Families say they face spending Christmas ‘trapped’ in Covid testing centre

Sandford residents protest site. Pic: Angela Phillips

Residents of a Stamford Hill block of flats have protested over being ‘trapped’ by a Covid testing site, built on their doorstep with just 12 hours notice.

The occupants of Sandford Court are now surrounded with a high metal fence which encloses the testing centre which became fully operational last week, running from 8am-8pm seven days a week.

Councillor Chris Kennedy, Hackney’s Cabinet Member for Health, Adult Social Care and Leisure, said the site was selected as “Stamford Hill is already a coronavirus hotspot and has among the highest infection rates in London and the UK”.

Protect Sandford Court, a campaign set up to help the council find alternative premises for the site, told Eastlondonlines that while they understand that a local test centre is needed due to its high infection rate, “the way this has been handled is truly awful”. 

‘Infringement of basic rights’

The fence particularly affects older residents living on the ground floor, some of whom have been leaseholders for over 50 years. Learnah, from the Protect Sandford Court campaign, told ELL that the proximity of the fence to the front door’s means that “elderly residents do not feel safe enough to step out their doors due to the fear of contracting COVID-19”.

Fence around test centre. Pic: Angela Phillips

Many residents have expressed how trapped they feel by this prison-like metal fence, which is patrolled by security guards and security camera’s seven days a week.

“There are no words that have the ability to describe how depressing it feels to look outside your window and to see a testing site for a virus with such rapid spreadability. It feels like a massive infringement of basic freedom” said Learnah.

Play area closed

The construction of the testing centre has resulted in the closure of the local play area and football pitch which many children use, including those children from the Haredi community in St Andrews Mews, which leads into Sandford Court.

During lockdown, families relied on this outdoor space. Many have expressed on Twitter how much their children have been impacted by this closure.

Charis Enga, parish priest of St Andrews in Stamford Hill who has been working closely with the residents during their campaign, told ELL: “[many residents] are low-income key workers that have had to go out to work during both lockdowns risking their health for the good of others… taking away precious play-space for children has been such a hard blow to the mental health of residents.”

Reverend Charis Enga. Pic: St Andrews N16

Access to the plot of land where many residents grow fruit and vegetables, has also been made difficult by the testing centre. With access to green spaces limited in London, residents say these closures are likely to have a serious effect on the local community.

With Christmas and Hanukkah fast approaching, residents have made it clear that they will find it difficult to celebrate in their current situation.

“This Christmas and Hanukkah it might be particularly hard for children to celebrate while feeling trapped by a metal fence,” Reverend Enga said.


She said the local church will continue to spread a message of hope, and support to the local residents at this challenging time. “Many people, Christian, Jewish, and of all faiths and none, are looking to find some hope and light at this time, and we wait as Advent approaches expectantly to hear more good news.”

The only remaining hope for the residents is that one of their proposed sites is deemed suitable by the council. So far none have.  

A Hackney Council spokesperson told ELL: “We have listened to the concerns raised by residents …we will continue to search for an alternative location. If one becomes available, we will look to move the Local Testing Station after the initial 13-week period”.

The trial period is due to end in February 2021, so while both the council and the campaign may actively pursue an alternative site, it is unlikely to move before then.  

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