NEWS

Reprint of Article from Bristol 24/7 by Will Simpson

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Acorn - remember the word. The chances are you’re going to hear it a lot in the future. In less than two years Bristol-based community group, Acorn, have not only helped gain a better deal for the city’s private tenants, but also shown how community politics in the UK might be conducted in the future.

The idea is simple. Acorn is a community version of a trade union. It began in Bristol when co-organiser Nick Ballard and a colleague worked on Locality, a government-backed community-organisers programme. Any funding the pair raised to start a community organisation, would be match-funded by the government. When they secured the cash in 2013 the Bristol Acorn was planted. “We thought we would do something to tackle economic issues rather than relatively more superficial things,” Ballard explains

Campaigns covered by Acorn are ultimately up to its members, but it quickly became clear their primary focus is securing a better deal for private tenants. “When we initially talked to people other things were mentioned as being important issues. The cost of living, the high prices of utilities, access to services, but housing is the dominant thing.”

Acorn is not a new idea. A US version has existed since the early 70s. There are also groups in Canada, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Since the Bristol group began in 2013 other UK versions have emerged in London, Newcastle, Birmingham and Reading.

“I have to admit I didn’t know much about the US organisation,” says Ballard. “But when we spoke to their founder it sounded like their model worked and that it would beneficial to operate under that name.”

The Bristol version is set up like a trade union – with neighbourhood rather than workplace branches. Each branch is free to launch its own hyper-local campaign yet if it has city-wide relevance they can co-ordinate with the other groups.

Eventually, as with other unions, Acorn’s funding will come entirely through membership. “We still have a bit of money from that original grant,” explains Ballard. “But our goal is to be 100% self-sufficient through membership fees, which are around £4 to £5 per month. “It keeps us independent and it doesn’t limit the activities we can do or the campaigns that we run.’ At present Bristol Acorn has around 300 members although they estimate up to 8000 have supported the various campaigns and the demonstrations they’ve organised.

And those campaigns have produced speedy results. This spring Bristol City Council adopted Acorn’s Ethical Lettings Charter, committing landlords to certain minimum standards - three of the city’s letting agencies have already signed up. Acorn have also won back deposits for members, and forced landlords to make long overdue repairs and install new appliances. “Just last weekend we demonstrated on behalf of three members in dispute with Liv N Let and as a result, for one of those, the overdue repairs have already started.”

The question is whether Acorn can transform not only individual lives but grass roots politics in the UK. Nick believes the idea has huge potential. “Well, the idea is eventually to be build a national organisation. In the States Acorn started from nothing and grew to half a million members. That's our long term goal. And the more we grow, the greater the ambition, the better campaigns we can run and the bigger political impact we can have.”

“For the moment though it’s been great to see that mobilising people and taking direct action can improve a lot of local people’s lives. It really shows that if we unite and stand up for each other we can change things.”

For more information about Acorn and their latest campaigns go to: acorncommunities.org.uk

Photographs by Julian Welsh

Fun-Raver was held on April 2nd in London.

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Easton tenants to march against ‘rip-off’ letting agents

Residents say they are “fed up” and have organised themselves to improve tenants’ rights and security, by marching on agents offices this morning

Residents in Easton are due to march on lettings agents in the area this morning to protest against “rip-off tenancy fees and insecure rental contracts”.

Members of the newly launched Easton neighbourhood branch of Acorn say the BS5 area has twice the average number of privately rented homes in Bristol, but generates more than 25% of all complaints about privately rented homes in the city.

They add that with only two to six months of tenancy security and agent fees of up to £500 each time they move, many tenants are intimidated out of complaining or campaigning by the threat of eviction.

Residents are now “fed up” and have organised themselves to improve tenants’ rights and security. They have been canvassing residents to support the campaign and gained 500 signatures for a petition in just over a week to demand the following from estate agents:

    An end to tenancy fees, which they say are “extortionate and unjustifiable”;

  • The implementation of 12-month, fixed-term tenancy agreements over insecure rolling tenancies, which don’t benefit tenants, landlords or the wider community;
  • Support of longer (three- or five-year) fixed-term tenancy agreements wherever possible.

“In Easton, fees are often £250-500 (some are as high as £900) and some agents charge new fees of around £30 every six months,” Acorn says.

“Not only that, but some letting agents encourage landlords to only sign contracts for 6 months to make it easier to evict tenants. It seems to be a case of ‘cough up or get out’.

“Only having housing security for six months is not a decent way to live. Across Europe, standard tenancies are years years long or even unlimited. It’s better for all of us if we have some stability.

“We want more stable communities; knowing your neighbours increases safety and well being, a less transient population takes more pride and invests more time in the place they live. Houses with longer-term tenants are generally looked after better and are less likely to provide eyesores or fall into dilapidation.”

The petition will be presented to local letting agents at today’s march, starting at Morgan and Sons on Stapleton Road at 11am. Agents will also be invited to explain to residents their policies at a public meeting on Thursday, July 3.

http://www.bristol247.com/2014/06/20/easton-tenants-march-rip-letting-agents-35812/

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A group of campaigners marched their way around estate agents in Easton on Friday to protest against “unfair” tenancy fees and rolling monthly contracts.

Members of the newly launched Easton neighbourhood branch of ACORN, a community social justice organisation in Bristol, have been canvassing residents to support the campaign and gained 500 signatures in just over a week.

The BS5 area has twice the average number of privately rented homes in Bristol, and generates more than 25 per cent of all complaints about privately rented homes in the city.

ACORN say that most rentals in the area offer only two to six months security and “rip-off” letting agent fees of up to £500 each time they move, leaving many tenants feeling “intimidated” out of complaining or campaigning by the threat of eviction.

The group is now campaigning for an end to tenancy fees, the implementation of 12 month fixed-term tenancy agreements over rolling tenancies and support of longer fixed-term tenancy agreements wherever possible.

The aim of Friday’s March was to encourage estate agents in the Easton area to work with ACORN to achieve those goals.

Agents were also invited to “explain themselves” to residents at a public meeting on Thursday July 3. More than 100 people have already registered to attend the meeting and two letting agents have already agreed to come.

Read more at http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Campaigners-visit-Easton-estate-agents-protest/story-21277964-detail/story.html#wg4V2SLBuGjgLHP9.99

ACORN Bristol had their first action today. We marched to various estate agents to have the members deliver a letter with the campaign demands (no more tenancy fees and rolling monthly contracts) and inviting agents to a meeting on the 3rd of July. ACORN Bristol is definitely buzzing and today three different media groups came out (including the radio that did some interviews with our ACORN members).

 

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