Homelessness charity The Big Issue gives working-class communities in London’s east end a slap in the face, as it rewards Katharine Hibbert & Dot Dot Dot for helping property developers to dismantle social housing.
All the while, the City creeps nearer. Beacons. Warning signs. Shiny neoliberal lights. Precursors of forthcoming “redevelopment”. 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 “We’re coming home, baby!”
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?
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 “housing regeneration and community association” 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 “new world” bereft of communities – 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 “design icon”, how lovely. How incredibly ironic. How to “unlock the potential for an unprecedented cast of stakeholders”.
So wrong. So, so wrong.
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
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 – 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!
A Balfron Social Club guest blog post by Stephen Pritchard
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”
-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 “Registered Social Landlord” Poplar Harca; a reality in which community art murals by Junior Club members are ripped down (along with their homes) and replaced with “community art” that isn’t really made by members of the community, but by those drafted in and curated by Poplar Harca’s “Head of Creativity and Innovation”, curated into his own bland view of what community art is: art that “placeshapes” community, artwash for the mass destruction of social housing and the dismantlement and social cleansing of our communities.
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.
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’t “affordable” 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?
Demolition Notice nailed to a “door” 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.
Initial Demolition Notice for Linton and Printon House pic: @balfronsocial
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 ‘cultural’ 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.
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.