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Living the High Life

31st October 2003

Directed by Nicola Prichard Living the High Life tells the story about those who live in council tower blocks in Newham, and their fight to make their community a better place.

It gives an insight into how the people in the area communicate with - and sometimes misunderstand - each other, and how they feel that the council's promises haven't become a reality.

Janize Murray lived in the tower block for 19 years. She says she found the conditions inside her flat depressing: "The major problem was the damp, the water came through the ceiling. Other problems when I lived here were the ants... I stopped cooking because I was sick of the ants falling in my food. It became depressing - I couldn't invite anyone because I was so ashamed that anyone would see the ants."

Others in Living the High Life reflect Janize's unhappiness: "...There is nothing positive to say about this tower block" says one.

The list of complaints in the blocks range from no child locks on the windows, asbestos, no locks on the stairwells to rain leaking through the ceilings and windows, ants and the damp.

Jean Ferret has lived in the flats for 31 years. She says that then the flats aren't so bad as long as the repairs are done on time. "I started getting problems in 1989; I started to complain about the rain coming down through my ceiling damaging my furniture, damaging my carpet... and I am not the only one who is complaining."

The local council is aware of the problems. Councillor Andrew Baikie says they know about the structural problems in the building, but that long term work and investment is needed to make the tower blocks waterproof.

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Still the council has a commitment to bring all the council flats up to a good standard by the year 2010.

Meanwhile the people who live in the flats got sick of waiting and definitely don�t want to wait until 2010. Therefore they started the action group TBAG - Tower Block Action Group.

Carmen Grimes an organiser from TBAG says that after 16 years of waiting the block still hasn't been improved. "So we started action group. I am not afraid that the tower block is going to be pulled down, I am interested in that it is going to be again [a place]... where people like to live!"

TBAG came together and organised several protests. They hung white sheets with phrases like "Council from Hell" from their windows. That got the attention of the council for the first time.

However Carmen tells us that it was nice that they finally took the time to listen to them but she didn't think for one moment that they took them seriously.

Cllr Andrew Baikie finds TBAG a valuable source. He says it's the government's new agenda and the council's new agenda to get feedback from the community.

Carmen Grimes says "We intend to carry on with the campaign, we are not going to sit down and take it. We don't want to be perceived as trouble makers. All we want is the council to recognise that they aware of the conditions we are living in!"


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