Published 21st June 2019

Hannah’s story

Read how community organising training helped Hannah (and her fellow residents) get together to make positive changes to their housing conditions. This is Hannah’s story…

When my fiancé and I were first handed the keys to our 2 bedrooms flat we were ecstatic! Our own little home, our little boys’ own bedroom. Things were just perfect. For about 6 months. Then, before we knew it, we had a serious issue with drug users, dealers, and homeless people gaining access to the block of flats and using the communal areas as a playground for illegal substances.

By the time I’d had my second child and returned to work everything became so overwhelming for me, carrying my two children over homeless people who were crashed out asleep outside our front door, telling them they ‘no’ they can’t race to press the lift button as there are needles on the floor all whilst working so hard to give them the best life I could. It all just felt completely pointless. My partner had had enough and was now confronting the drug users and putting himself in danger, I’d cry on my drive to work every day because I just couldn’t see a way out.

I emailed the local council, housing association, my housing officer, my health visitor, and even the local MP over 120 times!!! And not one response… not a single thing was done to move things forward. People within the block of flats were starting to turn against each other, blaming each other for all the issues we were all facing. I gave up in the end. Things were never going to change. Nobody would ever listen to me. My children will see these awful things and will think it’s just normal. I gave up. I felt like a failure to my children and couldn’t see a way of things ever improving.

My boss told me about a community organising workshop that was being run by Social Action Hub, Community First in Devizes, which was due to take place the following month. I agreed to go along and although my anxiety that day made me consider turning around at least 35 times on the journey to Devizes, I got there – and I completed the days training.

I don’t know what I was expecting to get from the course, but for the first time in 15 months I felt powerful, like I could make a change. I just had to use my initiative and the skills I had learnt that day at Community First to put my ideas into action. So that night, I put pen to paper and set up a plan of action!

For the first time in 15 months I felt powerful, like I could make a change.

Door knocking was a big topic during the community organising training; however, this didn’t feel appropriate because we were all at war with each other. I had to come up with another strategy. The only other way I could get peoples honest views and opinions was to set up an email address! I left a note on the hallway pinboard and assured tenants it would be completely anonymous. Overnight, I had 17 emails – with images, different experiences, and concerns – and it was apparent that we did all feel the same: fed up; ignored; angry… and worried for our own safety and our children’s safety too.

Over the next few days I composed an email quoting all thoughts, feelings, and experiences the tenants of the flats had. I enclosed pictures too. I signed the email off by making the housing officer aware we were, as a united group ready to tackle the issues head on and had no concerns in going to the local paper, MPs, and local council with our story.

We felt powerful as a group and were now not prepared to take ‘no’ as an answer. Within four days, we all received a letter stating they heard us – and changes were about to take place. We just couldn’t believe it.

Within 3 months, no drug users, no homeless, no rats, no overflowing bin shed, and 21 flats that had returned to being homes… finally.

The community organising training gave me a voice and made me feel powerful – and my anxiety has even improved! I could change things, and I did.

I love my two bedroom flat on Aylesbury Street. My children, Eddie and Betty, now race to the lift button; we stop and chat to our neighbours and pass unwanted toys to each other.  We are now happy and saving for a mortgage, our next goal in life is a garden with a washing line!

Read Hannah’s original blog at the Community First website HERE


If you've got a great story about community organising and the positive impact it is having in your community we would love to hear from you.