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The Estate We’re In

July 7, 2010

Usually daytime telly isn’t worth the electricity it uses to keep it switched on after the morning news , but today I came across a programme, which kept me hooked. ‘The Estate we’re in’ is about run-down council estates and a plucky woman from North London, called Silla, who moves in to sort them out. What kept me ‘hooked’ wasn’t the fact that there was anything new, but that it was all so familiar: the dog mess, the graffiti, the dumped matresses, the lack of play and community facilitities, the resignation of the residents.

‘If you live in dirt you feel like dirt’

The route Silla takes to bring about the change isn’t anything unheard of either: bring back some community spirit, call a meeting and make residents act together, draw up a list of all the things they want to change. Call for a meeting with council officers and councillors. 

So far so good, all this gets done up and down the country more or less effectively by many individuals and groups. But what happens next is different and I have the teeny weeny suspicion the difference is that the eyes of the television crews are watching closely: 

Firstly the group of officers turning up to the meeting is obviously from the higher ranks of the council hierarchy indicating that this meeting gets some priority. Which council could easily afford bad publicity from the BBC.

But more importantly after the meeting, which is of course very positive, the usual inertia sets in, absolutely nothing happens, residents are being fobbed off on the phone and excuses are made while the council is  unaware that the cameras are still on.

And then Silla and the BBC march in! And suddenly things move very quickly.  By the end of the programme  (about two months in real time) dog bins are installed, a community garden is being planned and an empty facility on the estate looks to be opened for community use. And the residents are happy.

Do councils really need the nation’s televion crews on their fingers in order to get their act together? Why does council action- if at all- always take such an age, by which time most residents or anybody who tries to help them, has walked away in anger and frustration?

Yes changing our run down councuil estates is about pride and ownership of the residents but it is also about councils being prepared to act decisively, with real commitment and particularly without the maddening delays.

Is it really just the residents who need to’ take ownership’, what about the councils?

In these difficult economic times, the councils that succeed will be the councils that link themselves into communities.

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