Friend | 29.03.2010 18:04 | Social Struggles
A: It’s a fairly small ward, made up of 180 terraced house. These houses are ex-pit houses that were bought by Mansfield council in the ‘70s. Over recent years the area has deteriorated considerably, and now there are vast quantities of rubbish scatted around the many empty properties. When we started the group around a year ago 37% of the houses were left empty, and now that the council and the company they have employed to oversee the regeneration of the area are actively moving people out the situation has got worse. There are multiple fires each week, not quite daily yet, and the empty houses are striped of all usable materials within hours of people moving out. There have been problems with drug users and squatters in the empty houses too. The area is classed as within the 10% most disadvantaged in the country.
To the council the area is a bit of an embarrassment at the estate is on the main route in to town from the north, and junction 29 of the M1. For many years the residents have been told that there is going to be a redevelopment, and there are mixed feelings about this. Many people welcome it believing that it is the best thing to do with the houses as they don’t meet the decent homes standard Labour promised every social house would meet ten years ago.
Q: Why did you set up the Pleasley Hill People’s Network?
A: A few years ago we were living in on another street in the area, and we received a letter from the council telling us that we were in the first group of houses that they wanted to knock down and that the redevelopment would be starting soon. We were told that some of the houses on another street were being done up, and that if we wanted to stay in the area we could move in to one of them. These houses would then be demolished as the final phase and we would get a new build house in the redevelopment. After thinking about it for a long time, we took the offer, mainly because of the promise of a new house, and because our son was doing really well at the local school. After we had been living there for a couple of years, and the re-development had not shown any signs of starting I wanted to know what was going on.
At around the same time I was getting more and more interested in radical politics. I spent a lot of time reading on the internet, and at some point came across the idea that everything comes down to community and workplace organisation. Then as the economic crisis kicked in and I considered environmental destruction, I became kind of galvanised and decided that if I wanted to see any kind of change, I had to work for it my self and the place to start was in my community.
Q: What has the network done?
A: First of all we have established regular meetings among residents that are offer no more than an informal discussion among people. This has lead to an increased awareness of the situation in the area, as people are sharing information, and talking about the things they see. The meetings also provide the community to invite council representative, or people from other organisations and question them about what is happening. We do this regularly, and by doing so we seem to so far have a little sway over some of the decisions that are being made, and we would like to feel that for some people we have got a better deal out of the authorities by holding them to promises they have tried to back out of. The group has also hosted a few children’s activates in the area, as there is very
little to do locally. And we had a communal bonfire night too. We seem to have discussed just about every issue that effects us, but as things stand at the moment, much of the power is out of our hands.
Although I was quite active in the setting up of the group, I have tried quite hard not to lead people in to things that I want to do, and instead let the people of the area choose the direction of the group. I felt it quite important from the start not to impose my politics, while at the same time trying to ensure the group operated as fairly as possible by using the consensus decision making method. Luckily when I proposed this at the very beginning, everyone was all for it.
Q: How many people are involved?
A: We have an open door policy for any member of the community. If you live hear you can participate in decision making. Our core group of people is about 10 people though. We also get a lot of people come to our meetings when we have guests from the council or somewhere else, and some times they hang around after the guests leave. Other people want to be more involved but have work commitments, and of course we get a lot more interest when we arrange activities.
The issue we are facing at the moment is that as the council move people out of their homes so that they can start the re-development we are losing members. People often want to return to the area as quite often there have been multiple generations of the same family here, and so want to remain involved with the group, but it is not always easy to get to the meetings.
Q: Do you have connections with any other local groups?
A: Not formally no. Obviously we know of others, and members of the community have family in other parts of Mansfield. We recently tried to make contact with the Bellamy Road area of Mansfield who were featured on the BBC. We have many of the same issues as they do, but our residents feel our area is in a worse state, but is focused on less because of its size.
When Mansfield District Council brought in an organisation called Medal Valley Making Places to over see the re-development (the organisation we now have most contact with, they act as a proxy for the council and the developers.) we were offered the opportunity to send a representative/delegate to a forum of communities that have also dealt with MVMP. It all seemed very pro council and re-development, and our members felt there was nothing to be gained by becoming involved at that time.
Q: What plans do you have for the future?
A: For the time being more of the same. The community have all but accepted the re-development, although there are still questions surrounding it and quite a few people are either not happy about leaving, or insist they want to return. We have had some success effecting the councils re-homing/returning to the area policy, and it seems to be getting closer to what the people want.
We also have Mayday celebrations coming up, and we hope to have more activities in the area too. Our local councillor is heavily involved with Mansfield Stags and has offered a soccer in the streets day. I personally would like to put on some bicycle and computer skill shares.
My opinion at the moment is that we need to get more involved and accepted by the wider community, but we can only do this through exposure. For me it is not about the redevelopment, but about the area in the long term. Especially if there is going to be an influx of new people, I would like the community organisation structures to already be in place when this happens.
Q: What do you hope to get out of the Community Action Network/Gathering?
A: I think for me, I am here to learn about how groups in other areas are dealing with their issues, so that we can better deal with them in out own community. It’s also about making links, and solidarity with other areas of the county. Not speaking for the group but for myself, I believe that community groups are the solution to many of the countries problems, and that by organising society from the bottom up with community groups and workers groups coming together at local, then progressively wider levels, we have a chance to reduce our rate of consumption on this planet, and possibly mitigate an environmental disaster.