We talk Tenant and Resident Associations (TRAs) with Lambeth Living’s TRA of the month.

Written by on February 16, 2015 in Community, News - 4 Comments

The Edmundsbury Court Estate Tenant and Resident Association (TRA) has just been named Lambeth Living’s TRA of the Month. We spoke with Chair, Jonathan Harbourne, who talks about his new Lambeth-wide network of TRAs and why he’s encouraging TRAs to link up more.

Jonathan Harbourne, Chair of Brixton's award winning Edmundsbury Court Estate TRA

Jonathan Harbourne, Chair of Brixton’s award winning Edmundsbury Court Estate TRA

So, let’s start at the beginning. What is a TRA all about?

“Well I wish someone had actually told me before they made me chair,” jokes Jonathan. “It all kicked off with phone calls from residents complaining about pigeons on their ledges.”

But now he’s more into it Jonathan sees a Tenant and Resident Association as an opportunity to work together to transform a community. Even communities, plural.

Talking to Jonathan, it seems that his TRA is not short on ideas. He tells me he’s just delivered a survey to start an Edible Garden in one of their disused spaces. In a recent Council meeting they explored putting beehives, gardens and solar panels onto the flat roof.

“We also want to start an after-school kids club in the community hall (currently being renovated). And we want to teach internet to older people on the weekends, and run career workshops for young people during the summer holidays,” say Jonathan.

Another of the TRA’s initiatives is to convert the estate’s disused storage space into a creative hub by renting desk spaces – with the proceeds going to the TRA. By doing this, he hopes to encourage creative people on the estate to give part of their time to the community.

He tells me there are a huge number of creative freelancers who live on the estate – and they have the talents and skills to teach photography, film-making, animation and graphics among other things.

“It’s not just for the kids on the estate – we’d like to open it up to other Lambeth residents. That’s the ultimate aim.”

Jonathan doesn’t take credit for all these ideas. At the 2014 Lambeth Housing Conference he met lots of inspirational people from estates all over Lambeth. He found out what amazing projects they were running. And it’s these ideas that have spurred him on in his own TRA.

It’s also the reason he suggested to Lambeth Living that the chairs and organisers from TRAs would benefit from getting together more often.

And that’s how the Lambeth TRA Network was born. Getting together with other TRA people, to find out what they know, what challenges they had, and how they can support one another, drove him to set up the network.

The first meeting is going to be hosted on 17 February at the Edmundsbury Estate, Ferndale Road. It starts at 7pm.

Edmundsbury Court Estate

Edmundsbury Court Estate

It’s starting at the beginning, going through what a TRA is, and what it isn’t. Then Cris Claridge and Ian Ritchie from the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation will tell their story of how they started their organisation (which now attracts significant funding).

Jonathan also reached out to the Big Lottery Fund to ask if they could present on applying for grants.

“I heard a fantastic talk at the London Metropolitan Archives from a woman from the Lottery – she was amazing. I think it’s these very practical and real topics that will make a difference to the people in Brixton, and make it worth the time for TRA organisers – who are really busy people – to attend.”

Jonathan’s vision for the Network is to get people working together, sharing their information and skills, to make Brixton an even better place to live. The Network may also become an important residents voice when the re-integration of Lambeth Living happens in the summer.

For free tickets and more information about the event click here.

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4 Comments on "We talk Tenant and Resident Associations (TRAs) with Lambeth Living’s TRA of the month."

  1. Malcolm February 20, 2015 at 8:11 pm ·

    Jonathan

    How do we contact you to participate in the Lambeth TRA network please?

    Regards

    Malcolm
    Chair
    Wyvil Estate Residents’ Association

  2. Jonathan Harbourne February 18, 2015 at 4:39 pm ·

    Dear Decidendi – I’m not aware that Lambeth forces residents to form TRAs, or that they handpick chairs. When I became a chair, it was because the residents asked me (email me if you know differently, and I’ll look into it). Lambeth also does not operate a ‘closed shop’ when it comes to membership, and residents are not automatically members of the TRA (even if the TRA committee is under this impression) – residents should choose and ‘sign up’ to become members of the TRA. Our TRA sends out a monthly newsletter to inform all residents what it is doing, and all committee meetings are open to any resident to attend – I encourage others to do the same. TRAs should hold at least 4 residents meetings a year – and a new constitution informing TRAs to do this should have been received today. I totally agree with your comment about the need to have a diverse membership and committee running a TRA – it works against it when it becomes a clique. This is something that the TRA Network is going to focus on at its next meetings – as its often hard to attract different people, because leaders often attract the same type of people as themselves. What sort of things do TRAs dictate – and how is this encouraged by Lambeth? In every newsletter, we ask what the residents want. At every meeting, we have a white board, and get people to write down what they want on it – its then the committee’s job to see if its viable and carry out these wishes. I think many people have seen where TRA leaders have used the TRAs for their own benefit – and I’ll raise that topic at the TRA Network and ask what people’s experience is, and what can be done to avoid this.

    Jonathan Harbourne, chair, Lambeth TRA Network twitter: @LambethTRA
    http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/lambeth-tra-network-2-tickets-15811699218
    Tuesday 21st April, 7-9pm, Jubilee Community Hall, Tulse Hill Estate SW2 2LU

    • Decidendi March 20, 2015 at 11:05 am ·

      I didn’t actually see your reply when I replied to your email last night but just to be clear the things you describe about how your TRA operates is so far away from what happens with this TRA.

      ALL residents are automatically members there is NO sign up.
      There are NO regular meetings for residents
      Residents are not informed of Committee meetings and we are NOT invited to them.
      Minutes of meetings have only been produced once in almost two years and this was at the first AGM (my email should explain that a little more)
      Residents do NOT receive regular newsletters
      Residents are not informed of the activities of the TRA Chair and now Vice Chair as other committee members are also NOT invited to meetings, walkabouts and so on.
      One of the Committee members now has a workshop, a garage and an office where he carries out his own business activities and brags round the estate that nothing, absolutely nothing will happen on the estate without his and the Chairs say so,

      The last ‘consultation’ had the vice chair going door to door to push the committees proffered option and when they didn’t’ agree they were not handed consultation paperwork to make a choice!

      Like I said when a TRA work it can work well, when it doesn’t it just turns an estate into a little feudal system for the benefit of the very few.

      I doubt you can do anything about it Lambeth Living are aware of everything that the TRA has been doing
      The worst thing for me is being told by a Lambeth Living Staff member that if I have issues with Lambeth Living or the Estate I must now take it to the TRA first, I know this is wrong but what is shocking is that either they don’t or they do and they are deliberately misleading people and directing them to a group who think that their role is ‘community’ events and not repairs, nuisance and the day to day concerns of Residents living on a Lambeth estate.

      The TRA was created by Lambeth Living and there has been mistake and bad practice right the way through and now all they are doing is covering their own backs for staff failings.

      But thanks for letting me know what your TRA does if I have the energy I might actually try once more to get Lambeth Living to actually acknowledge and fix what has been going on. But I severely doubt it! And after two years I feel frustrated, angry and marginalised for speaking up and saying what is clearly wrong I am left with two options give up or play them at their own game. As someone from Staffordshire I know I can be a bit of a bull in china shop but I also possess terrier like qualities in that once I’ve sunk my teeth into something I find it very hard to let go especially when it is doing a disservice and injustice to so many for the benefit of so few.

  3. Decidendi February 18, 2015 at 1:38 pm ·

    I’m all for empowering tenants but feel that TRAs have to come from the residents themselves and not be forced upon them in order for Lambeth to tick a box of ‘resident involvement’.

    It shouldn’t handpick Chairs and should insist that all policies and procedures are followed whenever and no matter how ‘little’ public money and facilities are awarded to TRA’s. It should insist that if everyone is automatically made a ‘member’ of a TRA even on a 5% turnout (which is totally undemocratic by any standard) that they are at least informed on a regular basis what that TRA is doing and that most definitely means at the very least providing minutes of meetings. I would also suggest more than one meeting a year that residents can attend other than the AGM.

    I really do believe that TRA’s can be a positive addition to a local community but only where it comes from a grass roots level driven by a need to improve the local area for all and not just a clique of friends with their own agenda to improve their own properties and immediate surroundings, day trips for themselves or fun days that happen to coincide with their sons birthday. Most of all I don’t expect TRA’s to dictate to residents what they can and cannot do and for this to be not only sanctioned but positively encouraged by Lambeth Living.

    As you can see my experience of a TRA is not the positive one outlined above and feel that unless there is proper and effective oversight of TRA’s it is better for them to not exist at all, because when they work well they work, when they don’t it just allows people to exploit a situation for their own ends.

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