Elderly neighbours on damp-riddled Finsbury estate feel like they are ‘living in cave’

St Mary's Tower. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

St Mary's Tower. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

Peabody’s removal of potentially combustible cladding on a Finsbury estate has allowed damp and mould into flats, causing elderly neighbours’ health to deteriorate.

Teresa Nolan in her St Mary's Tower flat. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Teresa Nolan in her St Mary's Tower flat. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

The housing association started removing insulation from St Mary's Tower in Fortune Street in the summer of 2018 to meet new government regulations in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

Some neighbours were decanted during the works and have now returned to damp or mouldy flats and damaged possessions.

Peabody has apologised and is carrying out an audit of which flats need repair work.

Neighbours are also facing possible rent increases which some say the can't afford and, regardless, shouldn't go ahead due to the inconvenience of all the works. Teresa Nolan, 70, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), was forced out of her flat in August last year. She has had several COPD flare ups she says are triggered by the mould, damp and dust, including one occasion where she was hospitalised for 16 days and "nearly died".

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Teresa - who worked as GP surgery manager before retiring - was supposed to stay in her temporary accommodation until all work on her flat was completed, but was told she had to move back in two weeks ago. On Thursday last week she told the Gazette: "There's black mould on the windows. I can't sleep in my bedroom."

Three or four contractors were still working in her flat when we visited. Theresa hadn't been able to wash since returning home because her shower was broken. It has since been fixed. She started to cry, adding: "Now my breathing has gone. They are stripping the whole bathroom again. My health is failing. I'm sleeping in the front room because it's the only room I can breath in. I've just had my doctor around, she's not happy with the environment I'm in. My lungs are suffering. When I spent a night here in July waiting for the builders I ended up in hospital on oxygen for 16 days.

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"I'm so distressed, I have to get out of this room. They should never have moved me back until the flat was completed and clean."

St Mary's House. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

St Mary's House. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

Peabody offered to move her into temporary accommodation again later that day but she declined. She had a coughing fit as we left the flat.

Across the corridor, Brian and Janet Dowling, both 71, were having problems of their own.

Janet's lived in the flat since she was six, after moving in with her mother when it was built in 1954. "I have asked for compensation," she said. "We can't even open the window [due to the scaffolding outside]. I can't get a bit of air in the place, I have COPD. I'm in the hospital on Saturday for a CT scan on the kidneys, this is all since this has been going on. I have never been so ill in my life."

She said "black damp" started appearing along the skirting board of each room in her flat when work commenced, and she's been cleaning it daily and using a dehumidifier. At its worst point, she says they filled up 20 damp traps. The couple have had to throw out clothes and shoes because they've become mouldy.

"We just had a letter to say the rent's going up by £11.60," said Brian. "I think to put the rent up when we have suffered like this for nearly two years is a joke. I have to work part time now because our pension doesn't even cover it. So I have to go to work to get the money to live on.

"We are in a better position than some of them, I'm not pleading poverty. But I shouldn't have to work, I'm 71."

Another married couple, both aged 71, who asked to remain anonymous, claim their flat became infested by mice shortly after the cladding was removed. They were decanted soon after but returned to the flat in the days before Christmas last year. The couple claim the flat was riddled with damp when they returned.

The woman, a retired teaching assistant, said: "I can just describe it like living in a cave. The flat's full of humidity. We had lots of different surveyors come in. They put meters up on the walls but it wouldn't register because humidity was so high. It was so damp it got under the floor and it all came up. The beds are damp. The mattresses are damp. It's just horrible, it's depressing, the windows are rotten."

She said three doctors' letters have been sent to Peabody about there health, saying her husband has COPD so "he is struggling to breath most days" and "I have had repeated chest infections and pneumonia". On Thursday last week Cllr Troy Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill) said neighbours now being "brought back to their homes in shoddy circumstances" and are being "left to suffer appalling conditions because Peabody hasn't done its job".

A Peabody spokesperson said: "We are really sorry for the inconvenience and disruption some residents at St. Mary's Tower are experiencing. After a lengthy period in alternative accommodation due to essential external safety works, residents recently moved back in. We know there have been some issues that occurred once residents returned.

"When Ms Nolan tried to use the shower it broke due to a leak. We took swift action after learning of the problem and offered her temporary accommodation while we looked into what repairs were necessary. She preferred not to move again so we offered her the use of another property so she could use the shower. We have now replaced the pump and the shower tray in Ms Nolan's flat. There are more works to do and we'll be visiting every home in the tower to try and prevent further problems occurring."

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