My First Deputation

My name is Sharon Robertson and I am a City of Edinburgh Council tenant who’s an avid tenant participator in all things. This blog is the first one I have ever written. It’s about my experience of giving a deputation to councillors earlier this year about rents.

I and two other people, Christine Hudson and Jan Mawdsley wanted to talk about the rent increase proposed by the City of Edinburgh Council and how it would affect not just ourselves but those in difficult financial circumstances, and we asked for the rents to be frozen.

We wanted to present together; we are all individual Council tenants with one active in a tenants’ group. To prepare, we met up a few times to put the deputation in our words; simple with no jargon, so everyone could understand.

Due to the fact that two of us are not members of a tenants’ group we weren’t allowed to give the deputation as individuals. This perturbed us as we are on the Tenants Panel which was setup to allow individual tenants to participate in tenants’ interests.

Eventually, it was agreed that one of us could present, but with less time and attached to ETF’s own deputation. So we had to narrow our own experiences down to about four to five minutes. This upset us as we couldn’t be heard individually – each of us with our own concerns.

It was agreed that I should present our views to the full council at the City Chambers. This was very daunting as I had only presented to a small meeting before.

After I gave our presentation I ended by saying, “You’ve said a lot about financial pressure on HRA for the council, what about the tenants and our mental wellbeing? Who’s going to be investing in us as people?  When you consider the rent increase, take this away today – consider the impact it’s going to have on vulnerable tenants.”

I invited councillors to for a month to walk in our shoes, without your credit cards, without your current salary or living in comfort to experience the way a lot of your tenants live from day to day; deciding whether to choose heat, food clothing over your rent costs, then come back to the tenants and justify your 2% rent increase.”

So far no councillors have taken me up on that suggestion, nor did they ask me any questions, nor did they come forward after to discuss what I had said in the deputation.

I actually felt like I had been looked down upon and not treated as an equal. It made me quite angry to hear I had not been heard with our deputation.

To make deputations you need to be attached to a group not a single tenant, which defies logic as most Council tenants are individuals and not linked to any residents’ group.

It was a good experience to do this though, as it has given me new skills to speak up, for not just myself, but for others too.

Sadly, a short time later one of the people who had helped during the making of our deputation Jan Mawdsley passed away. May she rest in peace.

Christine Hudson, Sharon Robertson, Clare MacGillivray, Jan Mawdsey

Gateside Community Hub

Over the past couple of years, I have taken over the running of Gateside Tenants and Residents Association (GTRA).  Most of my time spent with GTRA has been trying to have a community hub built for the residents and boy what a slog it has been! If you thought it was an easy task think again!  If it wasn’t for GTRA’s Committee and all their hard work, this would have been an impossible task.

The costs alone for building the hub are three or four times what you would expect, so you have to take this into account.  The amount of phone calls, emails and meetings just to get this far is ridiculous, but it is a must.  I found this out the hard way.

The amount of planning takes up 50% of your time and the rest includes waiting for replies to phone calls and emails.  I must say the City of Edinburgh Council has been great with all their help along the way.  Help provided by the Council has involved paying for the temporary road and assisting in the planning process.  There was many a time when I thought what’s the point? And do I need all the stress?  At times I’ve been ready to pack it all in but I won’t let the residents down.  If they want a community hub they will get it.

The main problem we have encountered is funding in that most funders require a business address.  This is a problem as GTRA’s committee all work from home.  There is no point going to the big funders as the smaller funders have less stipulations on their forms.  However we have found that it’s still hard to meet the criteria of the funders, but we live in hope.

I was lucky enough to buy a cheap unit from a company in Glasgow for about half the price and designed the inside to suit our needs.  We have a lot of interest from local people wanting to become involved, including the Lord Provost who came to the site to help.

If I was asked to do this again, the answer would have to be no.  However I would be interested in helping another group.

GTRA would like to thank the following for their involvement in the Project:

Paul Vaughan, Chair, GTRA

Members’ Survey

We are very keen to know what our Members think of the work that we do in order to continually improve services and offer opportunities for involvement.

You can win a £25 shopping voucher by giving the Federation feedback on our work. Whether you’re involved with ETF as an individual or as one of our Member Groups, we’d love to hear your experiences about being involved, as well as your priorities for ETF in the coming year.

We use this information to check how we’re performing, to report to our funders (City of Edinburgh Council) and more importantly to make sure that as YOUR Federation the work we do reflects tenants’ priorities.

Our new deadline for completing the surveys is Friday 30th March 2018.  When completing the surveys you will be entered into the prize draw.

Members groups can complete this survey.

Individuals can complete this survey.

If you’d like help to complete the questionnaire or would prefer a paper copy, please contact the Federation office on 0131 475 2509 or email [email protected].

ETF E-Newsletter February 2018

Welcome to the February edition of our E-Newsletter.

ETF E-Newsletter February 2018

Members’ Survey

We are very keen to know what our Members think of the work that we do in order to continually improve services and offer opportunities for involvement.

You can win a £25 shopping voucher by giving the Federation feedback on our work. Whether you’re involved with ETF as an individual or as one of our Member Groups, we’d love to hear your experiences about being involved, as well as your priorities for ETF in the coming year.

We use this information to check how we’re performing, to report to our funders (City of Edinburgh Council) and more importantly to make sure that as YOUR Federation the work we do reflects tenants’ priorities.

Our new deadline for completing the surveys is Friday 30th March 2018.  When completing the surveys you will be entered into the prize draw.

Members groups can complete this survey.

Individuals can complete this survey.

If you’d like help to complete the questionnaire or would prefer a paper copy, please contact the Federation office on 0131 475 2509 or email [email protected].

Next steps for housing in Scotland: investment, delivery and meeting housing needs

Responding to local housing needs: access, affordability and design

This is a transcript of a presentation I delivered to the national conference about the future of housing in Scotland. As the only tenant presenting at the event for housing providers, house builders, planners, academics and the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Kevin Stewart MSP, I wanted to highlight that housing is a rights issue and that tenants must participate in developing housing investment models and in planning successful communities for the future.

“I’m the Convenor of Edinburgh Tenants Federation.  We are an organisation for over thirty five tenants’ and residents’ groups in the city of Edinburgh.  We’re an independent organisation that is run by tenants, for tenants.  We work closely with the City of Edinburgh Council, in particular to ensure that tenants are right at the heart of decision making about housing and communities.  Today I’ll talk about the importance of communities being at the heart of design and dialogue about place, about why it’s important, what it means in practice and the difference that can be made when local people are involved.

It might seem obvious to say for new built homes for rent, tenants will live in the properties that you are building.  Our children and grandchildren, in my case my great grandchildren, will be the ones playing in the open space you’re creating.  And we are the ones who have to live with the facilities, or lack of facilities, that accompany our local area.  So we need to be involved in creating these communities that give us a sense of place.  We don’t want you to be making the mistakes of the past, like the photos that you see here.

It makes good business sense to get it right first time, to create the spaces where people want to live in good quality housing.  I don’t see much advertising for new builds “in deprived areas”.  No, we need to lose this stigma and create places that are valued and to do this well, communities must be involved.

If we frame housing in international standards, the UN has said that an adequate standard of housing is a right for all citizens.  This is not just about homes being built to a good standard, we know that when housing rights are met, when homes are warm, healthy, safe, accessible and affordability, this has a direct impact on improved physical health and mental health.

Homes need to be located in a way that people can get involved in society, so we can get to work, schools and nearby healthcare.

Homes need to be affordable, so that people shouldn’t have to spend so much, that they’re not able to cover their basic needs.

And we need accessible and culturally appropriate housing.

All of those rights need to be taken into account when planning future developments.

So if we start with these rights as a guide to creating places and involving people in an open and accountable way, we could transform the way planning happens in Scotland.  What I’m saying is we need a rights based approach to housing in Scotland.  That means using the PANEL principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment with rights set in law.

Communities want to get involved in designing our places for the future.  We have a Community Empowerment Act that means people can get involved.  Tenants of course have the right to have a say in the cost of this investment, at the most strategic level, particularly when some of the investment costs come out of tenants’ rents.

For tenants, participation means being involved in strategic priorities through the SHIP (Strategic Housing Investment Plan), open and honest dialogue with social landlords about their investment priorities, the cost of rents, the long term planning needs for the aging population, how to care for particular groups of people, those leaving the National Health Service care, and those with disabilities.

And at a local level with planning groups, through consultations, design workshops and conversations.  Developers and housing providers need to get the participation strategies right so that people can get involved in whatever way they would like; from assessing progress to discussing the strategic investment, right down to the detail of how a local building programme will look and how it will feel.

Involving communities well can work and does work. I want to tell you about the area where I live.  In Pennywell in North Edinburgh, 719 homes will be built across four phases.  Homes are for social rent and market sale.  There has been a lot of discussion, consultation and design work with schools, a local development group was set up involving our community, regular newsletters were sent out and meetings involved the local community from the start.

Collectively, we were involved in advising the future of our area, from the cost of the new build, to the design of the new shops, the health facilities and the design of the homes. This has taken many, many years of planning and dialogue, but now we have a space to be proud of.

Developers are now advertising that place as, “if you’re looking for a warm, welcoming place to call home that is also an easy commute to work, studies or leisure, you have reached the right place”.

So if you are not already involving people in decision making about place, I want to ask you why not? Go and do it.  A re-think of how we design with and for communities, is possible.

Thank you.”

Betty Stevenson, Convenor, Edinburgh Tenants Federation

Betty Stevenson’s slides can be downloaded by clicking here