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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Key media have reported the background to the story, showing that the
council inherited the squatted homes problem and was now tackling
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
Client: Lambeth Borough Council
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: October and ongoing
Budget: Part of overall media budget