Pepys Resource Centre: an inclusive community space open to all

 

DSC_0207

I remember walking past Pepys Resource Centre many times, always standing in front of the locked doors wondering why this interesting-looking library was closed. And then, in October 2017, it suddenly came to life with regular opening times and people coming in and out. Today, the library is open every day (Mo – Fri) with activities throughout the week: English lessons for Syrian refugees twice a week, arts and crafts, reading, cinema and popcorn and outdoor activities for children, free Pilates classes on Tuesdays, a befriending club for the elderly on Wednesdays with quizzes, singing and other activities, and WE Women Circle on Fridays, where women share their talents and skills such as cooking, arts and crafts, dancing and other activities. WE Women – Women Empowering Women is the group that runs the library that volunteer every day of the week to keep the library open, to organise activities and to cook lunch every day, lunch that is eaten in the library space together with people that happen to be there (images below and above).

The building that houses the library is owned by Hyde (Housing Association) and is leased by Eco communities. Before the library was re-opened, it was used mostly as storage space, open to the public just 16 hours a week. Then members of WE Women, which was set up in March 2017, approached the leaseholder saying that they wanted to transform the space into a community space. Since October 2017, WE Women have been working hard to provide an inclusive community space open to all. Not long after opening, I met Luciana Duailibe and Joyce Jacca, the two women who volunteer at the library every day, running the day-to-day activities, cooking lunch and helping people to access the library. We have had many stimulating conversations over the months, in the library and at events in other places. In summer 2018, I had a long conversation with Luciana, about the library, her vision of the world and the work that she is engaged in. This is what she told me:

“I moved to Deptford 14 years ago and have stayed ever since. What I love most about Deptford is its diversity. When an area is diverse it is so rich because diversity creates opportunities, opportunities to learn and flourish. Some people are scared of diversity because they fear difference, they are so wrapped up inside of themselves that they forget about others, but for me, it’s the opposite. I love difference because it’s not me so I see it as an opportunity to expand myself, to learn and to transcend my own self. Deptford is a place where the world meets and so it has a lot of opportunities. My daughter for example, she always used to play with a Chinese boy and I used to ask him: ‘How do you say Good Morning in Chinese? How do you say How are you?’ And then my daughter started learning Mandarin when she was in Secondary School. Deptford for me means opportunities to learn, to become more sociable, and to be more tolerant. Many people are not even aware of all the opportunities out there because generally, our society is so rooted in prejudice; people don’t share, don’t collaborate, don’t cooperate. I think we are ONE in this whole world, we are ONE people, ONE human race, we are humans living in this world and we should get together and make the most of it. This is why I’m involved in lots of community projects; this is why I’m here all the time, opening the library, sharing this community space and helping people to get involved. The library is open for meetings, we exchange books, time, and talent. For example, there is a lady, a Flamenco dancer, and she rehearses here on Tuesdays, using the space for free. As an exchange she gives free Pilates classes. So it’s this kind of exchange!”

DSC_0216

Luciana’s nickname is Tinhanha. It’s a nickname she’s had since the age of 13 and was given to her by her cousin, who instead of calling her auntie Luciana, came out with Tinhanha. This nickname was to define Luciana’s future path as Tinhanha in Tupi-Guarani, the primitive Brazilian language, means exchange. “My whole life has been based on exchange, on giving and receiving, on sharing. I have a lot to give and a lot to learn, which is why I’m involved with so many activities to make our community a better place.” Indeed, Luciana not only volunteers at the library every day where she helps run the centre, she is also treasurer of Deptford Neighbourhood Action Group (DNA), a member of Voice4Deptford, treasurer of Kender Primary School where she raises money for school events and equipment, helps out at school events and acts as playmate for the children to help teachers. As well as this, she is Chair of Co-oPepys Community Arts Project, a charity that focuses on arts for mental health and well-being and where artists can access truly affordable studios. Luciana has been involved with Co-oPepys for more than 11 years and tells me of her remarkable journey: “When I first came here, I couldn’t speak any English but I didn’t want to go to English classes doing boring grammar exercises. Instead, I made handmade toys for local children and took them to places like Sure Start and 2000 Community Centre. Word got out about ‘the lovely things I was making’ and eventually I met Joyce, who was organising a carnival here on the estate. She loved what I was doing and introduced me to a friend so that we could do workshops together for children during the carnival. And that’s how I met Dalva, who was involved in Co-oPepys and in the carnival preparations we did there. I became a member and together with Dalva, who sadly passed away four years ago, we managed to clear the debt Co-oPepys had accumulated, got funding and got the place back on track. This encounter between Dalva and me changed both our lives as we both got heavily involved with communities in our local area.”

Sadly, Co-oPepys is under threat and Luciana is trying very hard to keep it open. Unsurprisingly, the council want to transform the space into flats. They had already received a one-month’s eviction notice on the pretence that the space lacked fire safety, but Luciana managed to fight against this. “They used fire risk – basically the tragedy of Grenfell – to get us out. They told me that if a fire happened, as manager of the space, it would be my responsibility. This made me really angry because over all those years, I had reported leaks, dodgy electrics, a dangerous roof and many other things – all of which got ignored. How was it that they were suddenly concerned about fire when they left leaks and the dangers of electricity and water getting together for years? So I said that we weren’t going to move until we’ve found another similar space and that we need to work together on this. I proposed the ground floor of Aragon Tower, the promised part of Section 106 money (money for the community) that never materialised, but with no luck. We’re now in the process of negotiating and I hope we can find another space.”

Despite all the things Luciana is involved in and the fact that she has a family with 2 children, she is at Pepys library most days, always helping people with what they need. I have been to the Resource Centre on a few occasions and have shared many beautiful moments with Luciana, Joyce and others. The loving energy that is put into this community space and which comes off the group and the people they work with is heart-warming and contagious. Luciana is an educator, but not the kind of educator that likes to put fixed ideas into people’s heads. She’s not the kind that views education as indoctrination. For her, education is an exchange of ideas, where she learns with her pupils more than she teaches them. “I’m not the one that has all the answers. Everyone has a talent, a skill, something they are good at. If you give people a chance to share their skill, they can flourish. I’m trying to build on this idea that community is based on exchanging, on giving and receiving, on respecting, trusting and tolerating. At the same time, I’m learning how not to do things or how to do things differently. It’s hard to explain. Imagine we live in communities without money, where we all exchange our talents and skills, where we share and teach each other. This is the basis of this library.”

Luciana has a very simple vision for the world – for people to be happy. “People, communities, are what really matter in this world. It is not about the individual but about living together – there has to be balance between individual needs and the needs of the commune, and when this balance is right, we can feel happy. It’s about humanity and whilst humanity is inherently good, there is a shadow. I once did a performance about this dichotomy of good and bad, which I wrote about the Cherokee myth of the two wolves. In this piece, the granddad said to his children: ‘There are two wolves inside all of us. One is full of greed, anger and vanity and other negative emotions; the other is full of compassion, kindness, empathy – all the good emotions. The two wolves are fighting a battle and the one that will win is the one we feed’. So, if we feed ourselves with negative things, we will be full of bad energy but if we feed ourselves with kindness, compassion and all the things that are good for our soul, then we’ll be happy and others around us will be happy too. Therefore, we need to promote peace and love”.

I ask Luciana how her vision of the world relates to what is happening in Deptford. She thinks that the council and the government in general are feeding their bad wolves with greed, money and profit, creating very bad energy in the area. “For them, many people, particularly those on the bottom of the social ladder, are simply invisible in their drive for profit. Those people are invisible to them – these people have no voice, no choice, no rights, no opportunities to be listened to and to be seen. I think that if Tidemill Garden or Reginald House were in Telegraph Hill, Blackheath or in Brockley, where many wealthy people reside, the demolition of the garden and the house would never happen because people with money are also the people with power, and the council would listen to them. But poor people have no voice, they are nobodies in the eyes of the council. Instead of equality it is all about quality, meaning those with more money and power are seen to be higher quality beings and so their wishes and desires are given priority. There is a huge lack of empathy in this world, a huge lack of love for others who have less. We are not important for the government, we are nothing, we are disposable to them, and we don’t have the same rights. We don’t have the right to keep our green spaces, our community spaces, the right to the river, even the right to our homes or the choice to take part in decisions about our homes. Instead of socially cleansing areas, people should be given a voice in what happens here, opportunities to share their talent, to improve their skills, and to make them a valued part of the community. We should work with the idea of becoming one, that we are one in this world, and not enforce segregation. I think the Age of Aquarius will come but before we enter an era of love, I fear there’s going to be a really painful moment, a really hard time where the big bad wolf, the devil of the government, will win the battle. That’s why we started WE Women – not because we don’t care about men or think they have no sensibilities, or that we want all the power for women, but because we need to find a balance between masculine and feminine energy. At present, the power of men is still oppressive. A lot is about money, control and power and less about caring and sharing. This energy needs balancing out with the female energy of love. We don’t want to turn the table, but we want feminine energy to surface more so we can eat together on the same table; where we both prepare the table and eat together.”

DSC_0218

Advertisements

“Deptford’s poverty is not really visible on the surface”

With the recent news that the Evelyn 190 Centre will close its doors on 31st July 2019 as Lewisham Council will no longer be funding the centre, it is a timely moment to publish the story of the centre: how it came into being, how it operates and what it does, and above all, how essential its services are. If you want the centre to continue operating, please sign the petition.

DSC_0303

I recently spoke to Maureen Vitler, a local contemporary artist, member of the ministry group at St Nicholas Church in Deptford and member of the Management Committee for the Evelyn 190 Advice Centre – a community-based advice centre that offers assistance and advocacy to people who have difficulties with debt, housing, employment and welfare benefits. Maureen came to Deptford in 1967, when she trained as a teacher at the Rachel MacMillan School. Ever since then, she has been involved in looking after people in need and has become an invaluable member of the local community.  Through her involvement with the parish of St Nicholas and St Luke’s, Maureen and others such as Reverend Fr. Jack Lucas played an important role in setting up the Evelyn 190 Centre in 1979.

“It was set up as a community centre with just one community worker at the time”, Maureen tells me. “Initially, there were a boxing club and various other community groups, and we as a church supported them by giving them a building for use at much lower rent than they would have got anywhere else. This was part of our tithing – our giving to the community because we as a church wanted to help. Eventually, as more people were coming in asking for help, the community centre changed its role to an advice centre with more staff available to meet demand. There are so many people, even from our own congregation, that have needed the centre’s support because they can’t cope with the things that are put before them such as the difficulties when losing your job for example. So, this centre is really needed in the area and we have been growing all those years.”

When the community centre came into being in 1979, St Luke’s church (on 190 Evelyn Street) was divided into three sections: the front section as the worship area, the middle section for church halls and the back as the community centre. When the community centre was changed to the advice centre, an extra floor and stairs were put in to make more rooms for individual counselling or other similar situations. Sadly, due to the building now crumbling and having become too dangerous to occupy (and too expensive for the church to repair), the centre has been planning to move and is looking for premises.

Over the years, the management committee have managed to get funding from different bodies, and they also got a kitemark – a trusted symbol for safe and reliable services. Today, apart from small funds here and there, their main funder is Lewisham Council and over the last years, with councils suffering governmental budget cuts, the funding for the 190 Centre has been reduced at each round of funding (every 3 years), with a reduction of 25% in 2016. With fewer funds available and more demand as more and more people find themselves in difficulties, the centre and its staff find it harder and harder to do what they want to do: help people in need.

I ask Maureen about the sorts of things that people come for help and how the centre assists them. “Recently, there have been a lot of people on disability benefits that needed help. With the new regime and the introduction of Universal Credit, disabled people have had to go through a whole lot of new medicals and exams to see if they were still eligible for their benefits. Some of them were told they weren’t even though their disability hadn’t changed, and their benefits were stopped. As our centre has also offered advocacy and representation in court – not many do this as it’s very time-consuming – we went to court with them to challenge these decisions of not being eligible and some have won their court case. Or the staff might be seeing someone who’s in arrears with their rent and needs help to sort this out and also the debt they have accumulated. They get advice on how to pay their debt, how to get through to the council to get a reduction in council tax or rent and other things. There are a lot of hidden processes that a lot of people don’t know about and can’t sort out themselves.”

When I ask whether demand has increased in the last decade, Maureen agrees without hesitation. The last couple of years and the implementation of Universal Credit have put a particular strain on the centre, firstly because people don’t really understand how Universal Credit works, secondly because people’s benefits have been reduced, leaving less money to pay higher rents, and thirdly because a lot of people haven’t (yet) got the wherewithal to budget for a whole month due to having been paid weekly for years, resulting in people running out of money half way through the month and building up rent arrears and debt. As such, there have been more evictions and cases of homelessness. Another reason for the extra strain is the changes to the way the 190 Centre now delivers its services, dictated by Lewisham Council who introduced a centralised telephone hub with clients having to call first before they can speak to somebody face-to-face. The idea behind the hub was to make the system fairer by providing access for more people, but in actual fact it has put extra strain on staff and extra distress on service users, most of whom are already very vulnerable. Where in the past people could come straight into the centre getting immediate face-to-face attention – some immediate advice and an appointment, something which can provide immediate comfort in distressing situations – they now have to phone the Central Advice Line to make an appointment with either the Evelyn 190 Centre of other centres that offer similar services and are funded by Lewisham Council. This means they often have to wait 3 to 4 weeks before they actually get to speak to somebody face-to-face. Maureen explains:

“The staff now cannot give appointments at the 190 Centre as they used to – they have to send clients away and refer them to the Advice Line. They are also not allowed to give advice on the phone – they can only take clients’ details, assess their needs and make an appointment. This is an issue because we are dealing with very vulnerable people, some of whom are elderly, have mental health issues or have English as a second language. For them, having to make a phone call is really scary and they would really benefit from face-to-face contact. Our staff now have to spend at least 2 days a week just answering phone calls – time they used to be able to spend on actually helping people. Casework (e.g. going to court, preparing the materials for court, etc.) is extremely time-consuming and with the changing regulations and the number of cases on the increase, the staff are overwhelmed with the workload. On top of that, due to the funding cuts, we’ve had to cut a 5-day week to a 4-day week as we can’t afford to pay our staff for 5 days a week (and one member of staff had to go), leaving only 2 days a week to deal with casework. But this is exactly what clients need the most as they are unable to represent themselves; these are poorer people that haven’t got the wherewithal to do it themselves. And all the pending cuts to our centres and welfare benefits – it’s all interlinked. Life for poor people is becoming really difficult and if getting help is difficult too, then you can imagine the distress this is causing. Our staff, who really want to help the people calling up with an urgent issue, can only take their information, pass it on and make an appointment, which may not even take place with the same person they have dealt with before. And then there is all the online stuff which is another no-go area for a lot of older people, and those who do know how have to go to the library because they don’t have their own computers. All this is adding more stress to people who are already in difficult situations and our staff are under a lot of pressure; it’s difficult for them to not be able to help as much as they would like!”

Maureen thinks that the implementation of Universal Credit is also linked with increased demand for food banks, saying that a lot more people who could have managed themselves in the past are now using food banks. It’s endless with the poverty we have in the area and it all links up: poverty, education, food banks, housing…” I ask Maureen what she thinks the biggest problem is in Deptford. She says that Deptford’s poverty is not really visible on the surface. “We have all the new dapper buildings bought by foreign investors, who leave them empty or charge really high rents, so you don’t see the poverty. It’s only when someone tells you or you are in contact with people on the ground, when you get down to the nitty-gritty underneath that you see the poverty amongst some of the people. I think a big problem is that poor people lose any self-worth when they see all that wealth around them that isn’t for them and because they’ve got no self-worth they’ve got nothing to live for in a sense. In the past, even though people were poor money-wise when I first came here, they had a sense of ‘this is our place’ and a ‘we can do it’ attitude; that’s gone now amongst a lot of the people.  At the time, there weren’t any what you would call rich people – some had more than others and others were more poverty-stricken but on the whole, there weren’t any outrageously rich people. Now, even with the so-called affordable housing – where they’ve had to build it, it’s right on the edge, separated from the others, creating a visible class divide between those who can afford nice places and those that can’t. Sometimes it reminds me of India where the rich and the poor live side by side.”

DSC_0307Maureen standing in the labyrinth in St Nick’s churchyard. According to her, the meditative and spiritual nature of following the path in a labyrinth can help troubled souls see clarity.

Bringing the conversation back to the 190 Centre, I ask Maureen if she could tell me about a couple of cases that are paradigmatic of the kinds of issues that people approach the centre with. Maureen thinks for a moment before she tells me this: “I know a woman who has been on sickness benefits for a long time. She’s recently had an operation and now the DWP say she’s fit to work, so she’s been sent an e-mail asking her to fill in an online form to sign on and look for work. Now, she is reasonably computer-literate but it took her days to fill it in (as it would have taken me and I’m also reasonably literate) and then she had to go to Bellingham to sign on. We used to have a Job Centre in Deptford but that’s gone, then the one in Lewisham went as well and now people have to go to Bellingham. So, you’re out of work, you’ve got no money and yet you’re expected to get somewhere a long way away to sign on. It’s privileged people making decisions about what poorer people can and can’t do. For them it’s only a £3 return bus ticket but some people can’t afford that. We’re at a point in our society where we’re not taking people as whole human beings with individual circumstances; they’re just a number or a name. Another case was a young woman with her 4-year old child who had been evicted from their rented flat. She had been paying rent to a landlord who was subletting and not paying his rent, and so she was evicted in the end. The council couldn’t help her, at least not immediately, and so she was left on the streets with a child and nowhere to go. Our vicar housed them for a while until she found a place for the mother and child to rent.”

With demand constantly increasing, services provided by places like St Nicholas Church and the 190 Evelyn Centre are essential, providing a much-needed safety net from potential homelessness. However, with funding constantly decreasing, resulting in heightened anxiety levels every 3 years when a new funding bid is due that decides whether the centre can continue to exist, the poor will find it increasingly harder to get the help they need and deserve. For more information on the Evelyn 190 Centre, please visit: http://www.evelyn190centre.org.uk/ For more information on St Nicholas Church, please visit: https://www.stnicholaschurchdeptford.org/.

St Nicholas Church Yard, tended to by Maureen and others. 

 

“If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business!”

DSC_0471

Last month I spoke with Ali, the business owner of Mez Mangal, a Turkish restaurant on 379 New Cross Road. When I came in, he was behind the counter preparing for lunch business. The food there is lovely and freshly prepared to order in the restaurant (For more information on the restaurant, please visit mezmangal.com or facebook.com/Mezmangal).  I’d met Ali a year earlier just after opening this new restaurant. At the time, he was full of hope, energy and enthusiasm. Last month I met a changed man: stressed, suffering from depression and without hope.

Ali once owned a café in Covent Garden and after a few years of doing jobs here and there, he wanted to own his own business again. He wanted to have a secure future for his wife and children and was happy to invest in this. He took over a 7-year lease on this council property just over a year ago, costing him £100,000. He then spent a fortune on refurbishing and decorating the beautiful and large restaurant, and as it takes time to create a customer base, he has also been without a wage for the past year. Sadly, business isn’t going well yet for Mez Mangal – Ali isn’t getting the number of customers he needs to earn a wage and he has recently had to take out a loan to pay some of the bills. He shows me his bank balance – he’s massively in debt. One might think this is a simple story of a new business not having taken off yet. However, there is more to it than that.

DSC_0469

Just over a year ago, when Ali was planning his hopeful future, other residents and shopkeepers already knew that there are plans to demolish 379 New Cross Road along with the other buildings on New Cross Parade and the shops on Clifton Rise, as well as the 4 council blocks on Achilles Street to redevelop the area. The Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign had already been launched to stop the redevelopment plans with information posted on their blog: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com. Please see planning proposal from 2016 here: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/05-11-16-achilles-street-consultation-boards-small-file-size.pdf

According to Ali, he wasn’t given any information about these plans when signing the lease. He even paid a solicitor to check whether the council had plans for demolition and redevelopment. Ali tells me he was told he could safely invest in 379 New Cross Road. He has since been made aware of the redevelopment plans by the Campaign group and is very worried about his future: “If I lose this business, I will lose everything! I have put my life into this business, I’m in huge debt and I have no idea what’s happening in the future!” Ali feels cheated: “Since I’ve been here, there has been no information from the council whatsoever. The only information I have is from the campaign group. This is wrong! I have put my children’s future into this business! In total, with the lease, the refurbishment and the loss of wages I have spent about £300,000, and that for a business that might be demolished some time I don’t know when. If the council want to give me £300,000 okay, I’ll go and start again. But who is going to compensate me for my stress? If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business!”

DSC_0480

Since Ali has found out about the uncertainty of his future, he has suffered badly from stress, depression and at times suicidal thoughts. He can’t concentrate on his work and has been unable to sleep because he is so worried about what’s going to happen. On top of that, his worry and stress over the last year have ended in divorce after 18 years of marriage. “I am losing everything. I have lost money, I have lost hope and now I have lost my family because they can’t cope with me being stressed all the time! What am I supposed to do – go and kill myself? I am not joking, I have thought about it. Who’s going to compensate me for all this? I feel cheated, without hope and without a future. I think I should take the council to court.”

Ali needs to know what’s going to happen so that he can move on with his life. He needs to know whether 379 New Cross Road will be demolished and, if so, when; he needs to know whether the council will compensate him financially and, if so, how much; he needs to know whether there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel so that he might have hope again. In the planning proposal (link above), the council has said that in previous consultations, business owners requested more information and time scales. The council also said that feedback is extremely important to them. So why, then, hasn’t Ali had any information from the council in the last year and a half about the plans to demolish his business? The council also promises to “provide financial and practical assistance to all affected businesses” (in planning proposal 2016, link above) but will they pay off the debt Ali has accumulated due to not being told about these plans? And as he says, how can he ever be compensated for the stress and personal upheaval he has suffered? And the final question that needs answering, if all this information was already available in November 2016, why wasn’t Ali informed about this when signing the lease in 2017, when investing his whole life into this business?

DSC_0477

“It scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London”

DSC_0718

Charlie Baxter has lived in Deptford for the past 10 years and in that time, she has got so involved in the local community that it is now difficult to imagine Deptford without her. Charlie volunteers as a Scout Leader at 2nd Deptford, the local Scouts Hall, she volunteers and is trustee at the Sir John Evelyn Trust, a charity which looks after the elderly, and she volunteers at Tidemill School, reading with the children and acting as a parent governor. Charlie also has two jobs: she is Fun and Wellbeing Leader at Tidemill School and runs her own business – Baxter Party Services – organising family events in the local area such as the annual Summer Festival at the Armada Hall, Halloween Party at the Scouts Hall and more recently a Christmas and New Year’s Eve party in the same place, the Stay & Play Group, a toddlers’ play group once a week at the Armada and privately booked parties (see images below). Charlie also has a family with 5 children, some of whom are Scouts and attend local schools. Although Charlie does so much for local families, she doesn’t think of herself as doing anything special. “Being in touch with local families and having my fingers in all those pies is also good for my own benefit as it gives me links for my own business. Also, my kids are the next generation living in Deptford and I want them to grow up in a safe area so if there’s anything I can do to improve it I will. So, my voluntary work is not just out of the greatness of my heart, it is for a purpose as well!”

Charlie used to be a community worker and tells me a bit about the kind of work she used to do: “I used to work for Lady, so, for example, if a family came to the Children centre or the Nursery and said ‘I need help with housing, I’ve got damp up my walls’, we would speak to a housing officer, get medical reports and try to get the problem fixed. Another common issue we would deal with were women in abusive relationships that had run away from home and needed help with rebuilding their lives. There used to be this phenomenal course on offer, a Discover-Me-Course that was funded by the Children’s Centre and cost £6,000 and you would witness the transformation of these broken women who couldn’t cope with the most basic things in life into confident, independent women. The course was all about knowing yourself again, learning how to get out of bed in the morning and back to bed at night without fear; basically, how to have a normal life again, how to go back to work, how to get their shopping and whatever else they needed. It was amazing to see the journey they went through. All this has stopped now, the funding is gone, advice centres have closed due to funding cuts and women and families are left to fend for themselves, meaning women can’t escape abusive relationships and many families live in unhealthy conditions for years.”

Despite Charlie being incredibly well connected, she wouldn’t know where to send women now if they came to her saying, ‘I’m being beaten up by my husband, I don’t know what to do’. According to Charlie, there is no more community worker at the Children’s Centre at McMillan nursery, there is no-one anymore Charlie could ask for advice on this, and as far as she knows, there is no-one doing home visits anymore to try and help these women. The only nursery with a community worker Charlie is aware of in Greenwich is Quaggy, but as Charlie comments, “if you’re suffering from domestic violence, you’re not going to go far from your house. The fact that you’ve come out of your house is a miracle in itself, so having to go somewhere else is out of the question for many. I just don’t understand why they’ve taken away community workers: you’ve got a nursery full of families, you got a Children’s centre, why not have a community worker that can help with common problems? It’s a real shame!”

Charlie tells the story of a lady who recently went to a family liaison officer at a school, asking for help with being rehoused. “Her house is covered in damp from top to bottom so that it almost looks like it’s the wallpaper. Her baby, who is sleeping in the living room as the damp in the bedroom is worse, has asthma, coughs all the time and has chronic throat infection because of the damp, and yet no-one is able to help her. She’s been to the doctor several times, spoke to housing, spoke to the family liaison officer but no-one is behind her saying “No, this is not acceptable!” She’s been fighting this for 2 years and it looks like she’s not getting anywhere. It’s shocking!”

On top of all that, Charlie says there is another problem – the stigma of being poor particularly for single mothers, who are often perceived and represented as being dumb and as benefit scroungers. Charlie argues that jobs for mums, jobs that happen at a time when the child is in school and that offer 16 hours a week such as a dinner lady or cleaner, are scarce and childcare is too expensive to take on a job during school hours. “If you’re a single parent with young children and need to pay for childcare because you’re working, you need to earn £30,000 a year, if not £40,000 now, to be able to afford that. Childcare is expensive and there is no way on earth some of the women in this area would be able to afford it. And even if they were to work full-time, with housing benefit, income support and council tax taken off, they would never be able to support themselves with the little they get paid!” Charlie herself knows what it’s like not being able to afford to work as once she had to turn down a job at a school, a job she really wanted, because it would have left her worse off than on income support, a cut she couldn’t afford. Now, with her children being older, she has two jobs to support herself and her family.

When I ask Charlie about Deptford, how she perceives the area and what she thinks of the changes happening, she expresses concern about crime in the area, particularly on her road where a centre for young ex-offenders is located and where incidents and patrols are frequent. She is particularly worried about knife crime and the safety of her children, particularly her boys. “The amount of times I’ve turned on the news in the morning and a lad down the road has been stabbed and killed, or there’s been a fight and someone’s in hospital, and all my friends on Facebook go ‘Oh my God that’s So and So’s boy’. I really don’t want to be that mum who receives that phone call. I’ve got 2 girls and 3 boys, and it scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London. So, if I can influence the area in any way, I’ll do that. My children are the next generation and I don’t want them on the streets in gangs and with knives, that’s why I try to get young kids involved in the Scouts group, to get them off the streets. We really need an evening club for 16 – 20-year-olds, a safe place for them to go and hang out, but there is nothing!”

DSC_0721Charlie with some of her team at the local Scout Hall

In terms of the regeneration of Deptford itself, Charlie is all for bringing money and businesses into the area – but only if there is enough social housing and if it benefits the right people for the right reasons, something which clearly isn’t happening. “These new developments – they are supposed to give a percentage back into the community, but I don’t know where the money is gone in all those builds around here because I can’t see anything done for the local community. We tried to get money for a desperately-needed new roof for the Scouts Hall, but we were told the Section 106 money had already been spent! Really? Where? The Scouting Association for example are known world-wide, so don’t tell me you don’t know anything about local community groups or where to put your money. Developers are making huge profits and local people are losing out. It’s shocking! With only £5,000, a drop in their ocean, they could do something really lovely for the community. I know parents or some elderly people that only come out once a week to a group. Without that group, they have nowhere to go. I see so many people that are isolated because there is nowhere for them to go where they can find support and information. There used to be a lot of local services and support groups – there was a Somalian mum’s group, a Polish group that started out for vulnerable mums that had come over and developed into a post-natal group that was run by health visitors, there was a breastfeeding group, baby massage, lots of things. There used to be so many funded groups and they have all disappeared because they can’t afford to rent the spaces anymore. There are now massive gaps here for people of all walks of life for all different reasons.”

Luckily, there are a lot of people like Charlie who are making up for some of these gaps, providing assistance for the most vulnerable on a voluntary basis. Even if the community work is also for her own benefit as Charlie says, the positive impact of her commitment to the area will be felt by a lot of people in need. Through this research I have met so many people who spend their own time helping others, and I have witnessed so much good work going on in the community, work that is not heard about, not known about, not praised enough and not funded, and that is a real shame.

Charlie is currently raising money for the local Scout Group. If you would like to donate, please click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/donate/418808578692143/10219087259031627/

“We need green spaces – we are breathing in a lot of toxic air!”

This post was written by Jacky Jones, long-term Deptford resident, community worker, volunteer and grandmother. She tells the story of how she dealt with her own loneliness and depression by becoming a member of the community that helps others in need. Worried about the increasing levels of loneliness and mental health issues in a vastly growing area, she has recently set up a befriending club, offering the most precious gift: time to listen.

Photographs by Anita Strasser: Jacky in her favourite green space in Deptford – Sayes Court Garden.

__________________________________________________________________________________

DSC_2322

My name is Jacky and I have been living in Deptford/New Cross for more than 30 years. When I arrived in the 80s, I moved into a flat in Arlington House along Evelyn Street SE8 with my young daughter. My son was born not long after. When I first arrived, I didn’t think much of the area. In fact, I felt very depressed because I didn’t know anybody and went weeks without talking to anyone. Where I come from, a small village in Wales, people are very friendly and always nod their head when they see you. In London it was difficult to even get eye contact and not being acknowledged made me feel even more depressed. Some days I would smile and acknowledge people whom I had seen on many occasions. If I got one smile, I felt it wasn’t so bad. I suppose it’s what you make of your situation. Overall, I wasn’t in a good place mentally when I moved here, but I knew I had to do my best for my daughter!

To help me with my loneliness and depression, I started doing voluntary work for a charity in London. I was supporting families of people in prison in the London courts. I also trained to be a befriender and worked on the national and local helpline. Because of my experience in the courts and other volunteering work, I was offered paid work in the Deptford nursery my daughter went to. I was also able to take my son into work, which was a bonus.

From my flat in Arlington House, I could see young children at the bottom sniffing glue. I was mortified and realised, I don’t want my kids to grow up hanging around the streets so I decided I wanted to run an after-school club for my and other children to keep them off the streets. I went to college to do a business course and to get a diploma in Child Care. This enabled me to be qualified to run the after-school club. During that time, I realised how little there was going on for young children or how little there was on offer to help parents to go back to work or college. After my qualifications, I did a business plan and I had to present my ideas to a grant committee with people from the government and trustees from the John Evelyn Trust. Doing all the qualifications and volunteering work had really lifted me and given me so much self-confidence and determination to make things work. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in front of this committee talking about my business plan! The funders liked my proposal so much, I got a start-up grant there and then!

I ran the club in Charlotte Turner School for years until financial issues prevented me from continuing. In the 30 years I’ve lived in Deptford, facilities for the young have not really changed. Other things have changed like more blocks of flats and less green spaces. Even I live on land which used to be a park for local people. The council sold it off over 20 years ago and now the land has houses on it. Obviously, I am very pleased to be able to live in one of the houses – the flat in Arlington House was too small for a family with two children and I moved over 20 years ago. I can now grow food in the garden, which is my passion. But all these big construction companies promise to build extra facilities for all the extra people and then don’t. Regeneration is important but it’s also important that they provide extra schools and facilities to cater for the needs of people. Lots more flats are being built but not everyone can afford to live in them or buy them. It’s grossly unfair to the local people whose families have been extended and live in overcrowded conditions for a long time. Some families have moved out and many are even leaving London. Some retire and move into the countryside or the seaside, but others move because of the stresses and strain of living in the city. With all the gentrification going on and all the new people moving in, they build up into the sky because there is no more room on the ground and that means more isolation for people. I know because I lived in a tower block for over 10 years and I felt totally isolated because you never see anyone. This isolation then causes multiple other issues such as mental instability and depression, which then cause strain on national health services. Also being surrounded by such tall blocks is enough to make one feel suppressed. When I come out of my house, I now have a 22-storey and other, smaller blocks in front of me. This takes away a lot of day light and makes me feel closed in. It’s not good for our mental health. Here’s a little poem I’ve written:

Oh no, walk out the door
Oh no, another floor ☹
Oh no, how many more
Oh no, can’t see the sun no more ☹

Another big problem with all the extra people coming in is traffic, which has got so much worse over the years. And because of that, we are breathing in a lot more toxic air! The pollution has gone so bad and at the same time we are losing all the green spaces. There are hardly any left in Deptford and I often walk around with a scarf covering my nose and mouth because of the pollution. With all these huge building projects like Convoy’s Wharf for example, there must be money about. These big corporations deal with millions if not billions and it wouldn’t surprise me, if they paid the council some money too. All those feasibility studies – who pays for that? We need green spaces and places for people to go to.

DSC_2328

I’m not saying everything about gentrification is bad; it’s much better than slumification. The type of people that are coming in now just have different requirements. Many like eating vegetarian food and like to sit in coffee places. Not all the people coming in are rich; many move here because that’s the only place they can afford. We all just want to make a decent living and make the best out of life. In Deptford, people congregate from all over the UK and the world. I’m not a local here, although after 30 years in Deptford I do see myself as a local. My children certainly are. Anyway, London’s always been a place where all kinds of people congregate, and if you have the energy and passion, anything can be achieved in this city. But I fear London is running out of space and it will just be high-rise homes in the future. And the problem is that when there’s gentrification going on, there’s mostly always deprivation alongside of it. Statistical information shows that Deptford was one of the most deprived areas in London 30 years ago. I don’t think this has changed much. The only thing that’s changed is that more and more people have moved in. Years ago, I used to go to a lot of council and planning meetings and already then they used to say Deptford was up-and-coming. Oh yeah? I see more betting shops than ever! With the influx of so many different nationalities who gravitate to London for a better life, different people face different challenges every day. The social make-up has changed a lot in the area and for me it’s about getting the balance right to create change for all people. We’re all different people with different needs and we need to live together the best we can. I think the vibrational energy is much better now than 30 years ago so evolution can be a good thing but it depends on your situation whether change is good for you or not.

There is such a lack of social clubs for the elderly and for the young, there is nowhere for them to go and because of that I have recently started up a befriending drop-in in my local community centre, doing holistic healing and other things. Older people, especially those that have been in Deptford for several generations, are often too proud to seek help and admit that they are lonely. So many older people out there are lonely, have no-one to talk to so I’m here for them. I make them a cuppa, talk to them, give them a little back massage, or we do some knitting and drawing. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s achievable if there’s enough support. If I can help only one person each time, it’s worth it. I feel lucky that I was able to achieve what I have.

DSC_2323

Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens

This text was written by Carol Kenna, multi-disciplinary artist, founder of Greenwich Mural Workshop and the Charlton Park Reminiscence Project, and coordinator of Twinkle Park Trust. Her article describes what it means to work with local communities to respond to the regeneration of their neighbourhood and to ensure that regeneration proposals work towards more sustainable and inclusive redevelopment. Working primarily with Arts and Environmental improvement funds, central Government Single Regeneration Budget, local government regeneration programmes that invested in neighbourhoods to create a better quality of life for existing local communities through job creation, skills development, health and education facilities, transport, housing and green spaces and arts events, Carol says that what is happening today is not a regeneration programme, “it’s simply developers clicking their fingers to make more profit”. Although working with local authorities was not easy in the past either, Carol’s work demonstrates what local communities can achieve when given the necessary resources. All Photographs by Carol Kenna.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens

Stephen Lobb and I set up Greenwich Mural Workshop (GMW) in 1975 with the intention of using mural painting as a way of working with local communities to express their hopes and fears, brighten their neighbourhoods, help communities work together and make an impact on the city. The murals were intended to have a short life – just 5 years, as we began by using indoor emulsion paints. Contrary to expectation the murals lasted much longer and when they did show signs of wear and tear we found the host community wanted it restored or repainted or created in mosaic to ensure a long life. We also found that the initial mural often led to building an adjacent pocket park or campaigning for environmental improvements to the neighbourhood.

We collaborated with architects, landscape architects, neighbourhood resource centres, other arts organisations and eventually became part of a community forum monitoring development proposals and how they met the needs of the community that would be affected. Although both of us were trained as fine artists, Stephen taught in an architecture college and I had undertaken a postgraduate course in social and economic planning, we were both naturally interested in the design and layout of the city and how it supported or ignored the indigenous communities, and we were both interested in using our artistic skills in this setting finding the fine art scene stultifying. Working with tenants associations primarily we worked to produce murals, set up a silkscreen print workshop to produce agitprop posters and banners for community organisations and trade unions and began working with schools to help them refurbish their playgrounds to make them more interesting and responsive to the children’s needs and wishes. All our work centred on working co-operatively with other groups and in a setting where residents, professionals including us artists brought their relative skills to the table to find a solution to any problems as they presented themselves to us.

I became chair of the Greenwich Community Forum and then joint chair of the Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership (established 1991), a tripartite organisation that sought central Government Single Regeneration Budget funds to support projects along the length of the Greenwich Waterfront. The three partners were local authority, business and community, all working well collaboratively.

Deptford fell under the auspices of the Creekside SRB partnership and their “Building Bridges’ Programme.

In October 1992 I was asked by a resident of Rowley House Watergate Street to help redevelop the adjacent and derelict local authority playground – once known as Hughes Fields Recreation Playground – as a play space for local children.

tw. Pk 1994-1Twinkle Park in 1994

The play area was less than enticing as it housed shoulder high weeds, rusted play equipment, Victorian railings and an abandoned metal container.

So began a life long relationship with the residents of Hughes Fields in Deptford.

By February 1993 we had set up the Twinkle Park Steering Group involving Hughes Fields primary school, the school’s After Care Club, Hughes Fields Tenants Association, various officers from Greenwich Council departments – Leisure Services, Strategic Planning – architects and landscape architects, GMW and EEA. An eclectic mix, but enabling potential conflicts between activists and the establishment to be worked out through amiable conflict and solutions found – a methodology we use to this day.

GMW ran workshops in the primary school, collected ideas of how a park could work to support both the needs of the locality and the school and raise the necessary funds to implement the proposals. Taking on this role we attended many tenants association meetings and gradually overcame their natural suspicion of the interloper.

The proposals to re-establish Hughes Fields Recreation Area as Twinkle Park and refurbish Charlotte Turner Gardens, establishing a pedestrian friendly route between Deptford High Street and the River, were neighbourhood changing and therefore potentially financially prohibitive. Our attitude was that if Deptford was becoming gentrified then the resident community required an equally adventurous, well-designed, top quality materials playground. Deptford City Challenge arrived about that time but concentrated on Deptford High Street. Deptford Power station was demolished in 1992 for a riverside complex with the social housing element at the rear of the development away from sought after riverside apartments. For about 3 years the loss of the power station opened up views to the River for the council tenants. Unsurprisingly the new development – Millenium Quays – re-obscured these views but through community pressure the original single wall of flats was divided into two or three blocks, but still the social housing was at the back of the development. Gentrification was coming to Deptford threatening a strong cross borough community who identified strongly as Deptford people not Greenwich or Lewisham.

Between 1994 and 1996 the Steering Group looked at various ways of implementing the refurbishment of ‘Twinkle Park’ – the name taken either from the amount of broken glass on the ground that ‘twinkled’ in the evening lamplight or the name of the original playground supervisor – Mrs. Twinkle.

We were determined that the project was developed by local people not some outside developer so we considered a volunteer workforce, fruitless offers for help by TV personalities such as Anneka Rice and finally agreed that the Trust would raise the money, develop the master-plan and employ professional contractors to undertake the work.

Chinese New Year celebration with Hughes Fields primary school and Emergency Exit Arts

By 1996, despite a slight hiccup whereby the primary school and local council had tarmacked the play area as playground space, we persuaded Greenwich Leisure Services to provide a grant to develop a public park that could operate both for the general public and the school was an innovative and vibrant idea. A requirement of the grant was to include Charlotte Turner Gardens in the plans in order to encourage greater use of this public space, empty even during a scorching summer.

Working from ideas that had arisen during workshops with the school we prepared questionnaires delivered throughout Hughes Fields neighbourhood and undertook a ‘Planning for Real’ workshop in Armada Community Hall. The Armada Hall workshops included the Steering Group, local authority architects who were coincidentally working on plans to expand the primary school, other local architects, landscape architects, officers from the local authority and the Creekside SRB Agency, local residents and children.

A master-plan was developed from these discussions, presented back to local people for their agreement and amendment and eventually in late 1996 a landscape architect was appointed to ‘detail’ the master-plan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheft of dog grills for ‘scrap’ metal

It was agreed that the Steering Group should be set up first as a business and later a charity and that GMW could either become ‘employed’ by the Trust to continue to raise funds and oversee the project or be a Trust member but not both. It was agreed that GMW would become the Trust’s coordinator thereby establishing the Trust from local representatives and implementer of the project.

Greenwich Council eventually agreed this format, but would elect a local councilor as a member of the board and a lease was negotiated between Greenwich borough and the Trust, leasing both Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens to the Trust for a period of thirty years with the option of renewal in 2028.

It took 3 years to conclude this lease. At the same time an agreement was set up between the council, the school and the Trust for use of the park for play facilities during the daytime in return for subsidised community use of school facilities that had been designed into the school when the school buildings were expanded, achieved by GMW and the council architects working together to produce a design for the park to support this. Sadly more adventurous ideas such as the tree walk linking the second floor of the additional classrooms through the park trees fell by the wayside. Again this was due to finding creative borough officers willing to work outside-the-box and a joint belief that blue-sky thinking is essential for the resulting compromise to be adventurous.

Twinkle Park openOpening celebration to launch paper boats on the pond led by Nick Raynsford MP

The master plan was enacted step by step. Twinkle Park was installed in two sections. The pond area first, followed by the games area, necessary as work on the school development was delayed. The gazebo design and working floor compass was the result of a public competition, open to children, residents, and professionals resulting in eleven designs displayed in Armada Hall and voted on by the public. Architect Piers Gough chaired the competition group and although his choice was not the choice of the public, expertly chaired the group through the necessary scrutiny of the designs before they were passed to an engineering firm to ensure it would stand up properly. In all three designs were chosen, one for the structure of the gazebo, a second for the bench gates that could be wheeled open or shut to isolate the games area from the rest of the park for school use and the third for the floor design.

Over the past twenty years the master plan has been enacted in stages relying on GMW and the Trust raising the funds. At each stage the original master-plan proposals were subjected to renewed consultation by the local community to ensure that the original proposals were fit for purpose. Some changes were made but the essence of the masterplan was maintained and some interesting elements added – an apple orchard, naturalised cherry trees whose fruit could be safely eaten –influenced by knowing a local resident annually harvested the cherries from the street trees, fitness equipment and then a toddlers play area. The overall design referenced the nearby River Thames, something than many residents were unaware of. Each stage contained an ’art work’ – so Twinkle Park included both the gazebo and a purpose-built tug dingy as a seat. Benbow Street included school railings with a wave motive and the corner projected as the bow of a ship, also a circular stone roundel that one day might be replaced with a fountain that reflects the state of the tides; the Gardens have a functional analematic sundial and the toddler play area sports a Viking ship and sculptured stepping stones that reflect drawings developed with Rose Bruford nursery school children and members of the Spice playscheme and produced by local sculptor Richard Lawrence.

Throughout resident’s ideas have been incorporated – retaining the cobbles in Benbow Street, gleaned from their use as ballast in the cargo ships leaving Deptford Dockyard; keeping the Victorian railings around Twinkle Park, protecting the ancient Plane Trees with TPOs.

The completion of each stage is celebrated with a public festival event, which over the years has developed into an annual festival. In between the Trust and GMW fund raise to support events such as Chinese New Year, environmental and wild-life courses, a secret mosaic pathway in Twinkle Park and the I-spy poster to raise people’s awareness of the local history of the area.

May Day Celebrations

Over the years the Trust has received a variety of accolades, from BURA (British Urban Regeneration Agency) for developing a model of local implementation that could act as a template for other communities; from the Civic Trust for quality of design, from Keep Britain Tidy for quality for the two parks. We have raised near £2million pounds to implement the improvements and various allied projects and we constantly look for ways that the Trust can continue as an active element in the local community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPond Weed Clearance

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABorthwick Street demolished but not yet risen

Will we ever finish, this year we restored the pond to the Park, having mysteriously disappeared overnight in 2013. We work to stay involved with local developments, Convoys, redevelopment of the school yet again and the Sayes Court project.

Carol Kenna, December 2018

 

How do some of Deptford’s elderly experience the regeneration of Deptford?

Anita (31)

I have been working with members of Meet Me at the Albany, an all-day arts club for the over 60s who meet every Tuesday to talk, sing, dance, eat and create artworks together. Meet Me at the Albany is co-produced by the Albany and Entelechy Arts, whose artistic director David Slater says that the idea behind Meet Me is “to re-imagine possibilities for frail and vulnerable elderly people and create circumstances in which they can flourish” (in an interview with David Slater in 2018). Indeed, one member of Meet Me, Jacquie, who started writing poetry in this arts club, commented: “Here you don’t get fobbed off as an elderly like in other places, and they bring out your creativity you didn’t know you had”. The Meet Me Choir and their performances, as well as the 21st Century Tea Dance and the travelling installation Bed have become legendary events, and it seems that once a person has joined Meet Me at the Albany, they cannot imagine life without it anymore. All the people I have spoken to say the same thing: “Every week I look forward to coming here on Tuesday. This gets me out of the house. Meet Me gives me purpose.” For many members it is the only day of the week where they are outside their own homes and among people, indicating the necessity for the elderly to have places and opportunities where they can gather.

As my research focuses on the changing face of Deptford, I have been speaking mostly to members and volunteers who have lived in Deptford either all their lives or for many years. Their comments regarding the changes are very similar: they like that “better and nicer looking shops” are coming back into the area because they don’t like the amount of betting shops, “the thousand and one hair dressers” and the fact that “there are too many shops of the same kind on the High Street.” According to my participants, in the past Deptford was full of good shops such as Marks & Spencer’s, Woolworths’ and individual specialist shops, and the market was much better and bigger. Even if they don’t go in the new shops under the Railway Arches (Deptford Market Yard) for example, they like the look of them, and overall, they feel that Deptford is looking better now than a few years ago. What they don’t like are the very tall buildings that take away much-needed sun-light, the new apartments that are too expensive for them and their families to live in (some of their children have had to move to other areas because they could not find affordable homes in Deptford where they grew up) and the fact that there are very few green spaces left. People are concerned about air pollution and the lack of green spaces for children to play.

Some were born and bred in Deptford, like Ron Savill for example, who loves Deptford’s maritime history and misses elements of ‘the old Deptford’, the times when there was a pub on almost every corner and when “the old Deptford boys” and the street callers were still around. Ron also brought in copies of historic images of the docks, Watergate Street (see below) and ancestors. However, Ron also says that “many of the old people of Deptford are still the same”, and that “the people in Deptford are very down to earth, they are the salt of the earth.” As he says this, he points over to other Meet Me members who are sitting in the café singing. “Where else do you get that? Where do people just sing and feel happy in the middle of a café?” he asks with a smile.

IMG_20190125_0003Watergate Street (photographer unknown)
Paintings Ron has hanging on his wall at home (painters unknown)

Fred Aylward, local artist, activist and volunteer at Meet Me, is also fairly positive about the changes in Deptford and likes the cafés, the art spaces, and the art and music scene in the area. But what Fred doesn’t like is that the new developments are sold on the back of the arts, which have been around for a long time. He is particularly concerned about the music scene. “Our local music scene is dying out – we’ve just lost the Montague Arms and with the development opposite the Bird’s Nest Pub, people are bound to complain about the music coming from the pub after moving in.” Another problem, Fred says, is the lack of affordability, amenities and green spaces, as well as facilities for young people.

Jacquie, who has lived on the Crossfield’s Estate for many years, is less positive about the changes. She feels totally closed in on Creekside with all the new tower blocks that are too tall for her liking, and she’s glad that the Sue Godfrey Nature Reserve is there to give her a bit of space to breathe. She explains that this reserve was previously common land that would certainly be built on today if it weren’t for Sue Godfrey, a woman who tended the land and always looked after others. When Sue was killed by a lorry, Jacquie looked after the land a bit, picking up rubbish and doing other things. Jacquie knew Sue quite well and misses people like her who care for the community. She feels the council is more interested in the new and wealthier people moving in than looking after existing communities and the elderly.

Another person who feels closed in by the tall tower blocks is Rose, a volunteer at Meet Me and involved in many other clubs and groups. Rose is an incredibly active member of the local community and is always willing to help others. She suffers from claustrophobia and all these tall blocks that surround her house on Arklow Road (see images below) and make her feel closed in are part of the reasons why she is so active.  “I can’t stay indoors much, I need to get out as I don’t feel well otherwise and too closed in. That’s why I’m so active and part of many clubs. I thought after 9/11 they weren’t building tower blocks anymore but now they’re building 30-storey blocks. The new apartments are also not affordable”, she says.

Finally, I speak to Carmen, a lady with walking issues and who is concerned for her safety with regards to the changes in Deptford. She too likes the look of the new buildings at the train station but says she could never live there. “I am disabled and generally, when there is a fire in such tall buildings, the lifts usually doesn’t work so I don’t want to live there. I need to live on the ground floor. Anyway, these new buildings cost too much for me to enjoy”, she says. Carmen is also concerned about cyclists, particularly those that cycle on pavements and through the market. “I walk with a stick and struggle with balance and when cyclists come past me either too quickly or too close – it throws me off balance and could knock me to the ground. They should not be allowed to cycle through the market.” The same goes for cars parked on pavements, leaving little space for pedestrians to navigate their way through. Bumping into a car could make Carmen fall to the ground.

After these conversations which took place over a few weeks, allowing me to get to know these Meet Me members better, we decided to go on a photography walk around Deptford to photograph and discuss some of the changes. Members would take photographs with or without my assistance and a week later we would sit down, look at the photographs and write captions about what the images mean to people. Together we planned a route where members wanted to go, taking into consideration that we had 1.5 hrs and that there would have to be enough stops to sit down and rest. The group decided they wanted to walk down Deptford Market Yard, down the High Street to Deptford Lounge, through to Tidemill Garden and back via Reginald Road.

Anita (1)

One day in the summer of 2018, Ron, Rose, Fred, Jacquie, Maureen, Dahlia and me prepared to go on our walk. Armed with three digital cameras and 2 phone cameras, as well as walking sticks and wheelchairs, we set off to Deptford Market Yard. Some participants were already very skilled photographers, able to handle digital cameras and phones, but for Dahlia, a 93-year old Jamaican lady, it was her first ever digital image (with my help to keep her hands steady) and she was thrilled when she saw the fantastic image she took. Below are Jacquie’s image of the train station, Ron’s images of Deptford Market Yard (and Jacquie) and Dahlia’s image of Deptford Rise and the arches.

Deliah 01

Ron also pointed out the Shelter Sign at the beginning of The Yard, explaining that these are remnants of WWII and scattered across south-east London, indicating where bomb shelters used to be. In his view, the history of a place should be preserved and commemorated to remind people what once was. See Fred’s ‘Shelter’ image below.

Fred (2)

We then made our way down the High Street, with participants photographing Terry’s Shop (everybody knows Terry’s Shop) and Our Lady of the Assumption RC Church that Fred’s mum and aunt used to attend in the 1930s. Participants photographed aspects of the High Street that have historic meaning and/or are important to them and to Deptford’s identity (Rose and Ron’s images below).

Anita (26)Ron taking photographs on the High Street

When arriving at Deptford Lounge, we took a short break, sitting down, chatting about Deptford and taking photographs. Here it was Maureen’s turn to take her first ever digital image. With my and Fred’s assistance, she took an excellent shot of Deptford Lounge – a symbol for many of Deptford’s regeneration (see below). At the time, a Meet Me member was having an exhibition in the Lounge and members were looking forward to seeing it.

Anita (29)

Maureen 04

We continued to Tidemill Garden, a space some of the participants knew nothing about. The reactions when entering the gate was one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced. Wide-eyed and mouth open, the participants who had never seen the garden before were awe-struck by the beauty of this green space. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing – a green space full of plants and wildlife in the heart of Deptford. Upon hearing that it was going to be demolished, they expressed disbelief and sadness. Concerned about pollution and the loss of green spaces at the same time, they expressed how important green spaces such as Tidemill Garden are and that we must keep them.

Rose, Ron and Fred went off to the centre of garden to meet the musicians that were having an accordion lesson and to take photos all around the garden (see their images below). Unfortunately, Maureen and Jacquie were unable to navigate the garden but together they enjoyed their chat under the green canopy at the gate, away from traffic and noise. Dahlia, however, asked me to lead her around the garden, eager to lay eyes onto every corner of it. Taking my arm with her right arm and holding on tightly to her walking stick with her left arm, we walked around the garden. When I suggested the easier route, the flatter path, she pulled me up the uneven mounds saying: “I want to walk. You see, my dear, this is the only day I’m out of the house… and when I go to church on Sundays, but for the rest of the week I’m at home, indoors. I want to walk in this beautiful space.” With more strength than I would have given her credit for, she pulled herself up the uneven mounds in the garden, excited about each new perspective of the space. When we stood by the pond, Dahlia asked me: “Can you please pick one of these leaves for me? You see, my dear, I’m 93 and my memory is not what it used to be. This leaf will help me remember this beautiful day.”

Fred (9)

It was getting late and we had to head back for members to catch their transport. A week later, I brought in the printed images participants had taken, and I asked them to write captions for images of their choice, bearing in mind that their responses should relate to the changing face of Deptford. Below are their responses:

At the end, participants commented on how much they enjoyed this series of workshops, particularly the walk and taking photographs, and that they would like to repeat this some time if possible. I also asked Dahlia if she still had the leaf from Tidemill Garden to which she replied: “Oh yes! It’s on my window sill. It was so beautiful in this garden.” And when I spoke to Jacquie about the garden months later she said “magic, it was a magical space.”

Anita (12)

Some weeks after the workshop, Gwyneth Herbert created a song about Deptford with Meet Me at the Albany participants as part of Gwyneth’s Letters I haven’t Written project. Gwyneth kindly gave me permission to publish the song here. The song is called Meet Me (© Gwyneth Herbert, October 2018)

MEET ME

Meet me at the bus stop
Meet me on the train
Come and meet me at the Albany
Where we’re sure to meet again

Take a wander down the market
Where every plate’s got soul
Even cheaper after 4pm
Bag a bargain in a bowl

Whatcha after Auntie?
They always know your name
And though every face is different
They treat us all the same, for –

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
AND THAT’S WHAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

Squirrels in the branches
And foxes in the bins
The chiming of the clocktower
As the traffic hum begins

Laughter in the playground
And drunkards in the street
Then a load of bleedin’ sirens
And the sound of running feet

Ackee, bread and saltfish,
Dumplings, rice and peas
You can travel all around the world
On the spicy Deptford breeze – for

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

The years run by in Deptford town
New shops doors open, pubs close down
No ha’penny bits, no coster calls
No buses rattling the market stalls
So much has come and gone and changed
But still our hearts are singing out the same…

FOR NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE
THE PLACE THAT WE
THIS PLACE THAT WE
CALL HOME