Oxford home owners and social housing tenants bridge divide

A scheme to relieve tension between owner-occupiers and social housing tenants in Oxford has been winning praise and recognition. Anabel Unity Sale reports

Many new housing developments are required to include a percentage of homes for social tenants who can’t afford to buy their own home. But, as the Waterways estate in north Oxford found, having people from different socio-economic backgrounds living next to each other can cause problems. Soon after the estate was built in 2000 friction developed between social housing tenants and owner-occupiers.

One issue on the 500-home estate was a lack of facilities for young people, who ended up hanging around or playing football. Things became so difficult that Oxford Council issued acceptable behaviour contracts to some young people living in the Oxford Citizens Housing Association’s (OCHA) homes.

Complaints from private residents about noise and antisocial behaviour prompted the housing association to take action to ease the resentment between the two sides. In partnership with children’s charity Spurgeons, it formed SHOUT to promote community cohesion on the estate. The project has been so successful that it has been shortlisted for a partnership award from the National Housing Federation and has expanded to cover two communities in Banbury.

Funding from local councils paid for a youth and development worker, a post filled from November 2006 until July 2008 by Lance Adams.

Troubled history

SHOUT project manager David Trebilcock says the troubled history between the young people and private tenants made it important to gain the young people’s trust: “We needed someone to get alongside the young people and Lance had a gift for building their confidence and trust. Given how angry they were at the lack of things for them to do on the estate and the reaction of the private residents this was no mean feat.”

Trebilcock and Adams followed a detached youth work model because SHOUT is not office-based. Often the pair were out on Waterways’ streets talking to tenants and residents. Trebilcock continues to do this, and says such an approach prevents tensions between neighbours escalating.

“When I meet people in the street they invite me into their homes, which shows a level of trust and confidence, and they share with me what is going on,” he says.

A priority for SHOUT was to find somewhere for the young people to play football. A local public school offered its sports facilities for weekly sessions, as did Keble College, Oxford.

Diatribe on snobbery

“It sounds basic but it’s made a huge difference to the young people they are not getting into trouble for playing football anymore. In the past they’d have given a long diatribe about the school and college being snobby but now they have seen them respond to their needs.”

A local baptist church offered SHOUT its hall where the project runs a weekly after-school club for five- to 10-year-olds. Young people also interviewed an older resident, which has helped break down inter-generational stereotypes and boundaries.

For older tenants and residents a weekly coffee morning has been established with guest speakers, which recently included Oxford Council’s antisocial behaviour expert who told people about their rights.

Christopher, 16, is one of the 150 young people SHOUT has worked with. Soon after moving to Waterways in 2004, he started taking drugs, got into trouble with the police and was excluded from school. In September 2006, he was given an acceptable behaviour contract and his mother’s tenancy with OCHA was at risk because of his behaviour.

Stopped taking drugs

With the encouragement of Adams, Christopher started going to a gym, joined the football practice and talked about what made him angry. For Jane, the positive impact on her son is immeasurable. “Lance told me he believed in Christopher and he hadn’t given up on him,” she says. “I was comforted to know that another individual saw my son how he really is.”

Christopher says Adams’ streetwise way of talking to him gave him confidence: “In the past I didn’t care, but with Lance it was like a switch was turned on.” He has stopped taking drugs and is back at school.

SHOUT wants to do more restorative justice work. Trebilcock says using restorative justice creates a listening culture and encourages people to take responsibility for their behaviour and the consequences of it. “We want to get neighbours talking to each other, rather than through me or OCHA. In the past it’s been really helpful and people have ended up going for a drink afterwards.”

● More on OCHA

What works

● Establishing credibility with the group you are working with.

● Listening to residents’ views and encourage them to listen to each other.

● Be responsive to residents’ needs and deliver activities.

This article is published in the 18 September edition of Community Care under the headline Something to SHOUT about in Oxford

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