Struggling to break the cycle

Boundary Road Estate in Walthamstow

On an estate riddled with drug dealing and violence, housing associations must take responsibility for their tenants’ crimes and anti-social behaviour, writes Chloe Moreno

The smell of skunk greets you when you approach Boundary Road Estate in Walthamstow.

The remainders of joints and shiny, silver containers for laughing gas litter the area and, occasionally, you find some other discarded drug paraphernalia. Several young men in sweatpants, hoodies and sliders hang out in corners of the estate, carefully watching everyone who approaches.

Welcome to ‘drugs central’ – a neglected part of E17 where drugs dominate daily life and cab drivers are reluctant to take you. There is no sign of gentrification here, although some private owners have joined the social housing tenants and, in the process, have become unwitting witnesses to Walthamstow’s booming drug trade.

The hooded men spend their days and evenings making short trips on their bikes and mopeds to meet their customers at nearby hotspots. The area becomes even busier after dark. Every night cars pull up, flashing their lights, until some of the young men tend to them. Packages are exchanged. Many enter a well-known drug residence.

Everyone in the local area is aware of what is going on, but many are too frightened to speak out, let alone liaise with the authorities, even though fights and vandalism have accompanied the drug trade on the estate.

One resident lamented that the council seems to have plenty of money for cultural activities, while failing to address serious issues. Another, who wished to remain anonymous, told me: “Drug-dealing and taking is taking place blatantly, even in broad daylight. The offenders seem convinced they will never be caught or face any consequences, as everyone appears to turn a blind eye. It is particularly shocking to see young children involved.”

The police, with limited resources, are doing their best. The real power lies with organisations providing accommodation to those tenants involved in the drug trade – the housing associations.

Peabody is responsible for Boundary Road Estate. It takes a while to get through to them on the phone – 45 minutes in the queue is normal – and I get fobbed off by anyone who answers.

I once succeeded in speaking to the responsible neighbourhood officer who initially said he could not do anything about the drug dealing and taking, despite these actions breaching tenancy agreements. He eventually agreed to send them a letter. Peabody does not appear to know who resides at one particular problem property or care about the health and safety of its residents.

After more intimidation of some neighbours, a few days later, the situation escalates. Two youths come to the close and start a fight with a young man who lives in a drug property. Another drug-dealer tries to keep them apart. The young man’s mum runs out to support her son – who is now doing the attacking – and his siblings are seen brandishing metal bars, rakes and other tools to be used in the battle. Eventually, after most of those involved in the fight have done a runner, the police arrive and investigate. Once they leave, dozens of young men arrive at the property of the young man, who appears to have been cut in the fight, and stay until the early hours.

A few months later, Peabody get in touch. They tell me the neighbourhood officer claimed he had left messages and tried to call me and offer a meeting to discuss the situation. I accept – but then find out the neighbourhood officer has left his job. Another two months pass and I receive a phone message saying something about a letter. Upon phoning back, it turns out a letter about my incident report with my full name was sent to the wrong address, making me worry about my safety. Still no meeting has taken place.

It is disturbing to see how young children, including even some of pre-school age, get involved in this life of drugs and violence. Many companies now want to hire people from all walks of life and have started big recruitment drives to attract a wider variety of candidates. But those on the estate will never become part of it. Even the most well-intended diversity and inclusion initiative cannot get people with a track record in drugs and violence through the doors of financial services companies, law firms or any other businesses that live off their reputation.

There is no way out for those on the estate. No-one intervenes to give them a remote chance of doing anything but becoming a career criminal.

Response from Peabody

“In Waltham Forest we are working to meet the needs of our residents around early years, tackling poverty and improving wellbeing. We have a dedicated community team working in the borough, and have supported 600 children, young people and adults in the last year.

“Boundary Estate is a large multi-landlord estate of around 400 properties. Some are managed by Waltham Forest Council and there are some private homes. Peabody owns 72 properties on the estate.

“We take all reports of crime and anti-social behaviour very seriously and work closely with residents, police and our local partners, to tackle any issues on the estate. This has been challenging because it’s often difficult to identify perpetrators – many don’t live on the estate.

“We have helped the police with gathering intelligence to support their investigations and attend emergency meetings to try and tackle issues as they arise. We attended a walkabout with police in August. We are also improving security across the estate in communal areas and blocks. We have made communal doors safer, installed CCTV and carried out extra security measures in ten homes to make them safer.

“Last year we installed lockable bollards on parking bays – it had been reported that the bays were being used for drug dealing. We have conducted high-visibility patrols and used powers such as dispersal orders, acceptable behaviour agreements and severe tenancy warnings against those who have been identified as perpetrators. We have also supported families and victims of serious crimes with priority transfers and additional support.”