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!

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The state (and future) of Brooke House

Above is an exterior shot of the iconic Brooke House tower block situated in East Square which is right in the heart of Basildon town centre. East Square is going to be comprehensively redeveloped. Over the years, there have been various proposals from Basildon Council for the ‘re-generation’ of Brooke House – pretty much all of which involve the removal of current tenants and residents and handing it over to a developer. Looking at the exterior shot of Brooke House, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s an okay place to live. Enter the block and as you can see from the photographs below, it’s a completely different story. If the state of the public areas inside the block isn’t managed decline by the council designed to ‘persuade’ current tenants and residents to move out, we don’t know what is. With the recent founding of Brooke House Residents Basildonhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/ we suspect that any future plans for ‘re-generation’ a.k.a. social cleansing will be getting met with some stiff resistance…





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…

The desecration continues…

These are some photographs sent in by one of our comrades from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) showing the ‘progress’ Basildon Council have been making in desecrating St. Martin’s Square as they re-locate the town’s market there…




St. Martin’s Square used to be a pleasant, tree filled oasis where, when the weather was right, visitors to the town centre could take some time out from their busy schedule to sit and relax. Basildon Council in their offices on the other side of the square didn’t see it that way – all they saw was a space that in their eyes wasn’t bringing in any revenue. They have a narrow, meanly utilitarian mindset that puts a price on everything but fails to see any value in a space that offers people a chance to rest and re-charge their batteries.

In a changing retail climate with people spending less because they don’t have enough money or if they do, increasingly spending it online or at regional malls such as Lakeside or Bluewater, relying solely on retail is not going to create a balanced, attractive and viable town centre. That simple fact has escaped the myopic bean counters at Basildon Council who seem to think that if they make a few cosmetic changes to the town centre, the shoppers will come flooding back. They’re living in the past but if you try telling them that, they’ll arrogantly brush you aside because as a mere resident, your views don’t matter outside of election time…

We wrote about the complex planning chain which is leading to this desecration back in July: Falling apart…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/falling-apart/ Well, Dry Street is being transformed from meadows to an executive housing estate which will do sod all to alleviate the (massively rigged and shrunken) waiting list for social housing in Basildon. As you can see from the photographs above, St. Martin’s Square is being covered with permanent structures whose rents could well be out of the reach of a lot of the traders currently operating in the existing market. We suspect that the new market is being pitched at a different kind of trader catering to a more affluent customer base. Well, good luck with that in a town that’s experiencing more poverty as pay levels stagnate and decline!

There’s another piece in this complex planning jigsaw…the re-location of the Basildon campus of South Essex College to the site of the existing market. Will it ever happen? Who knows… It is a well known fact that the Basildon campus is being run down with some departments such as motor mechanics being re-located all the way over to Rayleigh. We’ve heard anecdotal reports from staff at the Basildon Campus suggesting they’re being kept in the dark about their future and are feeling increasingly de-moralised as a result…

Despite all of this, the myopic bean counters at Basildon Council see all of this as ‘progress’. This is what you get with a system of local governance and a planning system that actively excludes resident participation in any decision making. This is why we say that the system we have is no longer fit for purpose and why radical change from the grassroots upwards is needed sooner rather than later…

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…

Silenced

A few posts back, we wrote about the frustrations that the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have been having in dealing with Basildon Council and the other authorities and agencies who are (supposedly) responsible for the ¾ estate in Vange: At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/at-the-risk-of-endlessly-repeating-ourselves/ We made it crystal clear at the end of this post that both the Vange Hill Community Group and BASHA want a constructive working relationship with Basildon Council. After all, in theory, the council are supposed to be servants of the people and part of that should involve working co-operatively with local residents.

Well, it would seem that Basildon Council are in no mood to co-operate in any way, shape or form as you can see from the communications sent by Basildon Council below

This was sent to the Vange Hill Community Group:

Dear Xx Xxxxxxxx,

Many thanks for your further email. I am particularly keen to work with you, both individually and as part of the Vange Hill Drive community group.

Please combine your service requests into one email, sent to me weekly, to enable me to enact resources in the most effective way and to ensure that works are completed in the correct timescales. This is over and above what we would normally provide residents with, and I hope that this shows how committed I am to working with you to ensure that we can work towards a cleaner Vange Hill Drive estate.

Kind Regards,

James

…and this was sent to BASHA:

Dear Xx Xxxxx

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of the below email and to advise you that with immediate effect, the Council will only respond to one email per month from you. The email from you may contain a service request if it relates to your household only. Any further emails you send in will be acknowledged but no reply will be provided.

We have chosen to take this action as your contact with the Council is excessive and the content of your email (particularly cutting and pasting facebook messages and phrases such as ‘If you cannot do your job I suggest you fall on your sword and resign’) is found to be unnecessary. The Council’s limited resource is spending a disproportionate amount of time on dealing with your correspondence and cannot be maintained.

We will monitor your level of contact for the next three months and if no improvement is made we will further restrict your access.

Yours Sincerely,

James

Thank you Basildon Council, you’re about as much help as a kick in the nether regions! The offer was made to put aside previous differences, meet face to face and start to build a constructive working relationship – this is how the council responded. When we make political points about the system of governance we have not being fit for purpose, it’s not empty rhetoric – it’s based on bitter experience. Until power can be brought right down to the grassroots allowing residents to have real control over how their estates and neighbourhoods are managed, this is the kind of obstructive, arrogant conduct we have to deal with from those who claim they have the right to run our affairs…