Sunday, 26 October 2008

Celebrating community activists There's a nicely uncomplicated recent article by Jamie Carpenter in Regen and Renewal about Jean Bartlett, who is an award-winning community activist on the Aylesbury estate in south London. It's reassuring to have straightforward journalism that doesn't over-emotionalise either the role of an established, committed activist or the challenging conditions in which they are trying to bring about change. Negative media coverage of the estate over the years has not helped, indeed according to Bartlett it has made residents 'ashamed of where they live'. And arguments on whether or not the council's decision to demolish the estate was justified will continue to simmer. But I've worked on an estate where regeneration - including decanting and reinstatement of residents - has been transformational. I've worked on one, like the Aylesbury, where residents voted against a stock transfer to tenant management and really struggled to adjust to that ballot outcome. And I've worked in a place where residents might well have welcomed the idea of regeneration with or without demolition and decanting, but saw no chance of any initiative coming near them. Being invisible in public policy reflects a profound level of disempowerment and exclusion. And in all this we seldom hear much about the attitudes of regeneration officials and developers - often supportive and ennabling, but also often steeped in a subtle patronising condescension which disempowers routinely. And sometimes worse: thanks to William Perrin for a disturbing example from personal experience in this recent comment. See Jacqui Karn's excellent Narratives of neglect for an insightful study of how some of this happens. It's important we continue to support and report on people like Jean Bartlett and those who work with them, because they have an uncelebrated impact on the quality of life of a lot of people.

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