Linda Elsworth, 71, is one of several tenants on the estate who’ve been issued eviction notices requiring them to be out of their homes by December 1. With the deadline looming, Linda fears she has nowhere else to go and even if she did “it wouldn’t be the same”.
“It’s devastating. It’s like losing your family. The thought of being homeless is scary – especially at this time of year,” Linda, who lives in Oulton, Leeds, said.
Pemberstone, the landlord of the properties, has been planning to redevelop the estate since 2019, and has now got the ball rolling with eviction notices to the eight most “structurally unsound” houses on the estate, Leeds Live says.
But Linda continued: “I paid for this out of my own pocket and made the place my home and my community. I was comfortable in thinking this would be my forever home, and now the rug’s been pulled from under us.
“It’s a little bit disheartening because I spent most of my savings to make this my home and now it’s all going to be taken away from me.”
Linda, a retired administrator, moved to the estate six and a half years ago after her marriage broke down.
And the woman, originally from Hornsea, East Yorkshire, found the area affordable and quickly grew to love the sense of community in the old miner’s estate.
Her house is even decked out in her two favourite things, which she calls “obsessions” – owls and the colour purple – collections she’s built up to make the place her own.
She’s decked out her whole house with a purple sofa, microwave, shelves, rug and more, alongside hundreds of owl statues and owl cushions and even an owl snow globe/musical box.
Linda added: “I’m having to pack up all my boxes, with all my memories.
“I’ve got to decide which bits to get rid of – because there won’t be room for them wherever I go.
“I’m extremely worried. My hair’s started to fall out and my blood pressure is up and down all over the place. I’m not the healthiest person at the moment anyway. It’s not helping – the fact that I’ve got to try and pack and move stuff around.
“I don’t know what to do. When Wednesday comes around and I’m going to have to say ‘I’m sorry I’m not moving because I’ve got nowhere to go’.”
Linda has been collecting owls for more than 25 years.
After several years of the estate fighting Pemberstone’s application to bulldoze the old mining community, Linda and some of her neighbours received notice in August they would need to be out by December 1.
“I only have about four or five days – but there’s no way that’s going to happen because I’ve got nowhere to go,” she said.
“I’m physically looking for places but there just isn’t anywhere – at least not anywhere that I could afford.
“The reason we all live here is because they’re affordable properties for people such as myself on a state pension and housing benefits and people on lower income.
“When I moved here I was a lot healthier and able to do it, but now my health has deteriorated and my mobility’s gone and I need walking aids. I can manage keeping the house neat and tidy but having to pull it apart and move furniture and pack is just hard work.”
Linda has been struggling to find a new place in Leeds’ competitive housing market.
She is looking at ground-floor bungalows or flats with lifts only because of her mobility problems and also needs specific kitchen and bathroom fittings, such as a walk-in shower.
Linda has already had to turn down two properties because she knew she wouldn’t be able to cope alone in them.
With the council house waiting list as long as it is, Leeds City Council has promised to help tenants like Linda financially so they do not become homeless, but it’s still likely she won’t be able to stay in the same area.
Linda said: “I know if I ask my friends and neighbours for assistance packing they’ll rally around and help – that’s the way they are. That’s the one thing that makes this worse – we aren’t just friends and neighbours – we’re a community, an extended family. If we lose that it’ll be like having my family cut off.
“I haven’t got anyone else nearby who I can rely on. I’ve got to rely on my family up here. I don’t know what I’d do without them – they helped me with everything during the pandemic.”
Linda’s next door neighbour has already moved out ahead of the eviction notice, and she says she’s felt ‘a bit lost’ since they went.
Leeds City Council, controlled by the Labour Party, originally denied Pemberstone planning permission to bulldoze the estate in 2019 – but the decision was overturned the next year by the government.
The estate campaigning as group Save Our Homes LS26, urged the council to buy the estate and refurbish the houses, but they concluded it would be too expensive.
A spokesperson from Leeds City Council said: “The notices being served to residents of Sugar Hill Close and Wordsworth Drive in Oulton are from landlord Pemberstone, in accordance with national law.
“In terms of council support for the residents, Leeds Housing Options has contacted them with advice and assistance, and a surgery also took place in the community last week, both during the day and in the evening.
At the surgery applications for council housing were completed and relevant priority awards under part 7 of the Housing Act made. Detailed advice and assistance was given on an individual basis.
“The council has also backdated any priority awards made to January 15 2021 in line with the appeals panel decision which will further support those tenants losing their homes and not yet engaged with Leeds Housing Options to hopefully reduce the time taken to be successful with an offer of a suitable council property.
“The council understands the short timescales involved and whilst we are working with residents to assist with an offer of a council property there is strong support in place now to help residents secure private rented accommodation in the short term.
“Whilst confirmation of who will purchase the site and develop it is awaited from Pemberstone, we are committed to working with the new site owner to ensure preference is given to any affordable homes provided for rent to tenants who will have been displaced.
Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council’s executive member for infrastructure and climate, said: “Our priority remains firmly on helping to minimise the stress and any hardship on the tenants concerned, providing all the help and guidance we can to ensure they have alternative accommodation and support.
“We are also committed to working with the developer of the site to ensure those tenants displaced will have priority for the new affordable homes, which the aim is now to have up to 40 such properties available for rent. Moving forward, the council remains committed to lobbying government to change the law and end ‘no fault’ evictions.”
A spokesman for Pemberstone added: “An extensive survey of all 70 houses in 2020 found that there was significant structural damage and deterioration to 15 properties which threatens their overall structural stability. A follow-up survey in March this year found that they have continued to deteriorate.
“We, therefore, had to take the difficult decision to give notice to eight tenants who are on standard tenancy agreements. Of these, five are currently still in occupation. For the tenants who have to move, we have provided a four months’ notice period and have offered an ex-gratia payment equivalent to up to six months’ rent to help with relocation costs.
“Leeds City Council has also assured tenants that they will be supported in obtaining alternative accommodation, which includes home visits if necessary to process their applications.
“A recent report from Leeds City Council has reflected our long-held view that there is no economic case for refurbishing the existing properties. This was also a point endorsed by the independent Planning Inspector who dealt with last year’s Planning Inquiry when this issue was debated at length.
“We firmly believe that the redevelopment of the estate, which would include the creation of new affordable housing, is the best option to secure its long-term housing future.”