L&Q Media Centre put spin on Silwood Under 5’s Playgroup

Meeting between community steering group members and L&Q staff, in which staff asked not to be filmed or photographed

Meeting between community steering group members and L&Q staff, chaired by Southwark Councillor Anood Al-Samerai (left). L&Q staff asked not to be filmed or photographed.

Major “Registered Social Landlord” of Silwood Estate (SE16), London & Quadrant’s ‘Media Centre’ have published a report on the re-launch of the Silwood Estate Under 5s playgroup, which omits many aspects of the story that we considered crucial to our report last week. L&Q’s alternative report portrays the company as having played a large part in saving the playgroup, neglecting to mention the eight month battle Silwood residents faced to secure the £11,500 of funding they have finally received, which is a one-off grant not expected to be renewed next year. Nor do L&Q mention that many believe the funding, and far more money, belong rightfully to the community, who were promised the Lewington Centre to replace their previous community building as a condition of the estates redevelopment, which began in the early 2000s.

At a meeting between L&Q staff and community steering group members last week, L&Q’s long-standing obligation to hand the building over to the community was reiterated by Southwark Councillor and leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrat group Anood Al-Samerai – who reminded those present that the centre should ultimately be run by a committee comprising predominantly local people working with a minority of L&Q representatives. Alarmingly, this was met with apparent confusion from L&Q staff, who, under their Section 106 obligations, are supposed to have been working towards this goal since the centre opened in 2009, if not before.

Among a slew of now-broken promises, Silwood residents were led to believe they would have at least priority access to the building, which in actuality was made unviable as a venue for many community events by apartments being built above the main hall. Large parts of the building are also regularly leased to a local college, making them unavailable to the community. As we reported, and L&Q failed to mention, money collected from the Lewington Centre flats each week was meant to be set aside for the community, to make up for the restrictions they impose on using the building. By the same logic, profit made on renting the space should be shared with the community, who are, after all, supposed to manage the building.

Instead of mentioning these things, L&Q appear to be trying to use the re-launch of the playgroup to promote themselves. They boast that, “Children and families in and around the Silwood Estate, Southwark, are celebrating the re-launch of their local playgroup thanks to the work of the Silwood Community Steering Group and an £11,500 grant from L&Q housing association.” They go on to describe themselves in favourable terms, as, “One of the largest housing associations in the capital,” owning “70,000 homes across London and the South East as well as being a leading residential developer of new and affordable homes.” The PR department seem oblivious to the fact that, given London property prices, £11,500 for a company that owns 70,000 houses doesn’t come across as an especially generous sum.

Karen Westbrook, Resident Services Manager for L&Q, concludes the ‘Media Centre’ article, saying, “Helping the Silwood Community Steering Group to re-launch a playgroup service was a great opportunity for us to step in and support the nearby community and L&Q residents of the Silwood estate.” This is an interesting take on what many would consider to be a story of community disempowerment, in which a resource has been effectively taken away from residents and then reluctantly lent back to them by L&Q after a long campaign and apparently in exchange for undeserved good PR.

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Silwood Estate community centre playgroup reopens

IMG_2465

The Silwood Estate Under 5s playgroup reopened today, eight months after it closed. The playgroup, which is held in the purpose-built Lewington Community Centre on the Silwood Estate in Rotherhithe, was shut down in November when Lewisham Council withdrew funding. Since then a number of community members have been fighting to save the playgroup and have finally secured £11,500 towards wages from London and Quadrant (L&Q), who own the building.

Although the playgroup reopening is extremely good news, securing the funding is a small victory for the Silwood Estate community in what is likely to be an ongoing battle with L&Q. Residents have been struggling to stake their claim on the Lewington building, and the profit it generates, since it opened five years ago. Before 2006 (when construction work began), L&Q said they would replace an existing, community managed building with a better, purpose built community centre in order to incentivise local support for their proposed redevelopment of the estate. Consequently, the Lewington Centre was built under a section 106 planning gain agreement, which gives a developer favourable terms (in this case free land) but stipulates that they must compensates the community in return.

Despite promises from L&Q, the community have struggled with both the suitability of the Lewington Centre and accessing the space – which is controlled by an L&Q manager, not the local community.

To start with, Tower Homes, the commercial wing of L&Q, built “affordable” flats for “key workers” (e.g. nurses, teachers, police officers) on top of the centre, making the building unsuitable for evening social events, even after expensive sound-proofing work. To soften this blow, Tower Homes promised tenants that £25 would be collected from each flat each week to put towards community activities. When this money didn’t materialise, L&Q claimed they had put it aside, ring-fenced for community development, before forgetting about it.

L&Q have also made the building largely inaccessible to residents by renting almost the entire centre to the Bede Education Trust, a subsidiary of Morley College, and have not donated the money from this to the community either. L&Q’s accounts suggest that they are making a yearly profit of between £30,000 and £60,000 from the building. When this is considered, securing space and funding for the playgroup seems like little more than prising a single finger loose from the vice-like grip L&Q have on the centre and its profits.

Silwood’s residents are delighted to have a place to go with their children again, which is outside their homes and provides an opportunity to meet other parents. But many still hope that L&Q will go further towards honouring the spirit of their original promise, to provide a better replacement for a centre that was entirely community run, and from which only the community profited.

Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Support our work by ordering Silwood related books, maps, dvds and prints from Spectacle’s shop.
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L&Q, the Lewington Centre & community dis-empowerment

Back in 1999-2006 residents of the Silwood Estate, Rotherhithe, were repeatedly promised by Lewisham Council and London & Quadrant (L&Q) that when the estate was “regenerated” their existing and community managed community centre and other facilities would be replaced with a better, purpose built, community centre- later called the Lewington Centre.

The Lewington Centre was built under a section 106 planning gain agreement whereby a developer who is given very favourable terms ( in this case free land ) “compensates” the community. This was already a form of double dipping as Section 106 implies the community is getting something new- not replacing what they have lost.

About 4 years ago, the Lewington Centre opened. From the outset the building was clearly not fit for purpose. The “owner” Tower Homes ( the commercial wing of London & Quadrant ) had insisted on building “affordable” flats for “key workers” (e,g, nurses, teachers) on top of the centre. Which, even after expensive re-working of the acoustics and sound proofing, still make the hall unusable for evening social events. Many key workers work night shifts too. Tower Homes sweetened the greedy inclusion of 25 flats by promising tenants that £25.00 per flat per week would go towards funding the community activities.

This has not happened. Under the Section 106 agreement L&Q must submit publicly available full accounts for the centre every September- they have not done this and we have only been able to access them via a Freedom of Information request. Three years ago L&Q’s own accounts were showing the Lewington Centre was generating a carry forward profit of £120,000. A few years back at what turned out to be the last Community Forum convened by L&Q  Paul Nehra, L&Q’s “Community Investment Manager” promised that the money was ring fenced for investment into the centre.

When pushed on why this never happened L&Q claimed though they did collect the £25 p.w. from their hard pressed tenants they “forgot” to pass it on it to the community. Now the profit has “disappeared” completely.

Take a look at the attached files to compare the ‘delayed’ Income and Expenditure accounts. (2008-9 to 2011-12 is the most recent one we received after the Freedom of Information request, pretty different from one another.)

Accounts September 2009

Accounts 2008-9 to 2011-12

Christine Oettinger, chair of PACT (Parents and Children Together), says:

”L&Q needs to explain where the profit is coming from. Because in regards to the community centre alone, the profit from only the residential flats (which is 25 flats above this building) are meant to be used for the running and management of the centre. The building was put together only four years ago. How could it be that within a short period of time the financial model has failed? There is no translucency between how the money  is spent and where the money is going. The Community Centre is supposed to be self – sufficient The financial model explains that the income generated from the residential units is to fund the running of the community areas a 100%. Plus – Surplus. So: where has the money gone and how is the money being spent? And: where is the surplus? In some of the agreements that L&Q agreed to, when they accepted the [Section 106] funds, they were there for the community to provide the facilities, to provide a place for children, to provide a place for vulnerable families to go to. That’s not exactly what’s happening now.”

One of the services was a playgroup for parents to bring their under 5s. As opposed to  sitting at home this was the place to go take their kids and meet other people .

SILWplayground

However, the playgroup for under 5s has now closed, because suddenly Lewisham Council were going to stop funding the workers. The playgroup was there before the regeneration and it was used by people of the community. It is something that has always been funded by Lewisham Council. Residents feel it was just another thing being taken away from them.

Doreen Dower, Secretary of the local Tenants and Residents Association, who is already involved for a long time knows the reason for this:

‘When you have regeneration, the community dies. It was a 40 year old community with people coming and going, but it had still people in there from the beginning. But once that’s gone, you kind of just have to start again. And that is the biggest problem. Now we finally got this letter coming in that says: we need a management committee. But there are no volunteers. We’re still trying to get that off the ground with L&Q. They are supposed to be a non-profit organisation, but it doesn’t seem to work this way.’

This is an ongoing problem for the tenants association as well, trying to get people involved, they cannot afford to pay the rent being charged by L&Q for the room that was purpose built to accommodate them.

“There’s no nursery for the community, it’s all gone. All the things we were promised at the beginning, we would have it in one building. But then the goal post kept shifting and in the end, when I wanted to pull it down, they still hadn’t built it. They also pulled everything else down and then we had nothing.”

Allegedly in breach of their Section 106 agreement L&Q has now sub-let almost the entire centre to the Bede Education Trust, a subsidiary of Morley College.

“The college in the Community Centre also takes up a lot of time and a lot of space. It was built as a Community Centre, not as a college. Therefore some of the things the College are doing, doesn’t fit in. They closed off half of the hall.” adds Doreen.

Recently there have been meetings with residents, centre users and L&Q to discuss the problems but this has been pushed along by Southwark council and tenacious individuals like Christine Oettinger. L&Q say there is going to be a revamp on the finances, so the whole Lewington Centre is not necessarily going to close. There is still hope to get the Under5s Playgroup open again as well. But so far the L&Q response has been to drag its feet and, as ever, offer empty promises.

On the Silwood Estate local residents have lost a vital community life through the physical regeneration of the estate. A community that used to run and manage their own facilities has, in Spectacle’s opinion, been systematically dis-empowered.

We wonder how things are at other L&Q run community facilities. Anyone know?

Click Silwood Video Group for more blogs
See our Silwood Video Group project pages for more information and videos.
Support our work by ordering Silwood related books, maps, dvds and prints from Spectacle’s shop.

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