Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Tuesday 9th September 12 noon

Elizabeth House Site Visit

I visited the site of the Elizabeth House redevelopment together with the chair of the Health & Well Being Scrutiny Committee and Malcolm Barker, who is the lead officer for the project.

 

The property is in a quiet corner in Cheam bordered by Cheam Park and within walking distance of the village centre. There is only one road into the site and as it does not provide a shortcut to anywhere the area is light on traffic.

 

From the descriptions of the property in the reports I had seen I had not expected to find such a pleasant collection of dwellings. There were small well tended gardens and a quiet residential feel to the place.

 

Malcolm showed us around Elizabeth House first and the failings of the building became immediately obvious. As a place meant to be for elderly and disabled residents with mobility problems there were barriers to be faced everywhere: uneven floors, stairs at every level, no lifts. A resident of a ‘bedsit’ permitted us to view her property. It consisted of one room in which she had to cook, eat, sleep and relax. She had a separate room with a toilet and sink, and a small storage area. The bed was a single pull-down which was hidden in a cupboard during the day. A separate shower and bath was situated down the corridor from her bedsit, which she shared with others. The resident was not elderly or obviously disabled, and it was apparent that she took great pride in her home as it was immaculately decorated. However she explained that she was unable to have her family visit her here so she always visited them, and she would much prefer a larger flat with a separate bedroom and her own bathroom.

 

It was obvious that anyone with mobility problems would have problems negotiating around the doors into the bedsit and into the toilet. The pull down bed would be too physical for an elderly or frail resident.

 

We inspected two of the bathrooms. There were four bathrooms over two floor shared between the 34 residences in the building.

 

We then went to visit a one bedroom flat in one of the surrounding blocks also included in the regeneration scheme. Despite the purpose of the building to house the elderly & frail, this property, like many others, was not suitable for that purpose and had had to be let to a younger able-bodied tenant. The flat was tiny and the bedroom was an area partitioned off from the main room, it had been built originally as a bedsit. Again any person with mobility problems would have had great problems negotiating the doors and tiny bathroom. The lady living here told us that she loved her flat and the area. She told us what a nice community it was here and how friendly everyone was. She had an area she could garden and she was happy, but admitted that something a little larger but in the same area with the same community would be nice.

 

Finally we visited an elderly lady in a one bedroom maisonette flat. We squeezed past the lady’s mobility scooter to get up the steep flight of stairs to her flat. The flat was small but comfortable and the lady explained that she had been very happy here for many years. The stairs were becoming a problem for her but there was insufficient space to safely install a stair lift. Again the resident spoke of the friendliness of the community and her love of the area. However this lady had a very pragmatic attitude to the proposed changes accepting that it was necessary and quite liked the idea of returning to a new improved site, as long as the sense of community could be retained. For her and others it also proved to be a spur for them to consider whether they should be moving closer to their families now they were getting less mobile.

 

It was obvious from my tour of the site that the flats were not fit for use by elderly and disabled residents, and having to share a bathroom is just not acceptable for any tenant in today’s improved standards of living. Because of this the accommodation was not being used for the type of residents it was intended to house. However the layout of the site, the courtyards around lawns and small gardens did have a lovely feel and obviously fostered a great sense of community.

 

What I feel is essential for the regeneration process is for the developers to try to retain this community feel, this sense of being an individual amongst friends; independence whilst also feeling safe. The worst thing that could be built here is a faceless, functional block. There needs to be character and flair, and involvement of the current residents to try to bring that into the design. I shall make this recommendation to the scrutiny committee on Thursday.

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September 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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