Socialist Worker

May elections: We need councillors who help us fight back

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2247

Imagine sleeping in a place like this—Ashleigh sits on her bed against a wall covered in black mould and damp Picture: Lizzie Godfrey

Imagine sleeping in a place like this—Ashleigh sits on her bed against a wall covered in black mould and damp Picture: Lizzie Godfrey

Residents on the Avenham Estate in Preston are preparing for a rent boycott in response to their appalling living conditions.

They are backed by Michael Lavalette, an independent socialist councillor for the Town Centre ward.

Malgorzata Siatka lives on the estate with her two month old baby in a flat that has mushrooms growing on the walls.

“At first a leak developed on the bedroom ceiling,” she told Socialist Worker.

“There are now leaks in the living room and bathroom too.

“I was pregnant and having to wipe down the walls and ceiling every morning.

“Mould grew on the walls and got into the furniture. I kept getting chest infections and having to take antibiotics while I was pregnant.”

Her story is echoed by people across the estate, which is managed by Contour Homes—one of the biggest registered social landlords in the north west of England.

The estate used to be owned by Preston City Council but was sold off over ten years ago.

Sofia Chopdat and her husband have lived there for over five years.

She told Socialist Worker, “We sleep on a mattress on the living room floor because of the damp and the smell in our bedroom. It’s been like this for four years.”

Ashleigh, another resident, told Socialist Worker that she is forced to sleep with her face covered because of the water dripping onto her from the ceiling at night.

“There is black mould covering the bedroom,” she said. “We wake up and our quilt is damp.

“I get shocks every time I use the power socket in the bedroom because of the damp.”

Like Sofia, Ashleigh has complained—even visiting the Contour offices.

The firm has repeatedly promised to fix the problems, but either the inspectors don’t turn up, or they fob them off with promises of repeat visits.

And residents are concerned about their health.

Adrece who has lived on the estate for over five years, told Socialist Worker, “They tell us to keep wiping the walls with bleach. That is horrible and dangerous.

“I cough all year round and get tonsillitis. I have epilepsy as well so I worry a lot about the state of my home and how safe it is.”

But the women are fighting back and encouraging other residents to join them.

Contour can afford to fix their homes.

According to Inside Housing, Contour’s chief executive Michael Creamer is on a whopping £148,834 salary and the turnover for the group was £61 million in 2009/10.


This is set to increase to £140 million following the merger between Contour Housing Group and Vicinity Housing this month.

Residents are wondering why that money is not being spent on repairs and maintenance.

Michael Lavalette helped to launch the campaign after being contacted by Sofia and other residents.

He told Socialist Worker, “Contour rarely listen to tenants or local councillors.

“We are campaigning on this issue in Preston because nobody should be living in these conditions in Britain today.”

One of the slogans campaigners are taking up is, “Slum landlords—no way! Make them right or we won’t pay.”

“I am really ready to not pay my rent,” Sofia said. “We are forced to live in one room, why should we pay for an entire home?”

Ashleigh agreed. “I got a leaflet and decided to get involved in the campaign—we can’t carry on like this.

“I’m prepared to withhold my rent. This place isn’t even good enough for my dogs, let alone human beings.”

Michael has served on the council for eight years. In that time he has become well-known for taking up a range of issues from the Iraq war and Palestine to local campaigns. There is a north west day of action for the campaign on 17 April. To get involved in his election campaign, call

07739 729 214

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