Why I made ‘Hanging On’: Director Alfie Barker on the award-winning film about our plight

Hanging On is a powerful documentary about Pemberstone’s plans to demolish our homes and destroy our community. This moving 10-minute short depicts residents hanging in the air, literally clinging to their homes, hoping to prevent eviction and demolition. Hanging On has already garnered a lot of international attention and recognition, winning awards and being selected for prestigious film festivals.

We spoke to Director Alfie Barker about his experiences making the film and helping to keep our campaign in the spotlight.


Documentaries can sometimes be made by an individual, but ours was made with an incredible crew in collaboration with a community – who it wouldn’t have been possible without ~ Alfie Barker, Director. 


~Why did you choose our community’s story over everything else that’s happening in the world?

AB: ‘Hanging On’ holds an urgent message that speaks to experiences that so many people around the world are going through – it’s shocking. I found the story by chance on the Yorkshire Evening Post and followed it over the course of a few months, trying to think of the best way to make a film. 

This community is from Leeds, which is where I’m from, and they have lived in Oulton almost all their lives. They’re slowly being evicted at a time when everyone needs their homes the most and I found it heartbreaking. People around me didn’t know about it and I wanted to try change that. I’ve seen lots of interviews about coal-mining towns and villages but I wanted to make something that represented what these places and these communities look like today, not something from an archive.

Alfie and the team hoist residents up on a crane to show that they are, quite literally, hanging on to their homes by their fingernails. Photo credit: Anastasia Arsentyeva

~What was your inspiration behind the style and direction?

AB: We had the intention to make something cinematic that stood out from all the Covid-19 news everyone was hearing. Our central concern was: what visual would capture attention? I wanted the audience to get the same feeling I got when I learnt about their plight, and I wanted do this in as few words as possible. 

During the time of the production, I had my own issues with where I was living in my flat, to the point where I literally stopped paying rent as nothing was being sorted by the landlord. I just kept thinking, how can this government ask us to stay at home during the pandemic, when where I’m living is uninhabitable? It really angers me.

It’s been a privilege listening to everyone’s stories within this community – yet it amazes me that Pemberstone, who owns the land and the houses, hasn’t even bothered to meet the residents in person. There seems to be a lack of landlord accountability and security that affects the lives of people in rented accommodation across the whole country.

~How have you felt about the film’s growing profile and audience reactions?

AB: The original intention was to make a film for the people of Leeds, to draw their attention to what was happening. Then, being selected for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) changed everything, as it brought the film, and the community’s story, to a global audience. It shows how the film is resonating with audiences everywhere, and it’s been overwhelming.

~What longer-term impact would you like the film to have in the future?

AB: The best thing that could come from the film and this growing international attention is that it contributes to a resolution where the community can stay together in Oulton in their homes. 

There have been a lot of negative things happening in the world recently and attention is easily directed elsewhere, but this story is still on-going outside of our film. I said before screening the final film to the residents that, regardless of what happens, this film captures a moment in time when people came together to fight for what was right – and that in itself – is a beautiful thing.


Huge thanks from SaveOurHomesLS26 to Alfie Barker and the filming team for capturing our plight so powerfully.

You can stream Hanging On for free until the 17 October. Visit the BFI London Film Festival website.

Hanging On has been selected for a number of prestigious film festivals: 

At Encounters, Hanging On won two top awards:

Pemberstone revives “demolition by neglect” tactics – it’s 1989 all over again

In January 1989 the Rothwell Advertiser carried a story: “Tenants move out of Oulton Estate“.

Just a few years earlier, the estate had been bought by private company Renshaw & Sons Ltd from the National Coal Board, but the new owners invested little in the maintenance of the houses. Broken glass, rotting wood, and ‘mountains of rubbish’ were reportedly left to fester visibly in streets where children played and families tended their gardens.

‘[T]he new owners are just waiting for everyone to get fed up and leave so they can knock the whole lot down and rebuild’, said Mr Allott to journalist Kim Clayton. At the time the article was written, only 96 of the original 210 houses were occupied and visible dereliction was forcing more to consider leaving.

In what feels like a re-run of this Thatcher-era tactic, current residents of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close have, this week, witnessed the boarding up of neighbouring houses on the estate.

No-one looks at boarded houses and thinks: community, safety, welcome, and warmth (words that have long-described our Oulton community). Instead, boarded-up houses are a kind of urban visual code for poverty, neglect, danger, unwelcome.

These visual statements are often not facts about an area, they are performative acts designed to meet certain ends. In 2021 the ends are the same as in 1989: to get the residents out. Oulton families are being made to feel unwelcome, to feel neglect, and even danger. It is the very opposite of gentrification in order to enable gentrification (how very 2021).

Carrot and Stick

We should have predicted that the “carrots” some residents recently received in the post (i.e. the legal letters offering discretionary house-moving assistance) would be accompanied by some kind of stick.

I use the term “carrot” loosely here, of course (imagine one of those shrivelled, furry ones at the bottom of your fridge) because the cash “assistance” to move out is subject to a tight timeframe and limited conditions. Not everyone will be eligible and the money is hardly worth it with today’s current rental rates.

Pemberstone have also recently deployed “carrot 2.0” for residents who haven’t yet been given an eviction notice. Several families in Pemberstone’s “Amber” designated houses received letters last week stating that seemed to say they, too, might get some money to move if they get out before February, and this isn’t yet an eviction notice, but funds are limited and discretionary. In other words, a pre-eviction notice notice; get the funds now while (if) you can. Yummy carrot indeed.

While the ultimate “stick” of eviction is being held at bay as residents refuse to heed these notices, it seems that Pemberstone have turned to the 1980s for inspiration about how to force people out of their homes anyway. It’s not broken glass and rotten wood; this time it’s cheap MDF wood over windows and doors. Without a hint of irony, this investment company has rapidly boarded up vacant houses, when undertaking essential repairs on occupied homes seem to take years.

It’s funny how a Government Inspector gives planning permission with strict conditions that a community forum must be created to consult with, and inform, our neighbours about things like eviction notices or the boarding-up of vacant properties – and this condition can be ignored without any consequences. (Where are Leeds City Council on this?)

It’s also funny how we’re in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and a landlord is boarding up empty homes it refuses to refurbish or rebuild for low-income families.

None of this is actually funny, of course. It’s deeply, deeply distressing for residents on our Oulton estate – neighbours who are faced with a Christmas fighting in the courts for the right to stay in their home, a Christmas surrounded by boarded-up houses and fewer neighbours to exchange gifts and food with.

Limited options

In this deadlock, everything feels completely out of our control. Leeds City Council recently voted down a motion put forward by Cllr Stewart Golton calling on the council to buy the estate – leaving residents in a limbo, wondering what’s going to happen next.

Negotiations to keep the community in their homes may well be happening behind the scenes, but residents always seem to be the last to know – creating a sense of powerlessness as time races towards eviction and demolition.

Pemberstone won’t stop their march towards redevelopment, so what we need is Leeds City Council to step up and halt the demolition-by-neglect tactics while alternative solutions are still being negotiated. Leeds City Council need to force Pemberstone to honour the condition of creating a community forum so residents’ voices can be heard. We also need Leeds City Council – made up of our elected representatives – to inform everyone what’s going on behind the scenes so we can stop living in daily fear of what comes next.

Today, neighbouring houses were boarded over. Tomorrow, who knows…?

‘We’re so scared’: Cindy Readman on her family’s fears after receiving eviction notice

Pemberstone have issued eviction notices to several families on the estate. The Readman family is one of them. They have lived on Wordsworth Drive with their children for 16 years and have deep ties with the community and local area. Cindy and John Readman have been some of the loudest voices on the Save Our Homes LS26 campaign, trying to prevent the demolition of the estate – is it a coincidence that their home is one of the “red houses”, apparently structurally deficient and slated for early demolition? Perhaps. Perhaps not. What is clear is that the Readman family, and the whole estate, have been left devastated by Pemberstone’s latest move.

Cindy Readman shares her family’s experience of receiving the eviction notice, and their fears for the future.

We were away on holiday when the eviction notices arrived and I only heard about it when I messaged our neighbour and good friend, Mavis, to ask about our cats. Mavis was looking after them for us, and we wanted to check in. When Mavis shared the devastating news, we were pretty sure we would have received a notice, but tried not to think about it until we got home because family time is so precious and we’re all so fearful of what’s to come. We have lived here for 16 years and love our home. Our family has grown up here, with our youngest being just 3 years old when we moved in. 

Many a Christmas, Halloween, and birthday have been celebrated in the Readman family’s beloved home

Fears for the future

When we got back from holiday, it was like a kick in the guts to read the letter. It wasn’t unexpected but it arrived much sooner than anticipated – we thought they had to have a tenants’ forum and other consultations up and running before anything happened. We also knew that they couldn’t commence with any works between March and September due to nesting birds. Yet, here we are, with a notice to get out by 1st December – just a few weeks before Christmas.

We’re so scared that we’ll have nowhere to go; there are no 3 bed private rents in this area and even 2 beds are out of our price range. Although our oldest son is at university, we need somewhere he can come back to, so we need 3 bedrooms. He needs somewhere to still call home. Is it really too much to ask?

We now have just under four months until eviction. Four months seems like a long time, but it will go in the blink of an eye. How can Pemberstone be happy to uproot the lives of whole families like this? It can take many many weeks to organise a new private rental with credit checks and references – and that’s presuming we can even find and qualify for one.

Mental health impacts

These last few years of fighting have really taken a toll on our family’s mental health and stress levels, and the eviction notice has made it all so much worse. Our youngest son has suffered with anxiety in the past when at high school, and there’s the fear that all this upheaval will be detrimental to his mental health. All this after 18 months of pandemic hell, too.

It has put us in a nightmare position in other ways, too. We’re now very anxious about reporting any repairs, as we believe Pemberstone will link them to the apparent faults they say are there and make us leave sooner. 

Keeping family together and staying local

We recently welcomed a granddaughter into our family and hoped that she too could grow up being able to visit Grandma and Grandad in this home and play in the garden just like her mummy did. Our daughter lives nearby, and we can’t face the thought of being forced to move far away.

Cindy with her gorgeous granddaughter – the latest addition to the family.

I also work locally at a primary school, and need to remain local to keep supporting the wonderful children there, who I’ve grown to know so well. Many of the children that attend the school live on our estate, and I can see the daily effects this eviction threat is having on them, too.

John used to work in the mines, and now works in Leeds. And our son Sam is actively looking for local work to stay close to friends and family. To move away from this area would cause stress and anxiety for us all, increased travel time, and much longer days due to increased travel.

We love our home! It means everything to us, and this community has helped us so many times over the years. Family life has its ups and downs, as I’m sure everyone can relate to. But we’ve had an especially difficult 4 years, as we have had to cope with family heartache and health issues, as well as fighting to save our home – and, of course, the pandemic. During the last 18 months in particular, our home has been our sanctuary and my mental health was helped greatly by being able to spend time doing my garden during lockdown.

If we were booted out of our home and put in temporary accommodation – where would this be? What would it be like? Would we all have to share a room with no kitchen, no living area and no privacy? You hear so many horror stories.

Refuse to accept social cleansing

Well, we’ve decided we’re not going to take this lying down.

We will not be leaving on 1st December, even if this means we will lose Pemberstone’s “30 pieces of silver” to get out and shut up. They can take us to court, and I can then prove that their claims of deterioration in our home are false. 

The social injustice of all this is what angers us the most. This is social cleansing! There were many alternative plans Pemberstone could have followed, but they chose money over people’s lives, over families, every time.

I’m angry at how this is affecting the lives of so many people especially the elderly on the estate – I have cried many times with some of y neighbours, listening to their stories of living here. This eviction and demolition plan is ripping the heart out of this community, and Pemberstone don’t care.

How you can help

We’re so grateful to everyone who has supported us along the way, it has really meant a lot. If you want to keep helping us fight to save our homes, you can: 

Thanks so much.

“Get out before Christmas” – Eviction notices issued

Pemberstone has issued the first round of eviction notices to neighbours in our estate. Seventy-one year old Linda Elsworth and the Readman family were among those to receive an order to leave.

In echoes of November 2017 – when residents found out about development plans via an impersonal leaflet – this life-changing news came in the form of a letter pushed through their letter boxes. The letter was from the managing agent, Watsons, on behalf of Pemberstone, who – even after all these years – still refuse to engage with us directly.

Regretfully?

“Dear Mrs Elsworth”, Linda’s letter begins, offering a polite and benign opening to correspondence that was anything but. “Regretfully, we are writing to inform you”, it continues: that your property is “deteriorating”, and even though there “is no evidence of immediate danger of structural failure” … “the Landlord has now made a decision to bring the tenancy of your property to an end”. This letter is “giving you 4 months’ notice that your tenancy will end on 01st December 2021”.

“Regretfully” is an interesting choice of word here, as it means a feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment. If Pemberstone has felt this at all over the last few years, eviction and demolition are funny ways to show it. If they “regret” that the conditions of the houses have deteriorated, why have they not adequately maintained them for decades? Why not undertake refurbishment now, and prevent them from deteriorating further? Perhaps Pemberstone “regret” that they are evicting a pensioner whose closest friends are her neighbours? To solve this emotional wrangle I recommend: don’t do it. Don’t force the community out. Work with the residents and Leeds City Council to refurbish these historic and well-loved homes. It’s a clear way to prevent feelings of sadness and repentance. And the best bit yet: this advice comes free! Lord knows how much Watsons, the lawyers, and Blue Marble have already cost Pemberstone to defend the indefensible.

Ex gratia

Another curious word in this eviction notice is “ex gratia”. Pemberstone is apparently offering an “ex gratia” financial incentive to sweeten the eviction (well, to those who meet certain conditions – more on that in a moment). Know what that word means? Nope, I didn’t either. Luckily google is on hand to translate the language of the upper classes…

Ahhh, I see.

To incentivise a quick and quiet move, Pemberstone are offering a small pot of money to assist with relocation costs – like a rent deposit or an advance on rental fees. This money is “ex gratia”, which means it is, apparently, a favour.

Well, a “favour” of sorts.

Firstly, it is not a “favour” freely given. Residents have to apply for the “goodwill” payment, and might be denied it if they have not “complied with the terms of their tenancy”, and if they are not up to date in rent. “Complied with the terms of tenancy” sounds benign enough but – as anyone who has ever tried to get their own deposit back from a private landlord will know – the smallest scuff (or even a fictional stain) can forfeit you from the most basic of entitlements.

Secondly, it’s a “favour” with boundaries. Departing residents are not to be trusted with the money, oh no. According to the letter, “if part of the payment is intended to be used as a rent deposit… the Landlord will arrange for this amount to be paid directly to your new landlord or their agent”. Like previous government policies on housing benefits, perhaps Pemberstone prefer to give directly to another landlord because they are worried about what low-income people might do with their own money. Perhaps Pemberstone want to emphasise that this payment is literally only for future rent, and is not some form of compensation for destroying lives and a community (ex gratia also means free from legal obligation or liability, after all).

Whatever the case, it’s a hollow offer that might actually put residents in a worse situation than they’re currently in.

If Linda, Cindy and John accept this measly assistance, they’ll not only be pulled away from this close-knit community of friends and neighbours, they also risk undermining possibilities for individual and collective help from Leeds City Council. At the very least, taking Pemberstone’s help to move elsewhere would negate a family’s priority status for Leeds City Council help. Also, family-size rented houses are like gold dust in the area, and have prices to match. Pemberstone’s “gift” of a few months’ rent will quickly be negated after families start paying market rate rents themselves (often 50% more costly than their current affordable tenancies). Rock and hard place spring to mind.

Intervention needed

It’s hard to know what to do next. Pemberstone have made it clear in statements to the media that they will be moving forward with eviction notices across the wider estate in the “near future”. Cindy, John, Linda, and the whole community have reached out again to Leeds City Council, pleading for help.

In the face of this devastating letter, the threat of evictions ruining yet another Christmas, and the measly “favour” being offered to expedite our exit, there’s only one thing left to say (in a language they apparently understand):


Watch recent ITV Calendar News coverage of Linda and Cindy talking about their shock at receiving the eviction letter: “We need a miracle”.

Hanging On – Film Premiere

Hanging On – a documentary made by CosmoSquare Films about the fight to save our homes – was launched for it’s world premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest on 13 June 2021. Very exciting!

We reveal our full 2021 festival programme | Sheffield DocFest

Running since 1994, Sheffield Doc Fest festival is about inspiring special change as well as pushing boundaries in documentary film making. It’s is one of the top three documentary film festivals in the world, and the best in Britain – so Hanging On’s selection for the event was a huge moment for the film’s creators, Hollie Barker (producer) and Alfie Barker (director). And of course it was a HUGE moment for us, as our campaign hit the international stage. It was fantastic to see the hard work and creativity of everyone on the “big screen”, and we felt so privileged to have another chance to tell our story.

If you haven’t seen the trailer already, check out the Sheff Doc Fest website of CosmoSquare Films. It’s a beautiful and emotional short film that really captures our fears and anxieties about the impending demolition of our beloved homes.


CosmoSquare Film Poster, 2021

Set in Oulton, Leeds, a former coal-mining community in which over 60 houses still stand, Hanging On spotlights the strength of a neighborhood that unites when faced with eviction. Originally made as temporary council housing, these homes were later sold onto private investors. Now, demolition is being threatened, an act which would result in the displacement of a large number of residents, some of whom have lived here all of their lives. Featuring a combination of audio interviews and artistically-lensed visual materials, Hanging On uncovers the stories of a close community of residents in the area, hearing their nostalgic memories of the place, and the stress caused by the uncertain fate of their ongoing campaign to save their homes. Hanging On reminds us about the struggles of people slipping through the cracks of society and explores what it means to have a home”.

https://sheffdocfest.com/film/hanging


Huge thanks again to Hollie and Alfie for making this happen. And congratulations on the selection for Sheffield Doc Fest! Being a part of this project has kept our spirits up during a challenging time and we hope it continues to gain momentum as a brilliant piece of campaign creativity!

“Hanging on” to our homes

Residents of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close took part in a rather unusual activity this weekend…

Brave volunteers from the estate were hoisted up by a crane and filmed clinging on to the side of their homes, which of course offers a visual representation of how so many are feeling at the moment.

The film Hanging on is being made by Cosmosquare films. Creative Producer Hollie Bryan and Director Aflie Barker explain that it “combines artistic visuals of residents suspended in mid-air, literally hanging onto their homes, in this docu-drama about strength when people come together, and what it means to have a home“.

We’re excited to have the chance to share our story in a novel way and looking forward to the final film! Thanks Hollie and the team for giving us this opportunity… and for hoisting everyone so safely.

It was bloomin’ cold though…

Devastating news: Inspector backs Pemberstone

Save Our Homes LS26 has been dealt a devastating blow, as news came in on Friday night that Pemberstone’s appeal has been successful and the Inspector has granted the corporation permission to press ahead with development plans. After 3 years of fighting, families on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close now face eviction and the demolition of their beloved homes.

“The appeal is allowed and planning permission is granted for the demolition of the existing dwellings and the erection of 70 dwellings including associated infrastructure at Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close” Appeal decision, 15 January 2021.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

In our campaign, we have highlighted so many reasons why this estate should not be demolished, with community connectedness, socio-economic vulnerability, and heritage coming top of the list. Neighbours, friends, homes and gardens have come to matter even more to us all in the last year with the pandemic.

In the report outlining his decision, the Inspector doesn’t dispute any of that, noting that “the proposed development would have a damaging impact on the community of existing residents”. Nor does the Inspector disagree with recent surveys showing that there are many families with protected characteristics on the estate. He even demands that a heritage record must be made of our homes and streets before demolition can even begin!

So why, then, were Pemberstone granted the go ahead?

“If no scheme [of structural intervention] for the existing houses is put in place, I anticipate that the dwellings would become unsafe to occupy. In this situation, it is reasonable to expect the Appellant [Pemberstone] would give [an eviction] notice to the existing occupiers… That would dissipate the community on the appeal site”. (p.13)

In short: the managed decline of the houses would give Pemberstone the right to evict eventually anyway.

It’s almost unbelievable that the housing laws in this country can allow landlords to run houses down to an apparently unliveable condition and then give them the right to use that as an excuse for eviction!

These houses are not at their end. Far from it! They need some (long overdue) basic maintenance and a scheme of refurbishment akin to what has been done for other Airey homes elsewhere in the country. But that was never within our power to ask. And now we see that is is apparently not in the Council’s position to force.

This should be noted as foreboding news for long-term tenants everywhere: you have no right to your home, no matter how many years and how many generations of your family have lived there. You are occupiers of an asset that you may stay in on their good grace, until the point they decide you cannot. This problem is bigger than Pemberstone and speaks to the rotten core of Housing Law in the UK.

The fight continues

The Inspector’s decision says that the evictions and demolition must commence within 3 years of the date of the decision. So, that’s something to look forward to at the other side of COVID-19, the end of furlough, and a predicted recession. In the meantime, we can only hope to extend our dialogue with Leeds City Council and any housing associations that might be able to step in and prevent the wholesale loss of 70 affordable tenanted properties and their families. Families who have contributed for decades to the life and soul of the Rothwell/Oulton area.

The Save Our Homes LS26 Residents Association and our supporters will of course continue to fight against eviction and demolition. We’ll update you here and on social media as we learn the implications of the development plans and just how and when our community is scheduled to be evicted. Thanks, as always, for your support and care.

Wishing everyone much strength and good health in these really tough times.

Heritage isn’t just castles and stately homes

Last Tuesday the appeal inquiry opened and we watched four days of intense debates from all sides. Many from our Oulton estate were only able to take off one or two days from work, but thanks to the amazing @Jdomicide‘s live tweets of the events, we could catch up along the way.

Opening Statements

The opening day, Tuesday, was perhaps the most intense. All sides put forward their opening statements through legal representatives (Save Our Homes LS26, Leeds City Council and Pemberstone). Pemberstone’s lawyer Sasha White argued that, as landlords, Pemberstone had the right to evict under law: “They [the residents] will lose their homes because they are private sector tenants just like any other tenant across the country“. Don’t we know it. Charities have recently highlighted that tenant evictions under the Section 21 “no fault” clause are the leading cause of homelessness in Britain.

Leeds City Council’s legal representative Constanze Bell highlighted that the proposal is not socially sustainable – and that’s what needs to count here. There are 39 children on the estate (which make up 27% of all residents – a higher portion than the 19% of both neighbouring Rothwell and the rest of the country), and of course they all go to nearby schools and clubs. Many more of the 121 residents have other protected characteristics. As Mr Brooks of Leeds Planning pointed out on Friday, Pemberstone’s proposals for eviction undermine the planning system’s own development policy because of its impact on the community, let alone the Equality Act. “I am of the opinion“, Brooks explained, “that the impact socially is so significant on people’s lives, that it outweighs any financial benefit for Pemberstone“.

Complementary to this, Save Our Homes LS26’s lawyer Jenny Wigley pointed out that the Planning System already does work in ways that protect communities and this is rightly a priority. For example, Planning Panels can refuse development proposals to protect community assets, such as parks and pubs, and “only the most spiteful landlord” tries to get around this after refusal. Everyone under law has the right to a decent home, she pointed out. (Which, incidentally, someone should explain to the right honourable Housing Secretary, MP Robert Jenrick, who seems to think it’s only applicable to his and his pals’ constituencies).

Coal Mining Heritage

As well as focusing on the vulnerability of the community, we had the chance on Tuesday to share the wonderful heritage of this estate – connected to the region’s coal mining history and to Leeds’ contribution to national post-war housing through Airey designs.

Chris Kitchen of the National Union of Miners shared his knowledge of the estate’s history and his own personal experiences of growing up in a mining community. The Oulton estate, Kitchen explained, created much-needed homes for miners in the area in the 1950s. “They were built to be social in every sense of the word” – miners had to work closely together and they had to get on with each other for the mines to work safely. The design of the estate fostered that – and it’s a point of national pride that the construction method and design itself was Leeds origin. Kitchen added that it was never an issue that residents couldn’t get a mortgage on their homes, as that was never the intention. Residents were happy to have a decent affordable house to bring their families up in.

Rent book used by tenants on the Oulton estate in the 1950s

Consolidating these points, planning expert John Lynch explained that the heritage aspect of the estate must be considered as threefold: i) in the community itself, ii) in the Airey construction method, and ii) in the final aesthetic of the houses.

Sadly, these arguments were drowned out somewhat by the audible — and inarguably rude — laughing and tutting of Pemberstone’s own heritage representative, Dr Romona Usher. “Just because they [the houses] have some aesthetic value, doesn’t mean they should be allowed to stay up“, Usher declared. I imagine the same arguments weren’t put forward when, in 2016, the government committed £7.6 million of taxpayers’ money to restore Wentworth House, England’s largest private home and the house of MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s mother-in-law. While we wouldn’t for a moment argue that one of Britain’s foremost stately homes shouldn’t be considered for protection and refurbishment, we would hope for similar courtesy and consideration when it comes to regional and national working class heritage, too.

But, Dr Usher declared, “no-one even cared about this heritage until the planning application was submitted“! Hmm. Perhaps built heritage organisations and their consultants should spend more time looking for working class history.

For years a social media group of Coalboarders have shared photos and memories of the estate since it was built around 1955. A local historian has featured aspects of the area’s earlier history in his regular blogs (and he greatly supported the writing of our history pages!). And you can find news clippings, correspondence and other records about our streets and homes in local archives about Rothwell and Oulton’s coal mining community.

As soon as our estate hit the national headlines, we were overwhelmed with local, regional and national interest. We have welcomed coach tours of history buffs visit in 2018 and 2019, we’ve been covered by the Twentieth Century Society, had student interest, received enquiries from documentary makers – and that’s in addition to all of the mainstream news interviews about the community and built heritage.

The only reason our reach wasn’t bigger until now is because, like working class communities across the country, residents enjoyed the heritage locally and didn’t have the resources and attention to celebrate it at a national scale (until it came under threat!). Working class, coal mining heritage is not less socially and culturally valuable just because there aren’t preservation and exhibition resources behind it.

Thankfully, so many great people were on our side and raised these crucial points across last week. Community connectedness is a national priority and is part of the regional and local development agendas — it’s not just a desperate plea from 60+ families to stay together in their historic homes.

The inquiry restarts for its second week tomorrow. Cindy Readman, Chair of the Residents Association and all-round awesome neighbour, will be one of the first up, championing the residents’ rights to a decent, affordable home and a community safety net.

See you there! Thanks as always for all of your support.

Fighting Pemberstone’s Appeal: Crunch Time

Tomorrow – 6th October – the appeal inquiry begins and we’re all incredibly nervous. These meetings will determine whether the families of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close will manage to save their homes after three long years of fighting.

The Appeal Begins

The agenda is packed, running 09:30-15:30 almost every day until next Friday, with representations from Pemberstone, planning officials, heritage experts and – most importantly – members and supporters the Save Our Homes campaign. The coronavirus pandemic has scuppered the possibility of joining the meeting in person, but that won’t stop our campaigning.

Cindy Readman, Karen Bruce, and John Lynch will be among others raising their voices for our tight knit community… even if we don’t get a speaking “slot” until Tuesday 13th. Throughout proceedings, Hazell Field will continue setting Twitter on fire, trying to get just one response from the elusive Mr Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for [Executive] Housing, [Wealthy] Communities, and Local Government [Party Donors].

Pemberstone have done their usual trick of submitting last minute documents stating that the houses are about to imminently fall down, which hasn’t happened in the three years since they last trotted out that line, so the jury’s still out on that one…! They’re thoughtfully planning to “dissipate” the community over several months, though, so we don’t have to lose all of our friends and neighbours at once – we can watch them disappear one by one like a horror B-movie.

Best Horror Films | 100 Scariest Movies Ranked By Experts
Pemberstone plans to “dissipate” the community house-by-house.
[Note: Image may not represent actual events].

A National Housing Crisis

Sadly, ours isn’t the only eviction threat in the news at the moment… this appeal comes as the national housing crisis deepens. In one area of Scotland, the housing crisis is so acute that a councillor has called for the council to build new pre-fabricated homes to prevent families from going into temporary B&Bs when evicted.

Imagine… Pemberstone are trying to knock down LS26’s last estate of affordable pre-fab rental houses in an area with a 99 WEEK WAIT for a 3 bed council property (yes, that’s right – Rothwell has an almost 2-year waiting list for a 3 bed council house) at the same time that other councils in the UK are calling for (lower quality) pre-fabs as a solution to the housing crisis?! You couldn’t make it up.

Just this weekend, Cindy and Hazell attended online meetings hosted by ACORN and Axe the Housing Act to discuss the increasing job losses, evictions and homelessness across the country, as well as the implications of the troubling planning changes brought in by Jenrick. In these meetings, people spoke about how COVID is affecting so many people’s ability to pay rents and about how evictions have started again now that the government have lifted the ban on this. That’s on top of the over one million people who are still stuck in Grenfell-style cladded flats, facing exorbitant fees to replace the cladding, as freeholders refuse to pay for their dangerous material choices and the government fails to make good on its promises to help.

How can Pemberstone be trying to evict more than 60 families at a time like this? According to CorporateWatch, Pemberstone have already made over £2million from the rents paid by hardworking families in this estate over the years. Where has this gone? Certainly not on maintenance. What security has this provided? None.

It’s Crunch Time

We’re really not sure what to expect from the 10 day appeals process, as the agenda is light on procedural information and personal detail. The key figure we have to persuade is rather ominously called “The Inspector”, and I don’t think it’ll be Morse or Gadget.

18 Things You Might Not Know About 'Inspector Gadget' | Mental Floss
An independent “Inspector” will rule on Pemberstone’s appeal.

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the appeal, we remain optimistic. With great organisations like ACORN, Axe the Housing Act, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Twentieth Century Society, and Leeds City Council Councillors on our side – we trust that decision-makers will do the right thing, and prevent the eviction of dozens of families from their long-term homes. If lockdown has shown us anything, it’s that our homes matter, our communities matter, and corporate greed should never triumph at their expense.

Thanks to everyone for your support so far, and for all of your generous donations on our JustGiving page. We’ve raised a whopping £6,600 already towards our £10,000 goal – all pennies you can spare are still very welcome.

Watch this space for updates, and wish us luck.

Jenrick’s “Landlord Britain”: Made for the Pemberstones of the world

COVID-19 has strained all aspects of the housing sector. So many tenants are struggling to pay rent as the end of the furlough scheme and growing redundancies take their toll. Thousands face homelessness when the eviction ban is lifted in four weeks. While (some) landlords across the country have stepped up and have agreed alternative payment arrangements with tenants, it has been at their own discretion and expense – exacerbating the already uneven safety net across the country.

The government should be credited for introducing the furlough scheme to protect workers and the eviction ban to protect tenants, but these were temporary measures designed to mitigate a national emergency. And they will soon come to an end. The real intentions of a government can be measured by what rights and protections they secure for their population over the longer term – whether in health, eduction or housing.

Against that measuring stick, Boris Johnson’s government performs very poorly.

There isn’t enough space on this blog to dive into the fiascos around the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money funnelled to allies of the government without tender (or effective results). Nor do I have the energy to wade through the muddy mess of last week’s A-Level shambles, where the Gavin Williamson and Ofqual managed to grade students across the country on the basis of their socio-economic dis/advantages rather than their day-to-day classroom performance (despite advance warning that this would be profoundly discriminatory).

Today’s post is dedicated to Robert Jenrick, MP: aka Champion of “Landlord Britain”.

Robert Jenrick, MP. Photo: Creative Commons.

When Jenrick isn’t undermining his government’s own lockdown restrictions by travelling 150 miles to his second home in the middle of a pandemic, he can be found pushing through development schemes for millionaire Tory Party donors – flouting government procedures and cancelling out the £45m community-benefit levy that is meant to come with these schemes.

More recently, Jenrick has been working on one of the biggest “shake ups” of the housing sector in Britain. His plans? To remove local council decision-making in planning, and to divide land across the country into zones for growth, renewal or protection.

Those areas identified for “growth” and “suitable for substantial development” would get automatic approval. Areas designated for “renewal” would get “permission in principle”, subject to basic checks. Small sites will have exemptions from financing affordable housing. After all, what a burden building more lower-cost housing might be (it might bring in more poor people… heaven forbid!).

Critics across the country (even from within the Tory Party) have said this will be a complete social disaster. Local councils will no longer get to decide on developments in their area, local people will no longer be able to object to destructive projects. It rips away some of the safety nets of affordable housing, it offers nothing for tenants, and sets the country up for a future of low-quality “slum” housing. Developers must be rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect.

We fear what it means for our estate in Oulton. Pemberstone’s appeal against Leeds City Council’s decision to refuse planning is set for 6th October 2020. If they win the appeal, 60+ families face homelessness. If they lose, then it seems as though all they need to do is wait. Wait until the area is earmarked for growth or renewal, and then they don’t need Council approval any more. Over 60 families will be made homeless regardless.

The only reason families in Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close still have roofs over their heads is because individuals and organisations across the country were able to object against the destruction of their homes and community, and because Leeds City Council was able to take a decision on a case-by-case basis. We’re going to continue fighting for the people who live in these homes to be considered as a priority above an area’s “growth” potential.

Houses and estates are lived in by people who have relationships and dependencies on those around them. You can’t map neighbours and carers and family and friends into zones.

The last time the government decided on people’s futures on the basis of a “dispassionate” assessment linked to geography, private school teenagers improved their A-level grades, while teenagers from disadvantaged schools across the country saw their results plummet and their university places withdrawn. Is this some of what’s in store for our estate? Automatic planning permission and overnight eviction?

Where these development zones earmarked for “growth” or “renewal” will be remains unclear at the moment. I’d confidently place a bet right now, though, that Jenrick’s expansive estate in Herefordshire won’t be one of them.

Robert Jenrick’s second home in Herefordshire.

Help us keep up the fight and donate to our legal fund at JustGiving. This isn’t just about saving our homes, it’s about the future of all low-income tenant estates across the country. With Jenrick’s planning changes, tenants and other residents have less say than ever over the future of their homes and local areas.