RESIDENTS on what is left of the Aylesbury estate, Walworth in Southwark have occupied Thurlow Lodge Community Hall that Southwark council is trying to close. The closure would also mean the eviction of Divine Rescue, a homeless charity and foodbank.
Locals have begun an occupation of the space and a meeting last week issued the following joint statement from Divine Rescue, the Thurlow Lodge occupation committee and Aylesbury's new TRA [Tenants and Residents Association] steering group: “Southwark Council intends to close or privatise Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and it has tried to evict homeless charity and foodbank Divine Rescue from Thurlow Lodge.
“This is both an attack on the homeless, disabled and poor clients of this charity and an attack on council tenants and residents on the Aylesbury Estate. By demolishing more than 2,000 council homes on the Aylesbury, the Council will create even more homeless people.
“Our occupation, determined opposition and the support of trade unions, campaign groups and the wider tenants’ movement has forced the Council to row back on their eviction threats and attempts to close the hall.
“The Council now claims it never tried to close the hall in the first place! However, it is still considering legal action against Divine Rescue and it has put the prospect of privatisation on the table by saying that the hall will be put out to tender.
“This is unacceptable. Tenants and residents on the Aylesbury are in the process of forming a new tenants’ and residents’ association which claims the right to manage this hall in the interests of the community, provide a secure home for Divine Rescue and fight for council housing for all.
“We are proud to state that the new TRA steering group has been offered the solidarity and assistance of experienced tenant reps in Southwark. We have every confidence that the new TRA will be able to successfully manage the hall and provide a full programme of events and activities.
“The new TRA is keen to work with the two remaining TRAs on the Aylesbury Estate to provide a genuine democratic voice for Aylesbury tenants and residents.
“We demand that the Council recognise the Aylesbury new TRA as soon as it is set up. We demand that the Council lifts all threats of closure and privatisation and accepts that Divine Rescue can remain, on its current rent. We call on Southwark Council to halt the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and instead refurbish and properly maintain our council housing.”
Southwark council had issued a notice in October for the Divine Rescue charity to vacate the hall, despite having paid their rent in advance. The charity was ordered to vacate the building by 5th January.
The council has made the charity’s work harder over the last two years. Volunteers and service users were stopped from using the kitchen and homeless people were forced to eat next to bins.
The occupation group announced last week after a 40-strong public meeting that any representative of Southwark council would be refused access to the hall. So would housing association Notting Hill Homes or the Creation Trust charity set up to promote the regeneration. The regeneration has already seen residents kicked out of their homes and many priced out of London.
But Southwark council’s plan met a setback when the compulsory purchase orders issued to eight leaseholders were overturned, then an appeal was rejected.
Now the occupation is throwing a new spanner in the works. Messages of support have flooded in from trade unionists and housing campaigns.