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How to fight gentrification in the ends? Privatise the Mandem

Privatisation has long been used as a weapon to pursue austerity by successive Tory governments. But for activist Nabil Al-Kinani, to privatise is to reclaim ownership of what is rightfully yours.

01 Jun

Britain’s skyline is littered with skyscrapers that sell dreams of a futuristic utopia – and nowhere is this more visible than inner-city London, where boroughs are increasingly carved up by developers and investors with new influxes of wealthy occupants. 

But while urban development has skyrocketed, with millions of pounds being funnelled into construction, thousands continue to live in squalid conditions or are being priced out. Around three in 10 people live in bad housing in the UK, with nearly a third experiencing mental health problems because of their housing situation during lockdown. Due to its insidious nature, the impacts of gentrification are largely yet to be documented, but it is estimated that 2.8% of Londoners are vulnerable to displacement.

One activist’s answer to gentrification? Privatise the Mandem – a way for communities to fight back and preserve their homes and the spaces around them.

At first look, Privatise the Mandem’s Instagram page resembles a national equality thinktank, with clean-cut infographics breaking down industry jargon like “insourcing” with bold diagrams of key values. But with a deeper look, Privatise the Mandem reveals itself to be a grassroots project that is inspiring collectivist interests for a new housing movement based on community and agency, developed by one resident with a radical vision. 

Nabil Al-Kinani is a 26-year-old Londoner who grew up in north-west London’s Chalkhill Estate, which was demolished and refurbished in the 1990s. His vision is shaped by his experience of growing up in the ends and landing his first job in urban development. It was here where he witnessed the lack of representation of working-class communities in the sector, despite many of them directly bearing the brunt of gentrification. “The mandem aren’t involved in the space game,” Nabil says. “When it comes to urban development, it’s more politics than bricks and mortar.” 

His approach feels different to what has come to define activism in the hyper-individualist 21st century; Privatise the Mandem is simply for the collective goal of positive community change.

Drawing on the existing UK legislation around collective enfranchisement – where leaseholders of flats can join together to buy their building – with Right to Buy council homes and Right to Acquire housing associations, Nabil has created an accessible and practical seven-chapter book for those looking to protect and preserve their ends. Printed on blue paperback he designed and self-published in May 2022, Privatise the Mandem gives communities the tools necessary for them to take back control back of their spaces. He sees it as the democratisation of urban development.

“In short, it is providing a structure for the mandem to follow, and providing them with the legislation required to acquire the freehold of the ends,” Nabil says. “What you come out with is an organisation made up of the mandem who own the freehold of a block.”

“There is now a common understanding in the ends that something’s not right”

Nabil Al-Kinani

Privatisation is a term that has become tied to neoliberal interests of profit accumulation, with dispossession being an integral aspect of this process. Margaret Thatcher’s government spearheaded an era of privatisation that launched an assault on railways, utilities, telecoms, water and more. In the 21st century, gentrification has become a pivotal symptom of the commodification of the pursuit of capitalist interests, which eradicates social housing and displaces local communities in the process. Since 1997, 161 London council estates have been demolished, with roughly 131,000 people being displaced in the process. 

But Nabil says he intentionally chose the word ‘privatise’: he defines it as reclaiming ownership of what is rightfully yours. “The fact that I’m saying ‘Privatise the Mandem’ is with purpose,” he says. “It’s using the language that I’ve been exposed to, in order to benefit my lot.” 

Nabil reflects on how social justice movements have always had to utilise the existing system and infrastructures available in order to create transformative social change. With the ownership of space being an integral step to enabling our communities to flourish, he sees privatisation as a way to fight gentrification. By seizing the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, Privatise the Mandem is a tactical strategy for self-empowerment.  

The Privatise the Mandem handbook provides communities with guidelines and timelines, as well as breaking down how they can form an organisational structure in order to acquire ownership over the ends. The interpretations of key legislation such as Right to Buy and Right to Acquire within the book make what has previously been a largely obtuse subject more accessible.

“Privatise the Mandem imagines the ends not as a sacrificial space, but a vital component of the future”

Urban development is a booming market, with over 80% of global GDP being generated in cities. Nabil sees his manifesto as a way of protecting inner-city communities from further marginalisation. “The mandem are always affected by changes in the public sector,” he says. “So to privatise is to insulate ourselves from the market, and then whatever we decide to do with our space is what we do.” In a country where only a quarter of construction output goes towards the public sector, protecting social housing from further eradication is a lifeline for working-class communities. 

Gentrification is a glorified process, framed under the guise of ‘regeneration’ with the promise of revival, but renders communities vulnerable to displacement. Living just opposite Wembley Park, one of the largest developments in the UK which boasts £2.5 billion investment, gentrification is an all too familiar process to Nabil and his community. 

Nabil is keen to unpack how words such as ‘development’ and ‘regeneration’ imply positive change, but in reality, these processes are inherently violent for communities. “Nine times out of 10 these spaces ‘get better’ without us, because the bias ultimately comes from who inhabits these spaces.” Instead, he asks, “What does development look like for the mandem?”

Nabil shows me the official Privatise the Mandem hotline phone, a way he can be reached at any time by any individual who wants to understand what exactly this initiative means for their block. By making himself freely accessible, he is offering communities something that many have never experienced from the conventional modes of housing support – a direct and personal connection. But Nabil also recognises that privatising the mandem will look different for every community, due to the unique potential of its people. “I can’t be too prescriptive. A block in Croydon will have a vision for itself, but it’s about providing the option to develop yourself.” 

Already, some people have been reaching out via the Privatise the Mandem hotline from across London to find out more about how they can reclaim their ends. “There is now a common understanding in the ends that something’s not right. I’ve spoken to people who have gentrification looming on them, and people who have undergone the gentrification process and are healing from it.” But for Nabil, Privatise the Mandem is just “season one” of a lifelong commitment to ensuring that the ends can be self-sufficient and self-empowered. 

Towards the end of our conversation, Nabil reads aloud the first sentence of the book. “This was written for the mandem.” His dedication and passion is clear, but what strikes me most is his hope for a better future, something that is often lacking in politics and activism. Privatise the Mandem is full of hope, a concept that imagines the ends as not a sacrificial space, but a vital component of the future.

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