Winterton House was built in 1968. It was dressed in light grey fibreglass cladding; inside, residents complained about a lack of privacy due to the flimsiness of the internal partitions. Tower Hamlets Council took the decision to strip it down and rebuild with heavier floors and partitions, along with a load-bearing brick exterior to accommodate them.
The rebuild was completed in 1999.
According to Tower Hamlets Community Housing, it may have been the tallest brick-built building in Europe at the time.
The purpose of the steel structure on its roof was to pre-stress the new brickwork by generating more than a million pounds of downward pressure.
ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HOUSING By Simon Brandon
Anyone familiar with east London will recognise Winterton House. It is one of the tallest buildings in the borough of Tower Hamlets, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf excepted – a 25-storey, brick-clad tower block topped with a strange metal gantry that appears to pinch the building together.
The building has been owned and managed by 3,000-home landlord Tower Hamlets Community Housing since 2000. It contains 138 flats, of which 137 are for social rent.
Tower Hamlets itself is one of the most culturally diverse boroughs in the UK. It is also a borough of contrasts; it plays host to both the global headquarters of HSBC and the highest incidence of child poverty in the UK.
Winterton House is, then, both a landmark and as dense a concentration of social housing as can be found in the East End of London. As such, it is as suitable a place as any to try and find an answer to the question: who lives in the capital’s social housing in 2015?
Earlier this year, I set off with a camera, notebook and an itchy buzzer finger to find out. I hoped the results would reflect the diversity of the surrounding city, and might therefore challenge some old stereotypes – the ones that can prompt winces at the mention of the terms ‘tower block’ or ‘housing estate’.
The resulting sample is small and necessarily self-selecting; most people, confronted by a strange man asking to be let into their home to take their picture, were either wary or simply uninterested. Either response is entirely understandable.
As it turned out, those residents who did agree to participate are a group of people diverse in age, background and employment. They include a theatre technician, a black cab driver, two nurses and a swimming instructor; they come from as far away as Mauritius and as close as a few minutes’ walk. In other words, the residents of Winterton House who agreed to take part don’t fall neatly into any category – apart from the one marked ‘people willing to have their photograph taken’, perhaps.
Does this admittedly unscientific survey reflect a broader truth about London’s social housing? I hope so – but after 23 flights of stairs, I’m not sure I have the strength left to find out.
I’ve lived here about 10 years, and in east London for about 19 years. I am originally from Somalia. I teach swimming to children in Shadwell and Bethnal Green. I graduated from university recently – I was studying health and social care. I hope to become a social worker. It’s quiet here. It feels quite safe – I travel a lot and don’t have to worry about coming back at night because there is a security guard downstairs between 4pm and 8am. I’ve got a neighbour from Luxembourg, one from Thailand, and there are lots of locals living here too. The people are wonderful.
Honda Cruz, 32
Before I retired, I was managing director of a recruitment consultancy. I’m from Yorkshire originally and I’ve lived here about eight years. We started the garden (at Winterton House) from scratch about five years ago. It was a dog toilet back then; now we have ducks and chickens, and we’ve won awards from Tower Hamlets in Bloom, the Royal Horticultural Society and the East London Garden Society. My co-chair Ken and I have put lots of time into it – we’re here most days of the year.
Melvyn Smith, 71
I am studying airline airport management at the University of West London. My plan is to work for Emirates at Heathrow so I can go on to work in Dubai; that’s where the money is. I will graduate next year. I am Bengali, like many people in this area, and I am from Mauritius originally. We moved here 11 years ago. I speak three languages – English, French and Mauritian Creole. The building is very nice – the people are friendly and it feels safe.
Kevin Sumaroo, 21