On the 23rd February, almost 40 hardy souls braved the cold weather to attend ACORN Reading's launch meeting. And what a meeting it was.
Almost 40 people attended the meeting, and we discussed issues as varied as the provision of the social care for the elderly to traffic and litter. But the issue that dominated proceedings was housing in Reading, and more specifically, the private rental sector.
Members told the room about being quoted £600 in administration fees, only for the letting agent to claim that didn't actually cover all the costs, so the tenant had to pay extra fees for the references and credit checks (which inevitably begs the question - what does the £600 administration fee actually cover?) We heard stories about one couple paying a holding deposit for a house only for the deposit to be returned with the explanation that the landlord was taking the property off the market. Whilst they were scrabbling around desperately trying to find another property to rent, the original house came back on the market but with an extra couple of hundred pounds slapped on the rent. When the chair asked how many people had experienced houses with damp and mould problems, almost two thirds of the room raised their hands.
The meeting was entirely run by members, including one of the members cooking all the biscuits on offer!
Over the course of the night, we heard a little about what ACORN is, where the idea originated and how we organise from Anders; we heard from Izzy how he's watched Reading change over the course of his life, and that he joined ACORN because he still believes in community and wants to work with other residents to make Reading a better place for all and restore some pride; and we heard a little from Vivien about how issues like letting agent fees are a common problem, but not a problem that's impossible to fix.
The main aim of the meeting was not just to moan and bring everyone down - rather we were there to highlight issues that we as a community experience and decide to take action around these issues. The room overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking action around the fees letting agents charge. Anders presented the campaign idea that a few members had been cooking up over the last couple of weeks. In recent weeks, we've been collecting a petition asking letting agents to remove fees and look into offering longer term tenancies if the tenants want them. 100s of people have signed this petition, so the idea is that on the 5th March we go as a group to various letting agents around the town and deliver this petition to them. When we hand over the petition, we will invite them to a meeting where they will answer questions from the community - putting them on the spot trying to justify the fees they charge, demanding that they meet the legal requirements around repairs, calling on them to treat tenants with the respect we deserve. The room agreed that this was a course of action we should take, so this campaign is swinging into action right now.
If you can come with us to hand in the petition, please let us know. If you'd like to be involved in organising this and other actions, please get in contact by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), facebook or call us on 07873 203016.
We also discussed taking action on other issues. These are very much new campaigns and we're still looking into what can be done, so we need people to get involved in helping us look into these issues.
- We mentioned looking into which Councillors are not the best when it comes to responding to residents needs, whether that's in dealing with litter in the streets or speeding on our roads, and then working with them to improve their responsiveness.
- We also have another, more local project, around lighting of the Lok 'n' Store premises and the impact it's having on people who live opposite it being kept up at night.
If ACORN sounds like a group you want to support and get involved, please contact us (email@example.com or through facebook). You can also register that you'd like to volunteer on our website.
We aim to be entirely funded by our membership, so that we can remain completely independent and campaign on what the community wants, rather than what the funder wants. To help us remain independent, some of our members support the organisation financially by setting up a regular monthly payment. You can do that here.
And we're already having an impact. The day after our launch, Letting Agent Today published this article. Good to know that they're already aware of our presence! Join us today and lets make some real changes in Reading. We're as strong as our members; the more of us there are the stronger we are.