Interview with a socialist activist on the Aylesbury estate

The Aylesbury Estate at Elephant and Castle is at the heart of the Camberwell and Peckham constituency. Built in the 1960s and 70s, the estate is currently home to 7,500 people, but is due to be demolished in stages. The council plan a privately-funded regeneration scheme. The tenants are concerned that vast amounts of money will be made by private companies, as council housing with secure tenancies is replaced with various types of private housing.

Inevitably the poorest and most vulnerable will lose out as council housing stock is reduced in a borough which already has 15,000 on its waiting list.

Solidarity spoke to Aysen Dennis, a tenants’ activist on the estate, who has helped distribute leaflets for Jill Mountford’s campaign.

What is the situation on the estate?

It is obvious what we think of PFI. We do not want privatisation.

If they get the money — and that is not certain in this recession — they will start to knock down the estate and build homes for yuppies.

Already some of the tenants have been moved.

We have been campaigning for nearly 10 years, but over that time we have been denied proper maintenance and proper cleaning. So some tenants have become fed up and want to move.

We are worried that if we lose the council housing, we lose it for good.

In fact, at the same time as people are being moved out, some tenants from the Heygate [a nearby estate, whose regeneration is behind schedule] are moving in here.

We are unsure about the future. Most probably any tenants with rent-arrears will lose their rights. They intend to provide 700 fewer council homes than currently exist. The selection process is unclear.

They are trying to persuade elderly people to move away from London. But people have often been living here for a long time, and have social networks here. People know each other, and support each other.

They have tried to stigmatise us, saying that the estate is a difficult place to live, with crime and drug problems. Of course there are problems, but these could be dealt with if the estate was properly managed. I am happy here and I have no intention to move.

What does your tenants’ group want?

We want positive help. The lifts need replacing so they do not break down all the time. The kitchens and bathrooms should be renewed. But the basic structure is fine. I don’t want to be moved to a small box where I don’t know the next-door neighbours.

We want council housing, and more council housing, with secure tenancy rights. We do not use the term “social housing” which means all sorts of things.

Our group has a meeting in March to inform residents about the danger of PFI — which means private profits. And we meet across Southwark as Defend Council Housing.

What do you think of the local council? And Harriet Harman? [Southwark Council is run by a Liberal-Tory coalition]

I don’t recognise differences between the parties. They are all liars. I do, however, expect them to carry out their duties toward the tenants, which they have failed to do.

Harriet Harman has done nothing for us. We had an open day, but she didn’t come. At a local public meeting she allowed a local tenants’ group which favours PFI to make her case for her. When we have been to lobby her in parliament mostly we have been met by her condescending secretary.

The only time she comes here is at election time.

There’s an election coming, what sort of government do you think we need?

A socialist government, of course! What would such a government do? To change the whole system, starting by nationalising the banks, taking full state control of housing and education. And, as a woman, it is an outrage that in 21st-century London women are still being paid less than men.

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