Action?

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, activists from the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) plus the ward councillors took part in a walk about on the ¾ estate to get a fuller picture of the problems afflicting the area. This is what we wrote about it pretty much as soon as we got home: The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/ On the walk, we stopped by the broken ‘temporary’ fence just off Swanstead shown above where concerns were expressed about its visual impact and safety. We distinctly remember one of the ward councillors, Cllr. Block, taking a picture of the offending fence on her phone and telling us she would be contacting the relevant departments at Basildon Council to get it sorted out.

We have to assume that Cllr. Block did inform the relevant people at the council the next day. If that’s the case, can someone please explain to VHCG, BASHA and all of the residents on the ¾ estate who feel they’ve been forgotten about, why is it that five and a half months after being told that action would be taken to fix this fence, sod all appears to have been done about it? Can they also explain why there appears to have been no liaison between the ward councillor and the council officers on the one hand and VHCG, BASHA and the residents on the other on what should be the simple matter of getting this fence sorted out?

BASHA, this blog and VHCG have acquired a bit of a reputation for putting the boot into Basildon Council. We don’t do this because we’re vindictive or we like bullying people. We do this because the council are supposed to be the servants of the people and when it comes to the ¾ estate in Vange (and many other estates across Basildon), people feel like they’re being let down, ignored and belittled by them every time they raise legitimate concerns. We have to put the pressure on Basildon Council simply to get them to do their sodding job!

When turnouts at local elections hover around the thirty percent mark, you would have thought that councillors and council officers would have the humility to take a hard look at themselves and ask why people have little or no faith in them. It’s constant shite like the five and a half months of inaction over a dodgy fence that leads people to rightly conclude that the council doesn’t give a toss about them so they don’t bother to go out and vote. A little word of advice to councillors and council officers alike from those on the estates who have their fingers on the pulse – people are not just fed up, they’re getting angry now!

Advertisements

We got our hands dirty…

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.


The pocket community garden on Oldwyk


Gambleside looking a lot better as a result of active resident involvement

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.


The rubbish collected from Oldwyk and Dewsgreen


The rubbish collected from Gambleside and Sturrocks

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.

Something has to change…

After lengthy conversations with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), towards the end of last year we wrote this piece: A few thoughts on local councillors…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/a-few-thoughts-on-local-councillors/ We understand that if a councillor is going to do their job properly in serving the ward they represent, it will mean a heavy workload. This is something that should be made perfectly clear to anyone considering standing as a candidate in local elections.

It doesn’t give us any pleasure to say we’ve heard anecdotal evidence from various sources indicating that the two ward councillors for Vange, Cllr. Block (Lab) and Cllr. McGeorge (Lab) are falling a fair way short in what residents can reasonably expect from their local councillors. Life has a nasty habit of going wrong when you don’t want it and can seriously impact your ability to discharge a responsibility. We don’t know what the circumstances are with Cllrs. Block and McGeorge but if external factors are impacting on their ability to effectively discharge their responsibilities as councillors and that’s likely to be the case for some months to come, then in our opinion, they need to consider their positions.

We’ve seen the work that community activists in Vange have been putting in to make the area a better place to live in. They and the residents they’re working for deserve better than they’re getting at the moment. The next elections for the Vange ward are not due until 2019 and in our opinion, that’s too long to let things drift on as they are.

What’s the difference?

On the left is a spread from the Basildon Council free rag, the Borough Diary, showing what their Pride team has managed to achieve during last year. On the right are a couple of images shot on the community clean up facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) on the ¾ estate in Vange back in December.

We’re not knocking the Pride team because when they go on to the estates to tidy things up, they do a pretty good job. However, the team only has limited resources and we’ve heard anecdotal evidence from people in the know that they’re stretched to the limit and can only do so much. That means that however hard the Pride team work, there any many areas in Basildon that will remain untouched by their hands for some time to come.

BASHA are a community based action group. A key part of their remit is empowering and facilitating groups on the estates to start taking an active role in making their neighbourhoods better places to live. Which is why on December 2nd, they found themselves alongside members of the Vange Hill Community Group facilitating some tidying up and gardening on parts of the estate: Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-%c2%be-estate-in-vange/

BASHA are not in competition with the Pride team from Basildon Council and in no way want to deprive any of them of a job. All BASHA want to do is work in partnership with the Pride team to help residents who want to improve conditions on their estates. As we’ve written more times than we care to remember, attempts to deal with the hierarchy at Basildon Council when it comes to building an effective working partnership have generally been re-buffed. This is in total contrast to the council teams on the ground who genuinely appreciate what BASHA does and have always helped them out on clean ups by taking rubbish and cuttings away.

Tenant and resident led initiatives on the estates aimed at improving conditions on the estates through activities such as clean ups should be getting the full support of the council instead of having obstacles constantly thrown in their way. Resident involvement in running and maintaining their estates should be hard wired into the council’s thinking and planning. The problem is that there are elements in the hierarchy of Basildon Council who cannot even begin to contemplate letting go of their control…

So, once again, BASHA would like to offer the powers that be at Basildon Council the opportunity to have a rethink, relinquish a bit of control and let tenants and residents at the grassroots get involved in making their neighbourhoods better places to live. It’s a new year – let’s have a new start from the council and some positive thinking for a change!

Another point of light…

We work closely with Basildon & Southend Action (BASHA) and a key part of our strategy is encouraging residents and tenants to group together to collectively fight for a better deal from the council and to start taking more control over their neighbourhoods and estates. Basically, it’s a strategy of empowerment with our role being that of facilitators and offering practical support as and when required.

For the last six months, we’ve been working with BASHA to facilitate the work of the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG): Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-3/4-estate-in-vange/ See here for the VHCG Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ We’re now delighted to announce the start of another residents / tenants group we’ll be supporting at Brooke House, the iconic tower block in the middle of Basildon town centre shown above. Here’s the Facebook page for Brooke House Residents Basildonhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/

The point about this strategy is recognising the fact that no two estates are alike and will experience different issues and problems. The ¾ estate in Vange has suffered from years of neglect and is somewhere the authorities would prefer to dump people and then just forget about them. Brooke House has suffered from years of intentional neglect but as it’s slap bang in the middle of the town centre, it’s been the subject of numerous schemes for ‘regeneration’. Schemes that never seem to take into account the wishes of the residents and tenants of Brooke House who are regarded as a barrier to ‘regeneration’.

So, Brooke House Residents Basildon have the twin task of getting Basildon Council to bring their block up to a decent liveable standard while stopping the very same council from throwing them under the bus and decanting them before flogging the block to a developer. We and BASHA will be doing our level best to support them in those tasks. Fortunately, unlike the ¾ estate in Vange where the two ward councillors are conspicuous by their absence, the residents and tenants of Brooke House have at least one ward councillor is is proactive and wants to support them in taking the council to task.

None of this is easy. It’s the kind of grassroots community action that has to have a lot of time and energy invested before it starts to get results. However, if we are going to build a movement for real change, this is where we have to start…

Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vange

Promotion of this community clean up which took place on Saturday 2nd December started a month ago. It was called as a response to longstanding issues with rubbish collection on the ¾ estate and the amount that was remaining uncollected. We had visions of a day of litter picking and re-bagging burst, split and festering sacks of uncollected trash…

Well, ever since Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) announced the clean up, residents have noticed a marked improvement in Basildon Council’s performance when it came to collecting rubbish and not leaving uncollected sacks lying around. Coincidence? No, not a bit of it… Basildon Council didn’t want to be embarrassed by our photographs of a rubbish strewn estate so they pulled their fingers out and actually did the job that they’re meant to do. Okay, it wasn’t 100% pristine but residents we spoke to said the estate was looking cleaner than it has for some time. We’ll take this as a victory…putting on the pressure pays off…

So, with not a lot of rubbish to collect, what did we do? Well, we did a bit of gardening, cutting back, strimming, weeding and sweeping instead. Which to be honest, is infinitely preferable to dealing with festering sacks of uncollected rubbish. We were working in two separate locations. The aim is to use these two locations as examples of what can be done by residents, facilitated by VHCG and BASHA. It’s hoped that these examples will inspire other residents across the estate to start taking care of their closes with the eventual aim of linking these up and starting to totally transform the place.

The point of today was to facilitate resident action in cleaning their sections of the estate up. This is the first step in empowering them to take more of an active role in making the ¾ estate a decent place to live and dispelling the bad reputation it has gained over the years. The more the residents can achieve, the more empowered they’ll feel and the more ambitious they’ll get in terms of getting a meaningful say in how the estate is run and developed.

A few words of thanks are due… Firstly to the residents who care about where they live and came out to put in some hard graft on tidying the place up. Secondly to Basildon Council who provided the litter pickers and black sacks – the gesture was appreciated. Thirdly to the Basldon Council workers who took away a fair amount of the rubbish and green waste we had collected when they showed up. Lastly but by no means least, many thanks to the residents who made us cups of tea and coffee to keep us going…that really was appreciated:)

All in all, it was a good day when we could see the result of our pressure on Basildon Council and from the graft we put in. This will be the first of a number of actions on an estate where residents are starting to take an active role in turning the place around…it’s onwards and upwards from here…

A few thoughts on local councillors…

Our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have had quite a few dealings with council officers, local ward councillors and county councillors over the years. We’ve put up plenty of posts about the lamentable service estate dwellers have had from Basildon Council officers who are supposed to be working for the interests of their residents – it’s time we took a look at local councillors…

Let’s get one thing out of the way first – as anarchists, why are we talking about working with local councillors? We do hold anarchist principles and we want to eventually fulfil our ideal of self empowered, self governing communities but as grassroots activists, we want to get results in the here and now as well. Getting results in the here and now requires dealing with local councillors, whether we like it or not. Working alongside BASHA, we feel that we’re qualified to make a few comments on the performance of local councillors…

In an ideal world, someone would be standing for election as a local councillor because they want to serve the people in their neighbourhood. This is where we reach the first hurdle…a fair number of local councillors don’t live in the wards they supposedly represent…

They’re not councillors because they have a passion to do the best for their neighbourhood – they’re in it for party political purposes. Apart from independents who do live in the wards they represent and stand on their record and experience, most local councillors campaigning to get elected are backed and facilitated by a national political party. If they get elected, they’re expected to toe the party line even if that means acting against the interests of their residents. This is why political parties operating at a local authority level seem to have no problem about standing candidates who do not live in the wards they’re contesting.

BASHA have had to deal with more than their fair share of local councillors who do not live in the wards they’re supposed to represent. We’ve seen some of these councillors as well…to put it politely, they’re party hacks. When it comes to election time – that’s national as well as local authority elections – these councillors will be highly visible out on the streets pursuing their party political agenda. In between elections, all too often they become elusive and hard to contact…

Contact…that’s what being a local councillor is supposed to be about. Being available for their residents. That’s all of their residents, regardless of whatever politics they may have, regardless of creed and colour. Not picking and choosing who they may pull the stops out for and who they ignore. When as all too often happens, a councillor doesn’t live in the ward they claim to represent, it’s all to easy for them to be selective about who they do or don’t pull the stops out because they don’t have to face the residents every time they step outside the front door.

Contact…it should be standard practice for all councillors every time they have contact with residents to hand out a card with their contact details at the start of any meeting. It’s a basic courtesy that shows a councillor is genuinely interested in helping residents. We have heard a few instances from BASHA of councillors who do this and they’re extremely grateful for this. All too often, they’ve seen councillors whom look visibly pained at the prospect of having to deal with residents…

What does all of this show? Well, it shows that there is a persuasive argument for keeping party politics out of the local council – this is an issue that we may well return to in future posts. What cannot be argued is that local councillors need to live in the wards they represent if they are going to have an understanding of the issues their residents have to deal with every day. What is also shows is that a lot of councillors need to do some serious soul searching and ask themselves exactly what it is they want to achieve in their role…

Getting there but…it’s a slog!

The image above shows the bins by the blocks of flats on the ¾ estate in Vange (located on the southern fringes of Basildon). Even though there are a few bits of uncollected rubbish lying around, believe it or not, what you can see is a vast improvement on what it has been like. Anecdotal reports from a number of sources seem to indicate that the situation is being turned around.

It’s starting to look as though the pressure being applied by the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), helped by Clean Up Basildon and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) is starting to pay off. That’s pressure on Basildon Council, educating residents on the protocol for rubbish disposal and encouraging them to take pride in the estate, and last but by no means least, starting to put pressure on some of the landlords to clean their act up.

A couple of points need to be made: a) the estate still has to reach the level of cleanliness that residents have a right to expect as the norm and b) the aggravation that VHCG and BASHA have had when trying to work constructively with Basildon Council officers beggars belief. Community activists are putting themselves through the mill simply to achieve a level of cleanliness and maintenance that should be the basic duty of a local authority to provide for their residents.

The attempts to deal constructively with Basildon Council, which all too often have been rebuffed, only serve to prove that the system of local governance we have is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. Which is why in the long term, the only meaningful solution to the problems on the ¾ estate is going to have to come from the residents having more of a say and taking more of a responsibility in how it’s run. We’ll do whatever we can to facilitate that…

If you want a job done properly…

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the issues our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) have had in dealing with the authorities who are supposed to be responsible for the ¾ estate in Vange which is located on the southern fringes of Basildon. Both BASHA and VHCG are fed up with the wrangling over which authority is responsible for (not) clearing the trash properly, (not) trimming back out of control undergrowth and (not) maintaining footpaths and steps to a decent, safe standard.

There’s only so much banging your head against a brick wall you can take in dealing with the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of local authorities and housing associations and trying to contact ward councillors conspicuous by their absence. At a recent meeting we (the Stirrer) and BASHA decided to do something about this with a day of therapeutic community cleaning where we can see a definite result at the end of a day’s hard graft.

Any of our supporters are more than welcome to join us on the day – please wear suitable footwear and clothing you don’t mind getting mucky. Tools will be provided, but if you can bring along anything you think will be useful, you’re welcome to do so…