The regeneration machine

communitytrustMany social housing tenants look upon the ‘new’ with a degree of cynicism. We are constantly told that we are about to be regenerated…not like Doctor Who though, we probably would all be in favour of that!

Regeneration is defined as ‘something renewed without its previous defects’. This is not the usual definition offered up to social housing tenants when the greed machine rolls up on their doorstep. Would those defects be the architecture or the people living within the walls of the, often less fashionable now, brutalist estates that were so very popular with the local authorities in the seventies?

‘Moral and spiritual rebirth’. Another definition that appears to be missing from the glossy brochures when trying to convince tenants to vote for a scheme that often means they will lose their home (brutal or not, it’s still a home!). A truly delightful picture, often taken at a strange angle to make it look gorgeous and sexy, shows the local church being converted into luxury apartments. Not quite so spiritual then! But hey, as long as the photographer is paid and all those who put together the words of the PR circus get their salary then the regeneration has officially started.

Most of the time people are just too busy trying to catch the bus, their breath or a break to give a damn about what the monstrous architects of their future are up to. It usually doesn’t matter but sometimes, just sometimes, when Family Guy has been on once too often and you missed The Big Bang Theory, you get to musing… especially if the machine is about to crush the very thing that made your area unique – its people – and replace them with Starbucks, Costa or Job Centre Supersized Plus !

You wake up one morning after months, years and sometimes decades of scaffolding, loud noises and the chatter of foreign languages on site and, oh my gosh!, your area is just like everywhere else – an, aiming for, carbon free, carbon copy of the latest palette of colours, services, shops  and hand wringing.  The backbone of the community will have been quietly and surgically removed with boredom, using endless consultation, surveys, training and never-ending-never-really-beginning meetings in uncomfortable surroundings on precious weekends, Powerpoint displays and websites, as the anaesthetic to make you avoid looking at what is happening.

Lovingly delivered alongside sandwiches and, hopefully, chocolate biscuits, and the belching, burping tea urn. Although once regenerated it will be low fat, low interest fare backed by bottles of water and no smoking within 20 miles of the meeting – definitely no belching nor burping! Verboten!

Of course most government schemes are regeneration by slow death. The one I was involved in took 25 years and still isn’t ‘finished’. How do you define ‘finished’?  When the investment money has run out? When a sexier project has grabbed the headlines or when the house prices have leapt beyond the reach of local people? It doesn’t really matter. The ‘finished’ happens when the greed machine scents new blood, assembles its acolytes and rumbles off, consulting, conferring and conniving all the way.

It’s a jolly outing for some, a holiday in hell, one not to be missed. They often misunderstand that we like the weirdness, the quirkiness and the individuality of the area.  The messiness, the ‘organicness’ are what makes it home.  Sadly, while making the place more palatable to others it can destroy the life, the history and sometimes the future.

The letter boxes will gobble up the newsletters, jargon, mail shots, photos and the like. Hopefully there will be a cat so that these tiresome pieces of paper can be recycled into the litter tray. Some animals have inherent good taste though and can see the flaws of a glossy colour brochure, very little purchase for the paws, and will continue to shit behind the sofa anyway!

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Julie Fawcett

Julie Fawcett is a housing association tenant and a director of Stockwell Park Community Trust

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