Meath Court in Hope Gardens stands apart from the rest of London. Here, multi-coloured shipping containers are stacked like oversized Lego bricks, reaching four rows high.
While families with children call this place home, it presents a far-from-child-friendly environment.
The living conditions here resemble something out of Dickensian literature, subjecting residents to hardships that would shock anyone visiting this cramped corner of Acton. However, the true extent of horror would likely grip you once you engage in conversation with even a single resident.
Drugs, theft, sexual harassment, assault, serious injury, lack of security and violence are sadly not rare at Meath Court, one of Ealing Council’s once-lauded experimental housing constructions.
Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council at the time when the estate first opened in 2017 said that it was a “superb response” to a growing housing crisis.
“I think Hope Gardens is the right name for this place because it really will provide hope for families who are in really challenging circumstances,” he said. Families who now living in the 60-unit estate have started to call the area “no Hope Gardens”.
The spirit-crushing construction stands as a testament to housing policy failure. The shipping container homes were initially conceived as a stop gap for homeless families searching for more permanent and secure housing with the aim that people would stay for no longer than six months.
After three trips to the estate, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) did not find a single person who had been living there for under half a year, with most having been there for more than a year.
While Hope Gardens’ sister estate Marston Court in Hanwell has the mournful quiet nature of a place all but abandoned by those in power, Meath Court is too central, too visible for that, surrounded as it is by other housing blocks.
Unlike Marston, where residents say police attend infrequently, residents at Meath say it is not uncommon for Met Police officers to arrive daily at the estate and raid homes fortnightly.
Crime, a person who has lived there says, is interwoven into the fabric of the estate. They said: “You can’t leave anything outside, [other residents/people who hang round the estate] will come and steal it. Sexual harassment is happening here.
“Which has happened to me. I was sexually harassed. Ealing [Council] is aware but didn’t do anything about it. I had to cover my children’s ears. I was shaking.”
Meath Court is made up of two blocks of shipping containers which are separated by a courtyard. From what LDRS has been told, there is a clear divide between the two blocks with one side mainly housing single mums with children and the other home mainly to single men, where the majority of police raids and alleged drug dealing take place.
Living in the shipping containers, which feel like a sauna during hot weather and a fridge in the cold, offers very little ventilation, natural light, comfort or space.
A mum living there, who asked not to be named, says the experience has caused her mental health to plummet. She said: “We are all messed up. I’m on medication. I’m depressed. I’m only happy that my children have a roof over their heads, nothing else.”
Having lived on the more family-orientated side of the estate has meant that after living there for a year and eight months, the woman is involved with a small community of other mums who look after each other, a small glimmer of light in a very dark situation. However, there are mums that live on the other side of the estate.
LDRS met mum-of-one Fynlee Connor standing out on the walkway in an attempt to cool down from the baking heat inside her home. Fynlee says it’s impossible to hide the dark side of the estate from her child.
She said: “We have crackheads literally sitting on our stairs injecting themselves in broad daylight. My daughter came running out, saw it, came running back in, grabbed me and started pointing. I’ve had to start shouting at them to move. That’s what we have to deal with even though there are little children living here.
“Near enough everyone on this floor has children but we are still mixed in with drug dealers, so we have all the violence.”
With a constant stream of strangers coming into the estate and very little in the way of security, Fynlee says she was brutally attacked outside her home and now feels extremely unsafe. She said: “In March I was attacked, literally two more smacks I would have been dead, while my daughter was sleeping inside.”
She says no safety procedures have since been put in place. “The gates don’t work, there are no cameras, barely any lights to shine up the place,” she added.
The lack of security extends to the communal laundry room, where several residents mentioned seeing people sleeping, washing, and taking drugs. Fynlee shared her own bizarre and unsettling experience of when someone defecated into her daughter’s clothes in the laundry room and then “scattered them all over the garden”.
The alleged lack of action by the council is a running theme when talking to residents with many repeating almost like a mantra that they believe the council “doesn’t care”. Nathalie Bangama ended up at Meath Court after her house caught fire last year.
The mum of three said she was initially told she had a two-bedroom flat she could move into, however, the relief evaporated when she saw Meath Court. “They put me in the containers,” she said. “I’m like ‘What’s going on? What is this place?’ I have lived in Ealing for almost 15 years now. I didn’t even know this place existed. They said this is a hostel, you are just gonna stay here for a little bit and then we will give you a house.”
After a year of living there, Nathalie says she has reached the end of her tether. She added: “Some days you wake up and go ‘what is this? Like seriously what is this place?’ I am from Congo and I say to you I have never seen anything like this in Congo. I never lived in a place like this in Congo, not this bad.
“This is not made for human beings. This place is a crime! This place is a crime. I’m losing it, right now I am losing it because I don’t know what to do.
“Nothing is right, something is missing, something is broken, the fridge is going to work today but tomorrow the fridge is stopped, somehow the microwave stops working. I have had three ‘ovens’ break.”
Nathalie says she hasn’t had running water in her bathroom or kitchen sink for more than four weeks with no signs that anything will be fixed. Nathalie has to juggle single parenthood with all the challenges Meath Court creates on a daily basis.
Mel, another mum, has been collecting images and data on Meath Court for months. She said within the first few weeks of her moving in she had seen armed police officers blocking the communal stairway as they raided a flat.
This was the very same stairway that she would slip on a couple of months later, severely spraining her ankle.
The rust entrusted walkways that connect different flats have been cited as a hazard by many mums on the upper floors due to having to carry prams, kids and bags up and down.
She said: “I [nearly] broke my ankle on those stairs. I was on crutches. I was taking out my rubbish and I slipped and I heard my ankle snap. I was on crutches for two months. Until this day it’s still not healed. Those stairs are lethal. If you have kids it’s even worse because they fall over and get nasty cuts, especially with all the rust.”
Mel keeps a close eye on the goings on around the estate having seen everything from men defecating in the open to strangers having sex in the public bin area.
The mum of three is almost amused by the absurdity of how much the council charges in rent for the shipping containers with the bill coming to around £370 a week – the same amount as in Marston Court.
The resident commented: “£370 a week for a shipping container. That’s crazy.” Mel says her home got so hot this summer that her children got ill
“I’ve avoided cooking because there is no ventilation and it’s so hot we are having sandwiches,” she added. Mel has lived in Meath Court for two years and has had more than enough of the place and her landlords.
“They are the worst council I have ever come across. When you call them they treat you like you are nothing, they are rude, they don’t care. This is inhumane, it’s disgusting and the fact that no one cares, it makes you feel like you are nothing.
“It’s funny because this place is called Hope Gardens but where is the hope? I hate it. There’s no hope in Hope Gardens.”
If all of that wasn’t hard enough to deal with, Swalhana Islam has an added problem. The mum-of-four’s family is stuffed in a two-bedroom home infested with cockroaches.
She says that despite informing Ealing Council of the problem the issue continues. She said: “They are everywhere. I have called Ealing Council, I’ve called the manager, they come here and put a little drop of something. I want to cry, it’s too much for me.
“They are not doing anything. I have four kids, the kids can’t sleep. I told them, the kids can’t sleep, they are having nightmares. I have the school calling me telling me the kids are falling asleep in class. They see [cockroaches] crawling, how can they sleep?”
“The issue has been going on for six months and has not been fixed. I can’t live like this. They haven’t done anything to fix this. They don’t care.”
Eman Fahad lives with her husband and three children Fatima, 4, Sultan, 3 and 3-month-old baby Suliman. She said: “I can’t go to the washing machine alone. I have to go with my husband or my neighbour because it is dangerous.”
Eman, whose husband works at Heathrow, says she is often terrified during the night and is unable to sleep. She says Fights, arguments, loud music and general anti-social behaviour are common in Meath Court. The mum says she wants to leave whenever possible for her children’s sake.
The family of five are squeezed into two narrow bedrooms with Eman saying there is barely enough room for everyone to sleep. However, she has found the waiting list to get out to be very long with potentially years until they will be given somewhere permanent.
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear about residents’ experiences as told to the LDRs and are concerned about the quality of accommodation at Meath Court.
“We are seeking to deliver additional high-quality temporary accommodation solutions as fast as possible, but like most other London boroughs we have a chronic shortage of housing and we are facing a temporary accommodation emergency, with the market for temporary accommodation in London being completely broken.
“The council has also seen an increase in the number of households who are in urgent need of support with their housing, thanks to the cost-of-living crisis. In the last year, we have seen an increase of over 50 per cent in the number of households needing emergency B&B accommodation – that’s an additional 100 households.
While we always seek to support residents in need to the best of our ability, the council is not able to keep up with the demand for emergency accommodation and is now under extreme pressure.
“We strongly urge residents experiencing anti-social behaviour and problems with their homes to contact the council through the hostel officer directly, or by using the ‘report it’ telephone lines or digital forms.
“That means that we can rectify the issue as soon as possible. In the case of an emergency, always call 999.”