Tearful residents rounded on the council at a public meeting in the Brandon estate’s Rachel Leigh Hall last Wednesday, in the aftermath of eighteen-year-old Clinton Evbota’s murder, saying key safety demands made last year have been ignored.
Stephen Douglass, Southwark Council’s director of communities, presented the council’s work in the last eighteen months, including the location of new CCTV cameras, new and improved lighting, and tree cutting to try and get rid of spaces known as gang-member hangouts and areas where stabbings have taken place.
He said the council was working hard to support the community with its safety work, saying the estate is shortlisted for the council’s ‘great estates’ programme, which would bring extra funding for community initiatives, and major works were planned for 2023, to help resolve long-standing problems with the fabric of the buildings – including heating and hot water outages.
But he was interrupted by angry residents who said they were fed up of taking MPs, councillors and Southwark staff and contractors around the estate telling them what needed to happen – only for their demands to fail to materialise.
One TRA secretary challenged the claims of a council officer who said the tree cutting was continuing on schedule, saying: “I can’t see where he has cut them. Where the murder happened it is so dark there that the ambulance paramedics had to move the young man because they had no light.” Meanwhile, lights near a well-known drug-dealing spot near the park have been out for three months.
One TRA member stood up and said parts of the estate “look like a tropical rainforest”. She described the council’s staff as having a “haphazard schedule – the programme is not being followed”.
Another frustrated resident said: “I am not talking any more about this. I am not doing any more walkabouts with councillors and MPs. It is not rocket science.”
But perhaps the most ire was saved for the council’s decision to plough £150,000 into developing the Jack Hobbs Centre – despite the fact it is not used by most people.
Shockingly, it emerged in the meeting that a document found in the Brandon Library showing council plans to sell off the redeveloped building to developers were accidentally left in public.
The audience was told that the document was “not even a final draft” and “should never have been seen”.
“Why are you putting thousands of money into a building that you are thinking about knocking down?” interjected one audience member.
“That seems like very bad housekeeping. Our community has not been able to use it. You are keeping open an empty building.”
Brandon 3 chair, Tom Lloyd, described the plans as “fixing the bit of the estate that works and not the bit that is broken”.
The majority of crime happening on the estate involves so-called rat runs in one area near Aberfeldy House. His comments were echoed from residents across all areas of the Brandon, high and low rise.
“How dare you tell us that you are going to spend £150,000, on a service that no one uses,” said one distraught woman.
“Children are growing up in poverty on this estate. We had no hot water for three months. You are insulting us.”
The Jack Hobbs Club currently has a commercial tenant paying rent. The council claims twice weekly community sessions are taking place – but this has been disputed by residents who say they are not happening.
But the most emotional speeches came from those who felt abandoned as they struggled with Universal Credit and a failing district heating system that had left them in the red.
One woman said: “The children that join these gangs come from poverty-stricken homes. Cold baths these children are taking – in the year 2019.”
A visibly distressed mother shared her struggle for providing heating for her son, who lives with a long-term health condition, explaining: “When I do not pay my rent and council tax I get letters threatening me to go to court.
“But the heating is not working, I have a damaged floor, and it is unsafe for my ill son.”
At the meeting, held eighteen months after two young men were murdered in 2018, yards away from were Clinton was stabbed, local MP Harriet Harman said: “I cannot believe we are here again”.
Distressingly, residents said some of the elderly residents who found injured Clinton, and stayed with him as doctors tried to save him, had not been visited by councillors after.
Southwark Council’s Evelyn Akoto, the cabinet member for community safety, told the audience she was a mother who grew up “round the corner” and her heart went out to Clinton’s family.
She pledged to respond to residents’ concerns by the end of this week, telling residents she understood their anger. “This is not me bailing out,” she said