In early 2010 the owners of Cumberland Market Estate at the time – the Crown Estate – announced that they intended to sell our estate, along with their other housing estates in Victoria Park in Hackney, Lee Green in Lewisham and Millbank in Pimlico, Westminster.
The four Residents’ Associations (RAs) led by Joannie Andrews and Madeleine Davis (Victoria Park); Janine Rankin (Lee Green); Ben Bowling (Millbank) and Steve Smith (Cumberland Market) joined forces and quickly set up a campaign against these proposals, particularly as it became clear at an early stage that a number of private developers had been invited to secretly visit our estates with a view to buying them.
A similar situation had taken place a few years earlier when the Church Commissioners had sold off their housing stock which resulted in disastrous consequences for their tenants – much higher rent increases, loss of security, flats sold on the open market, etc. The RAs feared that history would repeat itself particularly as the same person who took the decision to sell the Church Commissioners property was now working for the Crown Estate and heading up their plans to dispose of our homes.
The Crown Estate were extremely secretive about their plans to sell our homes and the RAs had to use the Freedom of Information Act on a number of occasions to find out what was happening. What was clear to the RAs was the fact that if private developers had taken over our homes, rents would have risen considerably forcing out long-term residents and essential key-workers in London. On Cumberland Market there was an additional risk of housing development taking place on the site of the allotments – a feature of our estate since the 1940s.
A campaign entitled ‘Our Homes Are Not For Sale’ was set up and supported by tenants across all four affected estates. Tenants on Cumberland Market attended meetings in Christ Church School and in the Tenants’ Hall on the estate and gave the four RAs unanimous support to work closely with local and national politicians to fight the Crown Estate’s proposals.
Our campaign was non-political and, as the Crown Estate had announced their plans a few weeks before both the 2010 General Election and the London local elections, we had more support than we could ever imagine with politicians and prospective candidates from all political parties giving us their full support and backing. The Crown Estate could not have chosen a worse time to announce their plans – the RAs still do not know if this was just poor timing and inefficiency or just a misjudgment over how many people would actually support our cause.
Cumberland Market received the full, cross-party, support of Camden Council after they received a deputation of our tenants at one of their Council meetings and our RA worked closely with the Chair and Shadow Chair of Housing, as well as senior council officers, throughout the campaign.
Whilst tenants insisted from the outset that our campaign should be non political, everyone on Cumberland Market recognise that without the strong support from our MP Frank Dobson and ward councillors, Nash Ali, Heather Johnson and Tulip Siddiq, as well as former ward councillor Theo Blackwell, our local campaign would never have gained the momentum it did.
Acknowledgement and thanks must also go to Robert Latham, a housing barrister and local resident, who gave us expert legal advice and massive support throughout the campaign as well as the Camden New Journal, in particular their reporter Dan Carrier, who covered our campaign throughout and championed our cause in the media.
We had similar support from councillors and MPs in Hackney, Lewisham and Westminster – as well as support from the Mayor of London and other GLA members, including our GLA Member at the time, Brian Colman (GLA member for Barnet & Camden), and our campaign was the subject of debates in City Hall and in the House of Commons including evidence given to a Treasury Select Sub-Committee.
Support for our campaign, as well as the wider case for affordable housing in London, was overwhelming and the RAs never imagined at the outset how wide-spread our campaign would become. ‘Our Homes Are Not For Sale’ gained national publicity in the press, radio and local television and it was clear that the Crown Estate Commissioners were shocked at the success of our campaign and deeply embarrassed at the adverse publicity.
We also heard, on the grapevine, that our campaign was discussed within the walls of Buckingham Palace; the fact that when we presented our petition to the gates of Buckingham Palace we were allowed to take it through the main gates demonstrates this – petitions are usually received at the back gate, away from public gaze!
In the Autumn of 2010 the Crown Estate revealed to the press and then to tenants (in that order) that the preferred buyer for all four estates was Peabody, founded in 1862 by the American industrialist turned British philanthropist George Peabody.
The Crown Estate’s decision to sell to Peabody was certainly influenced by the adverse publicity our campaign had generated against them but generally, tenants welcomed Peabody as their new landlord as they had a reputation as being a responsible landlord.
WHAT DID WE GAIN? – The campaign to protect our homes and communities was hard-fought. The thousands of letters and postcards that tenants wrote; the mass meetings; the lobbying of local and national politicians; the march to Buckingham Palace; and the 1,500+ signature petition gained us support across the political spectrum and made a big difference on the final outcome. It won us:
the principle that Cumberland Market, Lee Green, Millbank and Victoria Park estates should always be AFFORDABLE HOUSING and not in the private sector – we ‘won’ an important concession that 90% of all future lettings must go to keyworkers in London;
legal protections on security of tenure, succession and the way rents are set;
a rent cap for existing tenants – we ‘won’ the concession that rents would be set up to a maximum ceiling of 60% of the market rent for all tenants transferring to Peabody, as opposed to 80% of the market value for any new tenants;
a housing association landlord based in the tradition of philanthropy and fairness rather than commercial profit and exploitation which became evident under the Crown Estate in recent years and a change to the way in which they managed our homes in the past;
a real sense of community across the four estates that demonstrated that by sticking together, it was possible to change the plans of a determined and powerful organisation. In addition, we now have 4 Residents’ Associations that are now stronger than ever before which will help protect our rights and communities into the future. Thank you for your support!
For more detailed information on the ‘Our Homes Are Not For Sale’ campaign, please contact Steve Smith on CumberlandMarketRA@hotmail.co.uk
Please see ‘Campaign Photos’ for a varied selection of photos and images taken during the campaign.
Set out below are links to some YouTube videos taken during our campaign: