I spent some time sitting under the pagoda in Athlone Gardens yesterday, keeping out of the rain, looking at the beautiful cherry trees in their autumn colours. At this time of year the park is lush and mellow, fallen leaves are swept up daily and sent to Holland Park to rot down over winter for a rich spring mulch. Those that fall overnight provide an iconic, colourful blanket of texture and sound that generations of children have kicked their way through in an instinctive Autumn activity.

The Dog Club had visited, as they always do, earlier in the day. Dogs and their owners use the park as soon as it opens at dawn, but the Dog Club are a group of friends and their owners who arrive around 8.30 every day, sitting and talking on one of the benches and tables, exercising, socialising: you can set your watch by Peggy and Anne walking down Wornington Road at 8.45 - Peggy o’clock. The park, which is also used by elderly Moroccan men to play traditional board games, has recently been described by KHT as ‘A Dog Toilet’ and many years ago it was. But for some years it has not been, which is why it’s possible for children to kick their way through leaves.


KHT say a lot of things about this estate, mainly derogatory and patronising things. Athlone Gardens is, apparently a drug dealers haven, the pagoda a focus for sly and dangerous criminals. I’ve seen groups of bored children lurking under there and have never once had any problem with them in all the years I’ve used the park. There’s nothing to be done about groups of bored children who lurk, we’ve all done it, our own kids will spend some time doing it. It’s natural, normal behaviour. It’s also behaviour that KHT can stigmatise, turning normal behaviour into something to be feared.

At a time when social breakdown seems normal the Estate offers a stable, settled community. We don’t all embrace everything about each others way of life but we live and let live, we’re free to express the things that are important to our religious and cultural lives. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Pagans, Atheists, we live together peacefully, integrated rather than living utterly separate lives. KHT would like to disrupt this.

Tenants are treated like children, we don’t know what’s good for us, we don’t know what we like or dislike, we’re not to be trusted.  In the meantime, window frames rot, radiators leak, 30 year old bathrooms and kitchens which KHT surveyors judge to be worthy of replacement are left unreplaced because of ‘cost.’ KHT staff lose correspondence, including official complaints, can’t be bothered to turn the office clocks back for weeks after British Summer Time ends, block tenants at every turn. There’s a growing sinister edge to their behaviour, where tenants who stand up to KHT suddenly find themselves under threat of some kind of legal proceeding. Never mind that it’s a mistake, tenants files have that legal notice kept on them. Trying to get hold of your own files becomes a showdown.

Most tenants have learned to keep their heads down and avoid anything to do with KHT because KHT abuse their power. Asking for a standard repair becomes a fight to the death so it’s easier to just live with minor annoyances which build up to become a shabby home. KHT say they’re not running the estate down but of course they demonstrably are. Clean and tidy isn’t enough when a cistern is hanging off the wall, communal spaces haven’t been redecorated in 7 years, bits of building fall into gardens, there has to be a formal meeting between KHT and a group of tenants to achieve what should be routine caretaking work.

There’s a terrible tenseness on the estate. No one wants to be forced to move or to live in a building site for a decade and these are the choices we’ve been given. KHT have always been a poor landlord. Not only do tenants say so, the Audit Commission say so.  So do the Council who’ve taken control of what was a contemptuous KHT ‘consultation’ process. How will this tenseness develop? Communities under pressure, particularly communities that are powerless, tend to retreat into opposing groups, something that would suit KHT very well.

If KHT were able to manage simple things there’d be more trust in this ‘redevelopment’. If they didn’t treat tenants as the enemy, we might have a little more respect for them. If they didn’t abuse their power we might feel a little safer. There’s a lot at stake here. Not just individual families being broken down and homes being smashed up and compulsory relocation, but a community being destroyed, precious green spaces having high-rises built on them, an increase in tension between groups who currently live happily side by side. Is that something KHT really want? Apparently so.