The core of South Essex Working Class Action’s work is at the grassroots level out on the estates. This is simply because if there aren’t people at a neighbourhood level working together for the benefit of their community, there’s no base to bring about the radical change that will bring us a more just, sane and sustainable world. Which is why we always pay close attention to what’s happening on the three estates we have a presence on in order to a) make the nudges that are needed to maintain momentum and keep our grassroots projects moving in the right direction and b) to anticipate and plan for any threats that may de-rail those projects.

Given the patterns of tenure in the three estates we work on, while the estates are all quite different from each other in some respects, what is a problem across all of them is a significant number of buy to lets, often rented out on short term tenancies, which results in a constant churn of residents. When there’s a constant churn of residents coming and going on short term tenancies, it makes our project of trying to build neighbourhood solidarity and cohesion even harder than it is. Which is why we’re thinking of ways of persuading people that even if they’re only going to be in a neighbourhood for a year or so, for that period, they’re still a part of the community. We’ll let you know when we’ve cracked this one!

On the estates we operate on, we’re seeing the growth of informal support networks where people are starting to look out for each other. These are estates where the authorities are doing the bare minimum to keep things going and where rightly, a lot of people feel they’ve been thrown under the bus. The support networks we’re seeing emerge are a tentative step towards filling the vacuum left behind by authorities and a system that basically doesn’t care.

These networks are not just about solidarity – they’re also about ensuring a degree of neighbourhood resilience when external events beyond our control mean that things really do start to go seriously wrong. This is one such example of an external event that could have a serious impact on the estates: Brexit: government to stockpile processed food in case of ‘no deal’. This isn’t the time and place to comment on a shambolic government that spends too much time on infighting when they’re supposed to be negotiating a Brexit deal so all we’ll say is that a no deal, chaotic exit is becoming more likely.

On one of the estates we work on, one of the blocks have tentatively started to organise a food buying group. As you can see from the image above, they also have a small community vegetable plot. Should there be a no deal Brexit that impacts the food supply chain, this block has some resilience. The problem is that as things stand, this is just one block on one estate that’s taking some measures to ensure food security. If we’re being honest, we’re not even scratching the surface of what needs to be done in terms of building neighbourhood resilience.

In times of hardship on an estate, a collective approach made possible by a degree of neighbourhood solidarity to deal with the situation is infinitely preferable to local ‘hard man’ muscling in to provide their ‘solution’. A ‘solution’ that would favour their mates and would be pretty grim for anyone they deem as not ‘fitting in’. Which is why we constantly bang on about the need to build neighbourhood solidarity and a collective approach to neighbourhood resilience because the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. All that can be said is that while we have made a start on the three estates we operate on, we have a massive task in front of us to spread that out…