Lindsey Garrett: they would “have had to drag me out”

New Era Estate protest. Pic: Wikimedia commons

New Era Estate protest. Pic: Wikimedia commons

It has been less than two months since Lindsey Garrett saved the New Era Estate. Since 93 families successfully rebelled against the global powers of the London housing market.

And rebellion this was. The possibility that a working class community in Hoxton may be forced out of their homes dominated the news agenda in late 2014, pressuring leaders including the Mayor of London into taking action, with the estate transferred to a charitable foundation just in time for Christmas.

“It was such bad publicity… We got a response from the mayor’s office saying they had played a part in securing the estate. But I think they just wanted to shut us up,” said Garrett.

It is hard to believe, even now, that 93 working-class families were able to bully Westbrook Partners, a multi-national property firm with offices in New York, Munich and Tokyo, into selling a piece of prime real estate.

But as Garrett, an NHS care co-ordinator and mother to six-year-old Daisy, puts it, Westbrook would “have had to drag me out”. The estate had been her home since she was a child and she was not going to pack up now. And she would not have been alone.

“There was such a feeling of anger when the estate was taken over. It’s not often you can say you know all your neighbours, people have always been popping in and out of each other’s houses. I don’t think we realised how rare that is in London, it was only when we were threatened with losing it that the reality of how special it is became obvious.”

It is a home worth fighting for. The tastefully decorated apartment is warm, not just in temperature (a delightful treat on this cold February evening), but in spirit. In the living room, immaculately decorated in cream with the odd splash of colour, Garrett and her daughter relax on the sofa together, a picture of domestic bliss. It is hard to imagine that only a few months ago the mother was terrified that they may not see another Christmas in their home, and easy to understand why they fought so hard to save the estate.

The question that still nags away after their victory is, was it too late to save New Era’s Hoxton? The area Garrett grew up in is very different from the one she is raising her daughter in. She has seen the area grow into one of the most desirable locations in London, its streets teeming with coffee shops and galleries.

“The changes are not necessarily a bad thing, change can be a good thing. The area needed it. Hoxton years ago, no-one would have wanted to walk down there. It was bloody dangerous. Everyone knows someone who’s been stabbed in Dalston.”

“Forcing people out to change the area isn’t right though. It’ll have no character. What’s interesting about Hackney is that it is multicultural, different people from different classes and different cultures. There’s nothing interesting about a load of middle-class people in skinny jeans wearing stupid clothes and talking bollocks. Is it positive? It was. It’s not now.”

She struggles to control her passion when she talks about these issues of class. Though she was not a political person before Westbrook arrived she comes from a traditional, politicised working-class family. Her grandfather had been a trade unionist and post office worker. The family has always been traditional Labour voters and yet Garrett feels let down by many in the party, not least her local MP Meg Hillier: “I hope she doesn’t get in again. You can print that if you want!”

Garrett would once have been an ideal representative for Labour yet, although other parties have looked to curry favour with this influential voice on the London housing agenda, the party that she was raised supporting is not one of them. She is not surprised by this, she doubts that the party cares about people like her anymore.

She won’t commit to a political future; implausibly she worries about whether she’d be any good at it. She also worries whether she has the appetite to do more. New Era meant more to her than any other campaign could.

“I’m really delighted that Dolly will be able to look back, and she’ll be able to Google her mum and there’ll be loads about the New Era campaign and that’s something to feel proud of.”

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