It’s down to us but most importantly, it’s down to YOU!

The point of our project at South Essex Radical Media (SERM) with our publications, The South Essex Stirrer and The Estuary Alternative, and our alliance with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) is simple – to inspire, encourage and support people to take action at the grassroots in order to bring about meaningful change.

SERM is basically about propaganda. It’s our job to report on what we see across the region we cover and, not just point out what’s wrong but to stir people up to start acting collectively to bring about change. BASHA are community and housing activists. As well as holding Basildon Council to account for their repeated failings, they aim to encourage residents and tenants on the estates to start taking collective action to bring about change.

This is why we and BASHA support and facilitate the work of groups such as the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and help to facilitate actions such as this: Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-3/4-estate-in-vange/ It’s not for us to tell VHCG what to do – their supporters live on the estate and know exactly what needs to be done! All we do is provide logistical support and some equipment on clean up days and help them to produce their propaganda. We hope that what VHCG do will act as an example to other estates and inspire people to start collectively taking action.

With The Estuary Alternative, the ultimate aim is to hand the project over to grassroots activists in the region while we move on to other initiatives. As stated in this piece: The future of this project…https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/the-future-of-this-project/ we don’t want to be lumbered with the job of finding content for it for ever and a day. The aim of The Estuary Alternative is to foster a greater degree of communication and co-operation between and among the range of grassroots groups operating in the region. That means that ultimately, it has to end up as a collective, collaborative project…

There are only a few of us and we have to be focused on what we can achieve with what are limited resources. Running The South Essex Stirrer and the On Uncertain Ground blogs (and the paper) takes up a lot of our time and energy which is why when we launch an initiative such as The Estuary Alternative, we really do want other grassroots activists to eventually take it off our hands!

It’s the same with BASHA, there are only a few of them and they want to focus on their roles of a) holding Basildon Council to account and b) facilitating and supporting grassroots groups and activists on the estates. They are not a back up service to be called upon when the roads haven’t been gritted or the rubbish hasn’t been collected. If residents and tenants want to act together to deal with issues like this, BASHA will happily support and facilitate them but they’re not going to do the bloody job for them!

We’ve had a fair few discussions about this dilemma that we’re facing and why people look to us to do stuff rather than them collectively doing it for themselves. There’s no single answer to this…

In the case of BASHA, on a growing number of estates, it’s a toxic cocktail of factors such as a general collapse of morale in the face of austerity plus demographic reasons such as the growing number of buy to let landlords and houses of multiple occupation leading to a constant churn in the population. Atomisation isn’t just a word bandied about by sociologists in academia – it’s the brutal reality we increasingly find on the estates.

With SERM, our biggest headache is getting other people to write for our blogs. We do get a few guest pieces for which we are incredibly grateful but we still have to do a lot of the legwork in terms of sourcing content. To broaden our reach we’re increasingly using re-blogs and cut and pasting media releases from groups we trust but it’s no substitute for having a rota of regular contributors. With all of our publications, we really want to open them up to as many individual groups and activists as possible to make them truly representative of what’s going on.

Drawing to a conclusion, it seems that we are up against the evils of demoralisation and atomisation on the estates and a worrying degree of complacency in a number of grassroots groups who seem happy to plod along doing the same old thing rather than reach out, link up and step up a gear. Going into what is looking to be a turbulent and unpredictable 2018, we’re going to need as much solidarity as can be mustered to deal with the onslaught that’s coming our way.

We don’t pretend to have the answers to this dilemma by any stretch of the imagination. We’re more than happy to listen to what other people have to say on the problems of demoralisation, atomisation and passivity and how they think they can be overcome. We admit that this piece can be seen as us venting some of our frustrations! Having said that, the intention is to foster a constructive discussion on how we can move forward and get ourselves into a position where we can deal with whatever 2018 throws at us…

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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…

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…

Getting on with it…

We don’t normally cross post from On Uncertain Ground but as a result of some of the criticism we’ve received since the London Anarchist Bookfair, we’ve got a few points to prove to certain people and would like to set the record straight…

One of the problems with anarchism are certain elements who are only too willing to criticise comrades involved in campaigns, grassroots community projects, actions and the like but who never seem to get out and do anything themselves. This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning… Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – https://www.facebook.com/LoveHardiePark/ We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward…

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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…

At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…

We’d like to draw the attention of the relevant Basildon Council officers and the ward councillors for the area covering the ¾ estate in Vange to this list of posts we’ve written about the issues on the estate and the frustrations the residents are experiencing in trying to resolve them:

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/stop-moving-the-sodding-goalposts/
Falling apart…an update:(https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/falling-apart-2/
Admit it…you need us!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/admit-it-you-need-us/
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/doing-it-for-ourselves-because-no-one-else-will/
Evading responsibilityhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/evading-responsibility/
The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/

For a blog that has only been going since February and which covers an area stretching from Southend in the east to Dagenham in the west, this is a heck of a lot of posts about one estate! We shouldn’t have to be writing these posts. If Basildon Council officers, the local ward councillors, Essex County Council and both the Circle and Swan housing associations were doing their jobs properly, the ¾ estate wouldn’t be experiencing anything like the problems it has.

To all of the agencies and the ward councillors involved, we ask you to listen to the residents and don’t dismiss their concerns, fob them off with excuses, give them the runaround or treat them with contempt. Remember, you’re supposed to be the servants of the people, not their masters.

When things do eventually get done on the ¾ estate, all too often it’s been after persistent nagging and pressure that creates mistrust and bad blood between residents on the one hand and council officers, councillors and housing association staff on the other. It shouldn’t have to be like this. We know that both the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action would prefer a co-operative working relationship with Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the relevant ward councillors.

The offer is on the table… Forget about what’s gone on in the past, get round a table, talk the issues through face to face, show residents you’re serious about working in partnership with them and let’s make a new start with a clean slate. It shouldn’t be that hard should it?

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!

This is what we’ve written about the Vange ¾ estate over the last few months as part of our commitment to supporting the work of the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/

Falling apart…an update:(https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/falling-apart-2/
Admit it…you need us!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/admit-it-you-need-us/
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/doing-it-for-ourselves-because-no-one-else-will/
Evading responsibilityhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/evading-responsibility/
The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/

Basildon & Southend Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ – and now the Vange Hill Community Group have been bending over backwards in trying to encourage residents to put out their rubbish on the right day, correctly sorted and in the right location. Sounds easy doesn’t it? All that’s needed is for Basildon Council to come up with a clear set of guidelines for residents to follow and the problem of uncollected rubbish will be solved once and for all.

Cue manic laughter… FFS, getting blood out of a stone would be considerably easier that getting a straightforward, comprehensible rubbish collection protocol from Basildon Council that leaves residents and council operatives in no doubt as to what needs to be done! Seriously, how hard is it for council officers to come up with a rubbish collection protocol that residents and operatives can understand and implement? We’re not talking about anything complicated here – we’re talking about one of the basic functions that people expect their councils to be able execute efficiently and without any dramas.

It seems that every time Basildon Council have been contacted over this, the answers have been contradictory, evasive and misleading. They keep moving the sodding goalposts! The council need to bear in mind that they’re dealing with community groups who want to do the right thing and get the rubbish collection problems on the Vange ¾ estate resolved once and for all. Groups that would like to work with the council to make life better on the estate rather than having to battle them all of the time.

We don’t want to be pushed into a position where we have to name the council officers who we think need to pull their weight but the time has come… James Hendry, please give the Vange Hill Community Group a) a clear, understandable rubbish collection policy that residents and council operatives can implement and b) give the Vange Hill Community Group the respect they deserve for trying their hardest to make their estate a better place to live…

Falling apart…an update:(

In the latest print edition of the Stirrer, the main feature is about how our local authorities are failing us, the people they’re supposed to serve. The never ending government imposed austerity agenda is one major factor in this. However, there are other factors such as toxic internal cultures which serve to exacerbate external pressures such as austerity. No two local authorities are the same and they all respond in different ways to external pressures. It has to be said that on the anecdotal evidence we’ve heard, Basildon Council has an internal culture that is toxic – this is manifested in the shit way they treat their residents and high levels of staff turnover.

You only have to look back through this blog and you’ll find a fair number of posts where we’re taking Basildon Council to task. Don’t just take our word for it – if you want to read what people at the grassroots are saying about the way Basildon Council are treating them, we recommend that you check out the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ and Basildon & Southend Housing Actionhttps://www.facebook.com/basacton/

We heard a story of a Basildon resident who worked for the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham but changed jobs and started working at Basildon Council so they could cut down on the commuting. Within a matter of weeks they were on the phone to Barking & Dagenham begging for their old job back because the culture at Basildon was so dysfunctional they couldn’t take any more! We’ve heard another story from the Recovery section at Basildon Council where people are leaving in their droves because they can’t deal with the toxic work environment there and the pressures on them to treat residents like shit.

With a combination of high staff turnover, an all too often hostile attitude towards residents and services such as rubbish collection which on estates such as the ¾ in Vange that can only be described as piss poor, the evidence is mounting up that Basildon Council is falling apart. In the previous post: Admit it…you need us!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/admit-it-you-need-us/ we listed some of the ways community groups are having to step in and fill the breach while holding the council to account at the same time. Without being over-dramatic, Basildon Council is giving every impression they’re falling apart…

When the state fails to deliver, whether that’s at a national or local level, it has to be seen as an opportunity for grassroots campaigners to step in, not just to hold up failing services but to change the balance of power so we have a considerably bigger say in how our estates and neighbourhoods are managed and develop in the future. Let’s start to take that opportunity, not just in Basildon but anywhere where the state is failing, get power down to the grassroots and start to bring about some real change…

Admit it…you need us!

In an age of seemingly never ending austerity, council services are under ever growing strain and in a growing number of instances, they’re failing. Working with groups such as Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), it’s all too clear that services such as rubbish collection and estate maintenance are in crisis. On a fair few occasions, BASHA and VHCG have had to step into the breach to undertake activities such as neighbourhood clean ups, educating residents on rubbish disposal (nigh on impossible when Basildon Council don’t have a rubbish disposal protocol!) and setting up community gardens.

BASHA, and now VHCG, are not stepping into the breach just to cover the failings of Basildon Council – they’re doing it because they care passionately about their communities. Recent clean ups they’ve undertaken include Gambleside on the ¾ estate in Vange: Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/doing-it-for-ourselves-because-no-one-else-will/ and the Pattocks on the Red Brick Estate: Cleaning up the Pattockshttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/cleaning-up-the-pattocks/

Interestingly, in the case of the Pattocks clean up, BASHA were invited by the estate manager to come along to offer their expertise to the clean up she initiated. If that level of co-operation between council officers who know they don’t have the resources to do the job they need to do and community groups could spread, it really would make a world of difference. This wouldn’t just be to the physical appearance of the estates but also the empowerment of community action groups who want to make a meaningful contribution to the running and maintenance of their neighbourhoods.

Sadly, as things stand at the moment, far from co-operation and a constructive working relationship, BASHA and VHCG find they’re dealing with council officers who all too often, are less than helpful. The ongoing saga of dealing with a dysfunctional rubbish collection ‘service’ on the ¾ estate is just one example of where it feels that council officers are hampering efforts to clean up the estate and educate residents on rubbish disposal protocol. BASHA’s efforts to effectively carry out clean up days have been frustrated by issues with permissions to dispose of what they’ve collected at Essex County Council waste disposal facilities.

On the surface, Basildon Council’s new Pride Teams sound like a constructive idea to start to turn round issues with the neglect of estates and public spaces: Pride Teams start transforming neighbourhoodshttp://www.basildonstandard.co.uk/news/15515108.Pride_Teams_start_transforming_neighbourhoods/ The problem is we’ve heard it on good authority that the Pride Teams know they’re overstretched and cannot do the job they’ve been set up to do with the limited resources they’ve got. This could be the perfect opportunity for them to reach out to community groups and work in partnership with them to start to turn the estates around.

However, this will mean Basildon Council admitting they can’t do the job themselves and relinquishing a degree of control. From BASHA’s previous dealings with the council, it’s abundantly clear that the one thing they hate doing is relinquishing control. So we have a bit of an impasse…for the moment… The point is that as community groups step into the breach more and more to deal with the failures of local government, it return for this, they have to be given a meaningful say in how their estates and neighbourhoods are managed and developed for the future. Nothing less than that is acceptable…