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

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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.

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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!”

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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

 

 

Modelling the impact of regeneration

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In the summer of 2018, me and Adam Ramejkis, a licenced Lego® Serious Play® workshop facilitator (www.aschoolofthought.uk), ran a Lego® workshop in Tidemill Garden with local residents, campaigners and supporters of the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! Campaign. Participants were asked to build models in response to questions regarding Deptford and the regeneration taking place, and then to explain their thoughts through their models. Lego® Serious Play® workshops are a useful and creative way of engaging with difficult issues, and talking through the built models can draw out views and perspectives that might otherwise remain hidden. The time spent on building also allows more thinking time before having to speak and it can sometimes help visual people articulate their ideas better. The discussions in this workshop really brought to light how the participants understand and experience the regeneration of Deptford, particularly how it impacts them emotionally. The first question asked how individuals see Deptford.

Ian, who lives right opposite the garden and who used to give a helping hand with whatever needed doing in the garden (fixing the path, the fence, preparing for events, etc.), explains that Deptford is a place of different communities that do not mix. He explains his model (see above) that clearly shows the separation of groups:

“We live here together but sort of bypass and not really see each other. This doesn’t apply to all of course but generally people do their own thing and even though we’re kind of doing the same thing – bringing our kids to school, to church and to the shops – we’re not recognising each other. We’re mixing but we’re not blending, we’re not bonding. I recognise my immediate neighbours but at the same time we are literally blind to one another, until something serious happens. The church helps to bring people together. Green space is another way to connect, like Tidemill Garden – it’s like a magnet for people to meet. When you come here, you’ve got more time to take in your surroundings, and that can lead to wonderful encounters. A common space, a green space is the magical ingredient when it comes to community.”

Luciana agrees, saying that the garden is an important meeting place. “The notion of a communal space to make culture, create community, and build up this relationship of unity, of togetherness, is really important. As Paulo Freire used to say, all culture is born from the wish to share time and space. Communal space is for people to meet and build up community and culture.”

DSC_0019Fred’s model of Tidemill garden and Joe Dromey on top of Reginald House waving destructive sticks

Jacquie’s model is a representation of streets and buildings of historic times and the 60s and 70s, and how well they all fit together. “The lay-out is very higgledy-piggledy, it’s not clinical, it’s not shiny, but it’s been built up over time. And the communities living within these buildings have also evolved over time. We know how to navigate these spaces and we move around them well, but at the moment my feelings are that the council want to get rid of anything that isn’t shiny or neat; they want to erase the higgledy-piggledy-ness, to cleanse existing communities so that the area will become a shiny and neat version, looking the same as everywhere else. Obviously, things can be improved, we need investment, but we don’t need erasing which is what I feel Lewisham Council want to do to working-class communities in Deptford.”

Harriet’s model also shows the higgledy-piggledy-ness of Deptford, with different colours and shapes representing the different community groups in Deptford. “This yellow bit in the middle could be The Bird’s Nest, which is quite cool and creative, and this here could be some of the market traders. There is lots going on, with different bits connected up; it’s all quite mixed, dynamic and compact.  But then this is the new Deptford, which is quite uniform and blue, cos it’s a Tory colour and the council think that this is so much better than the other Deptford because it’s more uniform. It feels very disconnected from the rest of Deptford. Although there is more mixing and intercrossing going on in Deptford generally than in a lot of other places, this happens more between individuals. The Deptford Market Yard does some things for the community but it’s not doing very much, they seem to just want to do their own thing.”

Finally, Heather and Matt’s model represent the river, as both feel that the connection to the river is being lost for most of Deptford’s working-class residents. Heather says: “I don’t think there is a policy to get rid of all the poor people, it’s just the chasing of the dollar that is getting rid of working-class people and all the things that are valuable to them. And I know not all of it was good in the past but that’s how I see Deptford changing from a class perspective.”

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The next model was about how participants see regeneration, either how they see regeneration as it’s happening in Deptford and across London or how they think it should be done. For Luciana, regeneration should be about remaking something by including the old. “Regeneration is not destroying the old and creating something new. Like here in Reginald Road, destroying existing housing and green space is not regeneration. It is really important to see how a community develops, and regeneration should allow communities to have this old and familiar together with the new.”

Ian agrees, saying these new blocks are all funky and nice, “but they seem to forget to mix the old and the new, they seem to just put the new in there and we, the people already living here, are left to our own devices. It’s up to us to mix and blend with the new. It’s all just about funkiness and being cool, but there’s a lot of things missing. Regeneration today doesn’t actually solve the problem of the community, of being together and of social housing.” When Ian thinks of regeneration, he thinks of cranes, or ‘concrete trees’ as he calls them, being erected everywhere to build ‘cool’ buildings. Matt explains this process as disregarding certain realities, and he thinks developers should see an area as a patchwork of land and communities that should grow together.

Heather and Harriet feel that fortresses are being erected with gentrified areas being built inside walls that keep the working-classes out. “It’s obvious”, Heather says, “some of these developments are just private and have walls and gates around them so we don’t feel welcome. It’s not just literal walls but also financial walls – we cannot afford living in these fortresses, even if we wanted to… not that we do.”

Fred’s model is a reference to the Pepys Estate, that “for all its faults represents to me that you can have high-density buildings and still have a sense of space around them. This sense of space is missing from all the new developments, they are all blocks up against one another. So, good regeneration is that a sense of space remains; developments should feel more open rather than somewhere like Lewisham Gateway for example.”

Jacquie’s model represents regeneration as violence. “It’s like developers, councillors and regeneration officers coming in pretending to be like cute rabbits but they’re not; the majority come in and squash people down. It’s not about a community’s voice, it’s about the council being dominant, coming and squashing us. It feels claustrophobic, we’ve got no say in this process.”

When asked to take the elements of individual models to build a shared model of regeneration, the group agree on having all the new fortresses surrounding Deptford communities and Tidemill Garden, with Ian’s cranes hanging over the green space and local communities, putting a shadow over the existing, historical parts of Deptford. When I ask Luciana to explain the model she replies with:

“Regeneration is the gentrification of people without a voice. Ideally, there should be a space between the blocks, green spaces where people could mix. However, this is being overshadowed by the construction industries, by power, by the system, the Babylon system. Gentrification separates communities into fortresses; the new communities live in fortresses, which are surrounded by walls and which have no real social mix, no integration; the local, existing communities are forgotten, they have no voice. It’s so sad”.

Harriet adds that all the communities on the older estates are interconnected. “These estates all have lots of green space around them and are nice places to live. Then we’ve got the council who’s basically this monster hiding behind the fluffy bunny and imposing on the community. They are directly oppressing and squishing the community into THEIR idea of regeneration, which is just this big flat grey thing which is propped up by private developers and is looming over the garden and all these other bits of Deptford. If they get their way, we’ll just get these fortress developments, those big boring towers which don’t want any of us to come in.”

The next task was to build a model of the personal impact the regeneration/gentrification of Deptford is having on local people. Matt and Epo, who joined later, explain their model as a rising mountain, signifying the potential impact it might have on an ever-increasing number of people. “It’s like gears, like one thing affecting another, one gear inputting on another, leading to more and more harm. But this harm is hidden from others, people are being crushed but others don’t see this, they are too busy with their own problems. Everybody is struggling so you don’t have time to take care of others.”

Luciana says that people who have no voice and no choice become invisible because they have no space left for them to be heard. “What the council is doing here is not giving people a choice, a ballot for example for Reginald House, and so it is putting these people in the situation of invisibility. There is all that talk about equal opportunity but really it’s not about equality but about QUALITY. If you are wealthy you are seen to have a good quality of life, and if the people living in Reginald House were wealthy people, their voices would be heard, they would be visible, but since they are not wealthy and their lives are seen to be lacking in quality, they do not get equal opportunity.”

Jacquie elaborates on the notion of violence that regeneration brings when your home is under threat, and her model is perhaps the most harrowing example of impact (see below). The green leaves in the middle represent Jacquie’s heart and the black slabs represent the various regeneration schemes in the area that pierce her heart. “This violence of regeneration has an impact on your whole being, your health, family, your neighbours, the community, your friends…it’s oppressive and it affects all the things you hold dear – your memories, your home…It’s massive! And the councillors and developers just don’t understand this, for them it’s just housing, not homes. If they understood, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

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Harriet also refers to gentrification as incredibly violent, symbolised in her model by a hairbrush and an axe, with the former demonstrating how local artists, especially musicians, are linked up and the latter signifying the attempts to break up these connections. “The hair brush was the closest thing I could find to link music and singing and the arts, and the axe here demonstrates that there have already been victims of music communities being broken up. This gentrification is violent and does kill people through lack of housing, stress, segregation, and higher pollution levels.”

Ian looks into the future and sees more and more separation that will have a psychological effect on people. “Suddenly a new block is being built and a green space which everybody could use becomes a lot smaller. At the same time, with the new blocks there is green space gated off as if to say “For the tenants only”. And psychologically, this separates the community, causing a them-and-us mindset whereas before we were together.”

Heather also comments on the benefits of open green space: “Tidemill Garden for example has a big heart and welcomes everybody in and this makes me feel I want to be the same – loving, welcoming and wanting to share it with everyone. And all around are all these towers – they take away all my light, they create wind tunnels which feel uncomfortable because suddenly you hit a road or a pathway between two buildings and whuff, you’re being blown away. But this gentrification has made me into a bit of a warrior, and these people also suffering from gentrification are not alone because there is all of us that are trying to protect what we have.”

Fred also feels that the high-density and bad design of the new tower blocks all around impact on his well-being as it feels to him like a conveyor belt with more and more towers coming into the area. “We are a nation of designers and we are surrounded by all this bad design, particularly with what’s around the buildings. Even the brick cladding, they want to make the buildings look like they’re made out of brick but it’s just fake!”

Once again, participants are asked to put all their models together into a shared model of impact, and Jacquie explains the model: “We’ve got the positive symbols in the middle which is the garden and the library at Pepys, which represent the resistance going on. Here, around the middle, we’ve got all the new buildings which are not well-built, not well-designed, look ugly and the building of them represents a sort of conveyor belt, and over there we’ve got the personal impacts, how the constant construction of these blocks affect communities. What will happen is that all the spaces where we can come together are getting smaller and segregated, so there’s borders being built up in between communities, so the new private builds are becoming dominant.”

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What I find interesting is that at the centre of this model there is still hope, hope for resistance and change. So, I ask the participants: “In terms of thinking about the campaigns we’re involved in and the spark of hope in the middle, how can we resist and how can we make this impact on our lives visible?”

Luciana is clear that there needs to be a dialogue between the council and communities, one that acknowledges the council’s constraints but also the wishes and needs of the community. “The council is acting like they don’t see us; they don’t give us a voice, they don’t hear what we say. They are ignorant of their own faults in their mission to work with developers and Housing Associations rather than with communities. There is no dialogue about what we want! What we wish as members of the community and as campaigners is to make our voices heard and tell them that it’s time for us to sit at a round table and discuss, have a dialogue and find compromises on both sides.”

Jacquie agrees: “If we didn’t scrutinise all their plans and schemes, the council would just do what they want. At least our resistance has had some impact with the amount of social housing slightly improved but that wouldn’t have happened without campaigners. We’re supposed to accept everything while they just push through what they want. We have less and less control over our own lives because the council just don’t listen!”

To conclude, Heather sums up what is really needed in the area and London as a whole: “We need the maintenance of existing council homes and green spaces, and for new-builds to be social housing rather than private because that’s where the crisis lies. The council need to be more community-minded when they are building those places and build truly affordable homes. And they need to tackle pollution, but a glorified walkway that no-one will care about and private gardens are not the solution.”

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Culture and gentrification in Deptford

This text was written by Franck Magennis, co-founder of Deptford Cinema, Deptford Debates, HAGL – Housing Action Greenwich & Lewisham, the London Learning Co-operative and board member of the Deptford People Project. All photographs of Deptford Cinema are copyright of Deptford Cinema/Adriana Kytkova. All other photographs by Anita Strasser.

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I remember once visiting a squat with a wonderful, if slightly bourgeois, friend of mine. The new occupants were busy transforming the place into what would become the short-lived “Elephant & Castle Social Centre.” My friend seemed only to notice the dirt and the chaos.  But it was the chaos that captivated me.

Deptford shares some of that chaos. You don’t know what to expect on Deptford High Street. You don’t know who you will run into. Beyond the Tesco, the Asda, and the other odd representative of multinational corporate brands, the shops are mostly a mix of surprising and eclectic small businesses. Deptford is unique.

More than anything else, gentrification is about rents and house prices. Some people oppose it by focussing on the emergence of expensive coffee shops and hipster hairdressers. The brick thrown through the window of the Cereal Killer café in Shoreditch is a case in point. But a bit of diversity on the high street – of tastes and of prices – wouldn’t pose such a problem if only local people who’ve lived here for years could still afford their rent.

Real estate capital is globalised and unaccountable. It is an incredibly powerful force that hovers over communities, sometimes without us fully realising it. It controls a massive amount of land, labour and capital. It is plutocratic, not democratic, concerned not with people themselves but with profiting from our houses.

Local Authorities are supposed to act as the people’s check on the private power of those property development companies. Like a dam holding back the flood of unaccountable real estate capital. Many, including Lewisham’s Labour Council, do a very poor job. They are systematically failing to push back against the profit margins of the development companies. The dam is leaking.

Five years ago I moved to Deptford and helped to found Deptford Cinema. I feel both proud and conflicted about its impact on the local neighbourhood. Being involved with setting up a cultural institution has given me a lot of ideas about culture and its relationship to gentrification.

 

The Cinema is run entirely by volunteers. Public meetings happen every Sunday at 11am. In theory anyone can get involved, and even start organising their own events. The building that houses the Cinema we renovated from a derelict shop. In many ways, it is an incredible example of a crumbling asset revived by community-led regeneration.

 

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And yet I feel uneasy. Cultural institutions are often seen as a thermometer measuring the temperature of gentrification and its associated conflicts. What kind of films are being shown? Are they attracting diverse crowds that reflect Deptford’s multiracial and working class households? Is the price of a ticket, or a beer, too high for some people? These are important questions, the answers to which shape an institution over time.

Gentrification causes conflicts over resources. There is no permanent solution to this tension. To create a community institution is to create the possibility that it will be lost to higher prices and middle class tastes. All that we can do is to keep asking the right questions, and try to act on the answers. The Cinema, the Council, the developers – are they here to serve the local community, or to gentrify and displace them? Are ticket prices, rents, profits too high? Who belongs in Deptford, and who feels unwelcome?

 

For six years before moving to Deptford I lived in Camberwell. There most of my friends were from geographically dispersed communities from across London. But it was moving to Deptford and founding the Cinema that first helped me get to know many of the people and community institutions with whom I now organise. For the first time I felt a sense of belonging to the place where I lived.

In many ways the Cinema simply gave me a pretext to reach out to people. It started conversations. I headed the outreach working group, and we would flyer the local housing estates. Sometimes we would run a stall in Deptford Market selling second hand books and telling people about what films we were showing that month.

I made one such overture to the Deptford People Project after hearing about their community kitchen on Facebook. They explained that they had started as an attempt to create a space where Deptford’s new, middle class residents could integrate with the existing community. But it quickly became clear that there was a large homeless community who desperately needed the support DPP were providing.

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I felt very strongly that DPP should feel welcome in Deptford Cinema. We co-hosted a fundraiser in the Cinema that proved very successful. The crowd that night looked and sounded like Deptford in a way I hadn’t seen in the Cinema before. Rowdiness and energy and warmth. A Cinema volunteer later complained the guests had been too rowdy. The complaint got back to the organisers of the event, and relations between DPP and the Cinema grew distant.

The event that night, and how different people perceived it, neatly encapsulated the tensions at work in Deptford. Different communities living in the same place, sharing the same venues, trying to learn to live together and forge a sense of society despite their differences. All this against the pressing question of who can and can’t afford to continue living there.

Of all the local groups and struggles in which I have participated, the campaign to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden stands out. Some years ago I came into contact with Owen and Andy and the other organisers after I attended a meeting in the Dog and Bell pub. They were trying to ensure the Garden was preserved as a community asset, and so we co-organised a film screening in Deptford Cinema to raise awareness. From there I became more and more involved with the campaign, and until the recent eviction found myself in the garden several times a month.

 

Lewisham Council’s decision to pursue that eviction was, I think, a big mistake. At a time when environmental degradation is reaching crisis proportions, the local Labour Party have decided to defy community concerns and demolish a cherished community space. Councillors’ claim to care about homes rings hollow in a borough so marked by evidence of the housing crisis over which they have presided. They seem not to understand the genuine grief and pain they are causing.

Communities change. We must not fear that process. I understand that Lewisham Council is caught between the local community and the overwhelming power of international real estate finance. But we must fight to preserve people’s right to stay in the communities they created. To date, Lewisham Labour’s role in that fight has been utterly shameful.

It can be difficult to analyse what is causing gentrification in our neighbourhoods. Emotional thinking is a natural response to being forced out of our homes. But in our struggle to halt the flood of money rushing in to displace people in Deptford, we must remain clear-sighted. More than anything, gentrification is about people not being able to continue living in their communities. If together we can fix housing, the rest is sure to follow.