Sheltered housing is a place designed for elderly and vulnerable people so they can live with extra support, security and care. However, for residents at Walnut Court in Ealing, it feels as though the council has left them exposed and frustrated.
Residents on the estate say their concerns have gone unaddressed for five years, while a lack of proper maintenance by local authorities has left dangerous conditions causing trips, falls and injuries.
They say they feel ignored by the council who, they say, has done nothing to address the many issues with the accommodation that have been flagged up time and time again.
Steve Colfer, a long-time resident and treasurer of the Campaign For Action In Sheltered Housing (CASH), says that he has been fighting for half a decade to get Ealing Council to address his concerns to do with the access people have to the property.
At the front of the buildings, there are automatic locks installed on the doors requiring a code or someone inside the buildings to open the door, but at the rear of the property, people have almost unfettered access to the block of 33 flats via the bin room doors.
Steve is extremely frustrated with the issue he feels has been left unaddressed for some time. “The bin room doors, which is the major concern, we have been talking about it for five years plus. They come back with ‘we will look into it.’”
Henry Smith, a resident for 13 years, also spoke to Local Democracy Reporting Services, explaining his own frustrations with the council. He said, “Our major problem is they do nothing. I’m worried about security because once you are in the bin room you are in the building, you can go anywhere you like.
“I have told my female neighbours because I live on the ground floor if it’s late at night, to knock on my door and leave their rubbish and I’ll put it in the bin room. Because I wouldn’t want them in there.”
Steve adds that the bin room has let wildlife and even people enter the main accommodation. “Foxes are overrunning the place and they come in the bin room.”
Henry says that at one point there were people sleeping in the communal lounge area, with some making themselves even more at home than that: “People have got in here and we don’t know how they got here.
“Me and Steve like to do the rounds at night before we go to bed and the doors down here [lounge] were closed, so I stuck my head round the door and a woman was naked with some guy.”
After discovering the two interloping lovers embracing each other in the housing’s communal area Henry called the police, with the trespassing suitors eventually being removed. Steve had a similar, if slightly less salacious, experience finding three strangers in the games’ room eating KFC who he promptly kicked out.
Neither Steve nor Henry know how the people got in, but Steve surmised they must have got in through the bin room. The council says that the issue is being addressed, saying that it is an ongoing issue with residents advising doors are left open by Greener Ealing after bin collection.
It adds that GEL has supplied photos as proof they close and lock the doors after collecting the waste. The council says it intends to resolve the issue by changing the locks with only housing staff and the waste collection crew will have access.
However Steve is aware of this solution, saying that the issue is bin crews not securing the doors, saying: “It isn’t the lock, it’s the fact that they keep it open.” When LDRS was shown the bin room by residents, it was clearly left unlocked and fairly disorderly.
Another big concern for the residents is fire safety. With one of the main fire escape routes following the garden paths out of the premises, the dangerous and uneven paving has left many concerned.
One resident said: “My biggest concern round here is safety, particularly, fire safety. The paths are in a terrible state they are up and down, people will trip and that’s supposed to be a fire exit. Light out the back [in the garden], there is only one working, they need to be repaired, it has been five years.
“You have fire exit signs but the main gate is locked, permanently locked. The exits, the safety of it has not changed and we have been reporting it for how long?”
The uneven paving, which has potholes and a large line of bricks jutting out of it has already caused injury and distress to residents. Ealing Council’s lack of maintenance and falls appear to go hand-in-hand according to some residents.
One said: “Since Covid, people have started working from home and it’s [maintenance] is totally non existent, even repairs in the flats.
“This winter the lift went out, it wouldn’t work. Three months this went on for. An old lady collapsed on the the stairs trying to carry her shopping, I had to help her up, so did Steve. A couple of weeks ago, she died. We don’t know if it’s connected but nothing’s being done for people.”
Steve says years earlier when the building was having renovations done CASH requested that emergency pull cords be installed on the stairs so that vulnerable residents could call for help if they fell. However, he was told by the council that there was no electricity on the stairs, something Steve disputes.
Steve contests that if he and the other resident hadn’t happened to be walking down the stairs the woman could have been lying there for hours. While the lift was out of action the council reportedly installed a stairlight a detail that infuriates Steve.
“They say there is no power on the stairs, yet they are putting stairlifts on it. So either they do not respond to us or feed us crap because they regard us as imbeciles.”
Smaller details like garden maintenance, the removal of communal chairs, and window cleaning are also some of the many gripes residents have with Ealing Council but the the biggest frustration all the residents seem to have is a drop in service and a lack of openness that used to exist between them and management.
Henry says: “Prior to Covid the people we had working in the sheltered housing team; the people were great. You’d get in touch with them and things were done. Now we’ve got all these professional managers and all they do is write letters and say we’ll look into it.”
Ealing Council responded to a request for comment by addressing each concern in turn. According to the council the uneven pavement is caused by the roots of the big trees in the gardens and there are limited options available. It says it is currently assessing options to resolve the issue.
The council says its repairs contractor Wates has been made aware of the need for the lights in the garden to be repaired, which the council says will be reviewed during the contractor’s next visit. The council also adds that it will assess the need for a change to Walnut Court’s stairs and whether cords are necessary.