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Mental Health Awareness Week: Open Letter to COLPAI Project

Hello Neighbours

Yesterday I sent the attached Open Letter to COLPAI Project (the first three pages copied below) about the effect that the construction is having on our well being during this week of Mental Health Awareness. This morning I am sending to all members of the City Council along with this link.

Thank you to everyone who contributed with their personal stories. I know there are many more so please do post underneath and I will include as an addendum to anyone else we send out to as we try get decision makers and influencers to understand the detrimental effect that the works are having on residents who live so close to the site. 

All bests

Jacqueline

_________________________________________________

20 May 2020

 

Dear COLPAI Project

 

We’d like you to understand the damage you are doing and have done to the mental well being of the residents on Golden Lane Estate during this time of exceptional national distress.

 

The country went into lockdown on Monday 23 March and as everyone got up on Tuesday ready to face the new normal of working and schooling from home we were all perplexed to discover construction continuing on the COLPAI site. Why was this non-essential activity continuing – weren’t we all supposed to be staying at home to save the NHS?

 

The more cynical of us weren’t that surprised but did become very concerned when it was clear social distancing was not being practiced. We had to turn into snitches, providing incriminating evidence before the site closed on 2 April. In contrast Taylor Wimpey just 100 metres away decided to close their site just after the lockdown began ‘due to the current pandemic…and the health risk it presents to all people’.

 

Despite our local councillor and own MP Nicki Aitken lobbying for the closure of non-essential construction sites in the City, two weeks later on 14 April COLPAI construction resumed. And let’s note, that was well before London had passed the peak infection rate and we residents were in full lockdown.

 

To add insult to injury you send us newsletters extolling your commitment to ‘delivering the necessary infrastructure to allow people to have safe spaces to live, learn and play’. What about our current need for safe spaces? To top it all you asked us to cooperate and included an image of site workers observing the two minute silence for those NHS staff and carers who have lost their lives trying to save others. Who thought using photos taken at a funeral (because essentially that’s what it was) to emotionally bully residents already at their wits end was acceptable?

 

This week the country starts to make its way out of lockdown and construction sites across the country are going back to work. Hopefully, our children will get back to school, and us adults, lucky enough to still have jobs, back to our work place. In the meantime, we are into week 6 of incessant noise, dust and fumes whilst being confined to our tiny flats with their single glazing…

 

Very few of us want to engage with you anymore, or trust it will make any difference. This report compiles testimony from some of the residents of Basterfield and Hatfield House whose lives you are affecting but for whom you have offered no help and shown no empathy. It wasn’t easy, just writing this down can be really upsetting and triggering.

 

But maybe this week of all weeks, Mental Health Awareness week, you may take some notice, consider adjusting your work practices and confirm absolutely you will NOT under any circumstances apply for an extension of works to 9pm for the duration of the works.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jacqueline Swanson

With the support of Basterfield and Hatfield neighbours

This document contains testimonies from 30 residents affected by the actions of COLPAI during lockdown. They have been anonomysed where necessary but otherwise have not been edited. A few are transcriptions of conversations with residents not so confident with their writing skills.

 

We also include a letter co-signed by 5 Hatfield residents written to our Local MP Nicki Aitken outlining the ongoing issues with the COLPAI site and those responsible for its communications and community engagement.

 

Below are just a few quotes selected from the testimonies:

"During the Covid -19 pandemic, when London was at its epicentre, they [COLPAI] took the decision to put our lives at increased risk - workers and residents - by allowing the works to restart during lockdown. If they're prepared to do that, without any form of consultation or risk-assessment for its impact on the Estate and its residents, then it shows that fundamentally they really don't care."

"…. in this already stressful situation, we are having imposed on us, a constant racket of noise, machinery, vehicle movements, fumes and dust from the COLPAI construction site starting at 8 AM every morning and carrying on more or less continuously until 6PM. This is completely inescapable for us in the lockdown and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it is unbelievably stress inducing in the extreme."

"As people we are hot wired to associate noise with emotion. Whether its music or the noise of hammering we react at an emotional level. We feel stress when these emotional triggers are pressed and the effect on our wellbeing is detrimental. COLPAI is going ahead and I quite accept that. What I don’t accept is the creep of noise, the chatter of mobile phone chat before 8.00."

"Noise is not only a nuisance, it is also a well-established form of torture. We’re not merely ‘nimby’ neighbours concerned to protect our own backyard. We’re victims. Your victims."

"Pardon my French but to put it bluntly, they [COLPAI] deliberately took a decision to make the life of everyone living around the site a little bit shittier in the middle of a category 5 shitstorm… going on the balcony is about as noisy and enjoyable as being standing on the hard shoulder of a motorway. And the worst is the stench - the petrol fumes from whatever machines they are using on site stink and even get into the flat if I leave the door open."

"As a brain-injury survivor, the stresses and anxieties I suffer are on a permanent hair-trigger. The noise from the site has kettled me and my mental health issues into an ever decreasing small space."

"I thought I was resilient, I thought I could get used to the noise; an eight o’clock wake up is only like the alarm I thought… but its not. It’s a “must get up” call…. These few weeks since the work restarted have become increasingly stressful because I have been sticking to the rules but the noise seems to have increased, in my upset I think I have become more sensitive to the noise, not less."

"I am heartbroken and depressed as my work/home life has no place I can escape to, even to be able to concentrate. I am hemmed in by noise. I wake up very early just to get some peace and the yelling and hammering starts before 8 on most days."

"My partner is working as a mental health and capacity advocate in various care homes for a mental health charity. It is impossible to make calls to speak to her clients with that level of noise at a time when they really need her the most."

"To follow the corona virus government regulations and stay at home as much as possible feels like torture. To leave home and be out, feels like a selfish act and a suicide mission especially given how many elderly people live in our building."

"The almost constant noise as I try work or rest and the almost intolerable stress are having a real impact on my ability to work and interact with my family and as we are supposed to be shielding my son by remaining at home for another 10 weeks this just appears to me as an enormous mountain to climb before we are through and from where we are now, it looks insurmountable."

"Living in a dusty and noisy flat has been particularly stressful during the lockdown as we have literally nowhere to go to escape. This has had a huge effect on mental health and well-being - on some days there is no point in even getting out of bed."

"As with many other residents, we appreciate the need for more housing locally. But during such an unprecedented time it seems cruel to continue with work as intensely as before - and particularly now we're advised work could continue through to 9pm and throughout the weekends.  It seems deeply ill-considered and as usual, the poorer, less empowered residents of Golden Lane will be the ones ignored, and ultimately the ones who suffer."

"Construction noise is of course stressful but the silence from the City of London is worrying."

_________________________________________________

Then followed 12 pages of testimonies and a copy of the letter sent to MP Aiken on 13 May. You can read them all here.

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Comment by Paul Drinkwater on May 22, 2020 at 13:52

ISG PLC sponsor Mental Health UK - https://mentalhealth-uk.org/partnerships/case-studies/isg/

Given ISG's impact on the mental health of 30 residents, so powerfully evidenced above, perhaps Mental Health UK might want to investigate this matter and re-consider its relationship with ISG until the company puts right these issues?

Otherwise this is rather like Philip Morris sponsoring the NHS.

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on May 22, 2020 at 12:48

This morning I sent the email below to our MP Nickie Aiken. She responded very shortly afterwards:

Dear Ms Aiken

Firstly, I would like to thank you for the efforts you made to try get the Government to shut down all non-essential construction work during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It certainly would have made a huge difference to residents on Golden Lane Estate, particularly those living next to the COLPAI site which as you know only closed for two weeks during this period. 
The effect on myself and neighbours has been accumulative and many of us now are suffering quite significantly. With Mental Health Awareness week in mind on Wednesday evening I sent the attached open letter to the COLPAI Project. I followed it up with an email to all City Councillors yesterday morning - text of which you can see below. 
If there is anything you can do to support residents at this point it would be much appreciated - we really need reassurance that under no circumstances will working hours on the site be extended, ideally we would like the current hours shortened and exclude all weekend work.
With best wishes
Jacqueline Swanson
RESPONSE:

Dear Jacqueline

Thank you for sharing your letter with me. It really provides very powerful testimony and as you say in Mental Health Awareness Week the concerns from residents about their wellbeing is particularly poignant.

I can promise you that I have continued to lobby to bring the concerns of you and your neighbours to the attention of the Corporation and I will continue to do so.

Yours

Nickie

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on May 21, 2020 at 11:41

This morning I sent the email below to the 150+ City Councillors:

Dear Member

Please find attached an open letter to the COLPAI Project which includes the personal testimonies of 30 residents whose mental health and wellbeing have been adversely affected by the actions of the Corporation during lockdown. I would very much appreciate you taking the time to read it.
Quoting from the recent article by the Lord Mayor, I'm hoping you will do everything you can to make sure the well being of Golden Lane Estate residents will be addressed with kindness as "the City of London continues to demonstrate its commitment and dedication to improving and supporting the mental health of its communities".  Kindness at the heart of the City's mental health efforts City AM 18 May 2020
 
The letter has also been posted on the Golden Lane Community website - residents would very much appreciate messages of support. Please feel free to post directly or entrust me to post for you.
With best wishes for your own wellbeing during this week of Mental Health Awareness.
Kind regards
Jacqueline Swanson

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