CAMPAIGNS: Lambeth’s homes are hot property - Local Government

The London borough of Lambeth has launched a concerted effort to win back possession of scores of homes that have been squatted for up to 16 years. The London Evening Standard brought the story into the media spotlight earlier this year when it reported that squatter Timothy Ellis won possession of a house worth pounds 200,000. Under squatters rules he won the property because the council, as landlord, made no attempt to reclaim it in the 16 years he lived there.

The London borough of Lambeth has launched a concerted effort to

win back possession of scores of homes that have been squatted for up to

16 years. The London Evening Standard brought the story into the media

spotlight earlier this year when it reported that squatter Timothy Ellis

won possession of a house worth pounds 200,000. Under squatters rules he

won the property because the council, as landlord, made no attempt to

reclaim it in the 16 years he lived there.



The media ran the story, which echoed previous media scandals of

mismanagement at the council, branding the buildings as one of the homes

that Lambeth ’forgot’ or ’gave away to squatters’. With at least 30

potential ’lost’ homes on its files, with the possibility of more, the

council launched a media strategy to regain the high ground and go

public with the problem.





Objectives



Lambeth had three main objectives: to show the public that it was not

hiding anything; that it is tackling the problem, and make clear that

the squatted homes were inherited from previous administrations.





Strategy and Plan



In order to defuse future adverse publicity over the issue and to avoid

being picked off on a house-by-house basis by the media, Lambeth held

special briefings with the media. During these it made public a database

of 18 homes that it expected to go to court to contest, and around 34

properties that could potentially lead to legal proceedings.



This list was made available to all media, particularly BBC’s London

radio station GLR, Newsroom SouthEast and the London Evening

Standard.



This was an effort to show that the council had decided to be

transparent, include the public in how it dealt with the problem and

show that it was attempting to win back possession of the homes through

the courts.



A central plank in its media campaign was to underline the fact that the

squatted homes were inherited from previous administrations,

particularly that of the 1980s, when over a thousand homes were

squatted. It blamed a ’state of disorganisation’ in former

administrations which meant that records were not kept and that

properties were subsequently lost.This loss of homes was compounded by a

poor repairs service, scores of homes inherited from the then abolished

Greater London Council and growing squatting movement at the time.



In its latest press statement, Lambeth points out that by 18 October

1999, only 43 Lambeth Council houses were squatted and between 1 January

1999 and last month week, 90 squatters have been successfully evicted

from Lambeth properties.





Measurement and Evaluation



All key media ran the story, including Newsroom SouthEast, GMTV and

GLR.



Newspapers covering the story included the Times, while the Evening

Standard, which had broken earlier Lambeth Squatter stories, ran the

story on its front page and then ran a feature reporting the

disorganisation of previous administrations.



This piece implicated the former ’loony left’ Lambeth administrations,

and praised the work the council is now doing to tackle the problem,

which includes sending officers out to walk the councils streets to spot

suspect buildings. As yet, no member of the public has reported any

’lost’ homes in addition to the council’s list.





Results



The council has preempted any future ’council gives squatters homes’

stories by going public with a list of homes whose ownership is set to

be decided in court and by inviting the public to identify other suspect

homes.



Key media have reported the background to the story, showing that the

council inherited the squatted homes problem and was now tackling

it.



Lambeth LBC acting head of communications Isolda McNeill says: ’We think

that the media and the public has accepted that we are in the driving

seat.’



Client: Lambeth Borough Council

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Squatters

Timescale: October and ongoing

Budget: Part of overall media budget



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