🏠Knoll House guardians kicked out, Pavilion Gardens may be locked up and more⛲️

Plus petition for ESCC to divest from fossil fuel investments.

🏠Knoll House guardians kicked out, Pavilion Gardens may be locked up and more⛲️
Source: The Brighton Seagull

Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull and this week's Monday Briefing! To paraphrase the late, great Dale Winton, bring on the news!

This edition of The Brighton Seagull is sponsored by Cybersyn, a friendly digital analytics consultancy based right here in Brighton.

News This Week

Plans in place to restore Pavilion Gardens

The sun setting over the Brighton Pavilion
Source: The Brighton Seagull

Discussions are being had around restoring Pavilion Gardens 'to its original Regency glory', especially regarding vandalism and antisocial behaviour.

The Seagull understands part of this may include closing the gardens at night, when most of the antisocial behaviour is said to take place, which would make it safer for residents, visitors and staff.

A spokesman for Brighton & Hove Museums said:

We’re extremely worried it is recorded as one of the highest crime zones in Sussex.

It has been placed on the Heritage England ‘At Risk Register’ for concerns about high levels of visitor use, erosion of character and a deterioration of the sense of history in the garden.

We’ve received funding from Brighton & Hove City Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to explore how we improve the garden to restore it to its original Regency glory and to keep it a safe environment for everyone.

The group has also identified 'priority audiences' to help improve access for and to aid them in learning more about the Pavilion's history: disabled people, children and young people, and people with mental health issues.

Over the next six to eight months, Brighton & Hove Museums will be consulting with visitors, tourists, family and those who don't visit the gardens to find out their thoughts and what improvements they would like to see—these will be submitted to the National Lottery Heritage Fund in the hopes of getting grants.

To find out more, and to get in touch, click here.

Petition for more oil company tax and affordable green energy

A petition from Divest East Sussex to East Sussex County Council has been started, calling on the council to stop investing in fossil fuels.

The group is calling on the council to publicly support a permanent windfall tax on oil companies, and to transition to a system providing affordable green energy for all.

Organisers of Divest East Sussex said:

Soaring energy bills are expected to push two-thirds of UK households into fuel poverty this winter.

Meanwhile, the same giant oil & gas companies that are driving the climate emergency – companies like Shell and BP – are making vast profits out of the current crisis.

Yet despite declaring a ‘climate emergency’ East Sussex County Council (ESCC) is still investing local people’s pensions in these companies and has rejected calls to support a proper windfall tax on them. (Oil companies operating in Norway pay a special permanent 56% tax, on top of corporation tax, reaping vastly greater revenues than in the UK.)

The aim is to get 5,000 signatures to trigger a debate. To find out more, click here.

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The Big One

'Viva La Knoll' - building guardians remain defiant after being forced out amid fire safety concerns.

People being evicted from Knoll House
Source: The Brighton Seagull

What's happening? Knoll House residents were forced to leave on Friday 19th August, reportedly with less than four hours notice, because of a failed fire inspection.

What's Knoll House? It's a council-owned building, where people live under a guardianship scheme. Knoll House is under the management of Oaksure Property Services which has been running the guardianship scheme.

A guardianship scheme allows people to rent properties that are not in use (for example, disused offices) at reduced rates, to prevent squatting and vandalism.

Who lives in Knoll House? At its peak there were close to 40 people, in 32 rooms, paying a combined £16,000 every month. By Friday, there were around 10 people: many left after problems in July. Residents include a council worker, an actress, a midwife, a heavily pregnant woman, seasonal festival workers, an ICU nurse, a 24/7 carer and other key workers.

This sounds familiar... It should. In July, the council gave Oaksure 28 days' notice to quit but Oaksure didn't serve the residents with eviction notices. Councillors Robert Nemeth and Garry Peltzer Dunn called on the council to prevent the eviction, which was ultimately stopped.

Why were they forced out? In a joint statement with East Sussex Fire and Rescue, the council said:

Following several visits, the council’s health and safety team raised serious concerns with Oaksure about fire safety at the property.

In July a potential closure of the guardianship scheme due to the fire safety issues was avoided after the city council took part in intensive discussions and an agreement was reached between the council and Oaksure that would see Oaksure continue to accommodate the guardians.

It was hoped Oaksure would take the urgent action needed to fulfil their responsibilities and obligations to the guardians regarding vital issues such as fire prevention and safe evacuation of the building.

However, following a council inspection at the property this week, the council was very disappointed that the actions required to make it safe accommodation have still not been carried out.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue concluded following a visit that 'in the event of an emergency there would be a significant risk to life due to the inadequate emergency procedures and suitably competent persons to carry them out', so the council immediately terminated its contract with Oaksure. The council told residents they had done all the work they could—further works had to be done by Oaksure to make the building safe.

What will happen to the residents? They have been placed in emergency temporary accommodation, but only until this morning (Monday). They say they have not been served eviction notices, and many are unsure of what they will do today.

What have residents said? Wendy, an actress and musician who was head guardian since October 2020 and had been with Oaksure for eight years, talked to us about her experience being head guardian. She was living in Knoll House to save money for a deposit. Back in July, she had a limited time to move her belongings out, which cost her £600, before driving through the night to work in Scotland. She said:

Being a head guardian, I was asked to check the fire alarms once a week. And what I was unaware of until the fire inspectors came around and told me this was that that legally made me the responsible fire warden into the building.

I had no idea that this responsibility fell on my shoulders until fire safety told me 'if someone had died in this building, you would be the person up in front of the coroner, you'd be the person going to prison because you were the person that signed the form'. This is not what I signed up for—I hadn't signed anything, there was a verbal agreement.

The council have been fantastic, people have been allocated housing officers but we have no timescale on this. They said they would help us out for the weekend and then they'd have to reassess the situation. Oaksure have made zero contact with any of us about this.

Connor, who was in the process of negotiating a head guardian agreement last week, told us that he's had health issues including suicidal thoughts as a result of this experience. He said:

Oaksure had the perfect opportunity to do the right thing to get things put in place, legislation and procedures, to build a better relationship with guardians and the council. They had a perfect opportunity where everybody could could enjoy the situation, a golden opportunity, and they've just thrown it up the wall and they haven't adhered to any of the legislation that they had to do.

We've been each other's rocks through this whole thing. If it wasn't for the community and the bonds that we've all built, I'm not joking, I don't know where I would be or whether I'd be alive.

Simon, who was also negotiating a head guardian agreement, said:

It is our belief that last Monday [Oaksure representatives] gave environmental health assurances that Oaksure have done the required training and the right documents were in the right places, but turns out that wasn't true.

They told us their house mottos: 'No Problems, Just Solutions' and 'Viva La Knoll'.

What will happen to Knoll House? The council plans to demolish the building next August to build an acquired brain injury facility.

Can I do anything to help? Anyone who is able to offer places for people to stay, storage, counselling or legal advice (pro bono or no win no fee), please email [email protected]. Additionally, the government does not 'endorse or encourage the use of property guardianship schemes as a form of housing tenure' which means a lack of legislation and protection for guardians. Email your local MP and ask them to pressure the government to do more to help.

Oaksure Property Services have been contacted for comment.

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