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The birth of the North Gower Action Group

 
September 22nd 2015
 

We had half expected it but when it did arrive, handed to me by a rather sheepish-looking person at the reception, it still came as a shock. The dreaded eviction notice.

The North Gower Hotel was in reality a bed and breakfast (B&B) hostel, without the breakfast, for the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees who were receiving housing benefit, so a bit of a mixed community. The B&B had recently been bought was under new management and the rumour that had been going around was that they were going to turn it into a backpackers hostel and kick us all out.

The date on the eviction notice was 24 December 1997, a lovely Christmas present. I can recall how the residents panicked, running around asking “What is going to happen? We’ll be on the street at Christmas”. Then the confusion turned to anger and defiance. “They can’t just do this to us. Can they?” Like hell they can, we thought. So the fight and the struggle began.

I and others began contacting people we thought could advise and help us, and after several meetings with the now-defunct Kings Cross Homelessness Project, Shelter and others we decided to form the North Gower Action Group (NGAG).

This was not to be some haphazard group of homeless people. We, the residents, decided if we are going to do this, we will do it properly, with due and proper procedure. The NGAG held its first meeting in the hostel on a wet winter evening in 1997, and the group duly elected a chairperson, secretary, treasurer and three committee members. Candidates for the positions were nominated or volunteered themselves, and a democratic vote was taken on each person. Fortunately, the people proposed were unchallenged and if a fourth person had been nominated for a committee position, they would probably have been, if deemed suitable, elected on to the committee.

Shelter gave us a grant to fund our cause and the services of their solicitor and media officer, the first to direct and advise us on legal matters and how to fight the eviction, the latter to co-ordinate and help with contacting the media. I do admit I felt excited and energised by the confidence and determination of the group plus the people and agencies who were helping us. Oh, the only stipulation we made to the media officer was that we would have nothing to do with The Sun newspaper.

We had made every effort to contact all the residents of the hostel to inform them of what was developing. Unfortunately, by the time we had organised ourselves, the management had picked out the more vulnerable of the residents and, we believed, were using bullying tactics and people’s ignorance of English law to harass them into leaving. They said: “If you do not leave the police will come and arrest you and you will be in prison.” They attempted to intimidate the ones who had stayed to fight – not by direct threats but by delaying our mail, which was delivered to the reception, or not telling people when someone visited or phoned. I contacted a solicitor about the tampering with the delivery of the Royal Mail, which is a serious offence in this country. After a letter from the solicitor and the threat of criminal action against the owners, that immediately stopped.

Gradually, as time progressed, the NGAG became an organised, co-ordinated and respected campaign group. Like others, I became aware of how to deal with people representing the various agencies we were involved with and the council. I had also developed my interview skills and learnt how to get our message across in a direct and simple manner.

We felt confident about our claim because the Shelter solicitor advised us that the eviction notice wasn’t legal. Eventually, all of the residents who had remained to fight for their rights were all housed. Some were accommodated by the council, others by housing associations or charities.

I still occasionally meet ex-residents from the North Gower Hotel and all of them appear to be doing well. One Somalian girl is now married with three daughters, a long way from her days of torture and sexual abuse, whilst others are in full-time employment.

It certainly seems a long, long time from the day I and others received the eviction notice to where I am today. I have been living in my council accommodation for 18 years and it certainly does not feel that I have been there that long.

It is amazing what a group of individuals can do when they become organised and use the legal system that is there to help them.

So remember no matter what anyone tells you, seek out the facts for yourself, contact people and agencies who can help you, and organise yourself with others in the same situation where possible.

If a bunch of disorganised (and often drunk) homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers can succeed, so can you.

Kenny wrote this article while on the Pavement's journalism training course, Word On The Street: London.

 
 
 

 

Contents

New arrivals hit the streets

Soup Run Forum

Web only: Emergency Islington shelter remains open during sub-zero temperatures

Chairman of the board

Rest in peace - in memory of lost friends

Prince poses

Starter pack boost

Wearing a jacket to beg?

Teens found guilty of killing Ralph Millward

The Passage withdraws service "as a last resort"

New learning centre for Glasgow

iHobo game causes controversy

Auckland extends ban on rough sleepers

Homeless interrogation

Affordable housing development opens in Edinburgh

Who decides?

Credit unions

New counts are optional

Nobby on stage

I will never forget you, my people

London homeless services in limbo over ?Ǭ£3.28m cuts

Disused night shelter re-opened for winter months

Coventry Cyrenians forced to cut services

London hub success for new rough sleepers

Crisis Skylight in Birmingham - a year on

Residents look ahead to staff upheaval

Midland Heart report

Labour call for hefty council tax levy on empty homes

Stik pic for the American Church

Lottery grant means new opportunities

Mungo?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s launches women?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s campaign

Homeless people forced into slavery

Homeless couple marry in Australia

Number of homeless in Southend underestimated

Basic banking for all

NSNO expands into west London

Scottish homeless applications drop by 19 per cent

Miami cannibal

Invisible People film UK homeless

The demilitarised zone in North America’s drug war

2012 - the year of the right to permanent accommodation in Scotland?

Crisis at Christmas

The Pavement is recruiting

Rough sleeper donates $250 to charity

Food voucher scheme scrapped

Commemorating friends and companions

Human rights for all

First person: Gemskii on regaining control of her life

The shades come off

Upfront: spikes

Comment: Spikes are the least of your worries

Opinion: All up in smoke?

Heartbreak Hotel, episode 4.

The Pied Piper of Housing

March for the Homeless

Being homeless doesn't mean you can't vote on May 7

The vulnerability ruling

The Queen’s speech

Criminalising homelessness

116-bed hostel for young homeless to close in Southwark

Sponsor a bed and rebuild a life

Hipsters neutralise anti-homeless spikes

What the Brexit will happen now?

Anti-homelessness protesters threatened with eviction, jail by Manchester city council

Showing our impact

Rebirth

The birth of the North Gower Action Group

A pianist, an artist, a dog called George and a new homeless app

Living water

Midwinter blues?

Councils back change in law to tackle rising homelessness

Having problems with your JSA?

Mayoral hustings on homelessness

Skippering

A major step in reducing homelessness?

Liverpool Police homeless curb beggars belief

Charity begins at home?

Legal aid charade

Surviving the streets – by those who've done it

Stop the scandal

Glasgow homeless services at risk

 

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