Our Tottenham (hereafter referred to as the OT network) is a network of community organisations, residents associations and campaigns from the Tottenham area. This action network was set up to spread co-operation and solidarity throughout Tottenham’s neighbourhoods and campaign for the interests of Tottenham residents with regard to urban planning and regeneration issues. The OT network currently includes 40 affiliate organisations or groups (OT, 2014), some of which represent established residents associations (e.g. Haringey Federation of Residents Associations), political parties (e.g. Haringey Green Party, Haringey Left Unity), issue-based campaigns (e.g. Defend Haringey Health Services), community centres used by a particular ethnic group (e.g. Lord Morrison Hall / Afro International), and charitable organisations (e.g. the Selby Trust, see case-study in section 2.3). The initiative contributes to the strengthening of social cohesion in the sense of seeking to achieve forms of cooperation between a wide ranging set of existing groups, organisations and campaigns. The Our Tottenham Community Charter, ‘Planning and regeneration by and for the community’ (OT, 2013), spells out the agenda and aims of the OT network:
‘Tottenham is a great place with a rich social and architectural history, made up of vibrant, diverse and talented communities. We want to ensure this continues! The Council are promoting their ‘Plan for Tottenham’, backed by property developers, big business, and the Mayor of London. … Coupled with the Government’s planning policies and attacks on vital public services and people’s welfare, the major effect of all this will be to over-develop Tottenham, to threaten its positive community-scale character in many areas, to promote profiteering at the community’s expense, and the forced displacement of thousands of local people who can no longer find or keep any affordable place to live. This is unacceptable. It doesn’t have to be like this. Together we are very powerful. … We pledge to fight for OUR common interests, OUR neighbourhoods, OUR community facilities and for the needs of OUR communities throughout Tottenham.’
The OT network was born out of the debates which followed the London riots of August 2011, which were sparked in Tottenham. The Mayor of London and the local council (Haringey) responded to the riots by producing two reports setting out their analysis of the problems and strategies for the regeneration of Tottenham (Mayor of London’s Independent Panel on Tottenham, 2012; Haringey Council, 2012). Both reports advocated large-scale regeneration (£1billion / €1.2billion) of new developments and 10,000 extra homes) to bring new businesses, developments and higher income groups into the area and to diversify housing tenure, argued to be too dominated by social housing estates. The vision for the future of Tottenham outlined in these documents has been the focus of strong opposition by some segments of the local population, which led to the creation of the OT network. It campaigns to defend community facilities; stand up for decent and affordable housing; support small businesses; promote quality design and respect for heritage; improve the street environment; support youth services and facilities; empower local communities; and develop local community plans (OT, 2013). The OT network does not have any professional staff nor legal status for the time being. It is led by a coordination group of volunteers who meet every two weeks, and is fed by small thematic working groups (e.g. on housing and planning policy) which monitor new policies, gather data and develop an agenda for local actions. The OT spokesperson is a local resident with a long standing experience of community activism and networking in the area. The network has received very little grant funding to date. Its activities have been assisted voluntarily by students and researchers. The network maintains an e-mailing list and web page to circulate news about local campaigns and relevant planning and urban regeneration policies. The common agenda of the network was produced during two ‘community conferences’ in April 2013 and February 2014, attended by approximately 100 participants.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The initiative explicitly addresses socio-economic diversity because its primary aim is to defend the right of the existing resident population and workers of Tottenham to ‘stay put’ in their neighbourhood in the face of the large-scale regeneration plans of the Council (supported by the London Mayor and large-scale developers) and of the associated threat of gentrification. The OT network is critical of the official urban regeneration rhetoric of Haringey Council, which advocates a diversification of the housing stock, of retail and business opportunities, and of the socio-economic profile of the residents of the area. For OT, this diversification agenda is a coded word for gentrification and the displacement of existing residents and businesses. The OT network therefore promotes the existing diversity of the area and opposes the planned ‘diversification from above’ embedded in the regeneration agenda of the Council. Three types of diversity are being promoted in the OT Community Charter. First, in terms of functional diversity, the network opposes the loss of independent shops and small-scale retailers; the closure or demolition of community facilities (e.g. youth centres) and community assets (e.g. pubs or post offices). Second, in terms of housing diversity, the network opposes the demolition of existing social housing and criticises the lack of sufficient provision of social and/or affordable housing units in new developments. Third, in terms of social diversity, the network campaigns for the right of the existing population – a large proportion of which is low income – to be able to remain in the area. Ethnic diversity is not explicitly mentioned as such, but it is positively valued and taken for granted in the meetings and activities of the network. Many of the activists come from ethnic minority groups settled in the area for decades, in particular the Black-Caribbean community. However some groups are under-represented in the network (e.g. the most recently arrived waves of migrants from Central and Eastern Europe or the Latin American community).
Main factors influencing success or failure
It is too early to assess the success of the network in influencing the Council to change its regeneration strategy and in generating alternative forms of community plans. So far, OT’s actions have included awareness raising events, preparing formal responses to the Council during planning public consultations, and the dissemination of local good practices in terms of community planning and management of assets. The network is growing and gaining momentum. Its success will depend on its capacity to diversify and expand its base of volunteers in terms of age, socio-economic status and ethnic background; to find funding and expertise to support the professionalisation of its activities (in particular for the creation of community-led plans for particular sites, following past ‘success stories’ of community-led regeneration in Tottenham such as the £5million (€6.2million) makeover of Lordship Recreation Ground); and its willingness to engage in collaboration with the Council (a contentious issue within the network, reflected for example in the lack of interest so far in engaging with the formal process of Neighbourhood Planning allowed by the 2011 UK Localism Act). Conversely, a very important external factor will be the willingness of the key officials and elected members of Haringey Council to take the network seriously as a valid and representative partner, and listen to and meet its demands. This may be helped by the fact that new councillors from BME backgrounds entered the Council following the May 2014 elections.
The innovative quality of the OT network is that it brings together a large number of existing community groups and campaigns which bridge across quite heterogeneous social and ethnic groups that may not have cooperated with each other previously, in order to defend the existing character and diversity of a particular area. Its agenda is not only to oppose the regeneration plans which it considers undesirable, but also to promote the development of alternative plans for community-led regeneration in Tottenham. This is a challenging task in the context of a city with a growing economy and population, where the power of corporate investors and high land values are serious constraints on the potential success of community-led regeneration initiatives.