A better future for the ¾ estate in Vange

A few posts back we wrote about our experience on the Creating A Positive Revolution In Southend course and how we used that to come up with some ideas for improving life on the ¾ estate in Vange: A different way of thinking about community activism. That plan is now available as a downloadable PDF from here.

We will have print outs of this plan available (for a small donation) at our stall at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday May 12th. We will also be doing a presentation about this at the Dorset Radical Bookfair on Saturday 4th August.

Bear in mind that the plan is an aspiration and the contents are a guide as to how that aspiration can be realised. As such, it’s not written in stone and can and most likely will change as we progress and learn from our experiences, successes and mistakes!


No sense of what community means…

The above image from the Basildon Memories Facebook page is of the car park next to the Range store in Pitsea. As you can see, it’s being treated as a tip by an anti-social minority. As usual with these situations in land that’s not public space, no-one knows who’s responsible for clearing away the litter, so nothing happens. When nothing happens to clear the trash away, it sends out a signal that anti-social behaviour is implicitly tolerated in this location and the situation continues to deteriorate. As we’ve written more times than we care to remember, it only takes a few anti-social people to drag a neighbourhood down, particularly if their behaviour isn’t challenged or dealt with.

Reading through the comments on the thread about this image on the Basildon Memories Facebook page was an interesting exercise. A lot of them acknowledge that the solution to this kind of anti-social behaviour will only come from a change in people’s mindsets and a sense they have a community they belong to and have a responsibility towards. Before anyone else mentions it, we realise that some of those comments may have a narrow, somewhat reactionary sense of what makes for a successful community. When we encounter people like this, we do our level best to educate them about our progressive vision of what a community should be. What’s important is the desire of people to feel they’re part of neighbourhood where there’s mutual respect and people care for each other and the environment they live in. That’s something that we at South Essex Working Class Action are striving to achieve with our work on the estates.

Understandably, people get angry at the minority who are responsible for treating their neighbourhoods and town centre as a tip with no regard for the consequences. While it’s not a long term workable solution, we can understand why people are so fed up they’re calling for the culprits to be caught and punished in a way that will humiliate them. Placing hope in a proactive councillor who will react as soon as instances like this are reported is also understandable but they’re at the mercy of the council officers who if it’s not council land, will say it’s not their problem and bat it over to someone else to deal with or ignore. It has been said that locals fed up with such littering could band together and organise a community clean up – we did the same for a car park in Stanford-le-Hope a few years back. Three weeks later, the litter was back and no one would have known there had been a clean up. While we understand these solutions can seem attractive, they merely tackle the symptoms of the problem while leaving the root cause of it untouched.

Why are we getting exercised by litter when there’s a world out there to change? Good question. We get exercised by this because it’s about individual and collective responsibility to a neighbourhood – or in this instance, the complete lack of it from a minority of people. This littering is symptomatic of an atomised society where a growing number of people look after number one and refuse to acknowledge they’re part of a community, let alone that they have any responsibility towards it. It can also be argued it’s a sign that the culprits have little in the way of self respect. This selfish individualistic attitude from a minority and a sense they don’t have any real attachment to their neighbourhood is one of the major barriers we face in trying to build a sense of community pride, spirit and solidarity. Without this, there’s no base that can be built on in the quest for more sustainable, fundamental change.

The heart of what South Essex Working Class Action does is facilitating the efforts of residents on the estates to build a sense of community pride, spirit and solidarity. A strong community will do what it can to look after its neighbourhood. Looking at the state of this car park and also of too many estates in the region, it’s all too clear we have a massive task in front of us.

A transformation is underway in Gambleside as well:)

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.

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

Another community clean up for Vange on Saturday 17th February

Following on from the community clean upon the ¾ estate in Vange on December 2nd: 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/ the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have called another one for Saturday 17th February.

VHCG and BASHA are wondering if Basildon Council get wind of this clean up, whether they’ll put in extra effort on cleaning the estate of uncollected rubbish bags like they did before the last one back in December:) Fine – that leaves VHCH and BASHA more time to concentrate on the trimming and gardening side of things which will help with building a sense of pride in the neighbourhood…

As before, BASHA are facilitating this community clean up. The overall aim is to empower people on the ¾ estate to take an active role in making their estate a better place to live. Part of that is the physical work necessary to tidy the place up and put in some planting that will brighten things up come the spring and summer.

Obviously VHCG and BASHA are not going to be doing the whole of the ¾ estate. They’re working on two areas where they’ve already established a foothold with the aim of eventually linking these up to establish a clean and green corridor. The hope is that this will inspire residents in other parts of the estate to start working on their areas, facilitated by VHCG and BASHA if needed.

Basically, it’s all about empowering residents to take an active interest in managing their estates as part of a more fundamental project aimed at bringing power down to the grassroots where it belongs…

The fightback starts now

Just under a month ago, we undertook a distribution of a Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer on the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon – this was our write up of what we found: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ Since that low point, there have been a number of encouraging developments: Positive developments in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/positive-developments-in-vange/

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, along with our comrades from BASHA, we met up with representatives from the Vange Hill Community Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – and two of the ward councillors for a walk around the estate to get a fuller picture of what the issues were and start to work out an action strategy to deal with them.

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. Many of these properties have since been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. Many of these are ‘houses of multiple occupation’ that are seriously overcrowded. It feels that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council, Circle Housing and Swan Housing – all have some responsibility for various parts of the estate but none seem to want to talk or co-operate with each other! There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Despite the teeming rain, the walkabout was a positive experience. Vange Hill Community Group are passionate about turning round the fortunes of the estate and members have already started clean ups in the immediate vicinity of their homes. We spent a long time talking to them about how we can support and facilitate what they’re doing and getting the outline of an action plan in place.

One aim is to lead by example… This will be when a small group of neighbours get together to clear up rubbish, strim out unwanted weeds, clear unsafe steps of leaves and weeds and where appropriate, set up a community flower bed. As well as making a physical difference, the process of doing this will start to rebuild the community solidarity and pride that the ¾ estate desperately needs. If this can start to happen at a few points on the estate and can be sustained, then it will hopefully set an example that others will want to emulate it so that the ‘reclaimed’ bits of the estate physically link up with each other.

However, as you can see from the images taken on the walkabout, we and Vange Hill Community Group are under no illusions about the scale of the task…it’s a good job we like a challenge!

A ‘house of multiple occupation’ with a front garden turned into a rubbish tip

Electricity and flood water are not a good mix!

One of the neglected paths and open areas on the estate

One of many flights of steps that appear to be getting left to go back to nature, making them hazardous for pedestrian use

Looks like someone’s had a clear out…

The destruction of community…

Epidemics of flytipping in neighbourhoods are an outward manifestation that all is far from well in the community. This report in the Echo about flytipping in the Westborough ward in Southend is one example of this: Road becomes infested with RATS after rubbish dumpedhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15258270.Road_becomes_infested_with_RATS_after_rubbish_dumped/ In the Echo report there’s a quote from the chair of the Westborough Community Association which speaks volumes – here it is: “There just isn’t a community in Westborough and we feel like we’re wasting our breath. People should be taking pride in their streets and helping to keep them clean.” Before we go any further, we’d like to make a plea to the Westborough Community Association to not give into despair and give up but to keep on plugging away because it’s grassroots groups like this that are holding the line in these troubled times.

We’ve seen this situation repeated across the area we cover. On the ¾ estate in Vange where we used to work with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) on community clean ups, flytipping was rife as was confusion from certain residents about when to put their rubbish bags out for collection! When we were doing door to door distribution of the Stirrer paper in Grays at the weekend, it seemed that every back alley we looked up had piles of dumped furniture and carpets festering away.

We sympathise with the calls for people to show more civic pride and take more care of their community. In the atomised society we live in, it’s all to easy for some people to just care about themselves and not bother about what goes on beyond the front door. Our comrades at BASHA have on numerous occasions expressed their frustration with the minority of residents who don’t seem to care what happens in their neighbourhood and who refuse to take responsibility for anti-social actions such as flytipping. It’s something we’ve previously acknowledged on this blog: Show some pride and have some respect for your neighbours!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/show-some-pride-and-have-some-respect-for-your-neighbours/ However, while we acknowledge that calls for people to take more pride in their neighbourhoods and make an active effort to keep them clean have a role to play, they are only scratching at the surface of the problem…

The problem being the growing number of buy-to-let landlords who have a rogue element in their midst. In every neighbourhood we’ve seen that’s blighted by flytipping and anti-social behaviour, the common denominator is the presence of a significant minority of private landlords who don’t give a shit plus those who seem to specialise in short term lets. If a street has a significant number of properties available for private rent, it can lead to a significant churn in the local demographic with people coming and going and as a consequence, not putting down roots or becoming an active part of the community. Not that living somewhere on a short term let is any excuse to behave like a scumbag and flytip because it’s not! Although, in a fair few cases, it’s the rogue element of private landlords who are doing the flytipping…

This is what you get when housing is regarded as a financial asset rather than the essential roof over your head which is the starting point for you to take an active role in your community. A situation that’s exacerbated by an increasingly atomised society as people have no choice but to move hundreds of miles simply to find work. Then there are those who have been given no choice when it comes to being socially cleansed from London: The housing domino effect…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/the-housing-domino-effect/ To put it bluntly, things won’t change until there is movement towards replacing a dysfunctional political, economic and social system that among sins too numerous to mention, sees housing merely as a financial asset with one that’s more equitable, just and sustainable…