As an organisation built around people, what better way to represent us than some of the memories we’ve made together? Check out our pick of videos:
We formed in 1994 as a response to a high crime rate, a demoralised and de-motivated community and poor housing management. Serving the Right to Manage, the Trust, made up of local residents took control of the estates services, handling a budget of £3.5 million. The Trustees voluntarily ran the Community Centre focussing their attention on the young people in the area and aiming for:
Click on the link below to go to our Document Downloads section. This is the place to find official documents, such as our Annual Report
How it all happened
'Our History' is what makes us who we are and it's certainly been eventful...
Contrary to popular belief the Community Trust didn’t start the ‘Brixton Riots’. We didn’t actually exist then – but there is no doubt that this event created the backdrop for all subsequent funding and attitudes right through the 80’s and 90’s. To have your town centre smashed to pieces, seeing cars turned upside down and seeing and hearing crazy anouncements from people who did not live here but based their own political advancement on pontificating on the subject was a wake up call for all of us who had to live in the fevered political aftermath.
Blame was sprinkled around like confetti by those who ran for cover – writing their version of events based on ‘Das Kapital’. Those of us who snuggled up with an Agatha Christie were left speechless. Our opinions did not count… neither apparently did our lives nor our children’s futures.
The very settees of England seethed with the indignation of those who had watched it all on TV. We watched that and the subsequent looting and yelling in later years from the “safety” of our flats – picking our way through the rubble in the morning and wondering what happened to Burtons the clothes shop on the High Street. Not really a high priority target… but maybe the fashion police joined in and cried “NO” to conformity and navy blue suits… and just burned it to the ground!
In the 1960’s the local authority had given the go ahead for new council housing to be built on the corner of the entrance to Brixton High Street. Just across the road from the undertakers and at the back of the famous Brixton Academy. The chair of housing at the time was a certain JOHN MAJOR who later went on to be coloured grey, wear his underpants outside his trousers, eat peas from a knife and actually be a jolly good egg all round. He also became prime minister.
The estate was built to accommodate the newcomers to the country – mostly West Indian and living in hellishly overcrowded circumstances in unsuitable flats in private accommodation. When the flats in Ferndale Road burned down due to outmoded heating devices on a stairwell serving 40 people, the council had to move fast and the flats started to fill up. With a larger than usual amount of ground floor three and four bedroomed homes the estate was soon full of the sound of children… and teenagers with no money in their pockets and no where to go in the evenings. Their parents had come from a completely different culture, the weather was different, the food was different, the customs and practices were different. It didn’t take long before the cracks began to show and the riots were the icing on the cake. Officially… IT WAS HELL!
In 1989 the Stockwell Park Estate was in the governments list of the top ten estates most likely to riot and burn. A frightening place ruled by councils and criminals the residents had no chance of moving off and little chance of any quality of life. The flats were alive with rodents and insects. Burglary was rife, neighbours were too frightened to talk to each other, the social workers came in pairs (or not at all) and the police regarded all of us as TROUBLE! With over 1500 homes under the management of the council in the area – there were a lot of people burning with fury and the injustice of their lives.
Mugging, fortunately not so fashionable these days, was a major problem. Having your bag snatched was bad enough, but this was often accompanied by violence, which led to depression and also aggression. We could not trust each other, we could not trust the “authorities” with its “political” solutions, we could not trust the police… nor speak to them without a brick finding its way into our window. We were imprisoned in a ghetto of disrepair, despair and dogma.
The government of the day came up with a solution – run your own estate, sort out your own problems and we’ll let you have the money to do up your homes.
A group of residents stepped forward to take up the challenge of the “Right to Manage” and the Community Trust was born.
The Community Trust – making sure your concerns are heard!
The residents defined the ambitions of the Community Trust: dedicated to the relief of poverty, furtherance of education and the pursuit of racial harmony the Trust was finally legally formed in 1994 as a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. The Board was made up of local tenants and our resident advisor KARINA O’DOHERTY.
Three years of training alongside Lambeth officers taught us just what we were up against. A restricted budget, poor stock, and outdated ways of working had to be tackled from the outset… a lack of trust permeated the atmosphere… the residents were about to take control of a budget of £3.5 million a year and responsibility for over 30 staff; not only that… our signatures were required on the cheque book! The setting up of the bank account taught us a thing or two: few of us held the correct photo ID or debit or credit cards necessary to prove we could participate in this particular game. We had become aliens in our own country and with such limited horizons – we hadn’t even noticed.
PAUL KLAPISCHEK, KLAUS FAULHABER and MARTIN THOMAS were the officers given the job of making it happen for us. We entered a marriage where we bickered and fought the officers to squeeze the budgets ’til the pips squeaked. We met almost every week for years. We travelled around London looking at brickwork, boilers and windows. We met tenants from other parts of the country facing similar but different problems. We met other Lambeth tenants setting off on the same road as ourselves. A mutual respect and understanding grew and we worked day and night to refine the bid for the ESTATE ACTION programme. Pilots schemes (at the end of Chute House in red, gold and green) were shown to all tenants to get agreement. Gardens and play areas were created, the underground garages made safer and brought back into use. The windows were double glazed with locks, the doors secured with multi-locks, the failing heating system replaced, ground floor entrances created, the electrical wiring replaced. New kitchens and bathrooms were designed and still we found more to do.
The walkways came down and the regeneration moved… oh so slowly and painfully… and expensively across the centre of the estate. The Community Trust was well aware that the Estate Action funding was not going to be enough to improve every home and we had our eye to the future and out ears to the ground… we knew there was another £72 million needed to bring about a decent standard of living for everyone. We could see the way the wind was blowing and we made a conscious decision that we would have to leave the outskirts till last as we knew a partnership with the private sector was the only way to bring in the money. We knew they would not want to build in the centre of an estate but rather around the edges. We had to play the waiting game… a tough time for those living in Bedwell, Thrayle and Barrat Houses… AND IT STILL IS!
NO MORE FUNDING FOR YOU
When the time came that Lambeth officially told us that they no longer had the money to put in their portion of funding for the improvements – we had only used central government money up until now – we knew that we had to go out there and find a partner to help the Community Trust complete the scheme. We could have given up… but we had made promises to our neighbours… and they knew where we lived!
Three large housing associations were finally selected for the final interviews. Open days were held so that they could meet the residents. We had half thought that there may have been brown paper envelopes passing round with untraceable wads of money in them… well if there were… we saw none. We made our selection based on the wise words of the residents!
The Community Trust bowed out of housing and focused on people. We had always recognised that it wasn’t the bricks and mortar that had leapt off the block to mug us; it wasn’t the windows that opened themselves to let in the burglars. It wasn’t tea cups who mugged us… it was people… and in some cases our own neighbours. We needed a common agenda, common ground and an understanding of each other’s point of view.
To those who made it all possible
One person more than anyone else was responsible for what happened on Stockwell Park and that was Karina O'Doherty. Karina worked for Solon Wandsworth and her job was to support the residents as they went through training and worked with the housing office. What no-one knew was that Karina had another life far away from Powerpoint presentations and rules and regulations: Karina was one of the original movers in the setting up of the Glastonbury Festival! A free spirited individual dedicated to making sure we felt like we had just come off stage, she saw us through the dark times, introduced me to Southern Comfort and encouraged us to lighten the mood with the BIG DAY OUT. "You must be accountable and take the people with you" was her mantra - and she was right. She taught us that the extra half mile never ends, that there is no gain without pain and that people are THE most important consideration and sometimes... just sometimes, SOD the paperwork! Karina remains a founding member and trustee of the Community Trust Board. There is a plaque in the Housing Office dedicated to her. The name of the Housing Office is 'Karina Place'.
The Housing Manager who WILLINGLY accepted tenant management! A hero of his time, Alan was only bad tempered when Wales lost at Rugby. He started his working life stacking shelves. He understood our frustrations and ambitions. He suffered the interminable training and meetings with us. He persuaded (most) staff to take us seriously and made sure that we understood the papers in front of us. He fought Lambeth on our behalf and was always the last man out on Christmas Eve. He fought to protect his staff and his fairness were never far from the debating table. He knew his staff needed a chance to let off steam and our Christmas parties were the stuff of legends. 'Bar Lorca' (now reincarnated as 'Jamm') was one of the preferred settings and we used the venue for our two meetings with the Swedish government who twice visited us to ask us "How did you do that?" Alan knew that the laissez faire attitude we had could not continue after the transfer and so reluctantly we had to let him wander off to pastures new. Whenever I watch Black Books I remember how all Alan wanted to do was run his own book shop... I hope that's what he is doing right now!
Martin was our development officer from Lambeth. This project was taking so long lots of us had children. Martin was one of them - we got to know our officers well. His mission was the unenviable job of telling us that there was not enough money to do what we wanted. He was also on our side. On most subjects (apart from not getting a bigger bathroom in Chute House as the others had!) we could reach agreement through negotiation (arguing), debate (lots of yelling) and capitulation - almost as if it were real life. Martin (for his sins) is now a trustee of the Community Trust. Most useful when you have a refurbishment on its way.
Paul was our architect from Lambeth. He was a northerner and had nothing but contempt for "soft, southern, shandy drinking, bed wetting b*****ds". Never without a cigarette in his hand Paul went public when he had his vasectomy, arriving at playgroup the very next day in a nutty pair of blue striped pajamas announcing that all of his trousers were "unzippable! What dedication to the cause! Not even a day off! His plans were to prove him right too!
Klaus Fulhaber Klaus was the landscape architect that Lambeth sent us. The original plans for the estate were entitled SPL 1 FF. When questioned why some of the paint colours were the strangest clashing shades Klaus shrugged and said “Sunday…magic mushrooms”. He was a perfect fit for the area and his testament is the walk through the estate to Brixton via the pond and the gardens at Chute House. Klaus put all this into place. He was right!
Phillipa O’Neil Phillippa was the officer given to us by Lambeth council to keep us all in order!! Poor Phillippa was introduced to the unions as “the woman who was going to take all their jobs away” and to the residents as the equivalent of the thought police. She had to take impotent fury from both sides and did so with grace and good humour. She too knew the importance of people in the equation and supported the Community Trust in their weird and wonderful doings. We threw away received wisdom and did the right thing. Phillippa knew when it was best to leave us alone and when it was best step in. Leaving us alone gave us an opportunity to define who we were and what we wanted to achieve. Phillippa can be seen in BIG DAY OUT videos too.
Representatives of the Community Trust recently attended Phillippa’s funeral. Too young to die she had been beaten by cancer. We were proud that her work in Lambeth was remembered in the speeches commemorating her life.