Privatise the Mandem is the blueprint to fighting inner-city gentrification
UK cities are changing and social housing is disappearing from their skylines in the name of regeneration. Author Nabil Al-Kinani has published a radical manual for estates to buy their blocks and preserve the ends.
“Gentrification is a threat to my people, so I wanted to find a way to protect the mandem,” says Nabil Al-Kinani, an author from Brent, North West London, who has worked in the urban development industry for a number of years. He’s looking to preserve the culture and affordability of the “ends”, or inner-city communities, via a radical new manifesto printed as a blue paperback: Privatise the Mandem. “How do we preserve the ends?” it asks. “Answer: we privatise the mandem.”
It’s hard to describe the work Al-Kinani does, but an (albeit vague-sounding) term might be “cultural producer”. He collaborated with art college Freedom & Balance on the 200-page Authors of the Estate in 2019, a project that asked “How do you turn council houses into publishing houses?” and compiled the work of 22 writers who live on the Chalkhill Estate into a book.
In an interview, Al-Kinani’s collaborator André Anderson said: “‘Author’ is now a title in the ends. That language gives people a new framework for how they see the estate.” In 2021, Al-Kinani released Pipe Dreams, a zine exploring the Park Royal area of West London by telling the stories of shisha cafes as cultural hubs of Arab diasporas. Now, he’s working on Castles, an upcoming visual essay that showcases “the majesty of inner-city social housing estates across the city,” repositioning spaces once perceived to be disempowering and ugly.
But Privatise the Mandem is a personal project for Al-Kinani, who himself grew up on London’s Chalkhill Estate. It was demolished and refurbished in the late ‘90s. “My estate has felt the effects of every single housing policy in this country,” he says, describing how it “fell victim” to the movement of Housing Action Trusts and was transferred over to housing associations. This led to the demolition of 1900 houses and flats, and around 700 people were displaced to other estates.
Gentrification is a pressing issue for UK cities today. In the latest series of Top Boy, a central narrative thread was the demolition of the Summerhouse estate and its impact on residents. Although fictional, this narrative was inspired by real-life stories of longtime residents in a community with deep social ties and support networks.
As we see in the Netflix series, these links are threatened when new houses and shops are built on their streets, which naturally leads to feelings of loss, stress and other psychological hardships. Like Al-Kinani, many of the cast of Top Boy have experienced this first hand. Let’s not forget that financially disadvantaged urban areas like these are cultural hubs for music, sports, culture, fashion, politics and literature, producing the likes of Skepta, Top Boy’s Little Simz, Ashley Walters and Michaela Coel among countless others.
But despite their rich communities and cultural legacies, inner-city living areas are increasingly being populated by glossy, futuristic-looking flat complexes with fierce marketing teams and huge price tags. For Al-Kinani, privatisation (transferring entire estates into the ownership of those who live there), is the only viable option to preserve the spaces and people within them.
“We’re a vibrant and valuable community that contributes unreservedly to the modern British and global society. Yet we face an ever-growing existential threat: redevelopment or ‘regeneration’,” he says, highlighting the controversial word that’s often used by developers to hint at social cleansing. “The ends is fertile ground, ‘regeneration’ assumes that a place requires ‘generating’, that there is no energy or life in a space,” he says. “Why are we pretending like the ends aren’t the epicentre of cultural activity?”
His 80-page manifesto, Privatise the Mandem, is pushing for collective ownership of these areas while creating “opportunities for the mandem in revenue generation, maintenance, controlled renovations and improvements, estate management and cultural placemaking”. The book sets the scene of the current housing crisis and explains how individuals can help “buy the block” in precise detail. Al-Kinani drills this in with a sense of urgency: “If we don’t secure the ends now, there’s a real risk that we’ll imminently be displaced and our communities destroyed in the process.”
The book also recounts true, inspirational stories of those who’ve stood up to estate regeneration, such as Dora Boatemah, who between 1987 and 2000 fought to save Brixton’s Angell Town estate. Persisting through obstacles like Lambeth Council cutting off grant funding, forcing Boatemah to rely on state benefits to feed her family, she managed to secure £8 million to help transform the estate. Boatemah’s story is one of many printed in Privatise the Mandem, aiming to show readers that, by working together and sharing knowledge, this end goal is possible.
Originally built to provide affordable housing for London’s working class, the amount of council estates in the capital is rapidly decreasing. Latest figures estimate that 250,000 Londoners are on waiting lists for council homes. Public housing estates are rapidly disappearing from London’s skyline – the website Estate Watch flags around 100 council estates in London alone that are under threat of demolition. Councils across the capital continue to work alongside private organisations, often leading to residents being moved out of their homes, sometimes outside of London, while their area is redeveloped. Upon return, they’re unable to afford the cost of their new home.
The past 25 years have seen a downturn in truly affordable social housing alongside a rise in more affluent occupants, aided by schemes like the Thatcher government-introduced Right to Buy (and which Boris Johnson is considering bringing back. The initiative, first designed to help council housing tenants buy their homes with discounts, also saw tens of thousands of council tenancies lost for those on waiting lists.
At the same time, many boroughs almost completely stopped building new council housing. Unlike Right to Buy, which allowed individuals to buy a flat in a block (as a leasehold), acquiring the whole block collectively would mean owning the freehold. This would let residents take full control of their space and remove the need for housing associations – the largest of which have recently come under fire for making inadequate repairs and turning a blind eye to shockingly poor living conditions.
In 2018, Sadiq Khan released the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which promised “better homes for local people” and “to put residents at the heart of plans”. In practice, Al-Kinani argues, this has not been achieved. But Privatise the Mandem does not “seek to fix the system,” he explains. “It is an act of preservation and self-love, and aims to shield the mandem from poor decision-making across the built environment industry.” Privatise the Mandem urges people to transfer estates from public or government control to private ownership, “because outsourcing control of our space fails to safeguard the mandem and our culture has developed to a point where we no longer require the support of the public sector”.
Privatise The Mandem details the steps to acquire the freehold of entire estates, block by block. Using legislative tools such as collective enfranchisement, which means tenants of long leases of flats may have the right to acquire the building on a collective basis, the manifesto visually lays out the plan via a detailed timeline diagram.
It’s pretty technical, but Al-Kinani summarises the basic steps: “One: round up the mandem, Two: plottin’ the move, Three: taking over, and Four: cleanin’ up.” Rather than Al-Kinani’s vision being a quick fix, he sees it as something “that must outlive us. We won’t reap the benefits of privatisation. Our children will and their children will.”
In the spirit of sharing knowledge and preserving community, Al-Kinani has also set up a “privatisation hotline” (+447554658435) where people can ask logistical questions on Whatsapp and Telegram. Give him a shout, Al-Kinani says, and he’ll come to your block to discuss the plan with you.
He sees this as the beginning of a movement. “Think of this as season one. Following seasons will address further questions such as: after the acquisition of the freehold of the ends, how would the ends operate as a city? Or, how do we compete against the emerging 15-minute cities [places where most daily necessities can be reached by either walking or cycling from residents’ homes]?” Privatise the Mandem is just getting started.
Order your copy now at www.privatisethemandem.com.