Memories of an ex-docker

I am introduced to Bill through a mutual acquaintance, his neighbour to be precise, whose flat I have just photographed. The photographs are intended to serve as a document, a visual memory of the homes that are under threat of demolition. When I ask Bill whether he would talk to me about his memories of living in his flat, and if I could photograph it, he immediately agrees and shows me around.

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Bill has lived in his flat on Achilles Street for 64 years, ever since he moved in in 1953. Bill was born in St Olave’s Hospital in Rotherhithe – now a housing estate – in 1928 and is 89 years old. He started to work in 1942, and on his way to work by bike London was getting bombed all around. “All the houses in our neighbourhood were getting bombed, but in those 6 years our house managed to stay safe.” After the war, the houses were being pulled down and his family had to move. His father was working in the docks at the time and didn’t want to move too far away from work. They found this flat on Achilles Street, a London City Council building at the time and built not long after the war. Bill and his family moved in when he was 25, and he has lived here ever since.

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The flat hasn’t changed much since moving in, and for the family, it was the first home where they had electricity and a bathroom. When we talk, Bill shows me some photographs of his mum and other family members. You can see the same settee and other furniture in the photographs, and his mum’s bedroom still has the same wallpaper as when she passed away 20 years ago. Also, the gas fire is still the same as on the day they installed it; only Bill is not allowed to use it anymore for safety reasons. Bill used to know all the neighbours, and he still remembers all the names of people and in which flat they lived. Sadly, many of them have moved out or died, and “now you don’t know who lives next door!”

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Bill is still incredibly fit for his age. He manages the whole household by himself and has a memory as sharp as a pencil. When he shows me photographs of him and his colleagues at the docks, he tells me the name of every person, where they were from and whether they have died or are still alive. Bill worked in the docks for 30 years and has very fond memories of that time.

“It was a wonderful time, the camaraderie amongst men was out of this world”, he reminisces, “not like today where everyone just looks out for themselves. Working at the docks was hard work but it was very rewarding”, he continues. “It was all about friendship, you knew all of your mates and we helped each other out.” Together they played football and cricket, and took part in marches. “Many of the strikes were to support other people and when we went on strike, everybody was united! This kind of camaraderie doesn’t exist anymore today.”

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Bill started working in the Surrey Quays Commercial Docks in 1950 and took bus 202 which used to run from New Cross to Rotherhithe to work. “At that time, there was work in abundance”, he remembers. When those docks shut in 1969, the workers were sent to Millwall and West India Docks where Canary Wharf now stands. In 1980, when all the docks shut down, Bill, after 30 years of being a docker, was made redundant. But he was lucky. After looking very hard for another job, Bill started work as a maintenance worker in Nat West Bank in the city less than 2 months after being made redundant. He worked there for another 13 years doing anything that needed doing such as cleaning, polishing, repairing before retiring in 1993. “It was a good job and well-paid”, he says. “At that time the bank paid all their own staff, engineers, labourers, everyone. Now all the services are sub-contracted, and you see what happens…like with Carillion now. How can the government give them a £2bn contract with taxpayer’s money without doing their research?”, Bill asks.

Bill also has fond memories of New Cross and Deptford, and how he would spend his free time. “We’d come home from work and there was plenty to do. The Venue was a cinema called Kinema, there was the New Cross Empire Theatre, the Broadway Picture House and the Odeon in Deptford. And if you wanted a drink, there was mile of pubs on Deptford High Street. You could start at one end of the High Street and by the time you arrived at the other end you’d had enough.“ Sadly, pretty much all pubs on Deptford High Street have disappeared and whilst many of the pubs in New Cross are still here, Bill says they’ve been taken over by Goldsmiths students, “and you  might as well call New Cross Goldsmiths with the amount of buildings they own”, he says half-jokingly. For Bill, New Cross pubs are too dear now, and he likes to go to the Greenwich Wetherspoon’s or the Crosse Keys Wetherspoon’s in the city, where he has been meeting his former Nat West colleagues, those still alive and well enough to go, every Wednesday since he retired.

Bill is very pragmatic about change. “It’s progress, I suppose”, he says. Curiously, he doesn’t mind if he has to move into another flat, but this is mostly to do with his age. “When you get to the age of 89, you don’t expect too much. If I was younger, I’d be more interested in how I live but now it doesn’t’ make a lot of difference to me; as long as they don’t send me to China or North Korea, or into an Old People’s home – I don’t want to go there. I want to live somewhere quiet and stay in the area I’m familiar with; that’s important. I can look after myself and just want to be able to do my thing.” When I ask him if he would miss his flat, considering it hasn’t changed in all these years, his pragmatism comes out once again: “I haven’t had much change in my life, I moved from Rotherhithe to here, that was my only change. I won’t get a flat as big as this but it’ll be something I can manage better. I might even get a nice view into the park. But I don’t want to live on the ground floor though, it’s too noisy!” He does feel sorry though for the younger generation, for leaseholders and private renters. “They are probably in a much worse situation than me. Most of the flats are private now and they’re not building any more council houses.”

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“New Cross was one of the last areas without being out in the suburbs”

As I walk into Mughead Coffee on 359 New Cross Road, the staff are busy baking cakes for the next day. The wonderful display of home-made brownies and cakes, sandwiches and other savouries draws you in, and the fact that food is prepared on site makes you want to try something even more. When I get the camera out, Star King, one of the owners of the business, is slightly concerned about the mess behind the counter whereas to me this is nothing more than the evidence of the baking going on. The flour stains on her apron remind of baking at home, evoking the warm memories of mum’s cooking. Upon request though, I don’t photograph the ‘mess’.

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Mark and Star King are the business owners of Mughead Coffee. They love coffee and set up business in June 2017 with a 5-year lease, knowing that the area might be redeveloped in the near future. “At the moment it’s just talk and no fixed plans have been approved yet. It might not even happen and so we set up with the hope that we might be able to stay”, Star explains. The reason why they set up in New Cross is its art scene, the amount of artists and freelance workers that live in the area. “When we were looking for an area conducive to coffee shops, the Deptford and New Cross area stood out. This location here is so good – the layout of the courtyard and the fact that the buildings are set back from the road – you won’t find anything like this anywhere else”, Mark explains. With the limit of the 5-year lease, Star and Mark have not invested much money in the building itself, but they have built up a very good customer base very fast. Their customers are, according to Mark, “50% from Goldsmiths and the other 50% are freelance workers in the area.” The coffee shop was pretty much an instant success, at least in terms of popularity. “We’ve got dozens of people who come daily, with some customers having become almost family and calling the café their community hub. We know many of our customers by first name, know about their personal lives, and we’d miss the community if we had to go. It seems there really was a need for a place like this.”

The 5-year lease, however, makes the future uncertain and it carries a high risk for their business. “If the area does get redeveloped, we might not be able to find anywhere in the area within our budget. Where coffee shops are successful, the rent is already high and we need to find a balance between affordability and profitability in a difficult business climate. At the moment, we’re working towards financial ‘security’ if things remain as they are, but we fear we’ll be pushed out of here.”

When I ask Mark what he thinks about what’s generally happening in London, he describes it as an “unstoppable ripple effect”. “It is the inevitable pushing out of populations through exorbitant pricing. People who used to be able to afford Greenwich had to move to Blackheath before then being moved on to Hither Green, which is also now becoming unaffordable”, he expands. Mark and Star live in Hither Green and expect to be moved on again to somewhere further out soon. “Most of London is inaccessible to us as renters and entrepreneurs, and New Cross was one of the last areas without being out in the suburbs.”

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It is evident that regeneration affects all those who don’t have the money to pay the high rates charged after an area has been developed. This applies to homes and to businesses. Currently, the buildings on New Cross parade are owned by the council which makes rents more affordable, giving some entrepreneurs the chance to run an independent business. However, once the area has been regenerated with buildings owned by private developers, rents will be so high that most current businesses will not be able to set up again.

After a while, Mark has to leave; he needs to pick up their child from school while Star remains behind the counter baking and serving customers.

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Save Tidemill – Reginald House and Tidemill Wildlife Garden II

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Check out the fantastic summer programme of free events in Tidemill Wildlife Garden, until middle of July anyway (programme for the rest of the summer will follow). Also check the Facebook page for further updates: https://www.facebook.com/savetidemill/

Save Tidemill Programme

While you are in the garden, why don’t you leave a note about your experience of the garden on the Memory Board. Make a comment, write a story, paint a picture of your impressions, tell us what you like about the garden and why we need to keep it. Post-it notes, postcards, pens and white-tac provided.

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As you may know, the garden is, along with Reginald House, under threat of destruction to build homes. Although campaigners and local residents have put forward alternative plans that would build the same amount of homes without destroying the garden and demolishing people’s existing homes, the council is not willing to consider these plans. Despite the garden being an important green space with lower pollution levels than anywhere else in the area, and despite Lewisham Council supporting a project called ‘Tranquil City’ that maps the green spaces of London so that people have access to less polluted routes through the city, the garden is in imminent danger of being closed to create more pollution by felling mature trees and building more flats. We all know we need to house Lewisham’s homeless but there are plenty of other opportunities to do this without losing a much-needed green space and demolishing perfectly sound council homes. Whilst this development now promises to provide a fair amount of social housing units (an achievement of the campaigners), there are numerous developments in the area where more social housing units could be built (and could have been built). It begs the question – why here? Why destroy a wildlife garden and a council block when there is, and would have been, plenty of opportunities elsewhere?  Join the campaign and try to help save the garden from demolition alongside Reginald House, where the majority of people have voted against the destruction of their homes. See the campaigners demands below (campaign meetings take place every Saturday 3pm in the garden).

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Lucy Loves-Life

Today’s post is the first guest contribution written by Lucy Loves-Life, a local Deptford resident, campaigner, activist, and co-founder of the Deptford People Project, which feeds homeless people every Friday 12 – 2 in New Cross Field. For more information see: https://www.facebook.com/deptfordpeopleproject/ As part of my research, I have invited Lucy Loves-Life to express her views on the regeneration and gentrification of the area and how it is impacting on the local working-class population. Lucy Loves-Life has kindly invited me to contribute some of my images to her text.

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When your area is featured in Time Out you know the worst is yet to come.

I imagine the conversations over breakfast by a couple who bought an ex-local authority Victorian semi in Deptford ten years ago. I can see the fair-trade coffee on the beech worktop and the children’s Crocs neatly placed by the back door. And I can hear the excitement in their voices as they discuss the local property price increase & how Deptford is set to be the new Dalston. Not that they ever really liked Dalston but apparently Dalston is the place to reproduce.

Dad will leave for the station & mum will upload a photograph of Henry, their two-year-old son, pouring organic porridge over his head, before getting them both ready for music buddies at the coffee shop & Monday’s yoga class. Life is good.

Dad loves his walk to the station. More so now because a local community group have helped to redevelop the run down green space just outside their home. Ker-ching! Another few grand added to the house. He knew getting into community was a good idea, he just wishes the local kids would stop graffitiing on the new skate park. No respect whatsoever, random names and RIP, not what one wants on their door step. He’d take photos, upload them to the Facebook groups & call the police.

The station was looking fab now too. No more rough sleepers hanging around especially since all the immigration raids. No, Deptford was definitely coming up. The quality of people was too: young arty types and young professionals, oh and a new Caribbean restaurant opening soon. This one we can take the family to not like the one down the road with big Rastafarians hanging about outside. No, things were changing for the better.

 

Rhys is a ten-year-old local lad kicked out of school because his ADHD hadn’t been diagnosed yet & the school just didn’t have the resources to fund a one-to-one support teacher. He was set to attend a new state-of-the-art free school but the residents of the apartments above have lodged a petition as they don’t want to have degenerates affecting the price of their properties. He’s bored and his nan who looks after him while his mum’s at work is old and doesn’t notice when he sneaks out to graffiti in the park. He likes spray painting, he’s seen the bigger boys doing it on the estate making pictures for that kid who was murdered up the road. He can’t do pictures like them but he’d like to. He likes the new park. Even when that weird man takes his photo. Life is good.

What does this have to do with gentrification?
They are all just numbers in a market research case study.

Just stereotypes. And yes we all carry them. At best, the majority of us know they are wrong and at worst, we think them but keep our opinions to ourselves. Truth be told, fundamentally we all want to be safe, accepted and feel part of the area that we live in.

But that isn’t profitable. Not for local councils and not for developers. Why? Because people that care for each other are less likely to buy into the redevelopment fantasy. The only thing that matters is a rise in eligible council tax payees, business rates & licences. And the ability to use the sale of land to offset the inhumane cuts to education, health and policing. These things affect us all. Cuts are felt by all.

Do you see the irony? Come to our newly developed area. Free from rough sleepers, hoodlums & benefit claimants… You will be provided with a ready-made lifestyle in your starter pack. Just open it and life will be good. Pay your council tax & everything will be alright. Ignore the obvious signs of deprivation around you. You have earned your right to live in this new complex. You are climbing the ladder of success… (just don’t forget to pay your council tax). Oh, and don’t get sick because you’ll have a long wait on the NHS. Oh, and you’ll need to make sure you’re living in the street of your school of choice because you might not get a place for your child otherwise. But it’s fine, you have a beautiful balcony overlooking the Creek. Don’t worry, the boat community will be moved very soon because we can now make money on the moorings.

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What is gentrification? Who is responsible? And how is this related to stereotyping?

Gentrification is a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. Often used negatively?  Damn right it is! Because it’s based on the assumption that all people strive to be rich and that wealth is the only measure used to distinguish a thriving community.

Firstly the divide isn’t between the classes at all. It’s not about two communities fighting for land. Neither is it about rich & poor.  The divide is between two ways of thinking. It’s between people who purposely choose to use the deprivation of an area because it has investment potential & those who choose an area to live in with the view of becoming a part of the community.

Then there are huge money generating corporations. Most of which are based in China. No one really knows what they’re doing here.

Is it social cleansing? After all, developers did build on a community garden but they gave the council a cheque and the offer of moving to a site 6 miles away with a quarter of the space. That’s not social cleansing – it’s a little shifting of furniture. The old telephone table will eventually be crackle glazed and made into a Martini bar & herb stand at the back for the garden. It’s social tidying, more like social regurgitation then cleansing.

 


There is a sea of metal & glass apartments laying half empty, unused commercial space dormant while community groups are forced out of local authority buildings. That is what gentrification really looks like. It’s empty. It’s an off-plan idea that is never meant to be lived in.

You see developers are not interested in the future. They create the future for you and then watch it dwindle as the investment potential wastes away along with the recycled cardboard flower beds. For them the purpose is a one-off event, a party that creates a substantial amount of money in a short amount of time. Then they leave and reproduce the same event in another deprived run-down area.

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And they love to use the word economy in their projections. They’ll bring jobs to the area, bring shoppers to the High Street, when the reality is that people buying a Deptford new-build are more likely to be found in the city or at the train station than spending in Jerk Hut or the local Costcutter. The introduction of a new market, which isn’t actually anything like a market, which houses ethically sourced lifestyle stores and yet another rebranded coffee shop. Oh, and an art space, which basically means any business that has a wall. Ethically sourced products with unethical & false idealism placing a veneer over the people and community that already exists. Oh, and it’s called a yard! Proper street! New buzz word for this round of commercial space. Yard I assume to represent the nautical history of Deptford. I imagine they are not referring to the community of Jamaicans whose ‘yard’ is being stamped over! So much talk about ships and no talk about the people that came off those boats.

Promises of a hipster, ankle-swinging sandal-wearers heaven where drinks are served in jars and pallets are seen as authentic furnishings. All in the name of art & culture. But whose culture? The same culture that no one wants in Shoreditch now? The kit community. Pull tab, open box and Bob’s your uncle, a ready-made life for those that are yet to find their own form of expression. We’ll market Deptford not Dalston, that’ll work. The individual looking for a place to call home needs nothing more than a pre-packaged life style. After all, who needs to think for themselves when developers have a team to do that for you. And you’ll ignore the real graffiti over the commission lettering because actually the words ‘no gentrification’ & ‘get in the creek’ just fill you with a fearful excitement. Anyone visiting will totally appreciate how brave, artistic & authentic you really are for living in such a tough part of South London. Developers have psychoanalysed their potential victims. They know you better than you know yourself. They know that money gives the opportunity to buy the life you aspire to. Except it’s not your life at all. It’s you & 225 other people who also bought an apartment in your block. Look closely, you might even see yourself in the coffee shop depiction on the council’s website.

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The problem has never been the people. The problem is developers using people to make profit. We are all being manipulated into an idea solely designed for the stock market. Commodities and shares that’s what we are. The land under our feet means nothing to these organisations. The only community that is valuable is a pre-designed community whose spending and resources can be projected and placed into an offshore bank account.

The point I’m attempting to make is while we all allow ourselves to be railroaded into a social category by some very well-paid, highly educated group of capitalists, we risk losing our communities completely. We have been sold a marketing dream used for our history, our abilities & our aspirations. These people rely on our stereotyping. Divide & conquer.

How do we stop gentrification? We stop thinking that we have no power. We stop believing the developers’ version of our dreams. We stop allowing stereotypes to dictate our place in society. But more so we start remembering what a home is. What being part of a community is. And we support only those projects, businesses & developments that serve everyone. Not investors!

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If you have come to Deptford with no other intention but to make money I hope you’re willing to sell your soul. Because that’s what it will cost you. There’s a very good reason why Deptford was left until the last knockings. They still don’t know if it’s going to work here. They still can’t place Deptford people into a neat little marketing category. So we will have to see where the chips fall. And who’s left? The community or the investors. And seen as the majority of Deptford have nowhere else to go, I’d say the community might well win this one….

 

 

Save Tidemill – Reginald House and Wildlife Garden I

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Last Sunday (29 April 2018), the community at Tidemill Garden and the housing campaigners who are fighting to stop the destruction of the garden and the demolition of 2-30A Reginald House (a council-owned low-rise block of flats next to the garden) organised a community event that saw people from all around the area gather together to celebrate this much-loved community space that has been here since the 1990s. Cared for by dedicated volunteers who maintain the garden, open it up every weekend to visitors in search of either company, tranquillity or contact with nature, engage children in activities that enable them to interact with plants and wildlife, and who organise music and arts events to bring the community together, this space is open to everyone, no matter what ethnic and socio-economic background. With most social activities now linked up with consumption, in other words, participation in society more often than not requiring the spending of money, which many working-class people do not have to spare, Tidemill Wildlife Garden is one of the last inclusive social spaces where you won’t be judged by what you wear, eat or drink, or how you behave. Time and again I have heard local people say that they feel more and more excluded from public spaces and public life as the reconfiguration of Deptford, a place that has been their home for many years, is not intended for them and their cultural practices, so poignantly expressed in the phrase ‘It’s not for the likes of us’.

Despite the tireless efforts of campaigners to save one of the last remaining green community spaces in this densely-populated area with pollution levels well above the EU limit– except in the garden where lower levels have been recorded (http://crossfields.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=pollution+levels) – Lewisham Council, with the full support of New Cross Ward Cllr Joe Dromey, has decided to destroy the space and to demolish 2-30A Reginald House, a sound council block inhabited by people who do not want to lose their homes, to build yet more flats in the area. For a full breakdown of figures, and how the demolition plans and the campaigns against this have unfolded, please see read the excellent Crossfields Blog: http://crossfields.blogspot.co.uk

Ironically, Lewisham Council is supporting Tranquil City, an initiative that aims to ‘encourage communities to make use of [tranquil] spaces’, ‘promoting better mental and physical wellbeing in doing so, encourage[ing] a better connection with nature in the city’ and to ‘find cleaner, greener, more pleasant and lower polluted’ spaces in London (https://tranquilcity.co.uk/). Deptford is included in this initiative and yet Lewisham Council has decided to get rid of one of the only tranquil, green and least polluted spaces in the area.  Yes, we do need to house the growing number of homeless people (including those sofa-surfing, sleeping in cars and in temporary accommodation), but why particularly on this precious community garden? Why not in all the other tower blocks that have gone up in the borough in the last decade and have provided either 0% or a small percentage of social housing; or in the currently empty properties scattered around the borough? Why not build on some of the vast expanses of green space in less-densely populated Blackheath for example? Is it because we cannot upset the better-off? Is it because they have more power and social capital to fight against planning applications they don’t like? Would they also be referred to as NIMBYs (people with a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude) like Tidemill campaigners have?

None of these questions were addressed by Cllr Joe Dromey in the only Hustings in Deptford, organised in the garden as part of Sunday’s garden event (watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/267389717) four days before the election. Although Andrea Carey-Fuller, a Green Party candidate and a former community care lawyer, member of Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA) and a leading figure in the Save Tidemill campaign, read out staggering figures regarding the large amount of empty properties and tiny fraction of social homes built in other developments in the area (things that were also addressed by members in the audience), Dromey failed to engage with these points. He also failed to engage with the alternative plans that have been drawn up by a local architect which would enable the construction of the same number of flats without demolition and losing the garden, plans that Dromey and the council don’t seem interested in. Instead, Dromey had the nerve of accusing campaigners of claiming moral superiority and being against the building of social housing (because they oppose this development); and that after years of campaigning for social housing. His repeated self-congratulatory sound bites about his personal crusade to try and solve Lewisham’s housing crisis (it sounds like he’s doing this all by himself), constantly evading other perspectives, solutions and challenging figures that Andrea and members of the audience read out, and claiming moral high ground himself, did little to build any trust and confidence in him. I do not doubt that he’s concerned about homelessness and that he wants to provide decent homes for people, so does everyone else, but as a councillor you have a responsibility to all citizens in your ward and need to look at long-term and sustainable solutions that work towards the good city for all. Dromey is surely touched by Hayley’s story, the lady who lives with her two kids in a damp-ridden 1-bedroom studio flat (although mentioning it 5 times borders on emotional blackmail), we all are, but he should also be touched by Pauline’s story (who has lived in the unknown for 10 years and does not want to lose her home and community)  (https://deptfordischanging.wordpress.com/2018/01/28/banners-in-deptford/) and all the other people in this community that are affected. And let’s not forget that the reason why Lewisham council is now planning to construct, according to Dromey’s figures, 117 social homes (54%) in the Tidemill development, is only due to the hard work of the campaigners not because the council planned this from the start.

For someone who’s not as clued up on urban policy, urban regeneration and all the socially unjust development schemes around the city as housing campaigners are, the now proposed amount of social homes on this development (and Dromey’s positive rhetoric) are hard to argue with. This was demonstrated by a couple of people in the audience who seemed baffled by the frustration and anger of the rest of the audience. But when you know about viability assessments where developers find creative ways of getting out of promised commitments as has been demonstrated in many schemes around London (typical examples are they Heygate Estate and the Elephant Development and the Aylesbury Estate); when you have heard the same rhetoric and the same promises before, only to find out that these were hardly fulfilled and that many people have been pushed out of their borough and the city; when you consider why Hayley and so many other are living in dire conditions; and that it is practically written into urban policy to get rid of council estates as advocated by Lord Adonis (2015), and that housing associations now do make a profit, and and and and, then all these wonderful promises just become rhetoric. Again, I recommend that you read the Crossfields Blog (http://crossfields.blogspot.co.uk/) which informs you of all these different layers of regeneration processes. People want answers. Housing campaigners have to be incredibly informed to achieve any success in their fight for a more equal city, scrutinising policy and legal documents, learning difficult terminology, understanding the pitfalls of other schemes, and devoting hours to their cause with time for food and free time activities almost deleted from their agenda. Take the anchor campaign for example; it took 4 years of persistent campaigning, obtaining and studying documents, writing scores of letters and making a compelling case to get it back (https://deptfordischanging.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/deptford-is-forever/). All the more frustrating to be perceived as just some bolshy leftist who doesn’t know anything.

Time and again, campaigners and residents have demonstrated that they are not against regeneration and they have worked tirelessly to come up with alternative and more sustainable solutions that would provide the same amount of homes but without demolition, loss of garden and breaking up community networks. They have demonstrated that there is no justifiable reason to do what the council is planning to do here. Dromey might go on about how housing the disadvantaged is more important than a community garden, but campaigners have forwarded solutions that would house the poor, stop the displacement of current residents and provide locals with a much needed green community space. How can this be completely dismissed and how dare anyone call residents and campaigners unreasonable? All people want is to have their voices heard; to be consulted and considered; to claim their right to the city.

In The Good City (2006), Ash Amin writes that in order for people to co-exist in cities, urban solidarity and an ethics of universal care is vital. City life might be exciting for the secure, well-connected and those excited by the buzz of urban living, but ‘for the many at the bottom of the social ladder, cities are polluted, unhealthy, tiring, overwhelming, confusing, alienating. They are the places of low-wage work, insecurity, poor living conditions and dejected isolation’ (Amin, 2006, p. 1011). He highlights four elements that would increase urban solidarity and make cities more liveable for all: 1) continual maintenance and repair, underpinned by a political economy of attention and co-ordination, in other words, not only when things get desperate but at all times to provide a lasting infrastructure. 2) A socially just city, a city of universal care, an inclusive city, helping the poorer from the means of survival to human fulfilment so they can feel more connected to what is happening. 3) The right to the city as defended by urban sociologist Lefebvre (1996). The right to participate in public life, taken for granted by those with the means and entitlement to do so, is not necessarily always extended to those who lack the economic, cultural and social capital to claim that right. In the drive to create private urban spaces particularly in relation to housing, the greater freedom of the wealthy to pick and choose restricts the freedom of the poorer, thus limiting their rights and choices. 4) Re-enchantment with the city through expanding social solidarity rather than fracturing urban life between the rich and the poor, between the haves and have-nots.

Currently, many working-class people in Deptford feel disenchanted with the city that is becoming more and more unequal. Spaces where people have felt a sense of belonging, experienced social solidarity and an ethics of care, and where they could engage in their cultural practices without judgment and where they could claim their right to the city (e.g. community gardens, their homes), are slowly being replaced by private spaces, and people feel excluded from civic participation. Currently, residents in 15 out of 16 flats in Reginald House do not want to lose their much-loved homes where their lives have unfolded and memories made and replayed. The stress this has caused is unimaginable, with one resident commenting, “I’m too scared to pick up the post from the floor as I never know what bad news there might be”. Alongside having a home (as opposed to just being housed), access to green spaces, cultural democracy, and community life have all shown to contribute to mental and physical well-being. Mental health problems are currently a growing concern (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics). The reasons for this are complex and lack of decent housing and a home, overcrowding, homelessness all play a major role. But so do a lack of stability and security, green spaces and access to community networks, as well as social isolation and social exclusion from civic life (also on the rise). Additionally, lack of cultural democracy where all cultural practices are valued, not only those practiced by middle-class people that everyone else has to adopt, is another important factor. This is not to say that Deptford locals are not welcoming to new arrivals, middle-class life-styles and consumption spaces, and are not interested in engaging with some of it. What they want is cultural democracy – the right to be able to also engage in activities that they value. Tidemill Garden is a space where local people have been able to organise impromptu concerts, film screenings, BBQs, Easter egg hunts, creative workshops and other cultural activities, without the need to pay for venue hire, complicated red tape and hierarchical structures.  With the loss of this space and the eviction of working-class people from the urban landscape, ideas of equality and a socially just city are diminished.

After the hustings, the frustration quickly gave way to enjoying the rest of the day with a brilliantly organised event with music, film screenings, information, food and drink. Campaigners and volunteers managed to put together a smooth event in no time, something that a space like Tidemill Garden enables. I have been part of recent meetings and this event was planned and put together within two weeks. Roles were split according to what people had to offer and could manage time-wise, and when I arrived Sunday morning to help with whatever needed doing, expecting a last-minute panic, I found the garden ready to go: the grass cut, the toilet fixed, tarpaulins put up for the rain, the films on regeneration (including on a film about Tidemill Garden by Olivia Douglass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQWfmw_cL-w&feature=youtu.be) set up on a loop, and volunteers quietly working away to add the finishing touches. The garden shed had been made into a little cinema with benches and cushions, information boards were being put on the shed, there was an information stand with the council’s regeneration plans and the alternative plans that would halt demolition and destruction, and I added a memory board with photographs from the 1990s till now and space for comments and recording garden memories (feel free to visit the garden at weekends to add your own memories and comments). There was a coconut shy, face painting and toy-making for kids, The Deptford People Project, a locally-run grassroots initiative to feed the hungry and homeless, provided free delicious vegan food for all, there was a stall for tea, coffee and biscuits, and there was the stage, where we heard the amazing voices of an Italian socialist choir, protest songs by The Four Fathers, hard-hitting spoken word by Agnam Gora, and more music by Ukadelix, Commie Faggots and others. These were all local people who agreed to help out and be part of this event. Nothing was lacking; even warning signs for the slippery surface on the little bridge and bunting had been thought of. The garden was packed for most of the day and everybody I spoke with expressed sadness and disbelief that the days of the garden are numbered.

The gates might be shut any time from now.

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Adonis, A. (2015) ‘City villages: More homes, better communities’ in Adonis, A. and Davies, B. (eds.) City villages: More homes, better communities. Available at: http://ippr.org/read/city-villages-more-homes-better-communities#city-villages-more-homes-better-communities

Amin, A. (2006) ‘The Good City’, Urban Studies, Vol. 43, Nos 5/6, pp. 1009–1023.

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writings on Cities. London: Blackwell Publishers.

Deptford Is Forever

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On the 3rd of February 2018 the anchor was re-installed in its original location on the south end of Deptford High Street where it was removed from in 2013 as part of regeneration works. Anybody new coming into Deptford won’t be able to guess the story and battles fought over the newly polished anchor sitting on a new piece of contrasting paving; to a newcomer it might appear just like any other maritime monument symbolising some distant sea-faring history; they may not even notice it’s there. But to locals, and particularly those dedicated to preserving the much-neglected maritime history of Deptford, the anchor’s return not only symbolises Deptford’s heritage but also the struggle with the council to have it reinstated. And sadly, it is also a reminder of a problem the removal of the anchor was meant to have removed too: the street drinkers causing anti-social behaviour on the High Street. Needless to say, street drinking is underpinned by larger issues the government fails to look at, and the anchor’s removal did not solve that problem but instead moved it further up the road.

It took 4 years of persistent campaigning by Deptford Is Forever, which is run by the most dedicated local activists/artists (or bloody-minded and tenacious as the Deptford Dame calls them: deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-anchor-cometh.html) such as Sue Lawes, David Aylward and members of the Deptford Society to have the anchor re-installed. Seeing it back in its original location, albeit without the plinth where street drinkers used to sit, must feel like a huge victory of people power, particularly in times when battle after battle is fought to save Deptford from further capital-led partnerships between councils and property developers which tend to paper over Deptford’s heritage and its local residents. And the joy is visible in the photos and videos made when celebrating the anchor’s return which included a procession along the High Street with music, baptising the anchor with rum and the singing of the sea shanty written by Liam Geary-Baulch and the Deptford Shanty Crew.

© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever

I’ve been in contact with Fred Aylward, David Aylward’s brother, who was involved in helping with the Give Us Back Our Bloomin’ Anchor campaign and led the procession in top hat and tails (see image above) which some spectators thought alluded to Brunel the famous ship builder, and Sue Lawes who documented Deptford Is Forever’s work and is incredibly clued up on local issues and writes for another local blog (crossfields.blogspot.co.uk). They tell me that Deptford Is Forever was borne out of Deptford Is, a campaign group that ran workshops to help local residents object to the redevelopment plans for Convoy’s Wharf (formerly Deptford Royal Dockyard), which features 3,500 mostly luxury homes without a single one for social rent. Ironically, the anchor was stored on the site throughout the four years of the campaign. It is also four years since planning permission was granted by Boris Johnson for Convoys, yet not a single building is yet under construction. Deptford Is also came up with alternative proposals to preserve the legacy of the site’s heritage in the form of the Lenox Project led by Julian Kingston (www.buildthelenox.org), and the Sayes Court Garden project led by Bob Bagley and Roo Angell (www.sayescourt.org.uk), which is why they featured in the Anchor campaign. And the sea shanty performed during some of the rituals beautifully sums up the campaigners’ plight (see full sea shanty below; you can also listen to a recording of the original shanty here: liamgb.co.uk/deptford-shanty-crew).

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At the start of the campaign in 2013, little graffitied anchors had already appeared on the high street anonymously (we still don’t know who) and then the newly formed Deptford Is Forever carried a giant cardboard anchor built by local artist Laura X Carlé down the High Street during a noisy procession. 1000 paper bags with the campaign logo were given to market traders and shop keepers to use for their customers’ purchases and free anchor tattoos were offered in Kids Love Ink. Anchors made using red tape and chalk began appearing in the high street in 2016 while a petition initiated by the Deptford Society gathered over 4000 signatures. The supportive comments made on the petition were plastered all over the High Street by Deptford Is Forever. For anyone regularly walking down the High Street, it would have been impossible not to notice the campaign and its interventions, and the images and videos on the dedicated website are testimony to the fun, positive and creative side of the campaign (www.deptfordisforever.net).

© Photos by Deptford Is Forever and Laura X Carle

“This DIY approach comes out of a generation of punks which we were part of in the 1980s”, Fred tells me. “We used to run club and pub nights, and we also used to put on comedy nights and music events at the Albany. The Albany provided the venue and we provided the audience, so we were helping each other out. Now, the Albany hires out the venue, but the ethos of DIY came out of the punk thing. And this is still happening today – rather than waiting for someone to approve an action, we do things ourselves using the skills we have. And David, who is a drummer, always incorporates music into his campaigns.”

© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever

Eventually the Council commissioned a feasibility study to evaluate how and where the anchor could be re-instated, but, as Sue writes, the battle was far from over, battles over who would fund the reinstatement and over where the anchor would be placed. With campaigners persisting, demanding the anchor be reinstated at its original location, not hidden behind rubbish bins, the anchor is now once again the iconic landmark it once was (The campaign was also recently covered in Time Out magazine: www.timeout.com/london/news/how-people-power-got-the-deptford-anchor-back-022118).

Fred says that “winning a campaign like this restores hope that some things can be achieved”. When I ask Fred why the anchor is so important, there is no hesitation. “It’s a symbol of Deptford’s maritime history, and we need to preserve that history. History is important because it gives you roots, it connects you to the past to help you understand where we are now. It’s another big achievement that the Lenox Project and Sayes Court are now part and parcel of the Convoy’s Warf development because otherwise all the significant history of the Royal Dockyard would just be ignored. All the archaeology under the concrete, the timber beams from the old dockyard, and they even found evidence of the Romans in Deptford under the dockyard! Ship building can be traced back to the Romans; this is 2,000-year-old history, it’s fascinating! But all this will be built on because the buildings need deep foundations. But at least John Evelyn’s Sayes Court Garden will now extend into the yard, the Olympia building is protected, and there’ll be a place for shipbuilding once again. It’s interesting because the National Trust grew out of Deptford: in Victorian times a descendant of Sir John Evelyn together with Octavia Hill tried to raise the money to preserve the Manor House that once stood on the site where John Evelyn had lived. Unfortunately, it was too late to preserve it but it inspired them to create the National Trust. The Mulberry Tree in the garden is the only remainder of the garden’s history.”

© 2015 Anita Strasser; Convoy’s Wharf with archaeological findings and the anchor in the Olympia warehouse

Fred thinks there should really be a museum of Deptford that houses all the artefacts that speak of Deptford’s history, including the clocktower that once stood at the yard but is now in Thamesmead shopping centre. “The anchor”, Fred says, “and all the other projects mark the beginnings of preserving Deptford’s heritage.” Speaking to Fred it becomes clear that the anchor isn’t just about the anchor, it’s about the history of Deptford in general and about not allowing money-greedy corporations to do as they please.

When I ask Fred how he feels about the regeneration in the area in general, I’m surprised to hear that he likes a lot of it: the cafés, the art spaces, and the art and music scene in the area.  “Some years back you couldn’t get a good cup up coffee or a nice meal anywhere, but now, it’s great. And you still have other places like Café Bianca and others where people can get cheaper food. We now have 6 -8 art spaces, that’s more than in Peckham, that’s great!” For Fred, the problem is the lack of affordability and space. “The problem is with high density and the lack of remaining space as they are building on every bit of land. And there are not enough amenities: schools, doctor’s surgeries, they are all over-stretched already and they’re not building enough to deal with the rising population. The whole regeneration process seems very short-sighted. There should also be more youth projects, more clubs for young people to go to.”

Another element Fred doesn’t like is that the new developments are sold on the back of the arts. “Deptford is being sold based on the arts and Deptford’s artistic community, but the local artists are being pushed out.”  Luckily, Fred who has a background in Art and Design, lives in a council property in the St John’s conservation area with David where they don’t have to worry about their tenancy. However, David has had to move from music studios in cheap rented warehouses six times in the last 20 years because of increasing rent prices, and in order to be able to afford a space, 20 musicians have now formed a co-op and share a music studio called Silo Studio in one of the arches in Resolution Way. Fred is particularly concerned about the music scene. “Our local music scene is dying out – we’ve just lost the Montague Arms and now Vinyl is closing because of the increased rent prices. It’s going to become a cheese shop*. And opposite the Bird’s Nest Pub, they are developing all the empty spaces and as soon as people move in, there will be complaints about the music. The same happened in the Sail Loft pub – people moved into the expensive flats and then complained about the noise coming from the pub so now the pub has to shut its doors at 11pm.”

Given this context of current times, it’s not surprising the anchor’s return feels like such a victory. Let’s hope there will be further victories. The next urgent battle is to save the Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald House (more information here: www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden / www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham).

*There seems to have been a U-turn on the closure. More info here: vinyldeptford.com/.

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© 2018 Sue Lawes

“Most laundrettes are surviving because they are in council properties and have a reasonable rent”

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Angelo is the owner of the Launderette on 369 New Cross Road. He comes in especially to have a chat with me about the demolition plans in New Cross, and together we go to Mughead Coffee where the staff seem to know exactly how he likes his coffee. He chats with Mark for a bit, the business owner – they seem well acquainted – before we sit down to talk about the Launderette.

“The Launderette itself has been here since the early 60s and used to be a Father & Son operation with other launderettes in New Cross and other areas”, Angelo explains. Then, in the early 90s, Angelo’s brother Joe bought the one on New Cross Road, did a lot of refurbishing work to it and replaced the old machines with newer versions, and then, several years later, Angelo took over in 2008. “It’s a contagious disease, I’m not joking”, he laughs, and tells how many of his family and friends have become involved with launderettes. “It all started with my brother dating a girl whose father was of Italian origin and owned a string of launderettes. The relationship didn’t last but my brother thought ‘I’ll try that’.” His brother has since bought a few, including one on Jamaica Road which is now owned by Angelo’s nephew. Even Angelo’s best friend, a former banker who had a midlife career crisis, unsure what to do, took his girlfriend to Nottingham to live above the launderette he now owns.

But being in the Launderette business doesn’t make you rich. “There is no growth”, Angelo explains. “A launderette business doesn’t grow like other businesses do, and it doesn’t have a high turnover. You can’t pay the high rents big restaurants can pay for example, and most launderettes are surviving because they are on good locations in council properties and have a reasonable rent. About four or five businesses on this parade are still on old tenancies and once the new development is here, the rent price will be double if not triple. Launderettes are viable businesses only because of low overheads. What kills them is the high market rates.” So, even if Angelo was offered new premises in the new development, the overheads would be too high to run it.

Interestingly for me, there is still demand for launderettes. “Not everybody’s got a washing machine, but even if people do”, Angelo says, “there’s still a demand which has nothing to do with people’s class position. The association of launderettes with merely the working-class and people in social housing is outdated – we have customers from all walks of life. The demand today is due to convenience: the machines we have can handle high capacity and the laundry can dry quickly, so the whole laundry can be done in an hour. Drying is a particular issue today. Many live in small flats with no space or facility to dry clothes so coming to a launderette solves that problem.” In Angelo’s launderette the water is also treated before it’s used and people notice the change in the fabric, another reason, according to Angelo, why his launderette is doing good business. “If the launderette closes, people will have to travel further for this convenience”, making this convenience less convenient.

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Angelo agrees that the parade needs investment but that this is due to the council not having done a lot for its upkeep. “It’s a nice parade but it’s stuck in the 60s”, Angelo states. Lewisham Council did commission the artist group ARTMONGERS a couple of years ago to spruce up the parade a bit and to paint work along the road. They came into the shops asking people what they’d like to see. Also Angelo was asked and together with the artist they designed the shop front we see today. “It really takes an artist to see things from a different perspective. I was just going to suggest some writing to advertise the services but the artists said no, we need something more interesting and then he came up with the design you see today. It really makes a difference”, Angelo says. But that’s all that’s been done it seems, and Angelo thinks that Lewisham council doesn’t involve itself much in making the parade look nicer. “Lewisham Council is more concerned with housing and the plans I’ve seen – 5-storey blocks across the whole parade starting from The Venue – this is huge! And I’m pretty certain the development plans will go ahead.” According to Angelo, the council have offered funding to relocate but despite this offer, Angelo doubts he’ll be able to set up again. “First, the business will be closed for a couple of years and then I need funds to re-invest in a new business. Also, will there actually be the chance of getting a unit on the new development and if so, it’ll be at full market rent which will be double or triple to what I pay now. I won’t set up another laundrette”, Angelo concludes.

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After our chat we walk back to the launderette where we meet Nicola, one of Angelo’s employees who would presumably lose her job if the launderette were to close. Angelo and Nicola seem to have a very friendly relationship, laughing and joking about being photographed, and together I photograph them in the launderette.

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