You don’t read many good news stories about housing in London, so make the most of this one. In July 2015 I reported that Southwark Council was about to give planning permission for 27 new council homes to be added its 1960s Kipling Estate in Bermondsey on land used at that time for car parking. Last week, three years almost to the day, I attended the official unveiling of those 27 homes, along with Kipling residents, starlets of London government, and members of the different organisations that have brought to fruition a scheme that truly merits the description “community-led”.
The Kipling is run by Leathermarket Joint Management Board (JMB), one of the numerous tenant management organisations (TMOs) in Southwark. TMOs can be set up by elected estate residents and, if judged competent, take over housing services with borough funding and other support. Leathermarket JMB, Southwark’s biggest TMO, has been around since 1996. It now looks after around 1500 homes, tenant and leasehold, in Bermondsey and Borough, mostly spread across a group of small estates (there are about 250 homes on the Kipling) covering five tenant association areas.
The 27 new homes, collectively named Marklake Court – students of Rudyard Kipling will spot the reference – have been built by the Leathermarket Community Benefits Society (CBS), effectively a development wing of the JMB but separated from it by a necessary Chinese wall. Early funding from the Greater London Authority (£360,000, allocated under Boris Johnson) helped the project to reach the planning permission stage, and Southwark has met the development costs as part of its council home building programme.
There is a mixture of one, two and three-bedroom flats within two blocks five and seven storeys, high standing less than 300 metres from The Shard. The (council) rents will be higher, calculated as they are in terms of current day “rateable values”, but not too much higher – the JMB says that the weekly rent for a one-bed Marklake Court flat will be £130 per week compared with round about £105 for one of the old Kipling one-beds, depending on the individual property.
The really exceptional thing about the scheme has been the way the Leathermarket team, architects Bell Phillips and local development specialists Igloo Community Builders have made the wishes of Kipling residents integral to the project from the blank sheet of paper stage.
“The key thing is that we were almost like a facilitator,” said Hari Phillips, who recalled up to a dozen meetings being held with residents very early on, along with walking tours of the area in order to understand what people wanted in terms of everything from building height and materials to design details that chimed with older nearby buildings they liked.
Igloo’s Kym Shaen-Carter, winner of an award for her community consultation work, explained that there are many different ways to engage with local communities, but that the one vital ingredient is trust. “When residents made a comment, we really worked hard on integrating that into the plans or, if that couldn’t be done, showing them why it couldn’t. The design process went step by step. It wasn’t just two consultations and we’re gone.”
Among the speakers at the unveiling, held on the terrace that links the two blocks, was James Murray, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing and residential development. He related his sense that all concerned in the collaborative approach had benefitted from it and said he would like to see more examples of it across the capital.
John Paul Maytum, who chairs the CBS, described Marklake Court as the realisation of a vision in keeping with what he called a “proud history of building homes for ordinary Londoners,” invoking the “homes fit for heroes” period after Word War I and the endeavours of the London County Council. He praised all the politicians who have supported the scheme, singling out Southwark’s Labour councillors.
Who will live in the 27 new dwellings? The start of the answer is a formal housing needs assessment conducted right the outset. Offers were then made to Kipling households that were either overcrowded or under-occupying, giving them not only the chance to move to somewhere more suitable in terms of space but also to be at the heart of development of their new homes. The knock-on benefit, of course, is that the homes they are moving out of will be freed up for people on Southwark’s waiting list.
One of those moving from an old flat to a new one is Barbara Caley (pictured above in the pink top with a daughter and some fellow residents), who has lived on the Kipling Estate for 40 years. “It’s been very exciting to be asked to take part in the design of the new building,” she said. “And we were actually listened to. They acted on some of the things we put forward.”
Barbara’s old place is a three-bedroom maisonette where she now lives alone, as her immediate family has grown up and moved out. She says she is “thrilled” to be moving into her smaller, brand new place that means she can maintain her local connections with neighbours, friends and the charity sector. Not every good news housing story can be same as this one and many might entail a lot more pain along the way. But what this one surely shows is that goodwill nurtured among those most directly affected can go a very long way towards writing a happy ending.
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