnings and the opportunity this recently cleared patch of land offered as a symbol of a new beginning on the estate had to be taken. As you can see from the image below, there’s already an area of enhancement on Oldwyk with a small pocket garden. Over in Gambleside, there’s another area that’s getting close attention from residents and has been planted out with bulbs. This patch in Swanstead is between these two locations. If all goes to plan, there will be three areas of enhancement which will hopefully inspire other residents across the estate to start doing the same.

A small pocket garden in and of itself isn’t the revolution. However, the gradual emergence of pocket gardens on an estate that has more than its fair share of problems and which has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years is a sign that change is coming. It’s small, doable low cost projects like this which give people a bit of pride in their community and empower residents that will lay the foundations for more ambitious projects in the future. Projects that will not just change the way the estate looks but also how people interact with each other as a sense of community pride and solidarity is built up.


A volunteer maintaining an existing pocket garden on Oldwyk

A red line has been crossed…


Fly-tipping in the Sturrocks area of Vange Hill

The Vange Hill Community Group, facilitated by South Essex Working Class Action as and when required, have been putting a heck of a lot of work into trying to make the ¾ estate in Vange a better place to live. From regular monitoring of the estate, reporting issues to Basildon Council, chasing up officers and councillors to get them to do their jobs, organising community clean ups and maintaining pocket community gardens, there are people who want to take the estate forwards.

All it takes to undo the work put in by community volunteers and the Pride team from the council is a minority of thoughtless, anti-social individuals fly-tipping their trash on the estate, leaving it for others to clear up. The kind of people described by our former comrades in the Independent Working Class Association as the renegades within. The kind of people who have no conception of what a community is let alone any notion that they have a responsibility to that community. The kind of people whose selfish, anti-social actions undermine what sense of community is struggling to survive in an increasingly atomised, dog eat dog world.

The kind of people who deserve to be named and shamed if they don’t start mending their ways pronto. Let’s just say that people who fly-tip their trash on their own estate have crossed a red line and their behaviour will not be tolerated. If they think we’re going to let them beat us into submission and give up on any effort to make the ¾ estate a better place to live, they’ve made a mistake…

People power vs the ‘beast from the east’

For those who know the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon, they’ll be aware that it’s built onto a steep (by Essex standards!) hill. With the ‘beast from the east’ doing it’s worst over the last few days, many of the steeper roads on the estate were becoming difficult and dangerous to drive up and down. As regular readers of this blog will know, it’s been well documented that Basildon Council have been less than co-operative when it comes to helping residents on the estate in their efforts to make it a better place to live. So no one was really surprised at the lack of any effort from the council to sort out snowed and iced over roads that had become treacherous.

This is where people power kicked in… The Essex County Councillor for the division, Stephen Hillier had a supply of grit which he was willing to make available to local residents – many thanks to him for doing so. Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) collected the grit and took it over to the ¾ estate. There, people from Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and a number of local residents spread the grit onto the worst affected roads to make them passable. An ad hoc grouping of people recognising what the problem was got together to take action to solve it – people power in action.

A note for the future for the relevant authorities – re-instating the grit bins and ensuring they’re filled up ahead of any forecast bad weather would make this exercise a fair bit easier. All it means is trusting local residents to do their bit – from our experience of helping out BASHA and VHCG, despite the bad reputation that the ¾ estate has, we know there are people on there who will step up to the plate in a situation like this.

This is just one of thousands of stories from across the country over the last few days of atrocious weather where people of their own will, individually and collectively, have stepped up to the plate to assist those hit by the storm. It’s people power in action… When the authorities have been overwhelmed by events (or have simply been negligent in their preparation) ordinary people have grouped together to offer a solution to the problems inflicted by the weather. There’s still a healthy instinct for collective self organisation independent of the authorities to meet the needs of a community…that’s a positive we need to take through the rest of this year and build on…

Pressure gets results:)

Earlier on this week in the aftermath of the community clean up on the ¾ estate in Vange, we put up a series of posts based on what we experienced and saw. One of those posts was this one berating Basildon Council over their lack of inaction over a ‘temporary’ fence and the accumulation of rubbish behind it: Action?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/action/

Well, lo and behold, as you can clearly see from the image above, the rocky, dodgy ‘temporary’ fence and the rubbish behind it has been cleared! We don’t know what buttons were pressed at Basildon Council to get this issue sorted but it has to be said that pressure from the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) with some back up from us here at the Stirrer undoubtedly played a significant part. At this point, we’d like to thank all of those involved, particularly the staff on the ground who physically removed the fence and the accumulation of trash behind it – your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Okay, in the grand scheme of things, getting a fence and the rubbish removed is a small victory. It also has to be pointed out that VHCG facilitated by BASHA shouldn’t have to be busting a gut to get Basildon Council to do what should be a routine part of their job. However, a victory is a victory and collectively, we’re taking this one!

There’s a long way to go on the ¾ estate but things are starting to look up and that’s in no small part down to the effort put in by VHCG. All of this goes to show that if a community group shows the determination to stick at it, they can get results and start to turn things around in their neighbourhood. People power and putting on the pressure gets results. If VHCG and their allies stick at it, for the ¾ estate it can only be onwards and upwards…

Lastly, on our sister blog, The Estuary Alternative, here are some thoughts on what could be done with the newly cleared space: Could there be a pocket community garden here?https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2018/02/23/could-there-be-a-pocket-community-garden-here/

Dispatch from Brooke House



Water coming from a blocked drain making the stairs dangerous to use



Drains in the basement area not being cleared leading to flooding when it rains

This comment made by one of the residents on the Brooke House Residents Basildon Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/) eloquently sums up the feelings of frustration and despair at the conditions in the public areas of Brooke House: It’s not good enough to be told it takes time. Not acceptable. I’ve complained about the flooding for 2 YEARS! I’ve also slipped twice coming out the lift, contacted the council asked if plastic flooring could be put down like they have in swimming pools until the flooding issue is sorted. Didn’t want to know. Darren Maybin doesn’t even reply to my emails any more, that’s so unprofessional and shows exactly what he thinks of our complaints. So now I’m going to the Echo and as a registered disabled person I will be quoting the Disability Act for the safety. I’m fed up now. I’m sick of being fobbed off. The emergency exits in this place are DANGEROUS. So I hope the council will respond in a quicker time when the echo run my piece and I’m telling them everything About this shit hole. Anyone else wanna join me feel free to. Babies,kids, disabled, elderly all live here and it’s an unsafe crap hole.

We’re aware the the local councillor, Andrew Buxton, is putting as much pressure as he can on the relevant officers at Basildon Council to get on top of the multiple issues at Brooke House. The problem Cllr. Buxton faces is having to deal with entrenched attitudes among too many officers at Basildon Council who regard social housing tenants as a nuisance. Which does lead us to ask the question as to who really holds the power to get things done at the council – the councillors or the permanent officers?

There are elements at Basildon Council who feel that social housing tenants have no right to be living in a convenient town centre location and should be moved out to estates on the periphery so they can flog Brooke House off to a developer and trouser the cash. The deterioration of the public areas of the block and the misery of living with the increasing risk that poses is making more and more of the residents think that the only solution is to apply for a transfer and hope they’re offered somewhere better to live. This is an intentional policy of managed decline. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – what’s happening at Brooke House is to all intents and purposes a deliberate process of social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’.