The scandal over the appalling conditions in South Norwood flats rolls on, as the council evacuated some of its tenants into poor conditions – in one case, placing a mother with a two-year-old toddler into what appeared to be a bail hostel. JANE NICHOLL explains how Croydon managed to make a very bad situation even worse
For the past two months I have been supporting one of the residents in the Regina Road flats.
I met her when delivering meals and groceries to her flat through South Norwood Community Kitchen. The first time I saw her, she answered the door and she and her two-year-old toddler were in wellies – the floor of their flat was so saturated. It stank of damp and mould and it was freezing. She’d been contacting the council for the past two years, from when the decay started.
She and I went on the offensive, contacting housing officials, Steve Reed MP and South Norwood ward councillors Jane Avis (who has now stood down) and Patsy Cummings.
Patsy didn’t seem happy with me being involved. She would not reply to any of my emails, but repeatedly told the resident that she’d “got it” and for her to tell me there’s no need for me to be involved as yet again (yawn) “she’d got it”.
Until the exposure on ITV News two weeks ago, it seemed that Councillor Cummings had never been inside the block, and she had certainly not spoken to the resident face to face.
After weeks and weeks of conflicting answers in emails from the various council departments about the works that needed doing, at one point they offered the resident a new flat. That turned out to be a “mistake”, as the flat was for a person with disabilities. More than once the young mother was told there were other people worse off than her, as there was a fair amount of gaslighting and guilt-tripping from her landlords, the council.
What she has been dragged through is heartbreaking, shocking and cruel.
Fast forward to the News At Ten report that shocked the nation, and the shit the council had forced its residents to live in had been exposed.
I received a call from the resident early on the morning after the television news had been broadcast. A council official had turned up, banging on her door and thrust into her hand a piece of paper stating “Warning of Enforced Entry”.
The resident was told that she and her two-year-old had to go into temporary bed and breakfast accommodation immediately and she was to start packing. No prior warning, nothing.
When I turned up, the block was swarming with council workers from just about every council department in the borough, having to make themselves look like they cared and showing that they were actually doing something after all this time. Councillors Patsy Cummings and Clive Fraser were there, too, doing some sort of “goodwill doorknock” stuff. Nauseating.
The various people from building works came wandering in and out of her flat – at the time the resident was trying to get her two-year-old to sleep over all the shouting and loud voices and banging doors.
Throughout the day there was stream of conflicting advice and decisions: she does need to pack her belongings; no she doesn’t; work doesn’t need to be done as the fault is in empty flat below; no, it does need to be done after all. On and on it went, with the poor resident’s stress levels getting worse and worse.
The resident was told she could go and stay in a Premier Inn for a few nights which was “very nice”, while permanent accommodation was arranged and she would be viewing a flat the next day.
Laura and Emma from the Community Kitchen arrived to add to the support for the resident. She was told she had to go to the council housing office to sign the papers to get access to the bedsit. I did ask the housing official if the papers could be brought to the resident. That got a firm “No”.
So off it was for her and her two-year-old to sign the forms, then back to the flat to pack (enough for two to three nights, she was told), and then off to meet the housing person to be let into the “very nice” bedsit.
“Very nice” my arse, and certainly not a Premier Inn. The said bedsit was in a damp, run-down Victorian house, one of nine in the building. Her room had no washbasin, the beds were broken, the place was cold and that night she had her two-year-old had to sleep on the sofa.
The next morning, some sort of warden came round banging on all the residents doors at 8am to prove that they had all spent the night there. Seriously. She asked me: “Is this a bail hostel?”
And so it goes on. Next day when I went with her to pick up some more of her belongings we met council leader Hamida Ali just leaving the flats (Did she even go in? Who knows?).
I couldn’t hold back, so let out a whole load of angry questions at her. We got the same answers as ever – she didn’t know about it, she didn’t know why she didn’t know about it. Deplorable.
My friend, the Regina Road resident, didn’t hold back either, angrily and tearfully telling the councillor the disgusting situation all the residents have been living in.
Later that week, she was told she was being moved to another, “better” bedsit. When I called her, she was on her way to see it.
I have referred to this amazingly resilient woman as “The Resident”. I’ve given her anonymity as she is so worn down by the bullying and neglect of Croydon Council that she fears repercussions.
Laura, Emma and I are sickened by what has gone on. I’m angry, really really angry. I have witnessed a wonderful woman being broken by the systemic negligent and inhumane behaviour of the council.
There are many, many people in that block who have not yet been given a voice and had their own concerns listened to. We need to hear them now. No more lengthy enquiries taking place behind closed doors. Enough is enough.
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’
Read more: ‘My family’s hell on earth’: 18 months in a Croydon B&B
Read more: ‘My living nightmare in temporary accommodation’
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