A better future for the ¾ estate in Vange

A few posts back we wrote about our experience on the Creating A Positive Revolution In Southend course and how we used that to come up with some ideas for improving life on the ¾ estate in Vange: A different way of thinking about community activism. That plan is now available as a downloadable PDF from here.

Bear in mind that the plan is an aspiration and the contents are a guide as to how that aspiration can be realised. As such, it’s not written in stone and can and most likely will change as we progress and learn from our experiences, successes and mistakes!

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A transformation is underway in Gambleside as well:)

In an earlier post – A different way of thinking about community activism – we presented what some may see as a rather ambitious plan to transform the ¾ estate on Vange Hill, located on the southern fringes of Basildon. In a subsequent post – A transformation is underway in Vange Hill:) – we wrote about how this transformation is starting. As you can see from the above image from the Gambleside area of the estate, things are happening there as well.

It’s a simple act of a resident taking a wooden pallet, breaking it down and using its component parts to construct a border around a small patch of land surrounding a tree, making it look tidier. What’s great about this is its symbolic value – it’s sending out a signal that residents care about their close and will put in the time and effort in improving it themselves. This is exactly the kind of autonomous, unilateral action we love! With this and the newly established pocket garden on nearby Swanstead, there are two examples of what DIY guerilla gardening can achieve in making the estate look better.

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s work like this in existing areas of enhancement on the estate that we hope will act as an inspiration to residents elsewhere on Vange Hill. Momentum in achieving this aim is slowly starting to grow. As the weather starts to improve over the spring and into the summer, we look forward to seeing more autonomous, unilateral actions like this springing up across the estate.

What’s really good about this is that the first we knew about it was when we checked the Facebook page of the Vange Hill Community Group and saw the images of the finished job. Basildon & Southend Housing Action had no involvement in this at all in terms of providing materials or facilitating the work. This is exactly what we’re after – independent action by a resident feeling empowered to go out and make a difference to their community.

A transformation is underway in Vange Hill:)


This patch of land on Swanstead had been left as a neglected fly tip until Basildon Council finally cleared it up back in February


This is what residents facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action did on Sunday 8th April to start transforming this patch of land into a community pocket garden

In our previous post – A different way of thinking about community activism – we presented what some may see as a rather ambitious plan to transform the ¾ estate on Vange Hill. As you can see from the above images, residents from the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action are making a start on bringing that plan to fruition.

Spring is a time for new beginnings and the opportunity this recently cleared patch of land offered as a symbol of a new beginning on the estate had to be taken. As you can see from the image below, there’s already an area of enhancement on Oldwyk with a small pocket garden. Over in Gambleside, there’s another area that’s getting close attention from residents and has been planted out with bulbs. This patch in Swanstead is between these two locations. If all goes to plan, there will be three areas of enhancement which will hopefully inspire other residents across the estate to start doing the same.

A small pocket garden in and of itself isn’t the revolution. However, the gradual emergence of pocket gardens on an estate that has more than its fair share of problems and which has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years is a sign that change is coming. It’s small, doable low cost projects like this which give people a bit of pride in their community and empower residents that will lay the foundations for more ambitious projects in the future. Projects that will not just change the way the estate looks but also how people interact with each other as a sense of community pride and solidarity is built up.


A volunteer maintaining an existing pocket garden on Oldwyk

The Estuary Alternative is back from the printer

The second print edition of The Estuary Alternative paper has just come back from our friends at Oxford GreenPrint. We produced the paper specifically for distribution at these two events where we will be having a presence…

Mendip Wildlife Gardens Wonderful Family Gathering
Saturday 24th March from 10:00–19:00
Mendip Wildlife Garden, 42 Dunster Avenue, SS0 0HN – https://www.facebook.com/events/391405211330131/

Southend Community Wellbeing & Vegan Festival
Sunday 25th March from 10:00-17:00
49 Alexandra Street, Southend-on-Sea – https://www.facebook.com/events/150970792218276

A small number of papers will be available from the Freedom bookshop in Aldgate, London from Saturday 17th March onwards. As Freedom very kindly published much of the content of the paper: Seeds Beneath the Snow: Thoughts on local organisinghttps://freedomnews.org.uk/seeds-beneath-the-snow-thoughts-on-local-organising/ it would be rude to not let them have some papers for distribution! If there are any papers left after the weekend of the 24th/25th March, they’ll be available on the shelf at The Railway in Clifftown Road, Southend-on-Sea and possibly, from a few other venues if there are a sufficient number left.

If you can’t make it into Southend-on-Sea but would like to see the paper, it’s available online as a downloadable PDF: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ujlgie04y5u7jo3/The_Estuary_Alternative_No2.pdf?dl=0

Guerilla gardening – just do it!

An idea from the latest print edition of The Estuary Alternative:)



guerrilla gardening

the activity of growing plants without permission on land that belongs to someone else or on public land, with the aim of improving the environment or producing vegetables or flowers for people to use or enjoy

Starting a project to make a change in your neighbourhood can seem to be a daunting prospect. Yes, there are grassroots community projects that are complex and there are probably good reasons for that – changing the world is not an easy business and a degree of organisation is required. However, there are things you can do which don’t require a lot of organisation or hours writing funding applications. Guerilla gardening is one of those things you can do…

If there’s an awkward shaped smallish plot of land in your neighbourhood that’s been neglected and no one’s sure who owns or has responsibility for it, why not do a bit of guerilla gardening? Canvas opinion in the immediate neighbourhood to see how much support there is for the idea of transforming the plot from an eyesore into a community asset. Find out who’s willing to help you work on it and then work out a plan for what you want to do.

You could ask for permission if you want but if the land has been neglected for years, then whoever is responsible for it obviously doesn’t care about the impact of their neglect on your neighbourhood so…just get on with it! There’s a welcome, non-violent anti-authoritarian aspect to guerilla gardening that should be embraced. While at one level, it’s about making your neighbourhood a better place to live, at a more fundamental level, it’s asking questions about land ownership and control.

The other benefits are building a feeling of solidarity and cohesion in your neighbourhood as people get together to work on a common project. A project that as it matures will give people a sense of pride in and responsibility towards their neighbourhood and boost community morale. A confidence booster that can inspire people to take on bigger and more complex projects that will start to lead to real, meaningful change.

Start small, gain confidence, start to think bigger but above all…just do it!

Building a new world in the shell of the old

This is editorial from the latest print edition of The Estuary Alternative.

Our sister project, the South Essex Stirrer, highlights what’s wrong with the increasingly dysfunctional political, economic and social system we have to endure. People have a pretty clear idea of what the Stirrer doesn’t like but wonder what alternative can be offered instead. This is why we set up The Estuary Alternative in a bid to start looking at different ways of organising our lives.

Radical change isn’t going to come about without an upheaval that will sweep away the existing order and replace it with a society that’s more just, equitable, sane and sustainable. What can be done in the meantime is trying out different ways of organising our lives. It’s a process of starting to build a new world in the decaying shell of the dystopian one we’re in at the moment. That process necessarily involves a fair bit of experimentation to see what does and doesn’t work.

The emphasis is on bringing decision making about how we organise our communities and lives down to the grassroots. Obviously there are power structures in the way that put obstacles in the way we’d like to deal with issues such as housing. However, when you start to look, there are plenty of opportunities for projects that can start to make a difference in the here and now.

Here are just a couple of ideas as to what can be done…

Neighbourhood community gardens that give people more control over how their food is sourced. As well as empowerment from having more control, there are other benefits such as collectively working with your neighbours, access to fresh fruit and vegetables plus the exercise put in to cultivate them and a reduction in energy inputs involved in transporting food. Given the disruption to the food supply chain that’s likely to happen with a chaotic Brexit, this will boost neighbourhood resilience and cohesion in what could well be difficult times ahead.

Repair cafes where anything from tools to broken radios can be fixed and have their lifetimes extended. One benefit are the skills learned in repairing items as opposed to simply dumping them – skills that increase self reliance and boost confidence and self esteem. There are also the environmental benefits that come from reduced consumption of raw materials and a reduction in waste. On a more subversive note, doing this slowly undermines the unsustainable, consumer driven, production for profit rather than need model we currently have to live with.

There’s a lot more that can and should be done. The important thing is being prepared to have a go at launching a grassroots initiative that can play a part in building a new world in the shell of the old – this is what we’re looking at in this edition of our paper. Feel free to let us know what you think and send in your ideas for bringing about change at the grassroots.

We got our hands dirty…

Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and supported by a number of residents got their teeth into the community clean up on the ¾ estate today (Saturday 17.2). The main areas of focus were Oldwyk and the top end of Dewsgreen at the top end of the estate and Gambleside and Sturrocks at the bottom end.

These are areas where VHCG and BASHA have an active presence and are working to establish what are effectively ‘zones of control’ where we can move forwards from fire fighting with rubbish clearance onto enhancements such as pocket community gardens. The idea of establishing these zones is to set an example of what can be achieved by residents working together which will hopefully inspire other people across the estate to do the same. This is already working as we were able to expand operations down into Sturrocks with residents coming out to clean up their close. The long term aim is to start linking these zones up and to start really transforming the estate.


The pocket community garden on Oldwyk


Gambleside looking a lot better as a result of active resident involvement

More work was undertaken on the small community garden that’s been created at the top of Oldwyk and there was bulb planting, strimming and tidying undertaken on Gambleside and Sturrocks. As you can see from the images below, a lot of rubbish was collected. A heck of a lot of rubbish considering the small area we were operating in…

There was an agreement with Basildon Council to pick up the rubbish we had collected. The Oldwyk pile was eventually collected. At the time of writing, the pile at the end of Gambleside hadn’t been collected. To say this is disappointing is an understatement as it makes a mockery of all the hard graft that was put in today. VHCG are already chasing up Basildon Council to ensure that the pile at Gambleside is collected as early as possible on Monday.


The rubbish collected from Oldwyk and Dewsgreen


The rubbish collected from Gambleside and Sturrocks

All in all, it was a reasonably successful day. However, it was just one day in a long campaign to start to turn round the fortunes of an estate that has more than its fair share of problems. A campaign that will only succeed when residents really start to turn out in numbers on clean up days and in between, do what they can to keep the estate maintained. That means a combination of doing it themselves and working with VHCG to put pressure on Basildon Council to do their job. We will be back to support the work of VHCG and BASHA as and when required in the months to come.