This is ‘Grenfell Britain’, where if a fire does not get you, demolition will

May 9, 2019 — Interview

Written by Jessica Perera

With regeneration looming large over Tottenham, north London, IRR interviews young activist Tash Bonner who is fighting back. 

Tottenham in many respects has been unable to heal from both the murder of Mark Duggan and the uprisings of 2011 because rather than the state dealing with both of these matters and investing in the community, it has instead decided to tear the place down. The 2011 riots, as IRR argues in The London Clearances: Race Housing and Policing, have been expediently used by the state to justify extensive redevelopment projects, both in Tottenham and across the capital in other low-income BAME neighbourhoods.  More and more councils are capitulating to the pressures of housing financialisation and privatisation. The heart of the city, all the wonderfully vibrant common places we take for granted, the multicultural quarters of the capital, are slowly being eviscerated. And social housing, once held in common, by low income and working class communities, are under threat, with tenants imperilled in their sleep. This is ‘Grenfell Britain’, where if a fire does not get you, demolition will. [1]

The likelihood that another one of London’s endangered social housing estates will bite the dust, with another community engulfed in the prevailing winds of state-led gentrification, is very real. IRR’s Jessica Perera speaks to north London resident and activist Tash Bonner, founder of the Temporary Accommodation Group (TAG) for Love Lane estate in Tottenham. In the interview that follows, Tash speaks passionately about what it means to live through regeneration and how the community is trying to resist being dispossessed and displaced. He focuses on the gendered, classed and racialised experiences of managed decline, colonial tactics deployed by the council, as well as highlighting the ways young working-class black men living on council estates, are seen as the perpetrators of youth violence, knife crime and gang activity, and never as victims of multiple state failures.

Living on Love Lane and managed decline

Jessica Perera: Would you say a little bit about yourself, and how you came to be involved in the Love Lane estate campaign over regeneration plans.

Tash Bonner

Tash Bonner: My name is Tash, I’m 25 years old, a student studying music business at the British and Irish Modern Music institute (BIMM) in London, and I’m also the chair of the Temporary Accommodation Group, otherwise known as TAG.

I came to be involved in the Love Lane estate campaign through the residents’ association set up by Haringey Council, to help Love Lane residents and answer queries with regards to the estate’s proposed regeneration. After being with the residents’ association for about a year and a half, I felt that it wasn’t doing what it should be doing, specifically about two thirds of the estate’s residents are living in temporary accommodation. I felt the need to separate myself from an association that wasn’t advising or taking the initiative for the majority and the most vulnerable of the tenants. So along with a few other residents, we separated and formed TAG for Love Lane to push for us to be permanently rehoused in a council property in the borough.

JP: What do you think about the proposed regeneration of Love Lane estate and the effect this is having on residents?

TB It’s funny because I think a lot of people, including me, view not only the regeneration of Love Lane and the surrounding area, but the entire regeneration of London itself from quite an objective standpoint. The new Tottenham stadium and White Hart Lane station are seen as this intrusive enemy that’s slowly taking away our land, and to some extent they’re right.

My personal opinion is, cool, things need to move forward and need to be upgraded, and post-war buildings need to be upgraded for obvious reasons, so it’s only natural that regenerations will happen. My issue is, though, how these regenerations are happening and what they’re doing to the communities living there. That’s where it’s getting a bit sticky. Of course, the stadium plans are amazing, but they should provide the community with something. There seems to be more care for the new stadium, the station and having a Costa, and all these other things, at the expense of the community. There’s lives that you’re ruining, and there’s no price on that.

© Alan Stanton

JP: Do you see the failure or neglect of Haringey council in maintaining the safety and hygiene standards of Love Lane as part of the council’s objective to build up a case or justification to demolish the estate?

TB: We’re very much aware that we’re in a vulnerable position, not only as temporary accommodation tenants, but the whole estate is living in uncertainty. At any point we can be upped and left. And not only are you dealing with that, you’re dealing with secure tenants and leaseholders, who are also feeling the pressure from Haringey Council from that neglect and that lack of support. When you take into account the neglect on the upkeep and the maintenance of the estate, well maybe they are trying to make us uncomfortable enough to leave. So, when Haringey Council says to people: ‘right cool, we’re going to move you somewhere else’, people go: ‘well, you know what, yeah, I’d rather go, because at this point, I’m tired, I’m depleted, I’m sick of my surroundings because you haven’t maintained it’.

I’ve been living on Love Lane for three years now, and when I first moved in, the upkeep of the estate was fairly regular. But I was looking into my mum’s tenancy agreement recently, and it said there was a service charge for things like a lift and general maintenance and what not. But actually, my block doesn’t have a lift, so it dawned on me, why are we paying service charge for something that we don’t have? I also recall seeing that the estate – well, my block at least – was cleaned, at least every other week. But slowly over time, especially in the run up to us being given the ballot for the GLA funding (it was last summer when the news came out that Haringey were trying to get GLA funding, and that a ballot would happen as a result) I started to notice that the general upkeep of the estate plummeted. The amount of times that the security door of my block was broken, and would stay broken… and there are security doors for a reason! They have been left broken for weeks. And when those doors are broken, you have rough sleepers, prostitutes and drug users now finding shelter in my block. But there are lots of children, young people, women and families on the estate, this is a problem. Managed decline, it’s real man, it’s really real.

When I first moved there, the estate was a lot more vibrant and it felt a lot safer. In the summertime the kids were able to play on the grass, and there were barbeques for the community, you felt at home. But over the last 12 or 18 months, the blocks have become a lot more dangerous, and I’m having to take action, I’m having to tell them [drug users and prostitutes] to get the hell out. But that puts me in a vulnerable position – who knows what could happen? Haringey Council should protect us. One time a ‘nitty’ defecated in the corner of my block, and it sat there for a week, a whole week. That shouldn’t be happening. And what’s frustrating is that when we mention this type of anti-social behaviour to Haringey Council, they ignore us. When I talk about anti-social behaviour I’m not talking about young people. For me, Tottenham is full of young people; there are lots of colleges and schools near us. But when Haringey council say’s it’s going to ‘fix things’, they mean regeneration and installing CCTV.

Regenerating Tottenham: 2011 riots, policing and knife crime

JP: Did the riots of 2011 play a role in the council’s plans to regenerate the area?

TB: Definitely. I feel like the 2011 riots, as well as the misinformation about those riots, in terms of who was responsible and who was involved, is being used against the people living in Tottenham. For me, that’s unfair. There was this whole blame pushed onto gangs and on people of colour, people who live on council estates. But when you look at the facts that’s not exactly accurate, and so for those events to be used as an excuse to regenerate the area, then you’re basing your whole argument on misrepresented information.

The riots have been used as an excuse to regenerate Tottenham, it’s almost like they thought if you don’t regenerate the area, then who knows in five- or six-years’ time we might have another one! But look at what started the 2011 riots, where Mark Duggan was shot by police and the people were angry. It’s call and response. In the community’s eyes, someone was seen to been unlawfully killed, so of course people are going to be angry and react.  And what’s been the reaction from the council: ‘we need to regenerate the area because of these riots’. But what caused the riots? This backward way of thinking doesn’t quite go to the core of the issue, glazing over what really happened. That for me is truly unfair.

JP: Sixty-five per cent of Haringey residents are non-white British. Is regeneration reconstituting the social landscape?

TB: The BAME community is being targeted by the police, that’s just one uncomfortable reality that we’ve got to live with. Not only do we have to deal with the uncertainty of knowing our homes might be demolished because of regeneration or that gentrification is pushing us out, but while we’re still here, we have to watch our backs because of the police. It’s a constant prod. We are losing our community; Caribbean shops, Polish shops, ethnic shops. All these other things that are genuinely part of our community are slowly being taken away from us. When rents go up, shops are forced to close, and the local community is blocked from what is, essentially, ours. And I can only imagine that post-regeneration, that 65 per cent will drop. Tottenham might not even be a Labour Council in five years? It might be Lib Dem. Knowing what Tottenham was, and what it will become, it’s crazy, absolutely crazy.

JP: Has Tottenham seen an increase in police presence since undergoing redevelopment?

TB: This might sound crazy to anyone not from Tottenham, but the sound of sirens – it’s normal. Especially on Love Lane, which is practically on the High Road. But what I have noticed is a huge increase in police officers patrolling the area. And even more so on my block specifically. I don’t understand why. I think their increased presence is more to do with redeveloping the area, than say with knife crime. It seems to me like there has been a push for more police presence in areas that are being redeveloped as opposed to areas suffering from increased instances of knife crime.

2011 London uprising © Raymond Yau

JP: Knife crime and ‘gang activity’ are often associated by media and politicians with particular problem housing estates. Is that the case in the proposed demolition of Love Lane or Broadwater Farm estates?

TB: With regards to knife crime, it’s related to dropping the upkeep of the estate. I mean, if you deprive people of their resources then of course they’re gonna fight each other, and become a bit more savage. If you need something, you’re going to grab what’s closest to you. And so if you’re not upkeeping these estates, and then all of a sudden we see, as a result, an increase in crime, ‘gang crime’ or violence, then maybe you need to start looking after the communities as opposed to making cuts to the police force, and then when people start getting a bit desperate and seeking other means to survive, go: ‘let’s regenerate it’. That’s the narrative.

You’re doing nothing to solve the problems here, and when they get too big, or seem to get too big, they’re used as an excuse to basically get rid of a whole community and put new people there. There’s cheaper, more affordable and more ethical and humane things you’d could have done – five or ten years ago to prevent us from being in this state. I’m not the first person saying these things. They’ve been said for ages. We should be more fearful of austerity than knife crime, but why is this not in the media? Poor communities are not ignorant of this, but the media and the politicians are making a deal out of knife crime, which they are creating, and then using it as an excuse to go, ‘you guys need to go’. It’s wrong, on all levels.

Gentrification: race, class and gender

JP: Are we looking at ‘social cleansing’ — the large-scale removal of lower-income residents (and local business owners) where they are seen as undesirable and having no financial value?

TB: Yes, though I’d say, ‘very little financial value’ or ‘not as much financial value in particular areas’. Regeneration is ultimately about business and profit. [If you think about] the amount of money that is going to be generated from the stadium alone, of course [the council] is going to be want to capitalise on that, so social cleansing is inevitable.

But the council shouldn’t just get rid of the people living there and bring new people in to up their revenue. Instead it should try and make the most revenue out of this area, with the people that live there now. I don’t think taking away what’s there and replacing it with something for purely financial gain is benefitting anyone. You’re losing what Tottenham is. It’s going to be this new Tottenham, it might even be called something else in ten years, who knows! Social cleansing is taking place and it’s so wrong. It’s people’s lives, people’s families, people who have been there for twenty-plus years, people’s whose kids have been brought up there, going to school, people who intended to die there and are being told, you need to go somewhere else because we’ve got this new stadium here, and we need space for a walkway.

The plan is to basically demolish Love Lane estate and create a space between White Hart Lane Station and the stadium, so fans can get through easier. That’s 300 families for a walkway. My argument is, you can have the walkway, but just rehouse us in the new flats you intend to build. But of course, living next to a station, that’s a luxury in London …

Tash Bonner with Tottenham MP David Lammy

JP: Local MP David Lammy is quoted as saying ‘Tottenham could do with a bit of gentrification’. Does the long-standing Tottenham community use these new spaces and shops?

TB: These shiny new things that Haringey council want to build aren’t for the existing community, they’re for a new community. That’s what happened with Shoreditch, Dalston and London Fields. We’ve seen it already, we know what is coming. I’m just waiting for a Waitrose, Marks & Spencer’s and Starbucks to pop-up in Tottenham. It used to be that when you got out of Zone 2 you wouldn’t see a Starbucks. But then I saw a Starbucks in Finsbury Park, and I was like ‘wow, a Starbucks in the ends?’ But how many people from the local community will go to Starbucks? That Starbucks will be for those new people now living in Woodberry Down and the other new builds.

JP: Do you think regeneration and gentrification are about race as well as class?

TB: Most definitely, so much of the BAME community falls into the ‘lower classes’ in Tottenham. It’s completely about race, as much as it is about class. And although I lean towards class, gentrification has a specific effect on BAME communities too. In terms of class, Tottenham and Haringey are prime real-estate locations. What we’re seeing in certain areas is over-policing, which then essentially reduces the number of people of colour in an area. Race and class are being attacked from two different angles but somehow end up meeting in the middle.

JP: And what are the gendered aspects of regeneration? For example, what are the differences a single-parent, a mother, might experience because of regeneration that is different to young people or men?

TB: While regeneration affects everyone, it affects everyone differently. Single mums, families of four and young black men like myself each form a subject group, and so for me I notice increase police presence in my area and might be subject to targeting from that, whereas that might not affect a single mum with young children. But for women and single mums, they are targeted by managed decline in a quieter way. If you’re trying to look after your child, and do the best for that child, and then the security of your home is [compromised] both by the threat of eviction and increased presence of prostitutes and drug users, that’s an additional burden. Look at it like this, mums need to work, so she goes to provide for her children, and there’s benefits in place to help with that, but then mum makes a tiny bit too much or does a bit of overtime, because it’s Christmas time, and then they cut away the benefits. This is what’s happening with Universal Credit.

Overcrowding is also another issue, I’ve heard of families where there’s been seven people living in a two bed, and even more in some cases, because they are not being rehoused. So now this whole family is subject to the pressures of not having enough space, when teenagers get home that will affect their schooling. But also, there’s an additional pressure teenagers have, feeling like it’s not safe to go out or come home late in your own area because you’re constantly being told knife crime is on the rise and you have to be safe. Everyone living in poverty is being poked with a different rod. For young black men, it’s the police, for young mothers it’s the lack of security in every sense. Teenagers, it’s the fear of knife crime. And all of these things are controllable, and in my opinion are being used by local councils, politicians and the media. At the same time, it’s those same bodies that can actually do something to help us and reverse it. But they’re not.

Divide and rule and the will to fight

JP: Is the fight against gentrification a fight for spatial-justice — the right for community groups to exist in spaces and places that are increasingly becoming (financially or socially) hostile?

TB: You’re completely correct. It’s very much about our right to be there. We built this. What I find so ironic about gentrification is that outsiders love the idea of the black community, but they don’t love the community itself. The black community is being fetishised, they love Caribbean, Asian and Hispanic food, but they don’t want Hispanics, Asians and Blacks amongst their new things [facilities, shops and housing]. It’s plain-sight robbery.

JP: As the material and social landscape changes, how do communities register the loss?

TB: I already feel like I’m at a loss. I’ve lost time and energy as a result. But if I don’t campaign and fight for my community, fight for what I believe is mine and what I believe I’m entitled to, then essentially, I will lose my community, I will lose what I’m entitled to. But that is traumatic — the fatigue, the exhaustion, the tiredness, the days you’ve gotta go to a meeting with David Lammy or the leader of Haringey Council, the deputy head of housing, and even before you get into the meeting, you feel what’s the point. And even worse, coming out of that meeting knowing that you’ve l got nothing out of them. What do you do? Who do you speak to?

Campaigning is tiring, when you’re visiting people door-to-door, and really engaging with your neighbours and the residents, you can feel the trauma, that sense of defeat, everyone’s just tired. Whether you’re campaigning on the frontline or waiting for something to happen [eviction] everyone’s traumatised. It’s managed decline – not just in terms of the upkeep of the estate, but in terms of people’s emotional vigour, the breaking down of the will to want to fight. And it’s being managed in a way that’s making it plummet, people are just tired. I’m tired. So, I’m forced to fight, despite the fact it’s taking me away from the things I love and it’s taking away my energy.

TAG demonstrating outside MP David Lammy’s Tottenham surgery

JP: What’s the political mood in Tottenham is at the moment? You’re the leader of TAG, are the community prepared to fight against regeneration and gentrification?

TB: Surprisingly, yes. But what makes it hard is the lack of harmony between different groups and activists. Activists want to feel important. They are great for community initiatives like TAG because they are active, but everyone has got a political position they then try to push. We are in a vulnerable position, and though we need solidarity, people have different agendas and want different outcomes.

Firstly, the regeneration of Love Lane, for instance, is different to Broadwater Farm’s. Second, while bringing everyone together is great [because it builds solidarity and resistance] and we all want the same thing [to be rehoused in Haringey post-regeneration], it highlights the differences in our approach to the fight. Perhaps Haringey council is aware of this; it’s almost like we’re pitted against each other. Some of us in TAG feel we should be prioritised over Broadwater Farm because we’re on a [proposed] demolition site and they’re not.

JP: Is Haringey council making you fight one another like a divide and rule tactic?

TB: To some extent, yes. We met with Cllr Emina Ibrahim, who is deputy of Haringey Council, and when we said, ‘you guys put us here as temporary accommodation tenants, en masse, not just thirty of us, you put three hundred of us here. And now you’ve made all these plans to redevelop the area, and you’re not telling us what will happen to us, where you will rehouse us and listen to our concerns. As a body you need to be responsible for the actions you’ve made.’ The response we’ve been getting is: ‘yeah we understand you need to be homed, but there are 4,000 people on the waiting list and we need to work out what’s fair for everyone.’ Whilst we understand that everyone is in need, it backs you into a corner, where you start to feel you have to be selfish, you become anxious that someone 5 or 10 minutes down the road might get rehoused before you. It’s like Hunger Games.

Follow TAG’s campaign here on Twitter

[1] 'Grenfell Britain' is a poem by Potent Whisper and can be read here.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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