‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’

Fransoy Hewitt in her council flat. The council moved her only after being contacted by journalists

Millions around the country were shocked when they saw a television news report last night which showed the appalling – and dangerous – conditions tenants in a council-owned block in South Norwood have had to endure for months. Here, the young mum at the centre of the TV report, FRANSOY HEWITT, tells her story in her own words

I have been living in Croydon with my two children as a council tenant in a one-bedroom ground floor flat in a tower block in South Norwood for the last seven years.

My contract with Croydon Council says “temporary accommodation”, but seven years doesn’t feel very temporary.

The flat wasn’t perfect when I moved in and we had problems with mould and damp which I reported to the council. But at the start of the coronavirus lockdown last year, it began to get worse. Water started dripping through the ceiling in the kitchen and the living room and wouldn’t stop.

I rang the council and asked for help, telling them I had a leak and mould problem. Even slugs were appearing in my kitchen.

However, Croydon Council has ignored me despite countless efforts of pleading for help.

There is damp and mould throughout Fransoy Hewitt’s council flat

The slugs seem to have made a happier home in my flat that me and my children can.

We can’t get rid of them and they have infested every room.

It’s not surprising really – slugs like damp, wet environments and on some days my flat feels like a dark, dank jungle.

The constant leak through the ceiling makes it impossible to use the flat’s kitchen

In 2020, the bathroom light had to be disconnected because of the water coming from it, and so I had to light the way for my children with a torch.

My son slipped on the floor once and hurt his foot. My other child asks me, “Mummy, why is the water coming?”

Since lockdown there has been no escape and my stress levels and feelings of anxiety and depression have been running high.

The leaks started to get worse in the autumn and are still happening now. They are everywhere and have affected every room – the kitchen, living room and bathroom have just become swamps.

The only room that is even a bit comfortable is the bedroom, where I can close the door and pretend that it is raining outside. When I am in there, I try to forget about the rest of the flat, but it’s hard.

This month I had a surveyor come and look at the flat. He told me, “If you had got the Fire Service out, they would have shut this flat down.”

Several flats in this council block in South Norwood have been affected by the leaks

He told me that me and my children were in danger of being electrocuted in the bathroom because of the water running down the wall and past the light switch. I am scared to touch the wall now – and scared my children might touch it without me seeing.

I never look forward to coming home, as the outside feels warmer and more welcoming than the flat. Can you imagine walking into your house and all you can smell is mould and damp – and then you look at the dirty, yellow water dripping from your ceiling on to your head and skin?

I can’t even sit down in my living room if I wanted to – because the water has destroyed all my furniture, which is also covered in dark mould.

I honestly thought that after Grenfell that councils would have done better and ensured they don’t make the same mistakes with their tenants. Yet here we are with a similar situation with Croydon Council, because I ask and I beg for help but I get nowhere.

Slugs are more at home in the wet flat than the young mum and her children

History shows us that our rights to decent homes don’t make the top of their agenda – until someone dies. And then it’s only on the agenda for a few days, until the news moves on.

I don’t understand how it can be happening. Is it because Croydon is bankrupt?

Or because they just don’t care? Where is their compassion, their integrity, their humanity?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I just hope the council moves me out before me or my children are badly hurt – or worse.

Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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4 Responses to ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’

  1. Lewis White says:

    This sounds bizarre. Severe damp problems are often caused by tenants keeping all windows and vents closed, to try to keep heat in and save money on heating, and also by drying clothes in dryers without venting outside, but this sounds like water pie leaks, drain leaks, or some condensation -prone materials in the area above.

    I wonder if these blocks were re-clad some years ago, and that water that once trickled harmlesly down the outside of the block has somehow got channeled from the outside to the inside ?.

    Water can move, almost unseen, for long distances on the inside of panels and along ledges and beams, and come out . A forensic building surveyor skilled in investigating damp and water penetration needs to be got in urgently to investigate the flats above, while the ceiling space above this flat needs to be opened up and viewed. If there is nothing coming down from the flat above, or is being generated in the flat itself, due to some water / condensation source, the water must be coming down from somewhere else, or in from the outside of the block.

    The problem with cladding is that the void space between it and the original walls of the building can hide a multitude of construction sins.

  2. moyagordon says:

    Just watched the ITV news piece on catch up. Tenants not listened to. For people to continue living in these conditions shows how powerless they must feel. When you depend on the state for your housing and they ignore your requests for help with serious issues what can you do? People fear homelessness. It’s disgusting that these people have been made to live in these conditions and they deserve compensation. Broken Britain. Accountability should be a priority so that if situations like these happen those responsible for failings are held accountable.

  3. James Quantrill says:

    This vile Council does care; but not about families, they are only interested in getting even more RATES! which they them squander on Brick by Brick and other pet self indulgent projects.

    What is about the people elected by each other onto the Planning Committee? Why do they so hate any area of the borough that offers families a little more space for young families other than a series of rabbit hatch size homes in Tower Blocks of nasty flats.

    The areas of Coulsdon ? Old Coulsdon are slowly been decimated and turned into another ruined area like Central Croydon,ie blocks of flats everywhere every where.

    Perhaps the ONLY good thing to come out of Cavid19 may be people turning away from living in nasty Tower Blocks.

    Hopefully the Council and their ‘developer friend’ burn their greedy hands when they find they can’t sell two thirds of the horrible tower blocks now blighting the Croydon sky-line.

    How do we get rid of this spiteful council?

  4. Lewis White says:

    To be fair to the Council, they were pro-active when it came to installing sprinklers as a fire control measure in blocks like this just a very few years ago. They did it when others were wriggling out of it. All credit to Cllr Alison Butler for that.

    They need to act in similar vein now on the condensation issues this lady is suffering. Water running down around live electric points and appliances? That is serious. Yellow water and mould? Yellow? Thinks……. what liquid is that colour ??? That flat is no place for children nor adults until the causes of the problems are uncovered and dealt with .

    I am wondering if there is a cabinet member responsible for housing repairs and management?

    Croydon and many other boroughs used to have — maybe 3 decades ago – cheif officers with short sensible ” does exactly what it says on the tin” type titles like “Borough Engineer” ” Director of Housing ” and “Chief Environmental Health officer”. The title reflected what that person knew, was qulaified in, and could deliver.

    The problem now in most local authorities is that we senior officers have inflated titles like “Strategic Director of people interface and visioning” It’s all puff. Cabinet members ? Pretty much the same .

    We need clarity of responsibility and people at all levels who TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, and that means council Officers, particularly middle and senior, and Councillors, and — Cabinet Members.

    Clear responsibility for managing the day to day maintenance is key to providing public services– the trouble is, it seems that no-one likes carrying the can, even if they are paid a very great amount amount of money to do so.

    It is very sad indeed that it takes a TV programme to get focus and action.

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