Lindsey Garratt, Chairman Of New Era Estate Tenants Association
Lindsey and her daughter Dolly
Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went up to Hoxton to visit Lindsey Garratt who is still reeling from her revelatory triumph before Christmas when she and the other tenants, with moral support from Russell Brand, forced Westbrook Partners to relinquish control of the New Era Estate where ninety-two families were under threat of eviction. This success has been a transformative experience for Lindsey, awakening her to a recognition of the wider crisis beyond the immediate problem she and her neighbours confronted. Theirs is an inspirational example that reaffirms the power of collective action in the struggle for justice against the malign forces of corporate property development.
“I’m a Healthcare Co-ordinator and I love it, but I also like campaigning now too. I’d never done anything like that before. I was never interested in Politics, it didn’t affect me before because I’ve always lived in my working class bubble here in Hoxton. I lived on the New Era Estate since I was fifteen. This is my home. My great nan lived in Hoxton and my grandfather, and all my dad’s family have been here for ever. I would never want to live anywhere else. My parents live opposite, my sister and aunty live on the Estate. I know everyone here. It wasn’t just about our homes, it was about what we have here, our community. I’ve got such lovely memories of my time on the Estate, I couldn’t bear to leave.
In July 2012, we were told the flats had gone up for sale and I arranged a meeting to set up a Tenants Association, although we were told that there was nothing to worry about. Then in July 2014, we were told the Estate was sold and our rents would go up. I just felt compelled to do something, so I called up the Daily Mail and they put the story on the front page because the owner, Richard Benyon, was one of the Tory elite. We held regular meetings to keep people informed and hold everyone together, but we didn’t think we had much chance. We set up a pitch in Hoxton Market and it all died down, until one day Russell Brand walked past and asked us what was going on.
Three hundred of us dressed up in a Dickens theme and we marched to Benyon’s office to serve an eviction notice upon them – that was my idea. It worked, because they pulled out and sold their stake in the Estate. After that we had Westbrook Partners to contend with. So we marched with six to eight hundred people from their offices in Berkeley Sq to Downing St to deliver our petition of nearly three hundred thousand signatures. We weren’t going to give up but they did. We were surprised. We thought, ‘Bloody Hell, that was easy! What next?’
It’s changed me personally, it’s opened up my eyes to how politics works and how difficult it is for the working class – how much pressure is put on you. I was ‘restructured’ at work and I lost three hundred pounds a month and my rent went up two hundred pounds a month, and I was being told, ‘You just can’t live in London anymore.‘ I felt I was being forced into poverty, but I’m a single parent and I’ve never claimed benefits. I’ve got work and I’m just asking to pay an affordable rent.
All around us is going, for us to remain when all around us is going is scary. It’s easy for landlords to divide and rule when it’s a more diverse community, but because the families in the New Era Estate have been here together since the nineteen-thirties it’s harder to get rid of us. We said, ‘Enough is enough.’ We proved people can make a difference because it happened here. At Christmas, we all celebrated and cried a lot. It was a real success story, everyone got to stay and all the shops too.
There are other communities that are being cast aside. I feel passionate about it and I will continue to campaign for it.”
Portrait copyright © Sarah Ainslie
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