I live in a ground-floor flat, so it is hard for me to imagine what it is like when the only lift serving a 10-storey block stops – and is not replaced for three weeks.
The residents of Berry House know how it feels: and it is particularly distressing for people who returned from holiday with all their luggage, or are being evicted, or have serious medical conditions.
The lift serving number 21-50 Berry House was taken out of service by Wandsworth Council at a day’s notice on September 9. It came back into use on Thursday, September 29, then promptly broke again for three days.
I visited Berry House, which is on the Battersea Field Estate, a couple of times during this period and I was approached on all sides by residents with complaints.
Victor Cumberbatch (pictured below) has recently had a toe amputated and estimated it took him 10 minutes to make his way down to the front door, counting out each of the 88 steps with a tap from his white cane.
Stella Ottiti of flat 27 said the situation was terrible and that the lift had got much worse since it was replaced about five years ago.
A couple on the third floor have visual impairment issues and arthritis; carrying the shopping up the stairs from the supermarket has become a serious burden. The offer of alternative accommodation was unsatisfactory: “we don’t want to move, we want the lift to work”.
A man on the 10th floor, who suffered a stroke earlier this year, saw the bright side: the broken lift gave him the excuse he needed to exercise.
Juliana (pictured below) was moving in to the block while I was visiting. It was not the best introduction to the neighbourhood that she had to drag all of her belongings up the stairs.
Jean Laffey on the fourth floor said this was the worst lift she had experienced in 46 years of living in Berry House. She told the Wandsworth Guardian journalist who I invited along: “I’m 73, I shouldn’t be heaving stuff about. I have had to put up with all these problems.
“It is the worst lift we have ever had. I don’t like walking up the stairs at night.”
(Read the Wandsworth Guardian article about Berry House)
Olufunke, who lives on the ninth floor, said she slept in her car outside the flats for three days before entering cramped and sub-standard alternative accommodation. She is waiting for a knee operation and has been kept from the orthopaedic mattress in her flat for three weeks – I ran in to her descending, very slowly, down nine flights of stairs.
Maud of Flat 50 was in good humour despite having walked up and down 10 flights of stairs each day for three weeks. She was out of pocket as she had to cancel a furniture collection due to the lift breaking again.
A female tenant on the eighth floor, who is being evicted by her landlord, faced the prospect of carrying everything she owned down the stairs.
Almost every person had a tale of trivial or serious inconvenience.
Wandsworth Council are responsible for the lift. A spokesman points out the lifts on Wandsworth’s estates are available an impressive 99 per cent of the time. He says the Council: “Made every effort possible to return this lift to service as quickly as possible. The mechanical failure of this lift was extremely unfortunate but in the circumstances unavoidable.”
The council dismissed any possibility of compensation for the residents.
Battersea Fields Residents Organisation, who manage the block, say their team: “acted quickly as soon as we were informed from the council. We made every effort to offer alternative accommodation within our powers to the resident’s that were affected by the lift.”
The council seems to think that people who live in high-rise blocks simply have to put up with poor service – this despite one resident in Berry House saying he paid £1,394 a year in service charges! I raised the issue of compensation at ‘Question time’ during this week’s council meeting, and got this negative reply (see question 42).
It is just not possible that a vital service the council was responsible for would be withdrawn at a day’s notice from 21 properties in, say, a residential street in Balham for weeks on end and then be reinstated with hardly a word and no thought of compensation.
The residents of Berry House deserve better.