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Tony Osborne


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Audio Interview with Tony Osbourne

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Osbourne, Tony (Subject of)


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Speaker: Tony Osborne
Recordist: Awa Diop Diaban and Ellie Schling
Length of Recording (s): 47:50
Purpose of recording: Hackney Housing History Project
Recording Dates: 10.09.2011
Recording location: Aspland and Marcon Community Hall
Access restrictions: None
Recording equipment: Zoom H4N recorder
Recording notes: Some background traffic noise picked up in the hall.
Associated archive material:
Transcribed by: Isabel Parrot
Subject: Childhood, Disability & Illness, Education, Self-Education, Homelessness Sector, Squatting & Direct Action, Cooperative Housing, Change in Hackney, Tenants Organisation, Council Housing, Change in Housing, Home, Hopes for the Future, Right to Buy, Resident Involvement.
Interview summary
Tony Osborne talks of his many years of involvement in housing issues, as a tenant activist, working with the homeless and housing co-operatives, as well as his own experiences of housing in Hackney and elsewhere. Tony Osborne passed away at the end of 2012, around a year after the interview was recorded.

Tony Osborne was born on Bethnal Green station in 1939 and lived at first in Manor Park. As a child he had extended stays in hospital and remembers that in those days parents were not allowed to visit their children much in hospital. Because he had polio he was sent to a boarding school in Norfolk from age eleven to fifteen. When he visited home he did not get on with his step-father and so moved out, finding a bedsit in Hackney.

He was married in 1953 and worked on a trawler out of Lerwick and then in the merchant navy for many years. He then worked in a circus for eighteen months before going to university, having studied for his O and A levels in the meantime. He dropped out of university, having got involved with projects involving drug users on the streets of London.

“I got involved with a group here in London in Westbourne Park called BIT. They were an alternative information bureau and I started doing things with them at the weekend, you know, working with drug- addicts and setting up crash-pads and things like that and through them I got me first real steady job after leaving the service which was with a, with a drug agency in Piccadilly, The Hungerford Project”

He helped set up and run a series of hostels:

“Eventually er Hammersmith council got fed up with us squatting properties and turning them into crash pads and they offered us funding and found us an old, redundant church hall which we converted into an emergency night hostel”

After a few years he got a job working for a short-life housing co-op in Haringey

“At that stage the short-life coops were very very strong um we used to get the properties from the council, properties they couldn’t use, bring them into basic use, re-plumb them, re-wire them etc. and then er, we let them out”

He then managed an emergency shelter in Hackney, until his wife was diagnosed with cancer, when he got a better-paid job with a property company, and then a part-time job so he could nurse her.

His wife died 48 years and two days after their marriage, and at a loose end he got involved in his estate’s Tenants and Residents Association, and has become more involved ever since. He became:

“The Secretary Administrator of this estate, I’m the Co-Vice Chair of MESH, the Homerton panel, I’m the chair of the tenants’ levy steering group and I’m also a member of the Residents’ er Maintenance, Planned Maintenance and Reactive Repairs Steering Group”.

Tony Osborne misses some aspects of the past, such as the village atmosphere.

“I mean we lived in Duncan Road off of Broadway Market and it was like a little village that part of Hackney then and then they started, we had a really good market there, the wife had two vegetable stalls in Broadway Market in front of the old market house pub…”

However redevelopment of the housing brought changes to the community:

“Um, it was old, it was terraced, three story buildings and so when they decided to move us, they were going to redevelop us, this was back in the early seventies, they moved everybody out, took all the housing down and that’s still down, they built a, they put a garden on it now…But lots of particularly, particularly lots of the older generation, you know they’d been there, they’ve been there for all their lives, literally, all their lives and their parents and their grandparents before them, you know, we had people down that road, there’s families that have lived there for 150 years
And they were old, they got moved out and most of them died off within nine months because they just couldn’t settle where they were”

But for tenants conditions have improved since he got involved in 2002. Although he had doubts about the setting up of the ALMO it has increased consultation and tenants have opportunities to be heard. There have been some successful campaigns.

“It’s where they wanted to sell off our green spaces on the estates to a Housing Association to build… the land they wanted to sell off was nine million pounds, they wanted to sell it to the Family Mosaic for three million so we set up the EPAG group the Estates Plus Action Group to combat that and so in the end it worked”

The Tenants and Residents Association has been going since 2001. There had previously been one just for Marcon Court but this fell apart. Housing had been neglected for some time in the borough, but this was turned round through residents’ pressure.

“This estate here hadn’t had any work done on it for twenty years and it was really, it was going downhill, that’s why they wanted to pull it down.”

There are differences between estates across the borough, and the TRAs tend to depend on individuals doing a lot of work. Other tenants can be demanding and expect a lot.

“Yeah, I’ve had phone calls, I used to have an old lady that lived above me, she was 80 odd, a nice lady, but she phoned me up at one o’ clock one morning because her cat hadn’t come home. ‘Could you find my cat he hasn’t come home?’ [laughs] ‘Yes dear I’ll go and have a look.’ But one o’clock in the morning! It’s a job. And you do find that people, before they think of doing anything themselves they’ll phone me, ‘I’ve got a complaint’, ‘Well have you phoned the contact centre?’, “No, can you -?’ ‘No, I can’t do it, you have to do it yourself’. It’s only if you phone and don’t get any results, then I can follow it up but I can’t initiate the complaint for you.”

He is hopeful for the future, with improvements in services on the estate and a fall in crime, but is worried about the effect of cuts to housing benefit.

When asked what “home” meant to him, he replied;

“Ah. It’s my neighbours, it’s my community, my estate, I mean I don’t, my neighbourhood. It’s where I live, it’s where I’m comfortable, where I know everybody on me estate and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I’m dreading the time I ever have to go in an old people’s home and move away from here.”

He talks about some of the problems on the estate, the attitude of some council officers, the short-term nature of people renting properties bought by the tenants and then rented out, low level anti-social behavior. But he talks positively about how different groups work together on the estate,

“I’ll tell you lease-holders are very good, if it hadn’t of been for lease-holders and free-holders on this estate we would have never set up our new TRA, the initial idea came from a free-holder and she did all the running around and talking to people to get the first meeting set up.”

And about the estate in general

“I know some estates have a different attitude but we’re such a small estate we’ve got to include everybody. We’ve only got 185 homes on the estate, you know with that you need, we’ve got fifteen different languages, as first-language, it’s quite a cosmopolitan estate [laughs] and I love it there, perfect position we’re right in the centre of Hackney, we’re mid-way between the two stations, we’ve got the buses five minutes from the hospital, schools all around us, this is the ideal location to live in Hackney”