The scandal of Thistle Housing Association in Toryglen

By Catriona Stewart

Columnist/reporter

The scandal of Thistle Housing Association in Toryglen

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IN my time at the Evening Times I've come across a lot of angry people who want their stories told in the paper to try to mobile the authorities into some kind of action.

Fury can sometimes lead to people exaggerating issues or embellishing the truth a little bit. When Ian Paterson and David Crockwell first invited me out to Toryglen to see the work being carried out by E-on and Thistle Housing Association, the story sounded a little far fetched.

A 14-week energy upgrade programme running 191 days late? Raw sewage coming in to people's homes?

Faulty rough casting, scaffolding blocking the main doors of resident's flats, blue plastic covering the windows of people's homes and leaving them literally in the dark for five months?

Surely no tradesmen could make so many errors and no site foreman could allow all this to be happening on such a grand scale?

A walk round the area showed fault after fault with the so-called upgrade works to these homes.

And how many homes were affected? Well, around 600.

Even at this point - February 2017 - this was a scandal. As Ian and David walked round the community with the photographer and I, people were coming out of their homes to talk to me about their stories. It's usually a case of knocking doors and persuading people to talk but by the end of the visit I had more stories than I could possibly use.

A woman in a wheelchair who was trapped in her home by the scaffolding blocking her front door.

Another woman who said a heavy piece of masonry fell from scaffolding above and smashed through the decking of her patio. She was just grateful she hadn't been sitting outdoors at the time.

A man who came home to find two workmen having a stand up fight in his front garden, necessitating a call to the police. A couple whose home needed roughcasting four times before it was to a decent standard.

At the same home repairs had to be made when the flue from their boiler was sealed in by workmen, causing a potential hazard.

And this all using public money, cash from Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government.

One month after the initial story appeared, E-on admitted it had "let the residents of Toryglen down".

The energy firm said it was renowned for its award-winning work in delivering these type of energy upgrade projects and pledged to have the work done as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, it was nigh-on impossible to get Thistle HA on the phone... until the association hired a PR team to deal with press enquiries. We're now nearly two-and-a-half years on from that initial story and I'm still writing about Thistle Housing Association.

And the reason I'm still writing about Thistle HA is down to the dogged determination of Ian and David.

They have phoned up with some pretty outlandish claims in the past two years - the chimneys are all unsound? But that would be dangerous, surely that would be dealt with immediately? And then two chimney coping stones fell from roofs.

Thistle HA knows about asbestos in the roof spaces of the flats? And isn't dealing with it effectively? Surely not.

Ah, and now the Health & Safety Executive is dealing with asbestos issues at the flats.

No matter what the two men have claimed is happening with housing bosses in their community, they've turned out to be correct.

Last year the Scottish Housing Regulator began an investigation into Thistle HA and the results were damning. Additional staff were parachuted in to help support the housing association to improve.

One year on and a follow up report last week by the watchdog raises even more serious concerns. It remains to be seen what will happen next. It would be an amazing feat if the association can repair the damage done in its relationship with its residents.

And does the association have the skills it needs to repair what is a serious raft of failings? Or will it ultimately be best to transfer its assets over to a larger body, such as GHA?

Residents are fed up waiting. But what is also important is to acknowledge the work of local champions. Without people like Ian and David, people willing to stick their heads above the parapet and to keep pushing for what they know is right, it's unlikely any of this would have been made public.

So here's to local champions. And here's hoping residents have the answers they need and the work on their homes properly completed as soon as possible.