Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Little Big Peace in Streatham

It was great hear that Anna Nolan ( @annapannalondon ) has been awarded £5,000 toward the Little Big Peace event which started in Streatham last year.

She won the money after entering a nationwide competition.

For the uninitiated, Little Big Peace (@littlebigpeace) is a festival that takes place in September. It celebrates peacemaking, and coincides with the International Day of Peace.

What is refreshing about the event is that is it seeks to engage with the reality of everyday life and explore difficult questions about what peace might mean in local communities, rather than being something untenable or ethereal.

Peacemaking raises tough questions of course, but they are ones that need to be asked. Neither are there simple answers. Peacemaking is messy. I know this from painful experience having been involved with a number of peacemaking initiatives both abroad and in the UK, including working with peacemakers taken hostage in Iraq.

But unless we are prepared to ask difficult questions and explore alternatives we will make little, in any, progress, in making our communities more peaceful.

There are however many examples from elsewhere in the UK, and indeed around the world that we can draw upon for our own local communities. There are restorative justice initiatives, for example, in policing, the criminal justice system and in school discipline, which pursue a more peaceful - and indeed more satisfactory outcome for the actors involved. (see for example: http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/ for a range of resources) They tend to reduce reoffending, and mean that the community play a bigger part in ensuring just outcomes.

International examples too, show that in order to tackle violence, we need to identify and be honest about the root causes. This is something being hampered by politicians who continue to insist that the recent riots were "just criminality". The local community can play a part in challenging that, and insisting that such responses are inadequate.

And then of course, it is about the local community learning to build peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but as practitioners will tell you, an active process which needs to be learned. This means among other things opportunities for dialogue, training people in nonviolent communication, and forums and spaces where people can overcome fear of others who they might not otherwise come into contact with. It means also that we need to equip people - particularly younger people in our schools - with skills of mediation and conflict prevention.

There's lots of possibilities to make Lambeth more peaceful. But it needs the political will to do it, as well as those who are willing to think creatively about it and pursue it. The Little Big Peace event is exactly the kind of initiative that can encourage us all in that direction.

Monday, 19 March 2012

How the council is selling off co-operative housing

The Lambeth United Housing Co-op are seeking to highlight a massive inconsistency between Lambeth Council's desire to become a "Co-operative Council" and the fact they are selling off Housing Co-ops.

Supporting people to build, refurbish and manage their own homes through co-ops can ensure homes meet the needs of existing local residents and build stronger communities. Self-help groups support people in need to bring empty homes back into use for themselves. They also provide a route into training and employment for volunteers.

However, in Lambeth, despite paying lip service to co-ops the council now appears to be turning its back on co-operative housing, seeing an opportunity instead to sell off property, as part of its programme of cuts. Concerns have been growing steadily over the last few years. Now the sell-off appears to be part of a wider programme in which the council is liquidating the community’s assets in order get cash. The council has form for selling off social housing when it overspends.

In this particular case, Lambeth used “Shortlife” (hard to let or run down property) to secure vulnerable housing stock without having to provide legal tenancies. This was invested in by residents. It is now being sold off, with the interests of those residents being disregarded. The action comes at a huge price to the people in the local community who have invested heavily in the co-operative schemes.

Below are some excerpts from a short briefing that Lambeth United Housing Co-op have produced tracing the history, and to highlight what Lambeth is doing now:

Late 1970s & early 1980s

Housing Co-ops established between Lambeth and people who had begun to maintain housing abandoned by the borough, people who were homeless and on the council's housing waiting list.

Lambeth recognises that Co-ops substantially reduce reliance on undesirable lodgings and house many “vulnerable” members of the community.

Early - Mid 1990s

Co-ops encouraged to become permanent; the promise of which disappears abruptly when Lambeth attempts transfer of its ‘Shortlife’ stock to Housing Associations. “Deals” evaporate due to Lambeth's frequent policy changes.

1997 onwards

Housing Co-operatives receive renewed threats of “recall” and eviction.

Consultations between Lambeth and Housing Co-ops a stated aim but none occur; suggestions that residents could remain in-situ, if their houses were not “under-occupied”, are not pursued.

Occupants are offered the “opportunity” to buy their homes based on vacant possession, at inflated and unrealistic prices.

2011 – present

Lambeth’s cabinet decrees all decisions regarding “Shortlife” will be private, made by a small group of council officers.

Despite interest from other social housing providers to manage stock, Lambeth deal exclusively with Notting Hill Housing Group (NHHG).

By end of 2011 the NHHG deal collapses but it takes months for Lambeth to acknowledge this. Lambeth continue to use this “deal” as reason for possession in the court cases they are bringing against “Shortlifers”.

Lambeth state NHHG deal was refused because too many houses would be sold off but, ironically, Sale By Auction is now their only disposal tool.

Vacated properties are deliberately damaged by council workers or by “vacant property managers” Camelot. Some ex-Coop homes are re-occupied, due to Camelot’s bizarre operation. In some cases serious anti-social behaviour occurs in buildings soon after stable Co-op communities have been vacated.

Meanwhile, in its legal proceedings, Lambeth engages in intimidation and coercion, threatening unreasonably high “unauthorised occupation” charges, removal of the offer to re-house, and imposition of full legal costs.

Offers to re-house residents (after first making them homeless) involve joining “Choice-Based Lettings”, a system already failing most people on Lambeth's waiting list. “Shortlife” residents report the lettings team is acting especially vindictively in their cases.


Those who brought empty properties back into use in the 1980s, on a budget and using labour from within the community, were completely in line with current government thinking as influenced by The Great British Property Scandal that is highlighting the current housing crisis.

Housing Co-ops have been praised by international management consultants Price Waterhouse as a housing model that offers the best value for money and "are a flexible model capable of delivering housing services which compare with the best of mainstream providers.”

However, Lambeth used “Shortlife” to secure their vulnerable housing stock without having to provide legal tenancies.

"Shortlife” residents invested time, effort and money on their houses, including carrying out major repairs. Their efforts have increased the value of housing stock originally bought via a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for a couple of thousand pounds and then scheduled for demolition. These houses are now selling at auction for upwards of £575,000.

Housing Co-operative residents are largely low-waged, with little or no savings or outside financial support. Many are of pensionable age, others are disabled and housebound, dependent on their immediate neighbours.

These are the vulnerable people suffering whilst Lambeth uses “Shortlife” as a “piggy bank”, raiding it to offset the deficit accrued through mismanagement and internal fraud. This comes in the context of Lambeth spending £25m on new council offices.

Despite councillors declaring that Housing Coop communities have brought “a welcome permanence and continuity to the area”, Lambeth has instituted a de facto social and economic purge.

In Conclusion

The difference between the policy and attitude of the Lambeth c.1980 and the Lambeth of today is shocking in its disparity.

Lambeth recently published “The Co-operative Council” White Paper, trumpeting support of community and co-operative led housing. Yet Lambeth is simultaneously destabilising and destroying community led co-operative housing that has existed for the best part of half a century and was previously supported by them.

You can email lambethunitedhousingcoop (at) gmail.com for more information.