View from the Estate: 
Mary

INTERVIEW

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Can you tell us a bit about yourself; your interests, hopes and ambitions?

 

I’m Mary. I have lived in the Alton Estate for over 15 years — schooled here, laughed here, cried here, and everything in between.

I’ve always had a passion for poetry, technology, equality of opportunity, environment and dancing.

 

What has been your experience of growing up on the Alton Estate?

 

When I first came to the estate I couldn’t speak English, my family made very little money and we didn’t really know anyone.
15 years later, I’m working in tech and my sister attends one of the best schools in the country. This isn’t by accident.

 

Having a home was a constant anchor of stability in a sea of chaos. No matter how bad things got, I always had a home, so I could study, and I could get a job.


Without social housing, I couldn’t have thrived.

 

My experience has made me passionate about equality of opportunity and making sure disadvantaged people can realise their potential. But it’s also made me realise how lucky I am to have entered the social housing market years ago, it’s so much harder now.

 

We are currently living through a global pandemic; do you feel this has brought the community together, or is there a sense of crisis?

 

The estate is slowly recovering its spirit — but at a cost. Truth is, the estate struggled before the pandemic, with many youth centres closed, reduced essential services (i.e., police, transport) and the decay of the buildings.

 

As the people who fought for quality services moved on, the people who remained carried on with their lives as these problems persisted. And so, the neglect washed away the sense of community that existed before. Lockdown has been lonely but I’m one of the luckier ones. It’s the older people I feel most sorry for.

 

For the older people who live alone in the estate, loneliness is almost as bad as the disease. One of our longest-serving neighbours died but we only found out a few months later. Another neighbour rarely leaves the house anymore. Another has lost so much weight since the pandemic she is almost too weak to walk down the stairs. It’s so heart-breaking to see.

However, the pandemic has forced the estate to finally pay attention to its problems.

The creation of a People’s Plan for Alton Estate is the first time I’ve seen the community fighting for its future in years. 

 

We have an abundance of green space on the estate, but it is rarely utilised by residents due to imposed limitations on its use. How do you feel about this?

We have beautiful green space in Roehampton. During several walks around the estate between July 2018 and November 2020, I took pictures when these green spaces were not being respected and turned it into a song called “It’s my Land”.

 

This song is a response to the social and environmental degradation of the estate. The lyrics go:

It’s my land

Oh, it’s my home

I don’t understand

There’s nowhere to roam

You infiltrate my zone

With your lovely empty smiles

You tear away my throne

And throw it in the pile

My brother’s lost his limbs

All that’s left is bone

He never once sinned

Innocence etched in stone

 

It’s my land

Oh, it’s my home

I don’t understand

There’s nowhere to roam

 

What impact would you say the closures of youth centres and community spaces has had on Alton Estate residents?

 

It’s been devastating. There is almost nothing to do as a young person here. Where are the jobs, sports clubs and activity centres?

I do worry that the young people are turning to crime to feel like they belong. As they say in Africa, “A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

 

What would you like to see more of, to positively engage and strengthen the community?

 

The estate has guts, spirit and fountains of hope — but we need to get the basics right first. We need quality services, we need community facilities, we need our residents’ voices championed in council meetings.

 

What positive changes would you like to bring to the estate (whether this is better facilities for residents, or redesign of housing)?

 

We need quality community, youth, sports and mental health services. We need to fix problems with existing residents’ homes regarding damp and boilers not working. Disabled residents, young people and older people need to have better access to facilities.

 

How would you describe the Alton Estate to someone who has never heard of it / visited it before?

 

It has its flaws but has been a sanctuary for some of the poorest in our society.
And like a child, the estate needs to be valued, supported and nurtured to realise
its potential.

 

I don’t know where I’d be without the estate.

Alton Estate Community Plan Draft

Here is a PDF of our August 2021 newsletter:

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Here is our first, October 2020 printed newsletter: