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Life for Hillingdon’s most vulnerable in flats above shopping centre

High above the hustle and bustle of Uxbridge’s most prominent shopping centre sits a number of flats housing Hillingdon’s most vulnerable people. In between the rigid rows of retail chains and scattered food stalls are their hidden entrances, barely noticeable to the hundreds that hurry through the mall’s long bright corridors.

However, there is a whole world going through those entrances, where hundreds of residents see the busy retail area as simply their front door. The Gouldings in Hillingdon, is a mixed housing block, acting as both sheltered housing for vulnerable elderly people and general use for the public.

It has every type of Hillingdon resident from council tenants to private renters, leaseholders and sheltered inhabitants. However, this is all set to change.

In a recent cabinet vote, it was decided that The Gouldings would no longer accommodate elderly people after the council judged that it had a surplus of sheltered housing stock. Instead, it will be converted into general housing from top to bottom with 42 self-contained one-bedroom flats being changed.

Local democracy reporting services (LDRS) visited The Gouldings to see what impact the change might have on residents there and gain a better understanding of what life was like in a neighbourhood suspended above a mall. The entrance to the Gouldings is very secure, looking more like a doorway to the backroom of a train station than a housing block.

It is characterised by linoleum floors on every level which stretches the length of symmetrical corridors, punctuated by dark blue doors on each side. For somewhere housing hundreds of people it’s extremely quiet but below the surface, The Gouldings has been haunted by issues.

Multiple residents told LDRS of incidents of a man in one of the flats exposing himself and exhibiting aggressive behaviour towards vulnerable or elderly people.

Some claim they have seen people in the block using the lifts as ‘toilets and bins’ and others have said people they know have been racially and verbally abused. Marlene Blair said that the Gouldings should never have been sheltered housing in the first place.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “It’s good for security and shopping but everything else is not. This could not be considered sheltered housing because the community centre is never used.”

“You feel totally isolated here and when you try and get the warden nothing happens. I have lived in sheltered housing before and for me, this isn’t sheltered housing.” Marlene says she was very pleased by the news of the change.

“The change to general is the right thing to do,” she told LDRS. Marlene struggles with mobility issues and says that despite being on the lower floors her difficulty traversing stairs would be a serious problem in case of a fire.

The 71-year-old said a big reason she wanted to be in sheltered housing was to have a sense of community, something she has never really found at The Gouldings. “There are a lot of mental health patients and drug users [in the block]…I can understand why people don’t want to know one and other because you don’t know who you are getting next door.”

Marlene says she doesn’t need to look far to find someone she feels uncomfortable around in the housing block. Although she praises the security of the block as a whole she says she ‘keeps away’ from her next-door neighbour.

“Not safe with people who live here. I have a real mad one next door.” According to the resident, the man is very aggressive which Marlene said: “Frightens the life out of me.”

She added: “Apparently he does rude things although I haven’t experienced that. Exposing himself.” This was corroborated by another resident who alleged that she had seen a video of him masturbating outside his front door as well as having to threaten him to stop stalking other women in the building. She also added that she has heard that he runs around the corridors at night naked banging on people’s doors.

While the police have not been able to support any of these claims, Hillingdon Council commented: “We take reports of anti-social behaviour very seriously and are investigating the issues raised. We will take any necessary action and encourage tenants to report anti-social behaviour directly to our Scheme Manager, Tenancy Management Officer, or as part of our planned one-to-one relocation visits.”

For Marlene, the council’s decision is a godsend. “I’m really happy with what [the council] have offered us,” she said. “I’m over the moon to be given the opportunity to get the hell out of here.”

“The offer on the plate is a bungalow with a garden and I have never had a garden so that’s my dream, so I might get my dream. It can’t have worked out better for me.”

On a much higher floor another resident, Mrs Hussain, has had a very different reaction to the news. Away from the unstable neighbour of the lower levels, she says she has lived fairly harmoniously in the building for the past 17 years.

Life for Hillingdon's most vulnerable in flats above shopping centre Harrow Online
Mrs Hussain, The Gouldings. Permission for use by all LDRS. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

She is now deeply concerned about the coming changes. Although she is a private renter, most of the people on her floor are sheltered residents.

While sheltered residents do have the option to stay in their flats Mrs Hussain says she is extremely worried about who might move and who might replace them. “We don’t have a good experience of private renting with our neighbours or landlords, so when we looked at moving here my husband said ‘The people here are old, they are very friendly. It will be safe for us to live here.’”

The safety of knowing that quieter and on the hole more placid neighbours was the main reason Mrs Hussain says she moved to flats almost 2 decades ago. “If I knew the changes were coming I would not have rented this flat,” she said.

“We only have 1 person living in these flats and imagine all of a sudden we have couples or families moving in it will be crowded. It will be crowded and it will be noisy.”

“We don’t know what kind of people will move here. I do have security concerns. They could be mentally ill, homeless.”

“It’s not fair that these people are being moved out and we don’t have any say on who is going to be moved in.”

Mrs Hussian says that most of her concerns stem from issues she has faced with non-sheltered residents. She says she has seen people treating the ‘lifts like toilets and bins’ and that her daughter suffers panic attacks when she sees strangers standing outside the entrance to the block who are aiming to ‘tail-gate’ her to get inside.

One of the people considering moving out is Mrs Hussain’s neighbour across the hall. “I’m not very happy. With people moving out who are they going to be moving in?”

The elderly resident is on the fence about what to do, saying that her choice of whether to stay or go, depends on her daughter who lives a few floors below her. “If she moves then I want to move because I’m 78 so if I need anything anytime night or day I can pick up the phone and she’s up here.”

The resident says she isn’t sure what she will do next saying: “It’s all up in the air at the moment.”

Like other people LDRS spoke to, anti-social elements inside the block have meant that the resident and her daughter are in a heightened state of anxiety when they are outside their flats. She said: “We have had druggies and always have. [My daughter] doesn’t even let me use the lift on my own.”

There is still some time before the council’s plans will be finalised giving residents time to juggle with their options. One family that has already made up their minds is the Khodiyans.

Originally from Iran, 89-year-old Mohammad and his wife are desperate to leave the Gouldings so they can live closer to their children in Islington. Mohammad’s daughter Azar explained that the elderly man had suffered a number of falls and accidents in recent years which required help and assistance from her and her brothers.

Life for Hillingdon's most vulnerable in flats above shopping centre Harrow Online
Mohammad Khodiyan with his wife and daughter Azar. Permission for use by all LDRS. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

They told LDRS that they are appealing to Hillingdon Council to move them to as close to Holloway Road as possible so that he doesn’t have to make the lengthy journey to visit them which means they can come to support him within minutes not hours.

Azar also explained that the heating in her parent’s current flat does not work and neither do three out of the four hotplates on their hob which she says is dangerous as well as a number of other issues. “There is only hot water in the bathroom, no cold water,” she explained.

When asked about moving the family out of the borough Hillingdon Council did not give a specific response, however, it did address the wider relocation project.

Hillingdon Council said: “The council’s Cabinet has agreed to change the use of The Gouldings from sheltered housing to general housing to address insufficient demand for sheltered accommodation at the Gouldings and open properties up to more people in need of housing. Additionally, sheltered accommodation is restricted to older people, for whom the high rise properties at The Gouldings were not always suitable.

“In line with its obligations under the Housing Act 1985, the council consulted with all residents affected by the proposed changes at The Gouldings earlier this year, before seeking Cabinet approval.

“Residents have been notified of the decision and we are providing one-to-one support to residents who are relocating. This support will be ongoing throughout the process, along with financial compensation to those residents to cover the costs and disruption.”