Residents of Edenham Way next to Trellick Tower, which together form the remainder of Erno Goldfinger’s Cheltenham estate that the Council has failed to demolish, were delighted two weeks ago to discover that English Heritage had listed their properties at Grade II.
The campaign to list Edenham Way (ringed in red in axonometric below) began in 2008, when the Council – unknown to residents – had considered flattening their homes and redeveloping the site, conveniently next to the canal and beautiful community-run lateral park and wildlife garden, Meanwhile Gardens. Once the demolition plan was discovered, the highly resourceful residents found a number of ways to scupper it. Many were original tenants who had lived there since being decanted from their neighbouring ‘slums’; some had subsequently bought their home under Right to Buy. These former ‘slum’ dwellers appreciate the quality of their homes and were not about to let the avaricious Council destroy them and the tight-knit community that houses three generations of local people, comprising innumerable nationalities working and living in harmony.
The very sad story of the Edenham Residential Care Home (hatched area below), a Goldfinger building in front of Trellick Tower, had hit residents hard. In 2006 the Council had ‘consulted’ on its future, and in a disgraceful episode that still turns my stomach, decided it was no longer fit for purpose. Residents were turned out, and whatever the Council says about how ‘sensitively’ it was done, half were dead within a year. Two stopped eating and starved to death. We know that because we went to the funerals. It was shocking, and it woke Edenham Way residents to the reality of what could happen to them.
From an architectural point of view, the care home had formed a carefully planned balance to the massing of the two Trellick towers and the lower blocks and houses at Edenham Way. It was a foil to the striking Trellick, surrounded by lovely gardens and trees, a vital element for the elderly care home residents many of whom suffered dementia and were unable to potter freely around the neighbourhood. The buildings themselves – we were told by an architect who worked with Goldfinger – were designed as load-bearing structural shells so that internal walls could be reorganised at will to accommodate changing need. But the Council didn’t give a fig for this, their deterministic ‘consultation’ found its mark and the buildings were ground into the dirt despite our very best efforts, which included BBC News coverage with Tony Benn, myself chained to the gates, and countless heart-breaking intercessions between families and hard-faced officers.
By the time I caught up with this latest episode in 2008, a group of Edenham Way residents had already started the process of listing. Within no time at all a petition against demolition had been published in Building Design magazine and had gone global. Architects, academics, students and Goldfinger aficionados around the world signed up in support of local residents, and in the face of this strength of feeling in 2010 the Council admitted defeat – for now.
Residents living in the shadow of Trellick are now facing two onslaughts – or opportunities, depending on your viewpoint. Tomorrow Monday 3 December, an exhibition of ‘three options’ for the future of the care home site will be presented to the world. Will the architects have heard what the meagre 33 residents (from 320 households) who visited the first presentation told them? And will they have listened?
The second attack on residents’ views will emerge in the next few months. We are told that the Council is to challenge English Heritage’s listing of Edenham Way. Apparently, these unique and amazing homes are ‘of no architectural significance’. Have they visited them? This could be the most philistine, despicable and petty action of a Council that among other ‘environmental crimes’ over the years was responsible for:
- - Demolishing the old Town Hall overnight in 1982 when a listing was imminent (I remember it well; I was there at 2am with half the neighbourhood out in their dressing gowns weeping with helpless fury)
- - Covering an internationally-recognised mural on Portobello Road by the artist Banksy with plastic cladding, and when challenged asked, ‘who’s Banksy?’ – the same year they spent £240,000 on a painting by Lord Leighton
- - Stating that the Grade II* listed Trellick Tower was ‘a monstrosity not worth putting a lightbulb in’
Before I see the exhibition tomorrow, before I hear the grounds on which the Council wishes to challenge the Edenham Way listing, I would like to say the following:
- Dear Council, you are not always right. Sometimes you are very wrong indeed. Listen to your residents. Sometimes, former ‘slum’ dwellers are more knowledgeable and appreciate value better than you. You are elected to serve them.
LISTEN. UNDERSTAND. THINK A BIT. THEN ACT.
While listing can be seen as a mixed blessing, it is not a curse. Listed buildings can be a positive force and can pay for themselves. This is not a fantasy; this is a fact.