Balfron Tower, Bow Arts and the Missing Millions

It is now three years to the day since publicly funded
“charity” Bow Arts evicted me from my home and studio in Balfron
Tower, sabotaged my residency at UCL and subsequently went on to try and evict
me from my new studio at Acava, sent press releases defaming my character with the
intent to stop me from working or talking about my art practice to anyone who
would employ me, including major Universities, and encouraged other artists,
who will remain nameless for the time being, to help to sabotage my career in
exchange for favours from bow arts (all fully documented).

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Why did they do
this? Because I found evidence against them that they had been illegally making
themselves charitable “donations” from artists rents, and then funnelling
it through illegal tax evasion schemes, and I questioned them about it. Instead of helping artists, in the ways they write about in their glossy PR when claiming the £400k given to them by Arts
Council England in 2013, bow arts were acting like ruthless slumlords and were failing to provide even basic support for artists. I am simply not prepared to “give” these
crooks a ¬£2k “donation” per year, when they had actively worked
against me and done nothing at all for me other than simply being my landlord,
and a shit one at that. Using artists to socially cleanse Balfron Tower to
dismantle its working class community so that the flats could be sold off to
rich investors is not something I am prepared to remain silent about, nor shall
I. My work with so many of the towers residents allowed me to witness first
hand a ruthless process of artwash and social cleansing that nobody with a
conscience could remain silent about, yet where those that do speak out are
bullied, marginalised, criminalised and attacked.

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Despite the
overwhelming dossier of evidence I gathered against bow arts, described by one
Crown Court judge as “high-end litigation”, bow arts continue to
operate in the same nasty manner, and attempts to have them held accountable
for their criminal actions and revenge evictions, have so far resulted in
nothing but cover-ups. This included cover-ups after I followed all the
official complaints procedures, in addition to the charities commission, HMRC
& the police. An estimated £2 million was illegally stolen from artists by
bow arts between 2011 & 2014. The money they stole from me and subsequent
revenge eviction, including the retention of my £720 tenancy deposit, saw me
remain homeless for over two years after my eviction, including living in my
car and then a squat with no power or water, where I was subsequently
hospitalised. Welcome to the friendly face of charity in the UK, in bed with
property developers and social cleansers, raising money from working class
communities through lottery sales, only to use the proceeds to fund the
dismantlement of the very same communities. Apparently they call it
‚Äúsocially-engaged art‚ÄĚ.

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I, along with a
number of others from Balfron Tower have been working with a journalist to
expose the widespread corruption at Bow Arts since May 2016 and they are now under formal
investigation by the government’s fundraising regulator for charity tax fraud
and tax evasion, an investigation that has been ongoing since June 2016. Once
the government regulator rules, all artists that have made bow arts any
“charitable donation‚ÄĚ, should be able to claim this money back, regardless
of whether they signed the waiver that bow arts forced many artists to sign in
2015, to try to cover up the fraud and (illegally) waive them of their criminal
actions.

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I maintain the same
demands I had when bow arts evicted me in 2014 and attempted to destroy my
career that they did absolutely nothing to assist with: that the directors of bow
arts, Marcel Baettig and Michael Cubey, be held personally accountable for the
fraud that they oversaw, sanctioned, and tried to conceal; be sacked and face
prosecution for tax fraud and tax evasion, and face subsequent bans from
holding directorships of any charities. I also demand that bow arts be
restructured to include a minimum of 50% artists on the board of trustees,
instead of 0%, as they seem to prefer.

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I now understand
that my current studio landlord, Acava, are proposing to join forces with bow
arts to host open studios in June this year. I am 100% opposed to any
collaboration with bow arts, under any circumstances. It is not acceptable to
force those of us who choose to have a social conscience to work with such a questionable organisation which can
only bring their bad reputation down upon all of us. I will be
extremely vocal about any forced co-operation with bow arts through my studio
providers potential imposition that we work with these thieves and
charlatans. 

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It’s time that
those in the art world stop using artists as pawns for property developers. We
will no longer stand by silently as corrupt organisations like bow arts co-opt
artists to artwash the dismantlement of entire working class communities so
their homes can be redeveloped for the rich.

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All images are from Inversion/Reflection: Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out by Rab Harling

Rab Harling

for

Balfron Social Club

11 February 2017

If only Balfron Tower could talk, if only we could see

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Balfron Tower (pic: @balfronsocial)

 

If only Balfron Tower could talk, if only we could see

A Balfron Social Club guest blog post by Stephen Pritchard

 

Time lapses.  Remembrances.  Lives once fixed, now in transit.  Different places.  Other spaces.

If only Balfron Tower could talk.

Each wall, window, walkway.  Every conduit, fixture, fitting, lock.  The underground garages.  The lifts.  The noticeboards.  Dispossessed.

The views.  People’s views.  Displaced.

If only we could see.

No filming.  No photography.

Fixed perspectives.  Fixed outlooks.

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No filming, no photography (pic: @etiennelefleur)

All the while, the City creeps nearer. ¬†Beacons. ¬†Warning signs. ¬†Shiny neoliberal lights. ¬†Precursors of forthcoming ‚Äúredevelopment‚ÄĚ. ¬†Glass fronted. ¬†Flimsy giants. ¬†Harbingers of impending gentrification. ¬†They are coming. ¬†They will come. ¬†They will erase generations, feast on the past, wipe clean past lives, past happiness, past hardships. ¬†Brutal.

Call in the artists, the property guardians, dark soundtracks, bleak CGI mock ups trumpeting ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre coming home, baby!‚ÄĚ

Not yet.  Just Sitex doors.  Left possessions tipped in skips.  Locks.  For now.

Business suits, fluorescent-clad workers, white-shirted private security guards. Builders or destroyers?

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A Sitex door bars access to the former home of an elderly Balfron Tower leaseholder, bullied from his home through the courts with threats of a Compulsory Purchase Order (pic: @balfronsocial)

Balfron Tower was a refuge for its many social housing tenants. ¬†Soon it will be another vacuous space filled with neoliberal lifestyle choice, as empty of lives, real lives, as the empty promises made by the local ‚Äúhousing regeneration and community association‚ÄĚ and the luxury residential property developers. ¬†A haven for thieving City bankers. ¬†Left-empty overseas billionaire investments. Hedge fund safe bets. ¬†Tax evasion. ¬†Buy-to-leave.

And now the last resident has gone, decanted to God knows where, they have wiped the soul from Balfron Tower. ¬†It will never return. ¬†They will make sure of it. ¬†They have replaced people with assets for private investors, homes with a ‚Äúnew world‚ÄĚ bereft of communities ‚Äď another dead world of capital investment. A global world of shadowy deals and care-free exploitation. ¬†Their world.

Cinema. ¬†Launderette. ¬†Play Room. ¬†Garden Room. ¬†Cocktail bar. ¬†Goldfinger Archive. ¬†Trunk Store. Treehouse. ¬†What? ¬†Social housing transformed into 1960s ‚Äúdesign icon‚ÄĚ, how lovely. ¬†How incredibly ironic. ¬†How to ‚Äúunlock the potential for an unprecedented cast of stakeholders‚ÄĚ.

So wrong.  So, so wrong.

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Up for the Yoga Room, down for the Music Room, design proposals for the Balfron Tower regeneration (Source: unknown)

And yet, Balfron Tower remembers its proud past.  Its residents will never forget.  Their ups and downs are cast in screed.  Their births and deaths, breakups and marriages haunt stairwells and walkways.  Lifts murmur songs from decades of everyday living.  Everyday hymns to everyone and no one.

Balfron Tower, like its past residents, remembers.  Together, they remember things heard and overheard; seen, unseen and overseen; touched and untouched.  Spoken, now muted, conversations.  Different people, living together high above London, through good and bad. Sharing.  Learning from one another.  Partying.  Playing.  Fighting.  Living.  Always living.

Inversion / Reflection shares little bits of some of these stories.  Resident’s lives. Balfron Tower’s life.  The film is not a crass product of socially engaged artists in the pay of profiteering property developers or housing associations hell bent on gentrification by a wryly smiling social art practice that paints a thinly disguised veil over gentrification.  It stands sensitive.  Understated.  Peaceful. Honest.  Proud.  A fitting commemoration of those displaced at the hands of unbridled gentrifiers who will, with their own rabid teeth, devour themselves eventually.  Cindy.  Gavin.  Felicity.  Shiraz. Evelyn.

Inversion/Reflection: What Does Balfron Tower Mean to You? A short film by Rab Harling

Balfron Tower.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Those involved didn’t need to exploit people. They didn’t have to lie. They didn’t have to socially cleanse.

This is not what Goldfinger planned.

He turns in his grave as capitalist greed stamps out the dying embers of our hopes and dreams for social housing.  Balfron Tower was and still is a symbol of our welfare state.  Built on optimism. Killed by selfishness.  Justice for all replaced by the dog-eat-dog world of possessive hyper-individualism and neoliberal capital accumulation by dispossession.  Systematic asset-stripping and land grabbing.

Balfron Tower is another battleground in a class struggle ‚Äď a class war. ¬†The rich elite may have temporarily taken¬†control but one day we will assert our right to the city and we will take it back!

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A Balfron Social Club guest blog post by Stephen Pritchard

@etiennelefleur

http://colouringinculture.org/

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out

Balfron Tower, July 2015                                            pic: @balfronsocial

This guest blog post, by artist Rab Harling, is a transcript from his presentation to the ‚ÄúSocial Injustice & Inequalities: ‚ÄėRace, Gender & Class‚Äô‚ÄĚ conference at The Centre for Social Justice and Inequalities, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick on 10th July 2015.

Between February 2011 & February 2014, I was a resident of Ernö Goldfinger’s brutalist icon Balfron Tower in Tower Hamlets. Throughout this period, predominantly making connections through word-of-mouth, I set about capturing, on large format transparency film, from a singular viewpoint, a perspective from within each of my neighbour’s homes. By taking an identically situated photograph in as many of my neighbour’s homes as possible, I intended to deconstruct the form of the architecture of Balfron Tower, with my ultimate intention being to create an, as yet unrealised, photographic sculpture of the building in its geometrically deconstructed form: effectively turning Balfron Tower Inside out.

During this process I encountered a glimpse into the function of Balfron Tower and the realities of some of the lives occupying this Grade II listed, purpose-built social housing block; a block under attack from regeneration by those who claim to have the best interests of the community at heart. Balfron Tower is being regenerated. I believe that the proposed wholesale removal of social housing and its subsequent sale on the private market is not regeneration but social cleansing.

I will now play you a slideshow I made using approximately 40% of the material I captured, with a narration from Keith, who lived in Balfron Tower for 15 years between 1998-2013, before being relocated out of the borough, with no option to return to his home in the gentrified tower.

SCREENING of 

Inversion/Reflection: Turning Balfron Tower Inside Out

https://vimeo.com/104439481

(password: balfron)

Another five years of Conservative cultural policy finds us experiencing a culture-industry being shaped by powerful forces. In austere times public money for luxuries such as art must engage ‚Äúthe community‚ÄĚ. The recent RSA and Warwick Commission report ‚ÄúEnriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth‚ÄĚ highlights ‚Äúparticipation‚ÄĚ as its key recurring feature.

But what happens when publicly funded arts organisational agenda conspire against grass-roots community creativity? Social restructuring is devastating London’s working-class communities, and artists are being co-opted and curated to participate in the PR.

Balfron Tower‚Äôs social housing tenants have now mostly been ‚Äúdecanted‚ÄĚ. Commencing back in 2007 the buildings housing association owner started to split the community up, using a variety of nefarious and ethically redundant tactics. The community was then partly replaced mostly by young, short-term occupants and property guardians with insecure tenancies. A large number of the 146 flats were being rented to artists by a local ‚Äúarts‚ÄĚ organisation to serve as live / work spaces for artists.

This process is now commonly referred to as ‚Äúartwash‚ÄĚ and was being tactically and ruthlessly employed at Balfron Tower; a usually highly effective PR tool to be used as luxury flats replaced social housing; with artists paying ¬£800 a month for the privilege of living and working in the tower.

Artists were, mostly unwittingly though some with enthusiastic complicity, being used to paper over cracks in the proposed privatisation of the tower. However, things did not exactly run to plan. Residents, already incensed by the loss of their homes and the appalling way they were being treated by the housing association, took exception to artists using their homes as the backdrop for their dystopian visions; constantly delayed by film crews occupying lifts and obstructing access and also very much aware that the ‚Äėartwash‚Äô was part of the gentrification process that was costing them their homes. This was not helped by the aggressive attitude towards them by the housing association and the arts organisation; an Arts Council England national portfolio organisation, an organisation that paradoxically sells itself as both a resource for emerging artists as well as an agency that uses artists to ‚Äėregenerate‚Äô neighbourhoods and force working class communities from their homes.

Welcome to Balfron Tower                                         pic: @rabharling

By late-2010 when I proposed my project to the ‚Äúarts‚ÄĚ organisation, a ban on art projects taking place in or around the building was already being aggressively enforced by the residents committee. There was no mention of this as I laid down a significant security deposit (which was never returned) on top of the ¬£800 for a months rent. I was later told that they believed that I would give up and move on, something I witnessed so many other artists do after trying half-heartedly to get disinterested and often hostile people to participate in their projects.

Throughout the three years I was in Balfron Tower, I encountered parameters of aggressive cultural curation that were waging a neoliberal war on the working classes. Revenge evictions and intimidation were commonplace against artists that didn’t fit with the corporate brand, or expressed even the slightest critique, either through their work or in the media, both mainstream and social. Top-down art-led social restructuring was being ruthlessly foisted upon neighbourhoods and being generously funded by Arts Council England.

Meanwhile, behind the spectacle, social housing was being asset-stripped.

I believe that the use of artists as a smokescreen for the social cleansing of social housing is turning communities against artists and damaging a profession that like so many others in recent years, has been subjected to a bland, mono-cultural middle-class curation that is strangling creativity. Art has been reduced to a carefully curated spectacle and those that want to play must conform.

How can communities respond to art, and artists, as they are so often encouraged to do so, when artists have come to symbolize the devastation of their communities? How can the recent plethora of publicly funded reports such as the RSA and Warwick Commission report be taken as anything more than well meaning committee minded groupthink, somewhat detached from the implications the realities these policies are creating on the ground.

The result has been that artists are sadly increasingly seen as harbingers of the wrecking ball, or in the case of Balfron Tower, thanks to its protected heritage status, harbingers of impending Canary Wharf bankers, with little or no interest in the social heritage of their luxury, highly fashionable apartments.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

14 July 2015

Our Area is Nice When it Wants to Be.

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A mural by local children outside condemned social housing block Linton House in Mile End                                       pic: @balfronsocial

“Our area is nice when it wants to be
This depends on everyone in our community
It is our home where we are brought up
Our friends and family mean a lot to us‚ÄĚ

-by The Junior Club Members

Were these words and this mural created in more optimistic days? Days when a vote to transfer the management of your council flat from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was based upon promises made by Poplar Harca of new kitchens, bathrooms and windows?

Welcome to the new reality of social housing in Poplar, Bow and Mile End; a reality now outsourced to ‚ÄúRegistered Social Landlord‚ÄĚ Poplar Harca; a reality in which community art murals by Junior Club members are ripped down (along with their homes) and replaced with ‚Äúcommunity art‚ÄĚ that isn‚Äôt really made by members of the community, but by those drafted in and curated by Poplar Harca‚Äôs ‚ÄúHead of Creativity and Innovation‚ÄĚ, curated into his own bland view of what community art is: art that ‚Äúplaceshapes‚ÄĚ community, artwash for the mass destruction of social housing and the dismantlement and social cleansing of our communities.

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Linton House in Mile End. Awaiting demolition.           pic: @balfronsocial

The same community that not so long ago was deemed worthy of creating a mural that celebrated being brought up in a community; that recognised the importance of being surrounded by a network of family and friends.

It continues to mean something to us. It still depends on everyone in the community being nice. Its just that the ones who aren’t being nice anymore aren’t hanging out on street corners scaring the elderly, but are hanging out in their corporate headquarters, doing deals with bankers at HSBC, eager to get their hands on the tax-payer funded capital assets that are (or were) our homes.

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Printon House in Mile End. Social Housing by Poplar Harca: Decanted, Demolished, Rebuilt and Sold               pic: @balfronsocial

So, what about the community on the Burdett Estate in Bow where that mural sits? For Printon House and Linton House the wrecking ball is imminent. An established pattern that has already seen most of the Poplar Harca-managed Leopold Estate demolished, with the remaining blocks (and their residents) still anxiously awaiting their fate. Their sin was simply not having a great enough density in their housing, and that they are social housing tenants, who have a level of housing security that those in the private rented sector could only dream of, and rents that aren‚Äôt ‚Äúaffordable‚ÄĚ but are actually affordable. Just who is it that can afford to pay the ¬£350 per week for a 1-bed flat in these re-developments?

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Demolition Notice nailed to a¬†‚Äúdoor‚ÄĚ in Printon House ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†pic: @balfronsocial

But surely Poplar Harca are a registered social landlord? Surely they wouldn’t act like a private property developer ruthlessly dismantling communities to build luxury flats for the financial service employees at nearby Canary Wharf? Would they?

Why don’t we take a look at some numbers? These demolition notices recently appeared on the doors in Linton and Printon House, although they are dated 4th November 2013. Their recent appearance could surely not in any way appear intimidating to the remaining residents, as they discover demolition notices stapled to every door in the block. They do however reveal replacement plans for what will materialise to replace the 78 socially rented flats that currently occupy this space.

And that is 11% social housing, with the rest available for sale.

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Initial Demolition Notice for Linton and Printon House          pic: @balfronsocial

Yes. 11%.

Does this really sound like a registered social landlord with its interests representing the community? Or does this sound like an exploitative property developer ripping apart the carcass of social housing to divide up the spoils?

To break down the figures further: Printon and Linton currently contain 78 socially rented flats. They are to be replaced with 12 flats for social rent, 12 flats for shared ownership and 85 flats for private sale. These numbers are a scandal and a disgrace.

Yes, Poplar Harca are also planning to provide other facilities such as a mosque, a primary school and a ‚Äėcultural‚Äô facility, but none of these additional facilities are the responsibility of a registered social landlord. Building schools etc. are the responsibility of the council; the same council who gave away our social housing to an organisation that has ripped through our community socially cleansing it as they go.

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A resident of Linton House has their possessions loaded into a van.                pic: @Balfronsocial

11% social housing retention is quite simply a land grab.

We reiterate our calls for retention of a minimum of 50% social housing in all re-developments of social housing blocks and estates.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

6th July 2015