Residents have long complained about issues on the Orchard Estate, on the Greenwich-Lewisham boundary

A woman living with a kitchen that was damaged after a leak says residents in her Greenwich Council estate have been waiting up to ten years for repairs to homes that reek of mould.

Sarah Saitch moved into Ellison House on the Orchard Estate with her husband 14 years ago. She says that for the past ten years, people living in the Orchard and the neighbouring Coldbath Estate, both in Lewisham, have experienced numerous problems including mould, pests, and water damage.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “About five years ago, there was a leak coming down the building and it was coming nearly every day from the 12th floor. We had a mould wash and I had a cupboard up there that I had to throw out because it was warped and damaged.

Orchard Estate bathroom
There has been a long-running problem with mould on the estate

“The issue is that because there was so much water coming down here, the wall is damaged. You can poke holes in it. [Greenwich Council] came around to assess this just before Christmas, and they said it was a repair that didn’t need to happen.”

Saitch said water damage was a common problem for homes on the estates, with the smell of mould “taking your breath away” in some flats.

As a member of the tenants and residents association, as well as running the estate’s Neighbourhood Watch group, Saitch often finds herself as a spokesperson for residents when reporting the conditions of the buildings.

She said issues began in 2012 after the council installed new kitchens and heaters, which let in mice and cockroaches. She said: “They didn’t really do it properly, they’ve left gaps. So then we had more pests that were coming in.

”But also the mould then became an issue because people couldn’t afford to have the heating on all the time.”

Sarah Saitch moved into the state 14 years ago

Saitch said the mould in her flat comes back “with a vengeance” every winter after getting the council to remove it during the springtime. She said another vent was meant to be added several years ago, but that the installation never happened.

She added: “For the last 10 years the repairs have been just going downhill to the point where, my personal feeling is that, Covid was used as an excuse. Obviously, they couldn’t come into people’s flats. But the problem started way before that. This is historic. This is not a recent issue.”

Regarding issues in Ellison House, a Greenwich Council spokesperson told the LDRS: “Extensive works to address the issues in Ms Saitch’s home will be carried out by a specialist contractor, beginning on April 24. We are also installing a new door and entry system to Ms Saitch’s block, and all tower blocks in the state, and our safer streets team will continue to patrol the whole estate to prevent anti-social behaviour.”

Orchard Estate towers
Greenwich Council recently carried out a survey of the estate

Saitch sent a petition to Greenwich Council last year, asking for a more prompt response from the repairs team – after a council newsletter said improvements to its repairs programme could take until 2026 to finish.

In response, Labour councillor Pat Slattery, cabinet member for housing, said at a council meeting last month: “The bulk of these repairs and improvements will be delivered by the end of four years, but they’re already being delivered now.” Slattery also said that the waiting time when reporting repairs to the council had been reduced since last November.

Saitch said she had seen little action on the estate’s issues beyond improvements to the council’s helpline. She said: “At the moment, it’s timescales. It’s doing things in a reasonable timeframe.

“We had a problem with our toilet before Christmas. So they came and they had to empty the cistern. So we had to flush our toilet for six weeks with a bucket. That’s unreasonable. If I was 80 years old, I wouldn’t have been able to manage to do that.”

Switch said trying to get repairs was a “real battle”. She said: “Even as a resident, if you ring the repairs line, they’re really rude. And you feel like you should be grateful for any sort of help, which is wrong.

“We’re people, we’re tenants, we’re residents. We pay our rent, we pay our council tax. Why shouldn’t we have a decent repairs service?”

Coldbath Estate, Lewisham
The neighbouring Coldbath Estate also suffers from problems

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told the LDRS: “As one of the largest social housing providers in London, we believe that everybody has the right to a safe, secure and good quality home.”

The spokesperson said action was already being taken on the disrepair issues in the Orchard Estate. They said the results of two independent, in-depth surveys are being reviewed to find the source of the damp issues and how to address the problem in the long term.

They added: “We remain committed to improving housing conditions across Greenwich – including addressing issues of damp and mould, which we take extremely seriously. And we continue to lobby the government for funding to invest in existing council homes and build more housing.”

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Joe Coughlan is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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