Community Resistance, RA Vol 4, Issue 5, Feb/March '00


ONE WAY of measuring your success in community politics is to look at the effect you are having on your opposition. Those charged with gentrifying Shoreditch, until now given a free hand by all four political parties repre­sented on Hackney Council, have clearly begun to feel the pressure.

The New Deal publishes a bi-monthly glossy magazine, paid for out of the money that could go on improving Shoreditch estates. They have twice devoted an entire page to attacking the IWCA - in the August and November editions. The August article was in response to the first IWCA newsletter, 10,000 of which were distributed across Shoreditch with the headline of “New Deal” crossed out and replaced with ‘Raw Deal:’

Instead of replying themselves, they conducted an interview with well-known tenant leader, Marie McCourt, under the headline “Raw Deal - what raw deal?” Because of the pressure they were facing, following our newsletter. Marie was allowed to make points not usually seen in their New Deal magazine, and ones we would be happy to support These included “the vast majority of us are against stock transfers and wish to remain Council Tenants to protect our tenures” and “I urge you to support your various TA’S, Area Forums and also those who work tirelessly to prevent the area being over­run by bars, restaurants and clubs.”

In October we went door-to-door in a council block that the New Deal had earmarked for handing over for private renting. The Chair of the Tenants Association was at the meeting, which voted for it, and had not opposed the proposal, or even let any of the tenants know. We got a good response to a petition in the block, and followed that up with a leaflet, which stated, “You may ask why the IWCA is doing this. The answer is that our aim is to involve and represent the interests of Shoreditch’s working class majority. A better question is why didn’t Hackney Council, Pinnacle and the New Deal tell you that that they were making plans to move you out of Charles Gardner Court.”

Instead of admitting that they had made this decision behind closed doors, and should have told the tenants, the November edition of the New Deal responded with a full-page article. They admitted that they had “made some suggestions to the Government for the future of certain estates in the area, including Charles Gardner Court.” They proposed “Market renting of Charles Gardner Court with 10% at ‘stepping stone’ rents for locals subject to completion of tenant consultation.”

Another New Deal article celebrated the visit of Government Minister, Nick Raynsford, who came to Shoreditch to open a new housing development. IWCA members along with other local residents have highlighted this particular development as being a sign of things to come. It is built on Wenlock Barn, the biggest estate in Shoreditch, but rents start at £146 a week, and it is also designed to look different from the estate - to show that it is not for local people. The New Deal was forced to admit that “the new Murray Grove develop­ment aimed at young people has brought mixed reactions from locals. Whilst many agree the new PeabodyTrust apartments are uniquely built with their bolt together construction, it is the price that has locals miffed.” They claim it has brought a mixed reaction - we haven’t found anyone who has a good word to say about it. The local paper, the Hackney Gazette, ended their coverage of the same story by saying the block “had been slammed by nearby residents for being a ‘yuppie’ building.”

Another sign of the pressure that those in charge of regeneration are facing came in the Gazette article celebrating the award of £30 million for the New Deal. Kevin Sugrue, head of the Council’s regeneration agency, Renaisi, used language never heard from the Council’s PR people before, calling for “affordable homes to stop young, working class people born in the area from moving out.” An IWCA activist picked this up in the following week’s paper. Dubbing Renaisi a “gentrification agency” he remarked on his surprise “especially since his New Labour bosses have stated that we are all middle class now.”

This is the pressure that has been built up after just six months’ work. The gentrifiers are not used to being challenged, and we have shown that it is possible to do this effectively. This has further encouraged some of the better local tenant leaders, who until now thought that there was no way of opposing the gentrifica­tion of Shoreditch to pick up the cudgels.


IN OXFORD. Blackbird Leys Independent Working Class Association has seen its support increase on the estate as its campaign against anti-social elements begins to bare fruit. One family who have plagued fellow residents with abusive behaviour for the past two years, were recently forced to go to the local press to plead that the IWCA call off its offensive. A double page spread in the Oxford Mail November 27th headed “We’ve been branded the neighbours from hell but we promise to mend our ways”, carried an interview with the family in which they held their hands up to all the charges levelled against them in the IWCA newsletter Leys Independent. They also claimed to have seen the error of their ways. Since the article appeared the family has in fact kept their promise, improving the quality of life for their neighbours considerably.

The housing associations on Blackbird Leys/Greater Leys and their bedfellows the New Labour City Council who have made empty promises to have ‘the problem in hand’ over the last couple of years, are obviously none too pleased with the success of this relatively short campaign and the support it has attracted from their tenants. Housing associa­tion executives and local councillors originally tried to extinguish the infant IWCA through a series of meetings/phone calls, where attempts were made to persuade IWCA activists that they would better achieve their aims by abandoning the IWCA and jumping on board housing association/council sponsored (i.e. non-political) projects. This would have obviously ensured that these activists would not be in a position to criticise housing associ­ation/council policy, for fear of losing funding or being shut down etc. Now that the penny has dropped and it is understood that the IWCA, is not prepared to play ball, the authorities have changed tack completely.

Two months prior to the estate’s Christmas party, the Farmstead Management Group, asked IWCA members if they would supply their children’s cinema for the event. This was agreed to. Between this agreement and the Christmas Party, the Blackbird Leys IWCA produced its second newsletter, in which further criticisms of housing association policy were made. It was now made clear that the IWCA was not for sale. Farmstead Management immediately retal­iated, distributing its own material, which included claims that the IWCA was ‘stereo­typing the area and threatened the good work of other, (pet), residents associations’. In addition to a series of abusive phonecalls they even tried to pull the plug on the children’s cinema! Legal action was even threatened over a minor technical detail. The show went ahead, much to the delight of the packed house of local children, and visible chagrin of Farmstead Management.

The dwindling Labour party faithful have also been forced to get off their fat arses and trawl the streets of Blackbird Leys for the first time in years. As well as hinting the IWCA ‘might even be NF’, New Labour have further insulted the intelligence of locals with their own Blackbird Leys newsletter, which surprise, surprise claims that the party is dealing with all the issues that have been raised by the IWCA, top of the list - anti­social neighbours. As an IWCA activist recently pointed out in the Oxford Mail letters page, “If Oxford City’s (New Labour) Council genuinely wanted to rid this area of anti-social elements it would not be carrying out a policy of dumping them here in the first place”.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 5, Feb/March '00