WHAT DO YOU DO when you find someone’s building a new block of flats in the middle of your estate? Or when you look round your community and wonder what the kids will be up to this summer?
For many Tower Hamlets residents, the first port of call is their Tenants and Residents Association (TRA). “Whatever’s happening on your estate, the chances are it’s already happened somewhere else in Tower Hamlets,” explained Phil Sedler, who is the Chair of the Tower Hamlets Federation of TRAs. “We can often put residents in touch with someone who’s been through it before, whatever your current problem or opportunity is.”
The Council does acknowledge that TRAs have a valuable role to play in supporting their communities. Both the Mayor, John Biggs, and the Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr David Edgar, have spoken about how they value the way these organisations respond to community need – hence their support for TRAs running local community halls wherever possible.
The Council also acknowledges that it is hard for TRAs to provide this support with so little money currently available. The Council is committed to ensuring that TRAs which run community halls have their rent discounted, as it’s clear no TRA in the borough has the funds to pay the kind of rents charged in East London. Even so, TRAs can’t make up for cuts in youth and community provision – or replace the grants that used to be available for small voluntary groups to run these services.
“It’s not just community activities that TRAs support,” Phil Sedler pointed out. “TRAs have a vital role to play in representing the views of residents in their patch. Some landlords make an effort to talk to their TRAs – but others are dismissive or patronising, or don’t talk to their TRAs at all. All residents are concerned about getting value for money from their landlord, and recent news reports about Housing Associations performing badly just confirm what a struggle tenants and leaseholders are having.”
Nor does the TRAs’ representative role stop when it comes to the service provided by their own landlord. “We’ve had two cases recently where TRAs have spoken up on planning applications – and been able to secure changes to benefit their members,” explained Phil. “The Federation has also been able to influence the Council on issues such as last year’s Housing Strategy.”
It’s not all plain sailing, though. Residents are often busy with the struggle of day to day living – making ends meet, worrying about their kids, looking after family members who need support. There’s the usual cry of “we can’t make a difference” – and a lack of experience of organising in the community.
•The Tower Hamlets Federation of TRAs will be having a summit meeting on these issues on Monday, 24th April, 7-9pm, at the Collingwood Hall, Collingwood Street, E1 5DY. All Tower Hamlets residents are welcome – but the meeting will be particularly of interest to those involved in running TRAs or considering whether to start one up.