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Middlesex Street Estate resident and City Matters contributor, Ian McPherson, hails the continued success of the Neighbourhood Watch WhatsApp group.

The Neighbourhood Watch WhatsApp group has been a lively and productive place in recent months as the Middlesex Street Estate has been plagued by a series of niggling problems.

Take, for example, the unwelcome, incessant beeping of an alarm that started one recent Friday night just after 7pm. Immediately, the WhatsApp group sprang into action with neighbours discussing what the source of the noise might be and what to do about it.

It wasn’t immediately clear where the noise was coming from as the sound was bouncing off the surrounding buildings.

The beeping also sounded identical to a malfunctioning mobile phone mast that tormented us all for days last summer until the City’s Noise Team were able to locate the culprit transmitter on the roof of a nearby hotel. Eventually, it was discovered that the noise was coming from the estate’s fire alarm system.

There was some initial hesitancy as to whether or not it was appropriate to call the fire brigade as last time this happened they dispatched six fire appliances from all across London to the scene, despite the obvious lack of any inferno (although fair play to the London Fire Brigade for their risk-averse approach in the post-Grenfell world we now live in). It appeared that there was no evidence of any fire this time around either.

However, as a networked group of neighbours we were able to share information between ourselves, including that the fire fighters had previously advised that we should always call 999 every time the fire alarm was triggered, even when it was obviously a false alarm.

Communicating together as a group, we also learned that it was apparently only the fire brigade who had the ability to silence this concrete-piercing, insanity-inducing din. The fire brigade were duly called by a member of the Whatsapp group and four fire appliances were dispatched to silence the incessant beeping.

Then there was the recent issue of the estate being left without any hot water for 26 hours.  Again, this happened on the weekend when the estate office was closed.

This had an obvious adverse effect on all residents on the estate, but those participating in the Whatsapp group were able to collaborate and share information among themselves as to how best to adopt a co-ordinated approach to collectively address the issue.

It was also through the Whatsapp group that residents learned that the delay in restoring hot water seemingly resulted from the contractors on call simply not having had a key to the boiler room, despite reportedly having been given several copies in the past.

This, in turn, led to the Neighbourhood Watch group making a co-ordinated approach via Common Councilman Jason Pritchard to the City of London Corporation expressing our significant dissatisfaction about how such a simple oversight had resulted in hundreds of people being inconvenienced.

Working together, we are now insisting to the City that more robust out-of-hours procedures must now be put in place.

A few weeks before this incident, the entire estate was left without any internet access because of a technical problem. It took a frustratingly long period of time to get services restored, but what was really interesting was when members of the Neighbourhood Watch WhatsApp group started sharing stories of their efforts to negotiate pro rata rebates from their respective Internet Service Providers.

It emerged that the amount of compensation offered by one unnamed major service provider appeared to vary widely from one Middlesex Street Estate resident to another. How could this be?

I personally used this to my own financial advantage when negotiating with said provider as I was able to dismiss the paltry compensation offered to me by correctly advising them that one of my neighbours on a near-identical contract had been offered substantially more.  The service provider immediately conceded and I got the same rebate as my neighbour.

And yet I wouldn’t have known to do this had the Neighbourhood Watch WhatsApp group not already had a comprehensive thread regarding which Internet Service Providers had offered what rebates to various residents.  Knowledge is power.

The WhatsApp group has also been very effective at flagging up the more obvious problems generally associated with a Neighbourhood Watch group.

There have been numerous instances of antisocial behaviour being identified and quickly shared among neighbours over the last year. This has mainly been around trespassers on the estate loitering around the basement areas to use drugs, but the group has also identified other issues, such as people trying to tailgate residents on to the estate and a spate of burglaries in the sheds at the bottom of Petticoat Tower.

The latter example quickly led to the Neighbourhood Watch group getting residents of Petticoat Tower to sign an open letter to the City of London requesting that significantly enhanced security measures be implemented.

I was pleased to see that one of the requested actions was put in place just this week with the installation of brand new, enhanced CCTV on the estate.

What all these examples have in common is that they have helped promote a sense of community and ‘togetherness’, where issues can be quickly shared and ideas discussed as to how best to address problems we have in common. Issues that affect my family also tend to affect the people living next door, above and below me when we are all literally living on top of one another in a high-density inner-city housing estate.

Residents have a stronger voice when we speak with each other and speak as one on issues that matter to us all. We have repeatedly demonstrated to each other that collaboration and mutual support is better than suffering in silence or trying to deal with issues as individual residents.

If you are a resident of the Middlesex Street Estate and would like to join the WhatsApp group the Neighbourhood Watch group would love to hear from you. You can contact them at mseneighbourhoodwatch@gmail.com.

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