By David Edwards

Jonny Butcher

Some lettings agencies in Sheffield are charging tenants up to £700 to sign a tenancy contract. This fee isn’t related to any additional work by the agency, they are already being paid by the landlord. Agencies are charging these fees simply because they can get away with it, (in Scotland such a practice is illegal).

Renters Rising

Issues like this motivated Jonny Butcher to become an organiser for Acorn in Sheffield. “Acorn develops and support communities to campaign for changes in their day to day lives. In the UK, Acorn is currently coordinating #RentersRising – a national project to build a renters union to campaign for a better deal for private tenants.

“Over the last 10 years the number of people renting privately has doubled. Private renters pay more of their income on housing than any other group, they live in the worst conditions and they have the least security. Private renting used to be a stepping stone to home ownership or social housing tenancies, but increasingly it is now a long term option.

Acorn in Sheffield

“I have just moved back up to my hometown Sheffield to start working on #RentersRising. My first step has been to make contact with private tenants across the city, which I have been doing through street stalls in different areas, making connections online and face to face meetings. By mid-November the aim is to have 15-30 volunteers who will attend a training event to provide them with the skills and resources to build the union in Sheffield. Acorn is a bottom-up organisation and our mission is to give people the support and tools they need to campaign for the changes they think are important in their locality.

“One of the things I really like about Acorn’s approach is that it attracts a wide range of people who see this as relevant to their lives, and it doesn’t just rely on seasoned activists. In a way there are similarities with the early trade union movement in that people are coming together to organise and campaign for a fairer deal regarding issues that impact on their daily lives, except for us the focus is on housing rather than employment.

Union St – “A petri dish for the new, networked economy”

“I decided to work from Union St for a couple of reasons. On a practical level it has a central location which is useful as I’m working across the city. At the same time Union St feels like a real hub of inspiring people, it has people with a wide range of skills and backgrounds – it’s kind of like a petri dish for the new, networked economy. There are also a number of the members who are involved in campaigning work around social justice, so I’m looking forward to swapping ideas and learning from each other.”