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How council incompetence left Andover Estate tenants freezing every winter in the 1980s

PUBLISHED: 18:20 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 18:20 13 November 2017

The Andover Estate in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The Andover Estate in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Archant

It's mid-November and the chill is starting to bite. It's time to get the heating on. In the 1980s, though, tenants on the Andover Estate had no such luxury. The Gazette tells the story of a shambles that left hundreds of tenants frozen every winter.

An Islington Gazette article from January 1988 about the Andover Estate, where tenants had suffered a decade of heating system failures. Picture: Islington Local History CentreAn Islington Gazette article from January 1988 about the Andover Estate, where tenants had suffered a decade of heating system failures. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

In the 1980s, winter was the time of year tenants in Finsbury Park’s Andover Estate dreaded most.

They faced the same ridiculous saga year after year: the estate’s shoddy heating system failed every time the nights drew in.

In January 1988, a report by North Islington Law Centre claimed it had broken down every winter for the past decade.

The 30-page document, entitled “Misery and Mismanagement”, said tenants – who were paying for heat and hot water as part of their rent – were getting little or none.

There is plenty of evidence of it in the Gazette archives – sometimes with tragic outcomes.

In 1983, we reported how the family of Francis Jacobs, a 67-year-old tenant in Todds Walk, blamed his freezing home on his death from pneumonia.

Son Raymond said: “I honestly believe the heating system contributed to his death. Had it worked as it should, he would never have got so ill.”

The Andover Estate in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe Andover Estate in the 1980s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The following year, Islington Council announced 27 tenants would receive £19,000 (equivalent to £49,000 today) in compensation between them.

In a press release, leader Margaret Hodge added: “We recognise the need to provide an efficient and reliable heating system on Andover and we are currently discussing plans to improve it.”

That press release was headed: “TENANTS NOT LEFT OUT IN THE COLD.”

So you can guess what we were reporting the following January, in 1985.

Yes, Andover Estaters were telling the Gazette how they hadn’t had hot water or heating since well before Christmas.

It caused bills to soar as many resorted to turning on their ovens in desperation for warmth.

Dympna Daniel, who lived in Besant Walk with her husband and six daughters, told us: “I am livid. I have to wear about six jumpers. And my husband is going berserk because he feels the cold worse than I do.”

The Andover Estate in the 1990s. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe Andover Estate in the 1990s. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Charlotte Caldwell, also of Besant Walk, said: “I have had a bad, bad chest infection. The cold has run the whole lot of us down. My daughters keep warm under a quilt during the day.

“Yet we still have to pay rent, which is nearly £50 a week. Every year, at the same time of year, we have had this. We take it for granted now.”

Unfortunately, a lack of heating wasn’t the only thing causing tenants misery in the ’80s.

The latter part of the decade was marked by squalor in the estate: graffiti, rubbish, urine-soaked stairwells, boarded-up flats and dumped furniture. “We’re ashamed to call this home,” one Gazette headline ran in November 1988.

Edward Brown, a 56-year-old sheet metal worker of Docura House, said: “I really do get ashamed to have anyone visit me. You have to hold your nose and close your eyes on the stairs.”

The Andover’s quick decline – most of it was only built in the late ’70s – led to environmental problems, such as “evil looking rats”.

Tenant and residents’ association leader George Spilling said: “They do not need to live in the sewers any more, with the filth and rubbish in the shrubs of the Andover.”

An Islington Gazette article from August 1988 about the Andover Estate, which was being overrun by An Islington Gazette article from August 1988 about the Andover Estate, which was being overrun by "evil looking rats". Picture: Islington Local History Centre

His fury was only compounded a year later, in 1989, when heavy rain caused his flat to flood – bringing with it an invasion of maggots.

They had come from rubbish sacks outside, which had gone uncollected for five days. Wife Stella said: “It looked as though someone had tipped a sack of rice everywhere.”

By 1993, Jessie White, chair of Islington Tenants Liaison Forum, was calling for the estate to be pulled down. “I’ve never seen anything so disgusting as the Andover Estate,” she claimed. “I would imagine 99 per cent of the tenants are on the transfer list.”

Fast forward 25 years, and the estate, of course, is still standing. Things aren’t as bleak as the Gazette portrayed in the ‘80s.

But many problems, like chronic damp, remain and the council was forced to spend millions in this year’s budget to combat it.

The town hall’s commitment to the Andover was again demonstrated last Tuesday, when its planning committee approved a scheme to redevelop it and build 69 new homes.

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