Merle Court, named after local activist and Granville Kitchen cook Merle Barriteau, was opened with great fanfare in 2012. LINK The block was built via a Catalyst Housing, Brent Council and Willmott Dixon partnership. The block was used to decant residents from Brent Council properties that were being demolished. Tenancies were transferred from the council to Catalyst Housing.
After the Grenfell fire concerns were raised over the cladding of the block. The BBC reported the fears of resident Issa Kaingu whose flat in Merle Court os enclosed in a polyethylene-based shell. LINK
I am really worried. I have no idea what I'm going to do. I am at the top and if there's a fire it would be difficult to get down. I am really shaken and feel like I can't even stay here.At the time Catalyst was advised that additional safety measures, including 24 hour wardens, would ensure it was safe for residents to continue living there until cladding was removed.
When fears were at their height post-Grenfell, a special meeting was convened in South Kilburn that included residents, councillors, the fire brigade and various housing associations. The absence of Catalyst Housing was noted at the time.
In December 2018 building regulations changed for walled systems over 18 metres high and were applied retrospectively. These applied to Merle Court but investigations by Catalyst Housing found other faults in the 7 year old building which will involve removal of brick work as well as cladding.
Now a considerable amount of work needs to be done which will involve Catalyst rehousing the residents and buying back leasehold properties in the block.
A spokeperson for Catalyst Housing supplied the following statement to Wembley Matters:
We are unable to say what we expect the repairs to cost at the moment.All Merle Court residents will need to be re-housed and Catalyst will support everyone throughout this process. We expect this will take between 12 and 18 months to complete.Outline of Residents’ Offer (April 2019)Catalyst’s offer to residents is currently being developed for approval by Catalyst’s Board in May. Once it has been approved we’ll be able to share the full residents’ offer with those living at Merle Court. In the meantime, we felt it was important to let residents know that they will need to move out of Merle Court and share what we can with them now, in terms of the likely timescales and the support and financial payments they will receive.An outline of the offer is summarised below:Assessing residents’ needs and developing individual packages of support
Catalyst will arrange one to one meetings with every household to discuss their individual circumstances and support needs, and where needed, develop individual packages of support. We want to understand each household’s needs and establish how we can help.Our offer to tenantsCatalyst will offer tenants assistance and support throughout the re-housing process by providing a dedicated member of staff for Merle Court. We will spend time talking to every tenant to understand their housing needs and their preferences for a move. We will also offer additional support to older and vulnerable residents, and signpost to other support services, where needed.Catalyst will make direct offers to tenants where we can, of properties that meet their housing need and take into account their preferences as far as possible (about location, type of property and so on).If possible, Catalyst will give tenants the right to return to Merle Court, once the major works have been completed. This will be considered as part of the residents’ offer which we will share with them at the end of May.We are looking at what financial payments we can give residents as well as covering reasonable “disturbance” costs for moving home.Our offer to shared owners’ and home ownersCatalyst will meet all home owners to discuss their individual circumstances and the options available. We will have a dedicated member of staff for home owners to speak to throughout the process.Catalyst will offer to buy back of all the shared/home owners’ homes. This will include the option to buy another Catalyst property (with an equity loan depending on financial circumstances).We will buy back properties at the current market value and residents may also qualify for additional financial payments and a disturbance allowance. More information will be available towards the end of May, once our Board approves the residents’ offer for Merle Court. In the meantime, we would like to meet everyone to understand their individual circumstances and discuss options and next steps.