Everybody needs good neighbours

Marlowe Road Estate resident Michelle Edwards on the latest progress with the redevelopment of her estate

Hopson House, Marlowe Road Estate

Residents have begun to move into the new social housing provided on Marlowe Road Estate (credit Penny Dampier)

“Are there foreigners in there?” asks the proprietor of a local business in Wood Street regarding the new residents of Marlowe Road Estate.

I found it extraordinary that our more interesting conversation about how imposed car parking charges and restrictions are killing trade for independent businesses could be interrupted by an irrelevant question on race. “I’m not sure I understand the question,” I fire back with a Spock-like eyebrow raise.

“Usually, the people that buy those expensive properties are from abroad,” the proprietor continues, failing to notice my obvious discomfort as a child of Caribbean immigrant parents.

I’m a little bit on edge when it comes to conversations on race, having listened to another proprietor pour out his poisonous pro-Brexit arguments on “foreigners” months earlier. Being called a “black bastard” and told to “go home” outside a Wood Street pub didn’t help either.

Waltham Forest Council held a ‘welcome day’ for the luxury private and shared ownership apartments at Moreno and Buchanan House last September. According to an attendee, it was a cosy little gathering with complimentary food. The event cost £207.20 – which is £7.36 per head. There must have been some hungry bellies over there.

Is it normal practice for a council to spend taxpayers’ money on an induction of this sort? A council spokesperson explained: “It is usual for housing management to hold open days or events for new build projects where advice is provided to new residents to help them meet people in their new community and learn more about local services and amenities.”

The starkest split between the mixed communities that now live on Marlowe Road Estate is symbolised by the architectural expression of the new buildings. The two luxury blocks have a variety of brick tones and a bespoke balcony colour palette of orange, white and yellow, while the peasants in the ‘affordable’ housing block – which includes social housing – are stuck with a coffee-brown balcony.

According to the design and access statement prepared by Stitch Architects on behalf of the estate’s developer Countryside Properties, there’s a reason for the new identity. The light brick tone on the affordable housing block is “intended to reflect light off the buildings, reducing their visual impact on Northwood Tower” while “the colour palette draws from Walthamstow’s uniquely rich natural environment and the design work associated with one of its most famous residents, William Morris”.

Last month I glimpsed people pouring out of the affordable block, Hopson House. Keys were handed over to residents two weeks before Christmas and a neighbour invited me over before she moved in with her husband and three children. It was pretty impressive, actually. Green welcome bows were sprawled across each of the 34 front doors and there were clean hallways and a fresh security system. Just what law-abiding residents want to satisfy their aspirations.