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Whose community, Our Community

Posted 26 Jan 2015
By Paulette Singer, Clitterhouse Farm Project
Location: Barnet
West Hendon residents come together to become Our West Hendon, campaigning against short term leases.

Back in March I had been door knocking for six months on the West Hendon estate. There were a few fledgling projects but mainly there was a far reaching apathy and lack of willingness to be involved in the local community because many residents were ‘temporary’ tenants on weekly rolling contracts and had no idea how long they would remain on the estate. I was giving up hope that any meaningful projects would come about, how could they with a transient population? 

In March I met Jasmin, I had been told she was keen to do work with residents who held ‘non-secure’ tenancies. It was an amazing listening. After six months of hearing about the problem I had finally found a member of the community who wanted to take action and work towards a solution. Jasmin organised a house meeting and from that came the first ‘non-secure’ tenants leaflet drive and meeting. We had no idea what to expect and were overjoyed when over 30 people turned up. They were angry, they were upset and they were frustrated. They didn’t know what their rights were and many had not even reflected on what it had meant for them in the long term to have such a temporary tenancy. The group quickly decided on clear objectives; that they would do everything they could to find out why they were being denied secure housing, why they were going to be uprooted from a community they had lived in for in some cases over ten years and how they could change their circumstances by working collectively. 

Our West Hendon was born. Very quickly the group engaged in several public meetings where housing was being discussed. They met housing activists that agreed to work alongside them and councillors that quickly supported their campaign. In April came the first opportunity to take action. Boris Johnson was coming to Barnet to open the first three council homes to have been built in Barnet in twenty-two years and although he thought it was a great photo opportunity, Our West Hendon were clear that the irony of celebrating three new council homes when over 250 families were due to be displaced due a regeneration on their estate needed to be pointed out to the London Mayor.

Our West Hendon made both local and National news that day and it was the beginning of a growing campaign that is still in progress.

Building on the campaign the group wrote up their demands in the form of a petition which they decided to deliver to their local member of parliament at one of his local constituent surgeries. Our West Hendon marched fifty strong from the estate to the open surgery only to find that Matthew Offord had barred their entry and turned the meeting from an open surgery to a closed one, even chucking out local labour councillors who then joined Our West Hendon’s rally.

In July Our West Hendon joined housing activists from across London to lobby the housing committee at the GLA. Many estates spoke about the very real impact that regeneration was having on their communities, questioning the policies that are causing mass displacement across London. It was the first time the group truly connected their cause to the broader campaign for council housing across London. Since getting a lack of meaningful response or engagement from the council, the ALMO handling decants from the estate, or the development partners responsible for the regeneration, the group have begun taking direct action on their estate. 

Our West Hendon’s persistent and tenacious campaigning has now caught the interest of mainstream news and media outlets and Our West Hendon is about to have a much larger platform through which to have their demands clearly heard.

For more information, have a look at this video of an interview with Russel Brand around the campaign.

If you'd like to get involved and sign our petition then please click here.  

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