Jerome Tower is the last of its kind. It stands like a living museum to a past era of London housing developments, left to crumble in front of the eyes of the people of Ealing.
If you have ever travelled along the Picadilly Line to Acton Town you will likely have seen the multicoloured Lego brick-style tower block, solitary in a sea of new build duplexes.
It is a place almost completely hollowed out. The 15-floor building is set to be demolished by 2024 and until that point, it is trapped in a state of semi-abandonment with only 4 of its over 70 apartments occupied.
Whole floors have been left to fester and decay, with multiple storeys sealed off from the public by giant metal shutters blocking access from both the damp-blighted stairs and the bedraggled lifts that howl and shriek as they drag themselves up the height of the block.
There is an ardent eeriness that pervades the place like a plague. It feels like it was designed for the last remnants of civilisation to huddle in its dark recesses after a horrific cataclysmic event.
The building’s barren shell is home to some residents though. They sit in their dank apartments as they await their fate – which is largely dependent on the council.
A timeline has been set, everyone out by November before the site is handed over to a developer at which point Jerome Tower will join the rash of new builds that surrounds it. What doesn’t factor into this plan is where these people might end up. People like Liz Kovacs, a stage 4 cancer patient who is currently struggling with the council over what to do next.
She was moved into Jerome Tower two years ago after it had already been condemned when her previous home was cleared of residents for a similar rejuvenation project on the other side of Acton. Liz currently resides on the 12th floor of the housing block, the highest level of any resident.
This has come with issues for her primarily among them are leaks, flooding, malfunctioning lifts and blocked rubbish shoots. “The problem is when is raining the whole corridor is filled with water,” Liz says “I’m not joking when you are walking [down the corridor] you need boots.”
Liz and her son Michael are the only two people in the whole of the 12th floor which she admits can be a little bit scary, especially when uninvited visitors show up. “Strangers come into the building and try to get into the empty flats,” the 51-year-old explains, “it is scary.”
Her struggle is mirrored by another Jerome Tower resident Salah Hussanein. The LDRS caught up with him just one day after he had left his apartment in the complex and moved across the borough to Hanwell.
Salah says he was happy with his apartment in the block and felt he had been forced to move to the permanent accommodation being offered by the council or risk becoming homeless despite the serious concerns he has about his new property.
“The toilet downstairs just has a toilet, not a sink which I feel is against housing regulations because if you have a toilet you have to have a sink. So I went upstairs and I found just a sink and a bath, there was no toilet there. It’s a real problem because when my kids go to the toilet at night they are going to be half asleep and with the stairs, it’s going to be dangerous.”
“So I have to carry them downstairs, but if they go by themselves it’s going to be dangerous.”
He was moved to Jerome Tower in October 2019 after living in a single hostel room in Southall with two children and his pregnant wife. “When I came here they didn’t tell me it was going to be demolished but when I came here the residents asked if I was moving in or moving out and I told them I was moving in and they told me it was going to be demolished.”
Salah says as the block began to empty, maintenance got less frequent and security more lax leading to altogether more frightening problems. “We used to have some intruders. I kept complaining and complaining. I called and called and they never answered. They would come through the lower windows and they would be in there until 4am with drugs, about 15 people. I called Genesis [housing association], I called the housing officer. I told the MP at their surgery and finally, they boarded up the windows.
“But it was scary because until 3-4am they would bang things, I didn’t know where it was coming from. Sometimes my kids would come into the room with me because they were scared. There was banging and dancing and sometimes fighting.
“One time I found a guy passed out in a lift.”
Despite all the drama of his final few years with Jerome Tower, Salah says he thinks it’s a shame that it is being brought down. “I don’t know why they are putting it down, it’s a shame. It just needs some renovation, you know. It is not really that bad. It is strong. I don’t know why they have to demolish it, if you don’t have anywhere to put people, why demolish it? There are 15 floors, 6 flats to a floor that’s a lot of apartments.”
Ealing Council say that the regeneration at Acton Gardens, once it is completed in around 2027, will host around 3,400 new homes – 1,250 of which will be social housing. This will be twice as many homes on the estate than before regeneration started, and almost a third more affordable housing.
While Salah has gotten out of Jerome Tower despite his desire to stay, the opposite is the case for Kancha Bwengele. She has been in the Tower for 5 years. She is in £30,000 worth of arrears, she says, due to a mistake which incorrectly discontinued her housing benefit.
Without settling this issue and the council backdating her benefits to cover the debt, she is effectively trapped in the crumbling building until the matter is resolved. As a tenant who is looking to get council assistance with her housing, the arrears situation makes her departure almost impossible.
“I can’t pay it. If I could have I would have already and I just want to clear as much of it as I can. They are the only ones that can sort it.”
“They said with the amount of arrears they are not gonna move us out of here. They aren’t going to help.” Kancha says that the council has been moving people into the building for years, all the time knowing that it was due to be demolished.
“The building’s going down, it was always going down. My question to them was when you put us here, what was the long term goal?”
Kancha says that her only chance to get out while the arrears still hang over her is if the council evicts her, makes her homeless and then they can step in and only if “the issue with housing benefit isn’t proven to be my fault.”
Kancha says she is “waiting to be evicted” so that she can find a new home. She has three children, one 20-year-old who is currently visiting from university, one 7-year-old old and 12 12-month-old baby.
The mum pays £1450 a month for her cramped two-bedroom flat on the sixth floor and told LDRS that “the lift is always breaking down in quite dangerous situations. I’m always having to climb up and down and I have fallen a few times and my 7-year-old has fallen a few times on the stairs carrying the buggy up and down.
She added: “I live alone with the girls so sometimes it can get a bit spooky. I don’t blame them but some of the kids on the estate come here. you find them hanging out on the stairs and being loud at night or in the park outside.”
Kancha’s eldest daughter Cylla says the rapid change and lack of clarity about what is going to happen to her home has been hard. “It’s a bit depressing and I’m worried about my family and I don’t have any confirmation about where I live, it’s a bit sad you know.
From growing up in the area as a little kid Cylla says she has seen Acton change dramatically. “This is my home and I don’t know much about other places so it is a bit crazy for me and people who are just like me, trying to get them out of here and stuff it’s just not really great.
“It doesn’t really feel like home. I have been living down in Brighton but every time I come back it’s like a new block has sprung up and it’s just a big change.”
The rejuvenation project has been fought tooth and nail by some residents, with loud protests, regular town hall-style meetings and occupants refusing to leave their condemned homes. The opposition appears to have done little to halt the tide of new builds sweeping across the area and while it is a vocal group, residents fighting the project have occasionally been shouted down by those who are pleased with the council’s efforts.
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “As part of its response to the desperate need for genuinely affordable homes in the borough, and the broken housing market, Ealing Council is delivering one of London’s biggest council homebuilding programmes. Thousands of new socially rented homes are being built across the borough. The regeneration at Acton Gardens is a key part of that work and once it is completed in around 2027, it will host around 3,400 new homes – 1,250 of which will be social housing. There will be twice as many homes at the estate than before regeneration started, and almost a third more affordable housing, which is partly funded by the sale of the other new homes.”
It says that it is working to resolve the issues faced by the residents of Jerome Tower when it comes to moving out of the building with them looking to move two residents out of their flat in the next six to eight weeks. It also says that it has had no contact regarding repairs via the council’s customer contact centre but will be reviewing communal areas in the next ten days.