Goddard’s Pie & Mash Shop is closing

 

Goddard's iThe shop front in 2010

I have recently found out that Goddard’s Pie & Mash Shop is closing its doors this autumn. I immediately went down to the shop on 203 Deptford High Street to find out whether it was true or not. As soon as I walked in I knew it was true; everyone in the shop was talking about it.  Lewisham Council is not renewing Goddard’s lease. Rumour has it, it will become a Foxton’s Estate Agents.

I went in on a Tuesday late morning. There were three mums with their babies having pie and mash, Keith from the Evelyn Tenants & Residents Association and his son Simon were there, and Simon, the person running Goddard’s, was serving a customer who was ordering a whole load of pies, mash & liquor to take away. Not long after that, a couple came in to place a large order and had a cup of tea while waiting for Simon to get the fresh pies out of the oven. Then Tony came in, ordered his meal and sat peacefully in the corner, eating and reading the newspaper. All the conversations that took place revolved around the closing of Goddard’s. Disbelief, sadness and anger were in the air. How could Lewisham Council allow this? How could they shut one of the last remaining Pie & Mash shops in London whose history in Deptford goes back 128 years? All customers asked how much longer Goddard’s will be open, how much longer they can come for their pie and mash. Goddard’s will have its last trading day on October 7th 2018, and will vacate the building in mid-November 2018. There is a slight possibility that Goddard’s will set up again somewhere in the borough of Greenwich, but nothing is definite. In all their frustration they joke about giving Goddard’s a proper send-off, something like a funeral procession calling it ‘The Death of Deptford’. But joking aside, for Simon and Goddard’s customers the news is heart-breaking.

DSC_2538Tony enjoying his lunch in his usual place

Simon has been working at Goddard’s for over 20 years. “I only came down here one day to help clear the tables and I’ve been here ever since”, he tells me. Up until a few years ago, Clive, the business owner, was still working here and still does all the book-keeping from home (I photographed him in 2010 and the photographs are still hanging on the wall). Clive’s daughter Karen, Simon’s other half, was here until a few years ago, but like her dad, her ill health is stopping her from being able to come to the shop. Because of this, Simon has been running the shop by himself for a couple of years now. “It’s hard work all on your own! I get up at 5 o’clock every morning to get here for about half 6 to prepare everything (I live in Bromley). I actually make and bake everything here by myself. I make the dough, I sort the meat, I make the liquor gravy. I have a spuds machine that peels the potatoes but we use proper spuds here, none of that powder crap, and I make and bake as I go through the day. That’s why sometimes when customers come in and I’m busy, they might have to wait 10 minutes for the pies to come out of the oven.” In the past, when Goddard’s was really busy, the pies were all baked and left on the rack and heated up when customers ordered them, but now, with fewer customers, Simon makes and bakes as he goes through the day so the pies are always fresh. If he has any left over at the end of the day, he freezes them and sells them as frozen cooked pies.

DSC_2520Simon in Goddard’s

“When I first started here, the area was thriving – there was your florist’s, your baker’s, the queue in here was hanging out the door, we had 4 people just serving, that’s how busy we were. And now I’m doing it all by myself because the clientele ain’t here no more.” Simon’s mate Simon, Keith’s son, thinks there are still enough people who like a pie & mash but says the problem is that these people don’t live here anymore. “I mean, think about it, we had people from America come here, then we had three German guys, they were unsure about the pies at first but then really liked it. And all the customers that used to live here and come back once or twice a year to take back whole loads of pies. So there is clientele but not from round here no more. If you look at Deptford Market, I mean it’s nothing like it used to be! When I was a kid, it was packed right from where St Paul’s is all the way to the top!”

Simon (the shopkeeper) agrees. “You walk around the market now and you’re done in 5 Minutes. When I first started here it took 1.5 hrs, easy. Deptford’s changed so much! They say up-and-coming, I’d say it’s going straight down the toilet to be honest. Last Tuesday you could have heard a pin drop outside that shop, it was that quiet. Even George across the road in Manze’s – we were both standing outside the shop going ‘Where is everyone?’ The clientele is not here no more because all the Deptford Boys, they’ve all moved out. Most of the people that are moving in now, they prefer deep-fried chicken or bistro or somewhere where they can get a burger for £11. They don’t want old-school pie and mash, they want a Flat White from Costa for £3.50. And I understand not everybody likes pie and mash, you either love it or hate it, but people come in here and have a home-cooked meal for £3.50! I’ll even throw in a cup of tea, know what I mean! We had Professor Green come in here recently, even he said, ‘the people out there, they haven’t got money to pay £3.50 for a Flat White’.”

DSC_2514Keith enjoying his pie

Goddard’s is in a council property and Lewisham Council has decided not to renew the lease. Goddard’s have experienced this scenario before when they had to vacate their shop on Evelyn Street, their original location, for the same reason in the early 60s (there is a picture of the original shop hanging on the wall). Goddard’s moved to 203 Deptford High Street in 1964, but all in all, Goddard’s have been in Deptford for 128 years. “We should have bought the building all them years ago but it all boils down to money, doesn’t it? We don’t have that sort of money. All I make in here, I put back in, just to keep it running…it’s fucking hard work!”, Simon tells me. “The terms of the lease were: pay a certain amount each quarter and manage the upkeep and maintenance of the building. The building is so old now, there are leaks here and there and I would fix it all myself but I haven’t got the money. And rent and rates have gone up in the air, I can’t afford it. I don’t know what’s the matter with the council – it’s all about money now. Money talks. But even if I had the money, they want the building back, no matter what I do, they don’t care about us little fish. They want something fancy now. I’ve heard it’s going to be an estate agent’s called Foxton.  It’s such a shame, 128 years we’ve been down here and it’s all disappearing. It’s heart wrenching! I’ve had people come down here saying, ‘Si, if you’re closing this shop I won’t come down to Deptford no more’.”

 

Photos I took of Goddard’s and Clive, the business owner, in 2010.

 

Simon (Keith’s son) has been coming to Goddard’s for years. “I was practically born in here”, he jokes. He is really good mates with Simon and helps out in the shop when things get really busy. He loves Goddard’s and what it stands for and seeing Goddard’s go is like losing a family member for him. “I’ve been coming here for over 30 years and I bring my kids in here as well. My son wasn’t too keen at first but one day he ate 5 pies at once! My record is 9 pies, one after another! I hate processed food and here everything is homemade – you can really trust the food.” Like everybody else in the shop, Simon feels emotional about the fact Goddard’s is closing down. “It’s part of our heritage, you won’t get any better heritage than this. The whole thing is ridiculous!” Simon the shopkeeper says he would be happy if the council offered him other premises in the area, something along the lines of ‘Unfortunately, the rents are going up but as you’ve been here so long, we’ll give you other premises’, but he says that the council aren’t interested in people like him. “And all that talk about heritage, it’s all just talk, all mouth and no trousers that’s what I call it; all the talk but nothing to back it up with.

DSC_2535The three Musketeers: Simon, Simon and George

The irony is that Simon was expecting a film crew the day I came in. They’d called as they were looking for a traditional pie & mash shop to use as a location for their film, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another pie and mash shop that is more traditional than Goddard’s. It contains all the original features from when it was set up, and furniture from Victorian times (the benches used to be in a Methodist Church). So while heritage and tradition live on in films and photographs, the actual object of historical significance is being devalued. As such, heritage becomes mere representation while it is being erased from real life. Simon then remembers when the Great British Bake Off asked Clive to recreate an eel pie. “We had Great British Bake Off come in here many years ago. Mel (from Mel and Sue) came in, and Clive had to create an eel pie, because that’s what they used to do probably when they first started. After that – obviously it went on TV – we had all these Chinese people come in here wanting an eel pie and we said ‘sorry, we don’t do them no more’! And they’d say, ‘but I’ve just seen it on TV!’, and we had to explain that we had to recreate it and that we don’t do them no more. I don’t bloody like ‘em anyway – slippery little things!”, he jokes. “And the irony is, when I have my St George’s flag hanging in the shop, people don’t like it and tell me to take it down! But that’s also part of my culture and heritage like pie and mash is and I’m not taking it down!”

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Simon is currently trying to fill the freezers with frozen cooked pies. He’s not sure but he expects that on the last days before final closure, people will be queuing out the door to order whole loads of frozen cooked pies. He remembers one fellow who used to come once a year to buy 12 bags of frozen and 2 trays of cooked pies and take them up north. There are still lots of customers who have moved away but come down occasionally and take back lots of pies with them. Simon has a really good relationship with his customers, and it is because of his customers that Simon wants to come to work every day. “Sometimes I wake up and think I can’t be bothered but the thing that keeps me going, that makes me want to come in, is my customers, they and the banter with them make my day, really. They really can’t believe that we’re closing. They say to me, ‘Si, you’ve been here how long?’” Customers are also asking Simon for the original recipe but that will remain a secret. “I don’t care how much money you got, you ain’t having the recipe”, he laughs. But according to him, it’s not that simple anyway. “It’s not like you’ve got the recipe and know what you’re doing! I still get things wrong sometimes!”

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When I ask Simon about his own future, and whether he has had any thoughts on what he’s going to do, his face turns sad. “I’m 49 this year and I haven’t got a clue what I’m gonna do. Back in the day I was a bit of a bad boy, you know, and I ain’t going back down that road, and I don’t really want to go and sign on. I might sell pies out the back of my car (he laughs), mobile pie & mash! I was thinking about it but it’s down to money again, innit? And that’s one thing I haven’t got. And Clive has had enough too, he can’t continue putting his hand in his pocket; he must have done this for about 40 years and now he needs to look after himself. He’s not well. But he’s really sad to see it go. It’s gonna be sad, really really sad. I’ll have a tear in my eye and I don’t cry over nothing!”

At least Simon hasn’t lost his sense of humour yet. The fact that the film crew is coming in today will provide him with a bit of extra cash, so he says: “Oh well, this might pay for my holiday. I haven’t had a holiday in 4 years! I used to go every year, used to take my kids down to Camber (Cambersands) – I might open a pie & mash shop down there!”

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Last day of trading: Sunday Oct 7th 2018. Let’s all go down there and give them a proper send-off!!

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“The end of this shop would be the beginning of the end of my life in London”

DSC_1771Stefan (right) and Adrian (left) in Green Onions

Stefan Finnis owns Green Onions Healthfood & Records on 6 Clifton Rise, New Cross, together with his business partner Adrian Ovari. Green Onions specialises in organic food, including a range of vegan and gluten-free foods, vinyl records, houseplants and garden essentials. The design of the shop has been carefully and lovingly thought through by Stefan and Adrian with the help of friends and family. For our conversation we sit in the corner of the shop by the window from where you can see across to the new development on the other side of the road. At first, Stefan and Adrian were planning to serve tea and coffee here but realised it would be too much work on top of everything else. Instead, they made this cosy corner for work meetings and chats like this one. As we chat and sip tea, I ask Stefan how he feels about the redevelopment plans in New Cross, and it is immediately clear from the response how strongly he feels about this:

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“The regeneration of this area has an impact on all aspects of people’s lives, which is something the new communities that are coming in are less aware of. They just move into an area, wanting everything completely new, as though everybody can start anew at a whim. It ends up damaging for existing communities. We need a more gradual process of change! Change itself is not the issue, but how it happens and how it is being forced upon us, the way it is dictated and not negotiated, that is the issue. It feels very aggressive and it is designed by people who have little or no connection to the place they are changing. Money is the prime motivator now and decisions are influenced only by how much money can be made. The perverse idea that an area can be left to decline and suddenly go from degeneration to regeneration in a very short space of time doesn’t work. Good change can only happen over a long period of time and it can only work if people who are already in the area can stay to develop it rather than being moved on, because these people take with them everything an area such as New Cross is, leaving behind a shell.”

Stefan has experience with such processes and is very aware of the gap between the decision-makers and those on the ground. He used to be part of a bee-keeping project in Kennington Park, which needed to make way for a ventilation shaft in relation to the extension of the Northern Line. “It became very clear that, despite the consultations where developers and councillors acted as if they cared, decision-makers would always get what they wanted”, Stefan remembers. Stefan came to New Cross with this background, seeing history repeat itself in the early consultations about the redevelopment of Clifton Rise. “Three councillors attended one of the earlier meetings of the Achilles Residents Group, and the way they twisted and turned everything to their own advantage…the way they put down their arguments, it’s very clever. It felt so pre-planned and you could feel the mechanism to advance their own political careers. And basically, you’re up against people who are able to come into a room full of people without answering a single question. They appear to have an interest but they only come to get an idea of the opposition they’re facing. And you really get a sense of what you’re up against; there’s never going to be a fair outcome with people like that in the room. You do also feel that they are the ones sent from above to carry the message, but they’re also there for themselves, as this is how to establish their credentials as politicians. You feel there’s an agenda they know about, that there is a real plan that only they are privy to, and which they can’t let people know about, at any cost; they have to maintain a smokescreen. You’re dealing with people who are meant to represent the community, but you never feel this is what they’re doing. It’s a new generation of politicians being born in front of your eyes.”

We change the conversation to talk about the shop. Stefan explains how he and Adrian ended up in Clifton Rise, as this is a very important element of their business. “Adrian and I used to be involved in a shop called Dig this Nursery, situated between the former Hobgoblin pub (now The Rose pub) and the railway bridge, opposite New Cross Gate Station. The shop was a hybrid of healthfoods, plants and records, and we had a casual arrangement with the owner, who provided Adrian with a space to sell his records and offered me a workshop space in which to develop hand-made paper products, which I sold in the shop. The place became very important to the local community over a number of years, so when the Hobgoblin was sold on to new owners, the owner of Dig this Nursery was forced to move on. He relocated his shop to the site of Green Onions on Clifton Rise but moved out a few months later, leaving an empty space. We saw this as an opportunity to establish ourselves in our own business but we also wanted to keep something going that had been started: a place important to the local community. It takes time to establish something like a community space and it takes people time to get used to something new in their area, so we wanted continuity.”

As we chat, Ismail comes in and starts talking to Stefan. The two appear to know one another well, and they talk about the products Ismail is buying. Ismail comes in several times a week to buy herbs and other ingredients that are hard to find in the area. I introduce myself to him and ask him whether I can photograph him with Stefan. He immediately agrees and smiles at the camera. After I tell him where I was born, he recommends kombucha, a drink made of fermented tea which has similar health benefits to kefir, a drink he knows to be commonly consumed in Austria. He is clearly very knowledgeable about health foods.  As I spend more time in the shop, I notice that many customers are regulars.

DSC_1468Stefan and Ismail

Stefan and Adrian rebuilt everything themselves, and for them Green Onions is more than just a shop. It is a space where people can meet and a space that can involve others such as the local artists and makers whose work is sold in the shop. “We wanted to make sure there was somewhere in the area that provides healthfoods, and one of the reasons we saw this as a good opportunity was that this particular location suits itself to our type of business”, Stefan explains. “Clifton Rise has a special energy; New Cross in itself has its own energy, but Clifton Rise is special. If New Cross has a centre, you could say it’s somewhere round here. It has something to do with how people move through the area, it’s a meeting of worlds, of historically richer and poorer communities; Clifton Rise is somewhere in the middle of those two.”

Stefan is aware that for some others their shop is a symptom of the gentrification in place, but he’s very clear that it’s necessary to keep in mind the processes involved in setting up such a business, particularly considering its history next to the Hobgoblin. “We were always very careful about the way we present a shop like this to people: we debated a lot about what to name it and it was important to avoid using words that would immediately exclude people.” Stefan and Adrian are well aware that their shop would be the first move of regeneration in this area but they did not anticipate the kind of regeneration that is happening now. “It’s a dilemma, because as a business we have to develop and with other businesses coming into the area we’ve had new customers too, but we did not see this kind of development coming. But in a sense our shop is also the antithesis of what is happening in the area. When we set up, there was this active intention, our philosophy if you will, that the shop would demonstrate a healthy community, a sense of continuity and of how you can do something on a budget through the use of existing materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Most units in the shop are from recycled wood, prepared and installed by friends: the counter top is from an old night club, and the unit from a brand-new kitchen discarded in its original wrapping due to excessive overspending during the new development across the road.”

Ever since they found out about the plans to demolish all the shops on Clifton Rise, Stefan feels to be living in limbo. “It happened so soon after starting in 2015, although I guess we should have seen it coming.” Stefan has experienced something similar before, when he lived in Brixton, which he moved on from once it became more expensive. He now wonders whether he should stay with what they’ve built up in New Cross or whether to go somewhere where life feels more ‘normal’, having to take the risk of starting afresh. Many of his friends have already left London but he tries to keep positive: “I try to come back to my primary motivation which was an opportunity to take things to another level – to be self-sufficient…and deal with continual financial pressures. I do not want to see the energy that has been put into the shop go to waste. It also gave me purpose as I had found it difficult to put down roots in New Cross at first but now I feel more at home here. I live in one of the local housing communities and I have invested quite a lot into the life of that community as well.”

When I ask him what other motivations he has for keeping the shop going, he replies with: “People appreciate a shop like this in the area, it brings people together. I am proud because we employ three local people, and most of the artists and makers we work with live in the local area. If I want to measure the success of our business I can say that we have created jobs for ourselves and jobs for local people, and we are also giving local people the opportunity to put their work out there. One or two of the people whose work we sell have even gone on to bigger things since we opened the shop. The shop has provided them with a platform to establish themselves in the same way that we were given the opportunity in Dig this Nursery. That was a tradition Adrian and I agreed we should keep going, and this gives us a real sense of what you can do when working together; it’s a microcosm of how we see a healthy community functioning. If you take this away, you immediately feel the impact on other areas of life.”

This impact becomes clear when Stefan talks about the profound, life-changing impact closing the shop would have on his life, and listening to this gives me the goosebumps. “This will be a huge loss of something, of something I have invested a lot of energy in. It can’t be recreated. The end of this shop would be the beginning of the end of my life in London, it would be the final straw. It would be the end of a person living in London who has wanted to contribute and get actively involved in his local area and community. This loss of people who want to contribute is brain drain; it is a loss to London as a city and to the communities living in areas such as New Cross that make up the city. This process is threatening an organism, the diversity of the city, and people leaving is doing serious damage to areas.”

At this point, Stefan needed to get back to work, and as I was leaving, the shop was packed with customers from all different backgrounds in terms of age, gender, class and ethnicity. A woman expressed interest in the bags hanging at the front of the shop, bags I had been admiring when waiting for Stefan. She bought two bags and Stefan explained that the maker is a local artist who makes the bags herself at home. I buy the one that had caught my eye earlier and Stefan tells me that he met the artist, an elderly Jamaican lady, at an art fair and invited her to sell her bags in his shop. He sometimes visits her to have tea and a chat. Having witnessed the kind relationship Stefan has with his customers, I leave with a very warm feeling in my heart.

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“The planned demolition of your home has so many repercussions”

DSC_2373Diann Gerson has lived in Reginald House for over 30 years. She moved in when her daughter Kerry was just a baby, and a few years after she had her son Brian. Now, Diann is a triple grandmother with two more grandkids on the way, and in 2009, Diann won first prize of the glam gran award. She is in full-time employment.

Diann grew up in the countryside of Bedfordshire and first came to London when she was 17. She lived in various boroughs, lived in Hazelwood House in Deptford for a while, and when she was expecting Kerry, friends living on the Pepys Estate (Lanyard House) put her up as she was waiting to be housed. “This was the time when people with babies were given council properties”, Diann remembers, so when Kerry was born, Diann was offered this flat in Reginald House where she has lived ever since. “When I came to Deptford I knew this was my place to live. Everybody gave it such a bad name, but everybody was so friendly. I immediately became a customer at Johnny Price’s and I still shop there today. It was him and his family who first got displaced from Reginald Road after the war. I actually went into labour in Johnny Price’s shop – I’d just done some shopping. I absolutely love Deptford, it’s so multicultural, everyone mingles, it’s one place and we’re all in it together.”

IMG_20180712_0001Kerry with their dog on the balcony of Reginald House in the early 90s (Diann in the background)

Diann was very poor when she came to Deptford and remembers sleeping on a mattress in the living room when she first moved into Reginald House. There was no heating at that time and as the only gas fire was in the living room it was convenient to sleep there. “During the first nights in winter, me and my daughter had to go to bed in full gear – fully clothed from top to bottom it was so cold. There was inch-thick ice inside the windows. But the attitude at the time was to just get on with it!” But what has always been special about living at Reginald House for Diann is the relationship with neighbours and the strong community they have built up. The community here has experienced good days and bad days, births and deaths, celebrations and conflicts – all of which have made the community stronger over the years. Diann narrates her memories:

“Everybody here was so friendly when we moved in. In No 18, there was was a lady called Dolly, and next door were Jim and Sue, and we all got along. Dolly was a very old lady and struggled up the stairs. Although she could have lived on the coast with her daughters, she refused as she didn’t want to leave Reginald House. We all looked out for her. Jim’s son often knocked asking whether she needed something from the shop, but all she seemed to be living on was eggs and a Mars Bar. When we hadn’t seen her for a while, we knew she wasn’t okay so we knocked a few times but she always said “I’m alright” and didn’t want anything. She was one of the old-fashioned ones who don’t want to admit they need help. We knew she wasn’t alright so we kicked down the door and found her lying on the floor. We called the ambulance… she never came home again. Dolly was the first one to go. Then there was Stephanie, and we’re still in two minds whether she was murdered or not. The police did investigate it because things didn’t really add up, but at the time we were all in denial. She was diabetic and was said to just have died, but when you thought about it years later and the things that were said, it all seemed a bit dodgy. The funeral was weird too – the husband refused to do anything for it and me and Sonia organised the wake in Reginald House. It was very strange. Then there was Mummy Comfort – that’s what we used to call her as she was the oldest in the block. She was an elderly lady from Africa and couldn’t read so she used to bring me letters to read out to her; she trusted me. One particular summer, Marcel came and knocked on my door telling me Mummy Comfort’s old cousin was here saying he was concerned. He brought the guy in here and we told him that she hadn’t gone away (she used to go away a lot) but that we hadn’t seen her for a while, so we went to her flat and knocked and knocked and knocked. Sonia has skinny arms and tried putting her arm through the gap between the door and the wall to open the door but it was locked. I then stupidly opened the letterbox to see what’s going on, and the smell coming from there knocked me sick, I threw up straight away! We rang the police and had to wait for special police to kick open the door. Two officers rushed back out to vomit – obviously she had passed. I was in touch with Mummy Comfort’s daughter in Canada and we retrieved everything worth saving to send to Canada before the council would throw everything away. We were invited to the funeral as special guests and had to wear all the tribal gear. The funeral was conducted in a different language but when they were talking about us all we heard was ‘good neighbour’, ‘good neighbour’.”

Diann comments on the fact that through these experiences of death it can be seen just how much the community here support each other. “We all look out for each other, we are like family here!”, she says, and remembers when Jim from No 20 saved her ex-husband’s life. He had cut a main artery on his arm after punching a window, and Jim put his fingers on the cut to stop the bleeding until the ambulance came. And of course, there are a lot of happy memories of living in Reginald House. Diann remembers the good old days when they all used to sit outside, had a glass of wine, kids playing outside, celebrating all the kids’ birthdays together and sharing food and drink. “They were also the days when you washed down your balcony and took pride in your place, scrubbing down your side”, Diann reminisces.

Despite some people having died or moved out, the remaining community is still very strong, also with people that moved in years after Diann arrived. Diann and Sonia have become very close friends and been through a lot together. “People always used to call us Bench an Batty because we were always together”. They are friends with each other’s families, their kids are the same age and so are their grandkids. “Recently, me and Sonia decided to have a BBQ because she’s got a little griller. So we went shopping, got the BBQ going on the balcony, were getting the food ready, and the intercom went. Sonia just hung up because she thought it was her grandkids’ father mucking about. But the intercom rang again, so she picked up and her face just turned! It was the fire brigade! They told her off because you’re not allowed to hang up on emergency services. They then said: “There’s a fire on your balcony.” Sonia said: “No, we’re just having a BBQ” to which the fire brigade replied: “You’re not allowed to have a BBQ on the balcony”. So, the fire brigade came and put out the fire. It was a Saturday and there were two fire engines blocking the whole road to sort out our BBQ; so we caused quite a bit of a commotion round here”, Diann laughs. Another story Diann remembers involves her neighbour Marcel, who’s really chilled and always as cool as a cucumber. “So, I’m sitting in my house, minding my own business, kids were still here so this is quite a few years ago, and somebody frantically knocking on my door. It’s Marcel and he tells me in the coolest manner: “Diann, your kitchen is on fire!” He came in, grabbed a wet towel and put in on top of the chip pan. I had clearly forgotten about it and the fact that the children needed feeding – there was probably a good soap on the telly (hahaha). I would have been screaming but he told me in such a calm manner, I never did. He saved me.”

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Diann loves the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden too and has often taken her grandkids to spend time there. For people living in the area, especially those living in flats, Diann says, the garden is perfect, as it gets the kids out of the house. Recently, she had a BBQ in the garden with family and friends (after the event on the balcony), and as there were some extra people around, she fed them too. Diann’s kids went to that original Tidemill School, and Diann shows me a picture of her son Brian wearing the school T-shirt at that time (ca. 2000). “Brian recently went to the garden to have his bike fixed and he became all nostalgic; he’ll be sorry to see it go.” For Diann, going into the garden is like stepping off the madness; it’s a little oasis for people living in flats. It is her extended community. “If you need space, take the basketball court, but leave the garden for people to sit in and reminisce.” Beginning of August this year, Diann, with friends and garden volunteers, organised an amazing Jamaican Independence Party, which was a huge success with people asking whether Diann would repeat it next year. But with the imminent closure of the garden and without any spaces left where locals can organize their own cultural activities, this won’t be possible. To help save the garden, please donate here.

 

Bottom image: Diann’s granddaughter at the Jamaican Independence Party in Tidemill Garden

When I ask Diann how she would define community, she associates it with one word only: family. “My community is my neighbours, and my extended community is with people in the garden. My immediate community are people I can depend and rely on at all costs, no matter what it is, what time of the day it is. If someone doesn’t have money or food, they are always welcome to come and eat with me, I always have food to share. There is a sense of trust in each other, that we’ve got each other’s backs. It is this underlying thing that you can’t put your finger on. For example, I haven’t seen Marcel for ages because he’s busy but if I ring him today to say that I need help, he’ll find time to help me straight away. Marcel has been an absolute star over the years – he’s fixed this and that – electrics, plumbing and things like that. He also put in the cooker in my daughter’s flat in Forest Hill – he’s seen them grow up so we’re like family. Community is someone to talk to if you want to get things off your chest; it’s like having lots of best friends. I can go and ask anything of anyone. It’s like family.”

And there is Sonia, of course. “We’ve done a lot of growing up together. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Her living here and being here has made my life much better, otherwise I might have felt lonely and cut off. Especially with this indecision about the demolition – this has been going on for 10 years! It’s emotionally very difficult and we understand each other because we are going through the same. Other people might not understand what we are going through with these development plans. If it weren’t for her, I would have fallen into a depression. I actually developed agoraphobia – I’m so tense because we don’t know, is it another 6 months, 9 months, a few years? The planned demolition of your home has so many repercussions. For instance, I have accumulated so much stuff over the years and I know it’s sentimental but I’ll have to make decisions of what I can keep or not. Losing my home will turn my life and kids’ life upside down; this is my and their family home. I do try my hardest not to think about it because I just want to go to the council and shout at them. What you see on the outside is not what is going on on the inside. They don’t understand how it tears you up! What we’ve had to go through! Do I decorate? No, it’s not worth it. Do I get this? No, I’d better wait, you don’t know what’s going to happen. The council keep changing ideas and making false promises they shouldn’t be making in something called ‘consultation’. They want this and that from us – at one point they wanted our birth certificates – and we just don’t know what’s going on. You feel like giving up – you don’t know what to do.”

At first, Diann was offered a like-for-like arrangement which in her case would mean a 2-bedroom flat. “Then they came round to assess my housing needs, which in my case would probably mean a 1-bedroom flat, considering my children are grown up.” But where would that leave her? Her son often needs a place to sleep as he’s currently between places and her 3, soon to be 5, grandkids often visit and stay over. Where would they sleep? Now it seems residents are being offered like-for-like again, but will that really be the case? Same size? Same rates? Same conditions? Nobody really knows. Also, Diann has recently spent nearly £1,000 on the walk-in wardrobe she has dreamed of for years. Is that going to go to waste? And Diann really doesn’t like open-plan flats. She cooks a lot and everything would become greasy if the living room and kitchen were one place. Finally, the dream of having a ground-floor flat with a garden seems off the cards as it appears they will be reserved for those who can afford to pay to have a garden!

DSC_2377Diann in front of her walk-in wardrobe

Diann is an active campaigner in the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! campaign and has spoken publicly about the impact losing her home would have on her. She started campaigning to save Reginald House and Tidemill Garden when she first heard about the demolition plans 10 years ago. “At first, the plans included 2 blocks on Giffin Street and we sent petition after petition which the council never responded to. When it was decided that Giffin Street would remain, we again sent petitions with recorded delivery. We also wanted to get a solicitor involved as we didn’t know how to go about saving our homes, but we couldn’t afford it. We put a lot of effort into it the first few years…and then we hit a brick wall, we hit despondency because you start asking yourself what am I doing this for? It was like sitting down and waiting for the inevitable.” This was the time when Diann developed agoraphobia, insomnia and nearly hit depression. She would just sit on the sofa on her days off and dwell on it, toss and turn every night, unable to sleep. “I might not show it outwardly, but inwardly, I was a mess. It does take its toll on you.” Then Pauline, another Reginald House resident, came to see Diann in June 2018, when the final decision to demolish Reginald House and Tidemill Garden was made and objections rejected by the GLA. Pauline informed Diann of this and persuaded her to come down to the garden and join the campaign again. Diann hasn’t looked back since. “I’ve gone from one extreme to the next. It’s given me purpose – I doubt we’ll win but I will try my best and at least I won’t have left it untried. It’s given me hope. It’s rejuvenated me because I’m not resigned now waiting for them to knock. I feel stronger because there are so many other people fighting with us.”

DSC_2394Banner on Reginald House

But other neighbours are not so full of hope, Diann tells me. “Some are so beaten down, they are resigned to it. It’s so sad. One neighbour recently told me that there is probably a dead mouse behind their fridge (due to the bad smell), but that it’s ok, it’s only one and the first after a long time. We are forced to have this attitude, to simply accept this, because repairs aren’t being done. We have been totally neglected here for a long time. I used to have to clean the oven each time before cooking for my kids in case there was mouse poo somewhere. I also used to have a lot of books and a few years back there was a really bad smell coming from the bookshelf. I found a dead mouse that had started decomposing behind my books, and there was mouse poo and urine all over. I had to throw away my whole collection, a life-time collection of old books. You’d notice a bad smell and you’d have to turn everything around to search for the dead mouse – it was disgusting. The council did nothing about it – we shouldn’t have to live like this! My house has now been mouse-proofed, but if I had been on my own with all this, without the community we have here, I wouldn’t have been able to cope, it was horrific.”

Diann does not want to lose her family home. The building and the flats are in need of repair, but there is no need to demolish Reginald House. Diann loves the building and her flat; it is the place where her life and her kids’ and grandkids’ lives have unfolded; it is the place where their memories live, where everything reminds them of the events that have occurred in their lives.

DSC_2389Diann’s Fairy collection

Diann is now standing by the window, one of her favourite places in the flat. She tells me about things she has witnessed from here, she tells me about the people who live across the road and the things they get up to. “You see the world go by from here”, she says, “you see people who you recognize.” Another sanctuary of her flat is her balcony where she grows herbs such as chives, rosemary, mint and her favourite: horseradish. She can’t bear to think about losing it all.

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DAGE Part III

 

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Ashley works at the café Rough & Ready on 311 Evelyn Street where all pensioners get free tea and coffee. Rough & Ready was set up by Sharon Haward in 2015 and is a café that works in connection with the pensioners charity DAGE (Deptford Action Group for the Elderly), which was founded by Sharon and her late husband Harry Haward. Ashely has worked in Rough & Ready for a couple of years and absolutely loves it here. Ashley is actually a trained book-keeper and accountant and could very easily work in an accountancy firm earning much more money. But she’s not interested – she’d rather work at Rough & Ready where she looks forward to going to work every day, where she can actively contribute to the local community and where she experiences a sense of belonging and membership.

Ashley grew up on an estate in Forest Hill and remembers the local family-run pub which hosted all the local birthday parties and other celebrations, and where her family and friends met every Thursday. “This pub and everything else, has now become flats and has turned a community where everybody once knew each other into strangers where no-one knows each other anymore”, she says. Community life plays an essential role in Ashley’s life and in Rough & Ready, and she tells me how she feels about the regeneration of Deptford:

“The regeneration is taking the heart out of the community. Building flats everywhere and taking away little shops takes away the heart of the community. Having pubs and little shops, little places that are run by ‘ordinary’ people whose names you know is what brings people together. Over the years you build a rapport with each other and people become like friends who pick you up when you’re having a bad day just by having a little chat with you. I think that being in one place brings the community together, like DAGE where you find the elderly generation together with the younger generation; with Scott [Sharon’s son] and with all the younger people coming in, helping out with the van and other work. And yet, they want to knock everything down and big corporations build flats and commercial units where no-one speaks to or acknowledges each other. I mean in 10 years’ time, if this carries on and all the little shops that are run by little single people are gone, no-one will be kind to each other anymore. We have no more pubs where people used to socialise, and there won’t be any more common places where to socialise for people living in flats. People pass each other on the stairs, walk past each other, not knowing each other. Knowing each other and being kind is a massive part of humanity and community but there are no places where people can get to know each other. And a lot of people who move in only stay a couple of years so you can’t build a relationship anyway. And this is what all this building flats everywhere is doing, it’s killing community.”

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Ashley mentions how surprised people are when they are being served and spoken to so kindly by such a young person. Ashley is 26, has just given birth to her second child, and often people seem amazed by the fact that a young person is so interested in talking to them. “Young people today have not been brought up with the same kind of sense of community as older generations and they don’t know how to talk to people. No-one wants to go into a shop today and speak to people, they just want to get their things and that’s it. But they also don’t know how to act when somebody starts talking to them because they haven’t had that sort of upbringing.” Ashely says that her nan, who brought her up, always taught her to say Hello to other people and show respect to them, and she now wants to pass on those values to her children as well. “Sometimes when you speak to kids now, they don’t know how to respond to you because they aren’t used to that because we’ve lost that sense of community. There used to be a youth club on our road where we all used to go and where we learnt so much by being there. There were older peers as well and we learnt so much there. Kids today don’t have that sort of club anymore because all the little things, built by single people, are being knocked down to build flats and to earn money. But life shouldn’t be about money and when we get to the age of 80 or 90, what’s going to be there for us?”

It’s quite obvious what a community hub Rough & Ready is and how Ashley and Sharon contribute to this atmosphere. During my visits to Rough & Ready, I have often overheard Ashley and Sharon speaking to customers, whose names, life stories and personal circumstances they seem acquainted with, and have often watched them going out of their way to help customers and treat them kindly, no matter what their background is. You can tell they enjoy what they’re doing and that they live to serve the community. “Working in Rough & Ready makes me feel a lot happier than being somewhere where I could earn more money but where I would be just a number”, Ashley says. “Going into work every day, having people around me that want to talk to me, people that are friendly, kind, that have stories to tell, being around the pensioners that come in, seeing how you can help a person simply by them coming out to see you, makes me happy.”

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Ashley mentions Aileen, a lady who comes in regularly and has nobody to share her life and stories with. Ashley once asked her why she comes to Rough & Ready and she replied: ‘to be sociable; to get me out; I feel myself being panicky being indoors on my own every day.’ So, to come out and to talk to Ashley has a really positive impact on Aileen’s life. “You don’t realise you’re having such a massive impact on someone’s life just by talking to them”, Ashley states. “Me speaking to her has changed her days so much; putting a smile on the face of someone that’s probably had a hard life, and this gives me something back that money can’t buy. She only comes in an hour a day but it is something that she looks forward to a lot. Of course I don’t always have time to talk but if I do I’ll talk to her and she’s obviously so touched by it – she’s brought me Christmas presents, and a small box of chocolates or gifts for the kids and you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, she’s that appreciative of what we’re doing’. And she knows about my life like I know about hers – she knows my son’s name and when he’s here he speaks to her and shows her everything on his ipad. We’re like a little family here.”

The people who come into Rough & Ready come from all sorts of backgrounds – builders (e.g. Clive, a builder at the Timberyard), elderly couples who come in for coffee and cake, people with health issues who need to get out a bit and come in daily for a bit to socialise, and George – a bipolar gentleman, who comes in daily and leaves money with Sharon and Ashley to make sure he doesn’t go overboard with his coffee orders. “He gets a weekly allowance from a relative”, they tell me, ”and in order not to spend it all at once, he leaves some behind the counter. But he does like to go to the betting shop and sometimes runs out of money as he finds it difficult to stop, but he knows he will always get food and drink at Rough & Ready. He currently owes us £25, but we know George will pay up eventually. If it weren’t for us, George wouldn’t eat or drink sometimes.”

“Then there’s this gentleman who recently had a stroke, and who comes in every day for his breakfast, which Sharon or I cut up for him to make it easier for him to eat it. Sometimes he is unable to pay on the day and we allow him to pay us back another day. And there is Winston, a young man at the age of 20 who has Down-Syndrome and comes in every Wednesday and sits in the same chair which we keep vacant for him for when he comes. When certain regulars don’t come in on their usual days, we are immediately aware of their absence and feel relieved when we see them again well and happy the next day. At Rough & Ready, nobody makes judgements about people regardless of how they behave, look or dress.”

Ashley says she has never felt so rewarded anywhere else than she has here at Rough & Ready. She feels appreciated and is just as touched by her customers’ kindness as they are by hers. She feels like she has a family here, particularly after her nan’s death, and working with Sharon is wonderful and she feels a great sense of loyalty to her and the café.

DAGE Part II

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Sharon Haward works for DAGE, Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, a charity which provides a pensioners’ daily pop-in centre and a charity shop which recycles used furniture to sell it on for affordable prices. Since 2015, Sharon also runs the café Rough & Ready to serve the community of Deptford. The funds raised are used to look after the Deptford elderly. Sharon set up DAGE with her husband Harry Haward, a real Deptford character who was born here, loved Deptford, and died here in November 2016 aged 83. Since then she’s been struggling to keep the charity running, encountering many obstacles and severe cuts to funding. At times, she feels like giving up as it’s simply too hard to keep going when you keep hitting brick walls, but she won’t let the obstacles win. She tells of her experience:

“Me and Harry used to run a nightclub called Cheeks on Deptford Broadway, this was in 1997, and Harry always looked out for the elderly and put on big party nights for pensioners. The business wasn’t going well though over the last 2 years and then I saw something on DAGE in the South London Press. DAGE already existed, had 5 members and was run by an 80-year old lady in a wheelchair. She was going to shelve it so we rang her to see if we could take over the charity, and she agreed. We found an empty shop on the High Street, which was absolutely derelict. Just to make it inhabitable cost £11,000 with a local building company (they don’t exist anymore today). We rented the premises and made an agreement with the owner that if our Lottery bid was successful, he would have to sell us the space for £90,000. He agreed as no-one expected our application to be successful but it was and so he had to sell it to us for the agreed price. We got a Lottery Grant of approximately £250,000, which paid for the full refurbishment and the set-up, which took 3 months.

We have a pop-in space at the back, we offer free tea, coffee, cakes, no membership fee, and in the evenings I go out to collect donated food from Marks & Spencers and hand it to the pensioners. We also used to do 5 outings a year to the seaside and 2 big parties a year. All the food, tickets and transport was free. We have won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, and other awards for recycling as we do furniture pick-ups to then sell for affordable prices to the local population (see image below).

Harry Haward 03Image kindly supplied by DAGE.

The council had always supported DAGE in the past, but in 2014 they warned us that there was going to be a cap, and that they would reduce 25% maximum of our funding. In the end, they took it all away, everything of the £40,000 we had previously received. Apparently, they wanted to fund other projects and we were told ‘the council has no funds left’. We appealed but without luck.

The consequence of this was that we had to let a member of staff go as we couldn’t afford her anymore, but we promised to re-employ her if we find other funding. At that time Harry started to get very ill, and I had to spend more time sorting out the charity’s affairs rather than being at home with my ill husband. It’s all very sad, especially when you have devoted your life to caring for others. Before Harry’s death, I had been a trustee for DAGE for 15 years and had never earned a penny. After Harry’s death I had to get paid a little salary, after all I couldn’t live on thin air. I do the book-keeping, the food in the café, I manage the shop, I sort bags of clothes we receive and bring them to DAGE, and I sell on e-bay – it’s so much work.

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Until January 2018, we still had a bit of Lottery funding but that’s run out now. We still have some money from smaller trust foundations but we need to think about our future. We also try to support ourselves with the furniture but there’s not really any profit because we sell for very cheap and there are costs involved as well. It’s also very hard to find volunteers – most stay for a day and then leave. It’s hard work and they don’t always realise just how hard it is when they sign up. The café also doesn’t make much profit, so it’s hard work to try and keep it all going. I haven’t even had time to grieve because I’m so busy.

Harry was an exceptional man: when MRSA, the hospital bug, first came out, he protested with others outside Lewisham hospital to have better hygiene policies. Because of that, Lewisham hospital was the first hospital to have the hand gels everywhere. He also protested about the reduction of blue badge parking and made sure there were more blue badge parking spaces outside Lewisham hospital car park. He always looked out for pensioners, but never saw himself as one of them, not even at the age of 83 when he died.

Harry Haward 04Image kindly supplied by DAGE.

The pensioners bear the brunt of all those cuts. The outings to the seaside and the big parties have stopped as we don’t have the funds to do this anymore. Many have lost partners and while some of them still have family who look after them at weekends, sometimes DAGE is the only reason why they might come out during the week. DAGE fights against isolation and it is a safe space for pensioners to be in. We used to have the Pension Service come down to help pensioners with their benefit claims as a lot is not claimed as they don’t always know what they’re entitled to. Also, the police community support officers used to come to see if there are any issues the people want to raise. So, without these services, these people are isolated and not cared for. There is a lot of money out there, especially for the young and the arts, but not for essential services to look after the poor. The young should have every opportunity there is, but one day the young of today will be needing those other services and they won’t be there anymore.

For example, the Lewisham Handyman scheme has been closed, where somebody would come around to fix little things like changing a light bulb or installing a smoke alarm. The pensioner would pay for the bulb or the alarm but somebody would install it for them. So many people don’t know where to turn anymore and just get fobbed off all the time. For old people it’s getting worse all the time and the money is going to the wrong places. What about those big developers – don’t they have to bring back money to the community? Where is it? And I can’t bear the word ‘affordable’ because it’s not social housing and is only affordable to an elite few. Yes, Deptford needs a face-lift but scrapping all the old and bringing in the new is just creating an elitist society.”

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If you would like to donate money to DAGE to keep it going, please go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1013449

DAGE Part I

DAGE pensioners’ pop-in – Monday to Friday 10am-1pm

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The pensioners I’ve been meeting for tea and cake on Wednesday mornings at DAGE, Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, have been coming to DAGE for many years. Women such as Brenda, Carol, Barbara, Kathy and Winnie met at DAGE many years ago and have since become very good friends. DAGE on Wednesdays is an important part of their week and the familiarity between them is clearly visible. Many of DAGE’s more local regulars such as Winnie and Dee come daily to the social meetings made possible by on-going funding support. Whilst many come on a Wednesday because of the market on Deptford High Street, DAGE very much promotes the other days of the week for visiting as well and many make a point of coming on the least busy days.

Kathy, who is 74, explains that DAGE has always been a place for information and where it is possible to find out how things work. Kathy highlights that the information sharing is so important for elderly people by telling me about the difficulties she had with renewing her bus pass which had got damaged: “They wouldn’t do it in the shop anymore, and on the phone I couldn’t understand the advisor. I don’t know how to do it online, so I couldn’t renew it. Thankfully, a nice bus driver helped me. Older people don’t know how to do things anymore because everything’s online now or over the phone, and there is not enough information about how things work. We will also have to pay the rent online from this year. So far, we’ve paid our rent in the post office but we won’t be able to do that anymore. I have no idea how to pay online and I’m worried that I’ll be robbed of my money because we lose control over it with doing things online. The elderly are simply left behind, and we don’t understand how these systems work. All this online business is getting to me, it’s very worrying”, she says.

Kathy tells the story of how she became part of DAGE about 15 years ago. She just walked past, and someone asked her if she wanted a cup of tea, so she went in. What she has always liked and why she has kept coming back is the information she gets at DAGE. “People from the NHS come to inform us about services and art students from Goldsmiths have worked with us too. At times you wouldn’t be able to get a seat on a Wednesday it was so packed. Harry [an active pensioner volunteer who died in November 2016] used to be the driving force behind this – he used to tell us our rights and shout and swear at the MPs over the radio on DAGE’s weekly radio programme, telling them what’s what! We really miss him!“

Harry Haward at DAGE. Photos kindly supplied by DAGE.

DAGE also organises daytrips and parties for the elderly. Everybody at the pop-in reminisces about the great trips and activities over its 17 years. “We have been on many outings and we also have a couple of parties a year. We always look forward to these events, they have always been great days!”

Harry Haward 05Photo kindly supplied by DAGE.

Barbara is 83 and was born in Deptford. DAGE is very important to her. “I’ve been here since it’s opened and I’ll be here until it closes. This place gets me out, otherwise I’d be sitting at home looking at my four walls”, she says. Barbara is a regular on DAGE’s outings to the coast, and she also remembers the day when they visited the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace. “We had afternoon tea. It was such a lovely day.” Barbara and Kathy also pay tribute to the Job Centre (a pub on the High Street) which has provided a free Christmas dinner for DAGE’s members. They also recall being invited to a school through DAGE to tell young kids about how they used to live in the past, which they really enjoyed. Another highlight of theirs was the outing to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in the summer of 2016, where they admired the wildlife, ladybirds, trees and other nature. “It’s such a lovely space with lots of kids”, they said. They were horrified when I informed them about the approved planning application to build blocks of flats on the garden land, and to demolish Reginald House to make way for more flats.

“Why are they demolishing perfectly good houses?”, they ask. “Buildings in the past were built to last and to provide for everyone. These flats were spacious, and the aim was to provide decent living conditions for everyone. These new flats, restaurants and bars are all for the wealthy and not for the poor or for people like us.” Luckily, these ladies live in a secure place and don’t have to worry about having to move or about housing in general. “But we know that others are not in this position, and that a secure home is a luxury in today’s standards.”

They can’t imagine how the younger generation can afford to pay the rent, and how people manage to live in flats. “With houses”, Barbara says, “everything was more friendly but now, you never see the people who’ve got to go to work; flats are not friendly. The developers don’t think about the people living there. They just find a gap somewhere and build on it, it’s ridiculous, and it ain’t for the poor!”

“And what about pollution levels?”, Barbara continues. “If everything is so built up, there is less space for air to circulate and so we have more pollution! I live on the 9th floor and there are 4 flats with children on the same floor and they’re stuck up there, you never see them, it’s not healthy! We used to see children playing outside. Now, they are locked up in the sky without fresh air.”

Kathy also worries about the younger generation and what they’ll be missing when they get older if DAGE (and other community spaces) could not continue to function. With a loss of funding to DAGE from the council due to their general budget cuts, Kathy asks: “What are people gonna do when they’re older? Places like this won’t exist anymore.” Thankfully DAGE does not rely on a single source of funding and Tim Hamilton, DAGE’s Project Development Officer, has received monies from some 30-plus funders each year to see DAGE continues. However, due to the huge funding shortfall from a major source, DAGE are currently fundraising to try and cover their full running costs and to ensure DAGE continues to provide services for the elderly. If you would like to donate, please click on the link below.

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1013449

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Later I meet Eku, Carina, Ola and Laura who come here every Wednesday after communion in All Saints Church in New Cross. They always used to come here “to see the lovely lady [Diane who used to run the pop-in], she’s very good to us.” The four have been coming here for 14 years and they said it would be a great loss if DAGE could not continue. They have been to many of DAGE’s parties and outings and stressed the importance of such events for elderly people. They also have fond memories of Harry. “He was such a nice man!”

Finally, I speak to Diane, the lady who ran the pop-in for many years, serving tea and cake to the pensioners, and handing out bread, rolls and other food stuffs donated by Marks & Spencer. Like most members at DAGE, Diane pays tribute to Harry who volunteered everyday for DAGE and remains a shining example of the benefits of volunteering at DAGE in befriending more isolated pensioners and signposting those elderly who need advice and support.

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Diane explains that she was an employee of Harry’s since the age of 18 and worked for him in the nightclub, Cheeks, The Harp pub, among other places. Diane worked for DAGE for many years following the centre being opened in 2001, with the support from various charitable funds. The pop-in is also assisted in its running by volunteers who Diane used to supervise. They mostly befriend but can also signpost as Diane kept the centre stocked with leaflets on agencies for advice and support. Sadly, Diane’s time at DAGE has come to an end: her work was supported by the Big Lottery funding which ran out at the end of January 2018.

Diane falls into the category of women born in the 50s whose working life was extended unexpectedly in 2011. Diane tells me to look at WASPI – Women Against State Pension Inequality – a group of women born in their 50s whose pension age was raised in 2011. They have demonstrated on the streets to be allowed to retire early without success. Diane is angry at the government for the fact that she cannot retire for another year. “I got the letter, I can tell you the exact date: May the 6th 2019 is when I can retire, when I’m 65 and 5 months old. On my 64th birthday I will have to sign on and look for a job! I’m tired, it’s time to put my feet up but I can’t. I’ve worked since the age of 15 without a break! That’s 50 years I’ve paid into the system and who is going to employ me at the age of 64?”, she asks. The pop-in is now run by volunteers, and on Wednesdays, Scott is there, Harry’s son who is just as devoted to helping the elderly.

It is clear from conversations with members at DAGE how important it is to look after the elderly. Places like DAGE, and active volunteers such as Harry, really help to combat social isolation, one of the top social epidemics for older people in this country today. Visiting DAGE has highlighted the need for the government and other funders to keep places like DAGE alive so they can continue their good work.