Hovel(l)s, homelessness and hope

On a prime spot on attractive historic streets filled with the independent shops and cafes is something that makes more than my eyes sore.

It is not just happening in this city.

People who have known Norwich a while will likely think of the shop on the corner of Bridewell Alley and Bedford street as Hovell’s. The basket makers come furniture department store ran for over a century, almost as well known as the Mustard Shop that used to be next door. It is a multi levelled building, larger than the exterior appears. Since Hovell’s moved out, it has been mostly empty – for over 4 years. A series of fashion boutiques at last filled the vacancy. But within a couple of weeks, the doors were heavily padlocked and a bailiff notice served from the landlord with breeze blocks around the entrance.

Builders came in and there’s a for sale sign from Arnold Keys, but with such a landlord, who would want it?

This makes me especially angry, for the unnamed landlord called in the Sheriff’s office of Croydon before trading had got off the ground. It’s a problem too common in times of hardship and debt, where owners try to exact power over others, using money and law as leverage. And it’s ugly.

In walking distance is a former office block on Rose Lane, perhaps not Norwich’s prettiest building, but it did have some thought to local architectural trends. Now with metal grills over every opening, the building is uglier than it ever was in use. A man was at the reception desk late at night, and there were signs about 24 hour security and police dogs.

Further up the street was a bunch of regular homeless people.

As around the world, there are many people out of work, struggling in their own businesses, suffering from government cuts, and who live on the streets. All of those could benefit from those empty premises, which someone has found the money to defend and have watched, yet not offer low or even no rents to those who need them.

The effect is uglier than the dereliction itself.

I’d like to see the council wrest ownership and offer fair terms that don’t involve paid bullies. Both owners should be ashamed.

Hope is an act of defiance

On the old Hovell’s building is some graffiti, in beautiful script, which says  “Defiance is an act of hope”.(I preferred the reversed version – “Defiance is an act of hope”). These and similar messages (another was “Resistance is Fertile”). appear only on places that are being repainted, or on skips That message, more attractive than the empty building, indeed gives hope. I hope that the landlord and sheriffs read it and act accordingly.

Ironically, this article was accepted 2 months ago for local Triangle magazine, who now declines as the editor ‘wasn’t comfortable’ with questions about pay and copyright. This is another issue I address elsewhere.

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