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97-year-old ‘trapped’ in flat after repeated lift breakdowns

'People don’t realise how important these things are until they happen to you'

03 December, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Helen Pottok

A 97-year-old woman has been trapped in her home for days due to lift breakdowns at a sheltered housing block.

Helen Pottok, who has lived on the fourth floor of Argenta House, in Aspern Grove, since the estate was built in Hampstead more than 30 years ago, said: “I feel imprisoned.”

The lift to the top floor, which has repeatedly failed, has been out of action for at least 12 days in the last three weeks.

Ms Pottok said: “Budgen’s is opposite and I go to the U3A for poetry. There’s an organisation for the elderly. I go to the American School as well. I haven’t been able to do any of it. People don’t realise how important these things are until they happen to you. No one here is as old as me. I can’t walk all that much. I have to use a frame.”

A former sales assistant in Selfridges and a seamstress, she moved from Hilltop, in Swiss Cottage, into Aspern Grove.

She lived in the flat with her husband until he died about 10 years ago. The couple had married in an East End synagogue in 1940 when her husband, originally from Poland, was in the Air Force. His family all died in Auschwitz.

Ms Pottok said she had been given a series of excuses about the lift breakdowns, ranging from electricity problems to missing parts.

Council engineers fixed the problem again on Tuesday – shortly after her family contacted the press – but Ms Pottok said the record of short-lived repairs meant she was worried the lift would break down again soon.

Her daughter, Bernice Butcher, said: “She has been stuck outside twice too. One time there was a tea party on downstairs and they said: ‘Come down. The lift’s not broken.’ So she went to the party and then it broke and she couldn’t get back up. She did manage to haul herself back up­stairs. But it took a couple of days for her to get over it – and she can’t be going through that.”

Ms Butcher recalled her mother’s “funny mishaps”, which included falling into the lake in Regent’s Park and losing her false teeth in the sea at Brighton, only for the dentures to return to her on the crest of a wave.

She added: “She liked to go to the drama group at Henderson Court, but then she stopped because they started charging £25. She’s not like your average elderly person. She is quite remarkable in many ways.”

Ms Butcher has written to Tulip Siddiq about the lift, but fears the MP is swamped with Brexit issues. Her letter said of her mother: “We are concerned that she is losing her already-limited mobility by not going outside.”

Hampstead Town ward councillor Maria Higson said: “My heart goes out to those residents affected. It is simply not good enough that vulnerable residents were left trapped for days at a time due to slow council housing repairs. “Camden must ensure a compassionate app­roach to housing services, not a to-do list which seems to take little account of real safeguarding issues.”

Councillor Meric Apak, cabinet member for Better Homes at Camden Council, said: “It’s really important to us that residents are able to lead active, independent and sociable lives. Our focus is on removing any barriers which may prevent this. We have repaired the lift and it is back in service. My understanding is that the lift had been working well until this month. Our technician is now examining it in more detail to determine if there is a long-term issue we need to address to ensure a good service to residents.”

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