Big Issue issues an award for corruption & social cleansing

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.

From the Telegraph 3rd March 2015:

Give me a chance to sort it out: a Poplar Harca Placemaking Case Study

Paul Augarde, London Film School graduate and Director of Placemaking for Poplar Harca, asks residents for a chance to sort out the annexation of Poplar’s lock-up garages.

Ok, Paul. How long do you need?

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/poplar-parade-of-garages-to-become-4m-east-end-fashion-hub-a3164031.html


image by Rab Harling; Copyright 2019
image by Rab Harling; Copyright 2019
image by Rab Harling; Copyright 2019
image by Rab Harling; Copyright 2019
image by Rab Harling; Copyright 2019

Um, yeah. Cheers Paul. Well done. Have another promotion, mate.


Courtesy of Canton Street residents, Poplar.
lol
Not so lol now though, is it?

Want to read more about Paul Augarde, Poplar Harca and how they deviate public funds towards a property developers agenda?

http://balfronsocialclub.org/2018/04/16/artwash-and-the-rhizome-the-social-cleansing-of/

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 “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?

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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 “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.

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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 – 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

Balfron Tower redevelopment video by Hawkins\Brown

This controversial video has now been removed from Vimeo, but thankfully we we were so shocked by it that we made a copy and are distributing it here in the belief that the dissemination of its contents are in the best public interest. 

We do not believe that the wholesale removal of social housing from Balfron Tower, and the exploitation of its architectural heritage, will ever be acceptable, or accepted by our community. 

The transfer of housing to registered social landlord Poplar Harca from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was made based upon promises to tenants of new windows, kitchens and bathrooms, yet what has followed has been a successive sequence of landgrabs, as they sweep through estates, displacing our communities, devouring social housing, demolishing our homes and replacing them with increased density, low-quality flats with only 11%* social housing. 1-bed flats in the redevelopments are renting for £350 per week.

This video was originally published on Vimeo on July 2014. We believe it shows a vision horrific to the true intention of Ernö Goldfinger.

We reiterate that there should be a minimum of 50% social housing retained in all social housing redevelopments. 

Stop social cleansing. Stop the #landgrab.

 

 

 

* See separate blog post on the 89% landgrab on Linton and Printon Houses: http://50percentbalfron.tumblr.com/post/123355006549/our-area-is-nice-when-it-wants-to-be

 

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

20th July 2015

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 “Social Injustice & Inequalities: ‘Race, Gender & Class’” 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 “the community”. The recent RSA and Warwick Commission report “Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth” highlights “participation” 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’s social housing tenants have now mostly been “decanted”. 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 “arts” organisation to serve as live / work spaces for artists.

This process is now commonly referred to as “artwash” 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 ‘artwash’ 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 ‘regenerate’ 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 “arts” 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”

-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.

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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’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?

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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.

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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 ‘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.

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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

Tweed House RIP

Tweed House was social housing on the Limehouse Cut canal and the A12 in Poplar, East London. Tweed House’s decline was typical of most of the borough’s housing stock; it had been managed into the ground. After it was taken over by Poplar Harca in a stock transfer from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, it was decanted, demolished and rebuilt, following a fairly typical pattern that is now the fate of many of our social housing blocks.

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Tweed House in Poplar is a good example of managed decline                    pic: @balfronsocial

You can now rent a smaller 1-bed flat in the higher density re-development for £350 per week, that’s £1517 pcm. 

Tweed House, originally pictured where Erno Goldfinger’s Glenkerry House was ultimately built.

Or you could always buy a part-share if you qualify to be eligible for “affordable” housing. Oh, and earn £60,000.

But look! Isn’t it shiny? And green.

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Shiny and green: Yeoman Court.                  pic: @balfronsocial

Who has this sort of money? What kind of community do they envisage living here? One that is as soulless as the CGI imagery they decorate our streets with, somewhat familiar but distant at the same time, promising us something different so long as we don’t look too closely at the small print? This kind of greed is devastating our communities. Registered Social Landlords devour social housing and regurgitate poor-quality “luxury” flats to sell to overseas investors, and others take advantage to escape the heartbreaking damage they are doing to our communities and our city with their “regeneration” by renting out their homes for outrageous sums few round here are earning. 

Is standing back and watching horrified as our friends and neighbours are evicted and decanted really all we can do?

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A somewhat muted acknowledgment to Tweed House which provided proper social housing on this site for decades         pic: @balfronsocial

http://www.primelocation.com/to-rent/details/35964195?search_identifier=18dd5bc268adfb0af40ad75a90381cee#UVfkFmbsZ83tBKcQ.97

Balfron Social Club

Poplar

2nd July 2015

A View From Balfron Tower

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Balfron Tower in 2011                                                          pic: @BalfronSocial

I am not so idealistic as to think there was no conflict in a mixed
demographic, but a society will always find conflict regardless of
the social strata. For the statutory services it seems that in times
of greater austerity, then the goal is to reduce cost to one’s own
organisation and to profit regardless of the human lives fragmented
in the midst of the business transactions. There seems to be
ignorance of the reality that for us all to function we need the
complex mix of people, who provide all the services, the support to
their community, friends and families and that wholesale export of
those with low income will destroy that delicate balance.

The London I loved as a teenager was one of diversity, a city where
rich and poor lived in close proximity with cross-fertilisation of
cultures and ideas. My grandfather lived in Ilford and we would drive
to East London from Kingston-Upon-Thames in the late 1970s, passing
Blooms Restaurant in Whitechapel, to visit him on Sundays. Before
retirement he used to work at Truman’s brewery in Brick Lane making
copper pots. I’m sure that the drive through London cemented my love of the East London. I also wonder whether my father’s working-class start
grounded me with a sense of gratitude for my own privilege and a
respect for others who are down on their luck or living happily on a
lower income. This has never left me and despite now realising I am
part of the problem, as a property owner, I also feel the need to
speak out for those who are being treated as if their connections and
lives were transitory and insignificant. There has always been social
cleansing and gentrification, but if feels now as though we should
know better and not allow councils that want to remove ‘these
people’, who may cost more in terms of support needs than the
wealthy new tenants of privatised developments.

The view from Balfron Tower.                                                pic: @BalfronSocial

I bought my Balfron Tower flat in 2001; I love tower blocks, the
solid build of old council flats, the Goldfinger ethos and
architecture, the history and the area and I wanted an investment
property to rent out. In 2010 I received a letter re: a meeting for
tenants and leaseholders regarding the refurbishment of the block.
From the meeting the original provisional cost proposed was £120k
for my flat alone: this is always a risk as a leaseholder, but
perhaps rare to incur such an extreme cost. In October 2011 I wrote
for an update, in the absence of communication from Poplar Harca, and
was told that the start date for works may be at the end of 2012 or
the start of 2013. There was uncertainty for the tenants, with no
definitive decision as to whether they would be able to return, nor
an explanation as to what was causing the delay in decision making.
Transparency would have been appreciated. I was
asked to move my tenants out in December 2013, when I checked whether
their tenancy could be renewed. I believe I am one of around 10
leaseholders and am awaiting a notice re: the detailed works, the
date of which keeps slipping and is now around September 2015.

There has been very poor communication (despite
a named person for a very small number of leaseholders), shifting
deadlines and money wasted in leaving the block empty. The money
needs to be made somehow for a Grade II listed concrete tower block
to be refurbished, but I question why there has not been ongoing
maintenance given the very high service charges (nearly £4000 per
year for a 4-bedroom flat)? However, given the <10% leaseholders,
perhaps this service charge has only been realised for <10% of the
flats. Also given the heritage interest I wonder how much grant money
/ philanthropic investment options have been explored, in order to keep the
properties predominantly as social housing. If the situation is that
only Balfron’s sale will make enough money to provide many more
low-rent homes, then there needs to be transparency through a
financial breakdown available to all. I am not convinced the
wholesale loss of social housing is for altruistic means, nor that
there will be the local good quality low rent properties available to
those being moved out. The communication I have received has been
incredibly vague and intermittent. As a tenant the stress of the
unknown and whether to leave or hold out must have been pretty
unbearable and potentially led to some forced decision making.

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The View from Balfron Tower                                           pic: @BalfronSocial

I
also feel that some housing organisations do not maintain their
housing well, sometimes pay obscene rents to private landlords way
above an acceptable level and do not manage empty properties. My
(perhaps naïve) view is that there should be rent caps for landlords
and there needs to be improved legislation re: taking back empty
properties and refurbishing them at a reasonable cost. I support
private housing supporting the costs in a mixed property with a
shared entrance; I do not support forced eviction of individuals and
families. I would support assessing the desires of all residents /
owners when such a project is proposed, but not in a tokenistic way
if this is not going to affect the outcome. If I have had
difficulties getting appropriate responses and adequate property
maintenance from Poplar Harca, I fear that tenants will have had a
much poorer response. The mail had piled up, despite an agreement
that Poplar Harca were to manage the post. There was also a late rent
payment to me, with little concern for the fact: would this have been
their response if a tenant had been late in paying their rent? This
is not a great role model for an organisation that is quick to
challenge tenants for their behaviour.

I was not happy to hand over the keys to Poplar Harca without some
form of contract, which took quite some chasing up to achieve despite
the transfer of tenancy having happened. Poplar Harca took on the
flat 12th January 2014 and have been paying the rent
(value as confirmed by the estate agents) ever since; the rent for a
four double bedroom flat on two floors was £1500 per month. In
December 2013 I was given the following information re: the potential
cost to me as a leaseholder: ‘looking at an average cost slightly
above the £70k mark’. In September 2014 I received a letter from
Poplar Harca with cost to owners possibly from £105-135k. This is
the time when it became known to me that there would be no social
housing in the block.

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Has the sun set on mixed community in Balfron Tower?      pic: @BalfronSocial

As much as I am an advocate of the arts, even as a leaseholder
hearing via social media of various arts projects in the block and of the use of ‘property guardians’ was galling: perhaps a personal invitation may
have showed some recognition of the lives in the block. There is a
story to be told by the block, but I think these art projects
backfired, as it brought attention to the story of the attempted
gentrification and failure to honour the history and residents of the
block. Residents whose lives were in that block have been dismissed
despite no work occurring. I reflect on what role the ‘property
guardians’ are fulfilling (although fully understand why a person
would be one) and why Poplar Harca is paying me rent for well over a
year when I could have been saving them money and getting that rent
from tenants?  I just wish that Occupy, Focus
E15, Our West Hendon, the New Era group, Tower Hamlets Renters,
Action East End and the other excellent collective housing saviours
had been there in 2010, so that a campaign could have started whilst
tenants were resident. The insidious creep to total privatisation
over more than 4 years has precluded this.

I would like to thank Balfron Social Club
(twitter.com/BalfronSocial)
for inviting me to write this article. Their hard work, passion and
unending knowledge of and dedication to challenging poor practice and
raising awareness of the injustice of social cleansing has been
inspiring. They have supported and guided me in making key links with
other excellent people, who will not stand by and see the most
vulnerable people in our community be treated so badly. It is only by
our collective action that change will happen.

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Trellick Tower in West London. A mixed tenure block that Balfron Tower should aspire to emulate?                                                                 pic: @BalfronSocial


I am currently working in the shadow of the equally glorious Trellick
Tower in West London, more famous and more coveted than Balfron over
the years, yet still maintaining mixed residency. I think it is still
not too late to challenge the plans for Balfron, as the Section 20
agreement has not been issued. Balfron is a landmark for low cost
housing and could be an amazing model for mixed private and social
housing, with a community that supports each other with skills and
ideas. Or it could become the vision described in J.G. Ballard’s
‘High-Rise’ where the rich create their own ‘Lord of the Flies’
in their battle over the status of floor level in 21st
century tower block envy.

Dr. Vanessa Crawford 

for Balfron Social Club

Poplar

23 June 2015

Just Where Do You Stand On Housing?

Just
Where Do You Stand On Housing?

Following
the government commissioner’s investigations into the London Borough of Tower
Hamlets and subsequent events, an opening for the position of Mayor of Tower
Hamlets has led the following candidates to announce their candidacy for the
position, with an election due on 11th June:

·         

Rabina Khan                    –
Independent

John Biggs                       – Labour

Peter Golds                     –  Conservative

Nicholas McQueen           – UKIP

John Foster                      – Green Party

Elaine Bagshaw                – Liberal Democrats

Andy Erlam                       – Red Flag Anti-Corruption

Vanessa Hudson              – Animal Welfare Party

Hafiz Abdul Kadir              – Independent

Motiur Rahman Nanu         –Independent

Balfron
Social Club is a non-funded grassroots campaign for
minimum 50% social tenancies to be retained in all social housing
redevelopments with a focus on Ernö Goldfinger’s masterpiece of residential social
housing Balfron Tower. We are aiming to highlight the catalogue
of failures that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has allowed to happen to our
social housing in recent years.

Allowing
Registered Social Landlords control of local housing has allowed them to asset
strip prime property and prime locations. Entire housing estates are then
demolished or refurbished, rebranded and marketed as luxury flats overseas, out
of reach of local people, both geographically and financially.

The effect
has been that Housing Associations, like Poplar Harca and East End Homes, have
swept through the borough, leaving behind insecurity and poverty amongst our
friends and neighbours as they set about socially cleansing our neighbourhoods.
The occasional ‘affordable’ housing unit is then thrown in to satisfy a public
relations department that can then bamboozle those making enquiries into where
our social housing has gone, fudging numbers and terminology to make their
actions look acceptable.

Plans
to convert Balfron Tower into luxury apartments have been a step too far for
the people of Poplar. We are not going to stand back as the plunder of our
housing continues by those intent on dismantling what was built for us, as they
make cosy deals with their friends in finance at Canary Wharf.

But
what have our elected politicians done to stop this outrage so far? You would
think that such a serious issue of land grabs and the dismantlement of social
housing, especially in an area with such severe levels of homelessness and poverty,
would be taken seriously by politicians, elected officials voted in by member of
the electorate to represent their interests?

In
recent years, we have seen little that suggests that our elected
representatives are going to stand up for our housing, and to stand up and refuse
to let our social landlords push us around as they plunder our architectural
and municipal heritage, like the privatisation of Balfron Tower, or the planned
demolition of architectural masterpiece Robin Hood Gardens, soon to be
demolished and replaced by thousands of bland luxury apartments for workers in
Canary Wharf, but priced well out of reach of local people, even those earning
enough money to qualify for so called ‘affordable’ housing.

We
are asking that all of the above mayoral candidates issue a statement
addressing housing in the borough, and to advise us their position and intent in
this regard, and what, if anything, they are prepared to do to defend social housing,
or indeed whether they support the status quo. We believe that housing is a
major issue for the majority of residents in Tower Hamlets and could be an
issue that may influence how somebody may choose to vote.

It is
our opinion that the commissioners that recently investigated Lutfur Rahman should
turn their attention as to why the boroughs housing is being subjected to a
neo-liberal agenda of the asset stripping of taxpayer-funded housing, and
leaving behind the casualty of thousands of families, countless numbers of
schoolchildren, living with insecure short-term housing.

Candidates;
are you standing for Mayor of Tower Hamlets to see what you can strip off for
yourself and your powerful friends, or are you going to stand up and say that
enough is enough, it was the people of Tower Hamlets that elected me their Mayor
and I am going to fight for them, their housing and their quality of life?

Just
where do you stand on housing?

Balfron Social Club

Poplar, E14

19 May 2015

Balfron Social Club is on Twitter and Facebook.

Brutalism [redacted] – Social Art Practice and You

It has come to our attention that a new and ‘innovative’ art practice is coming to the area. It is an organisation that engages in… wait for it: ‘Social Art Practice’.

This post is not about this particular organisation, it about the very existence of such organisations. It is about the artists, theorists, and community workers who are contextually obliged to work in this area of art practice. It is about the times we live in, social cleansing in the UK, and the ways in which policy makers and developers are colluding to expropriate art practice for their own ends. It is about how talented and well meaning people are fed through an art world, increasingly co-opted by their very own educations, to foster and facilitate the process of social cleansing. It is about the ways in which councils, developers, and the government are using the word ‘art’ to create chaos and homelessness, forging policy and a community aesthetic that actually implicates the very people it displaces.

Social practice is the new ‘relational’, an art practice with a long history. Art education, generally, has become increasingly aimed towards that which ‘engages’, art that generates ‘dialogue’, art that allows for a participatory medium, art that offers and creates a ‘desired path’ for both practitioner and the community he or she is working in. From galleries to grass level projects, the practice of art has become ‘socially engaged’, ‘participatory’, and is designed to foster ‘social change’.

All very well, we say. Art and its practice is cyclical and reflects the needs and desires of its times. However, it must be recognized that our current ‘times’ have been co-opted at every turn. The ‘practice’ of our everyday lives is channeled through commodified movements around and within our city. Our private lives are curated from without, and it is near impossible to resist the puppet string, let alone recognize it exists.

There is a two-fold problem when it comes to art practice in our time: firstly, universities and institutions themselves are increasingly coming under pressure to conform to and woo corporate funding. Austerity cuts have seen the field of education funneled through practice that ‘benefits’ society, in a way that is measured out by successful funding grants, bursaries, and transfer payments.

The two-fold aspect in play is that austerity and government pull back on funding for education, the arts in particular, means that much of the money available is private, and or publicly funded with corporate interest at play. This is reflected in the increasingly managerial university or institution. This is reflected in the ways in which projects and individuals are funded. This is reflected in the production of the ‘art professional’, the ‘art policy maker’, the ‘artist manager’, the ‘head of creativity and innovation’. This is reflected also in how an emerging artist who truly wants to engage in their practice in any meaningful way either becomes completely marginalized and unable to work, or they join the club to make ends meet. The ‘cultural sector’ job becomes the prize.

There you have the perfect storm: the birth of the community based Social Art practitioner, feeling lucky to get that first commission, that first residency, that first step in the ‘art world’. The community based Social Art practitioner, is ready made, pop up, and funded by the lottery, in partnership with councils and developers. The Social Art practitioner is placed in sites of contestation, and asked to do the footwork of those who really are creating concrete social change: the social cleansers.

The material conditions of these sites of contestation are complicated, and there is a blind field. While social policy makers sit in premium locations like the RSA to discuss and tweak a ‘response’ to (response being a code word for ‘how do we talk about this so it doesn’t look so bad?) community ‘problems’, real artists that struggle to exist economically and spiritually are not invited to the table. They are outsiders, and are excluded. That is until they are ‘commissioned’ by the agents of ‘social cleansing’ to go into the community and ‘work’ with residents.

There is a double narrative in play here in London and Poplar, a particularly difficult site for policy makers to navigate simply because the architecture itself is literally ‘hot property’. We are seeing a revival in appreciation for Brutalist architecture generally. Specifically, Balfron Tower, its history and its architect render it materially necessary. Unlike other social housing sites in and around the UK, Balfron Tower must stand; demolition and the erasure of its bricks, mortar, and social history cannot be achieved.  It is to be socially cleansed, and we make no bones about the actual desires and wishes of the community; that there is maintained a minimum of 50% social housing on the site. However, as Poplar HARCA systemically clears the site of its original community, it is replacing the real community with a community of artists. It is using the élan of ‘art’ to sell up, to create a ‘new and vibrant’ community that justifies the huge price tickets on developments nearby.

Balfron Tower is literally ‘hot property’, prime real estate, simply because it has been stolen from the community and replaced by a purposefully curated arts community. Increasingly, the terms and conditions of this new and innovative community are that they conform to an aesthetic. Their work and their projects are checked for their degree of acceptability against a backdrop of community decimation. Those that do not conform meet with intimidation and eviction. It is risky for these struggling and emergent talents to speak out, to produce truly politically engaged art. There are some severely unhappy artists facing homelessness, and or giving up on their art careers altogether if they do what is their trade: produce work that reveals that which lies beneath the surface. They have been forced to produce and reproduce a surface veneer, and are changing how regeneration looks. They are scared to speak out. But there are rumblings echoing in the drying rooms and the lift shaft, mysteriously stripped of their machinery.

Enter the clowns: the eminent arrival of Social Art Practice. Funded by its partners in both government and UnPopular HARCA, their aim is self-generated. Their aims are: “engaging more citizens creatively; providing viable options for artistic employment; and initiating positive social change through ‘self-direction’, ‘wellbeing’, and ‘community feeling’.”

We have seen this time and again at other sites, now long since demolished. Housing developers, and indeed socially engaged, council funded arts organisations use a similar language. There is a new currency: ‘social capital’ and ‘enterprise’. ‘Social practice’ and ‘place-making’ are the new policy buzzwords.  Planning and policy is being forced through this language, and it changing how regeneration looks, and presented up as ‘grassroots’. All the while, meaningful grass-root community led practice is evicted, torn down, decanted.

We here at Balfron Social Club are loathe to criticize the organisation, or the people who must do this work, as we are more than aware that they too, are pawns in a much larger game, being moved about a chess board created by high finance and a neo-liberal agenda for ‘social change’ that does not have room for any of us. ‘Community feeling’ is a precursor for decanting. If we can all feel good about our pop up art, our participation in dialogue, if we can just be kept that busy…when the eviction notice hits the floor maybe, just maybe we will play along.

But no, the ‘positive social change’ being suggested by this new arrival is nothing short of a rebranding exercise and an attempt at damage control. We at Balfron Social Club are not fooled by the arrival of an ‘arts’ practice, sponsored by the very organisation that effectively swept through the estates, asset stripping as they went.

There was a time that housing was seen as a right. Now it has been created in the image of asset management. This is being curated by policy makers and planners, through development companies, councils, and rebranded through arts practice. There is an undercurrent at Poplar, it is getting louder and there are some very unhappy people.

Brutal, indeed.

Balfron Social Club

Poplar
13 April 2015