Saying Goodbye To Southwark
Southwark and it’s people will always hold a special place in my heart. I have lived and worked in Southwark for many years. I grew up on the Ledbury Estate with my family.
The Ledbury Estate tower blocks, as with several other high-rise blocks, have been in the news due to fire safety issues after the tragedy of Grenfell. After many years of having wide gaps and cracks in the walls the council acknowledged systematic failures with their risk assessments, problems with fire compartmentation, and changed its policy at the Ledbury Estate from ‘stay put’ to residents evacuating the building immediately in the case of a fire.
The health and safety issues at the Ledbury Estate and the uncertainty of the future of the estate has caused severe disruption to the lives of all residents. This is where my story begins and it ends with me moving to Lower Sydenham, away from family, friends and my community. Despite this, I am the lucky one. I am able to look after myself and I have managed to secure a home with a housing association as I am a key worker.
A Bad Taste Left In My Mouth By Barry Hargrove, Labour Councillor
I have worked as a nurse for many years. I love living and working in Southwark. As a Community Nurse, I get to know the most vulnerable residents and I am lucky and privileged to be able to listen to their stories, and help them when they are at their lowest and see them get better. As a nurse, I am resilient during times of crisis and I’m used to dealing with high levels of stress and looking after others.
But when my family needed looking after and support, it was the residents and the community united that has helped us to try and get through the terrible ordeal at the Ledbury Estate.
I still remember the nights of despair that my sister suffered living in the Ledbury with her 1 year old toddler, due to the risk of fire. When my sister attended a local Labour Party meeting she was aggressively met by Barry Hargrove, a Labour Councillor. He showed no empathy and not only he did not listen, but he went further and shouted aggressively in my sisters face while she held her toddler in her arms. I remember hugging my sister that night through tears of anger and despair for such an abuse of power.
When my sister left the Ledbury with her child, I stayed with my mother who was adamant to that she wanted to stay put in the place she has called home for 20 years. The Ledbury Action Group set up a crowdfunder and the community chipped in to help my sister with moving expenses since she was not entitled to any help because our mother is the main tenant. My sister moved just before Christmas with no furniture, no benefits and a one year old child. I helped my sister during this time, and I am so grateful to the community that helped her too.
The community managed to raise almost £1000 and I donated £200 to make sure my little niece and sister were able to enjoy the new home and Christmas.
An exhausted nurse, waving the white flag
The stress of constant disrepair and bidding against our neighbours has taken its toll on my elderly mother and she made me aware of her wishes of wanting to live on her own.
This is where the second part of my odyssey begins. After months of exhaustion from a stressful job, impossible living conditions and family problems, I began to seek affordable housing in Southwark to remain close to both my mother and sister, as well as the community garden in Burgess Park where I volunteer. This is the community where I grew up and work. I wrote to the council for help in finding affordable housing, I did not ask for charity, but only to be able to live within my means. I am lucky to have a good job in a community team that I love. However, it’s well known that Southwark its undergoing extensive regeneration and that key workers are being forced out of the area by the high cost of housing compounded by the nurses pay freeze.
I asked Southwark council if I could stay at the Ledbury Estate despite the risk of fire, if my mother happened to find a place with the council sooner than me. I received a bureaucratic email response from the Housing Options Team recommending that I consider renting in the private sector. Southwark shared ownership schemes are out of reach for most key workers or local people. For example, a 1-bedroom flat in New cross is £500,000 with most new builds asking for £50,000 deposit. Nurses often pay 3/4 of the wages in rent and with my nursing wage I just can’t afford any property in Southwark. After months of searching for a home and in risk of becoming homeless by Southwark Council, I had no option but to accept that the only affordable option was living further away. However this is likely to have negative impact on my family life, since I often help my sister with childcare and support her in looking after our mother who suffers from poor health and overwhelming anxiety. Despite all of this, I had no help from Southwark Council to find affordable housing in the borough within my means.
“Keep Up The Good Work” - Peter John, Southwark Council’s Labour Leader
In the final of the local election hustings, held at Southwark Cathedral, I voiced my concerns of young professionals being forced out of area, more day centres closing in Southwark, and raised the question of how the community can support young people when they are struggling with poor mental health. I raised the rise in gang crime whilst regeneration is tearing communities apart. When I tried speaking to Peter John at the end of the hustings he simply waved goodbye and said “keep up the good work” while wearing his expensive Mulberry saddle. When I attended the hustings, I felt like one of the lucky ones. I have a job and my work and friends are very supportive. I am resourceful and resilient, but when I attended the hustings I could feel and I witness the growing discontent of the community, the pain of regeneration impacting worst on the poorest.
A few months after the hustings a miracle happened. A housing association offered me a place in Lower Sydenham. Five properties were available for shared ownership for key workers and thanks to this I am able to stay closer to my family and I am excited to get to know my new community. Because of this I feel lucky, however I still have a little ache in my heart and bad taste in my mouth because of the issues that remain at the Ledbury Estate and the likelihood of demolition and further loss of social housing and the way that Barry Hargrove treated my sister when she was vulnerable holding her baby in her arms, he shouted at her in public in her face.
(The views represented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NHS Trust)