Whose Garden? Tidemill and the Hierarchy of Violence

Today’s post was written by Ruby Radburn, resident of Reginald Road and member of the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! campaign. Witnessing the violent eviction of Tidemill Garden from her front door and concerned about what is happening in the area, Ruby joined the campaign the same day. Since then she has become a key figure in documenting the violence exercised on the local community. Photographs by Ruby Radburn unless indicated otherwise.

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“Premise Four: Civilisation is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror and the fetishization of the victims.”                                                            Derrick Jensen, Endgame

 

Ever since the eviction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on 29th October 2018, I’ve been forced to darkly contemplate this hierarchy of violence. For ten weeks now, private security guards from County Enforcement have been standing directly opposite my flat at all times, and there are dogs inside the garden that bark intermittently throughout the day. The garden is floodlit at night and shines through my bedroom blind, and the generator that powers these lights rumbles away continuously. The guards are the last thing I hear, laughing and talking, before I go to sleep, and the first thing I become aware of when I wake up. Even though their numbers have been reduced in recent weeks, any noise they make, or any time I see them from my windows (which must be hundreds of times a day), or when I leave the house and a guard’s eyes follow me down the street, I am reminded of my place in this hierarchy.

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The Council, of course, justifies their presence (and the huge cost of the operation, estimated now to be well over £1million) by saying that they are “securing the site”. So far, so well rationalised. On social media and in the many emails I’ve exchanged with Councillors over this ongoing occupation, I’ve repeatedly heard that their presence is necessary. Sometimes, this necessity is described as unfortunate, and limp apologies are offered for the “disturbance” or “upset” caused to local residents such as myself. Similarly, the eviction itself, in which Lewisham Council sent in 130 bailiffs and security to drag a handful of peaceful protestors from their beds just before dawn, is also presented as an unfortunate necessity. The inherent force and violence in this action is not mentioned by Councillors, but instead they focus on the actions of the protestors. If they had just left when they were asked, none of this would have happened. Which is another way of saying, they made us do it.

In order to accept and internalise this logic, which is of course the logic of the abuser, you first have to accept that the garden (sometimes euphemistically referred to as “public land”) belongs to the Council. On what do we base the assertion that the Council owns the land? Well, there is probably a piece of paper or an electronic document somewhere in the Council’s archives that says they do, and in the supposedly consensual social system we live in, this document would prove that legally the council do indeed own the land.

But the garden is not just an empty parcel of land. It is home to many living things: trees, plants, flowers, algae and newts in the pond, birds who feed and roost and nest there, hedgehogs who hibernate in the undergrowth, butterflies, bees, caterpillars, worms in the ground, and an uncountable number of other living things. Apparently, these living things cannot claim ownership of the land that sustains them and that they give back to, in an intricately connected ecosystem. Not legally, anyway.

Nor do the children and teachers who planted the garden many years ago own it. The community groups and individuals who have used the garden, who knew it intimately, who connected to it and found beauty and peace and friendship in it, who nurtured it, played and learned and laughed within it – they do not own it. The campaigners who have given considerable amounts of their time and passion in the last three years to try and convince the Council to change the plans and save the garden, while still building the same number of homes (which anyone with half a brain should be able to understand is possible, and always has been, when you consider that the new so-called “green spaces” that are part of the development comprise 83% of the area of the current garden) – they do not own it, either. The protestors who occupied the garden last summer to protect it and all the living things inside it, who ate and sang and slept there, and one of whom climbed to the very top of a tree when the bailiffs came, valiantly clinging on for 8 hours while the crowd in the street cheered her – no, none of these people can claim ownership (or even custodianship) of the garden.

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When it comes to land, it doesn’t matter if it is your home (especially if you are not human, but the same applies to humans – just ask the residents of Reginald House or read any history book). It doesn’t matter whether you helped create it, nurtured it, or fought to protect it. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you have a piece of paper that says you own it, either. The only thing that matters is who has the means to enforce their claim of ownership, through violence and the threat of violence.

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This is where the idea that we live in a consensual social system cracks apart, and the psychological tricks of the abuser begin to show through. The Council’s rationale that County Enforcement are there to “secure the site” deliberately obscures the truth of the power hierarchy and renders invisible the violence that maintains it. It suggests that the protestors are the aggressors, that the garden must be guarded from attack, that County Enforcement are the ones “defending” the Council’s land. But the only way the Council can enforce their claim of ownership when faced with resistance – with a refusal to consent – is through violence, and the threat of violence. This is sanctioned by the larger political and social system, and of course backed up by the police. In fact, it is the Council who are the aggressors. They are the ones who have attacked the garden, and who are intent on destroying it.

In the hierarchy of power, we are not supposed to notice the violence done to trees, or to newts. And if we do notice, we are supposed to accept the rationalisations of those in power that it is unfortunate but necessary to cut down 74 mature trees and destroy an entire habitat for many animals and insects, not to mention a vital community space and pollution barrier in a highly built-up urban environment. We are not supposed to resist this reckless destruction and when we do, we are to blame for the unfortunate but necessary violence done to us. And we need to be reminded that any further resistance will be met with violence, hence the guards standing outside my window 24/7.

Ever since the eviction, local Councillors have relished any opportunity to demonise and vilify protestors, while completely refusing to see the eviction, occupation of security and destruction of the garden as acts of violence perpetrated by Lewisham Council. Cllr Joe Dromey wrote on Twitter: “I condemn any unnecessary or excessive use of force, and any assault, whether it be by the security staff, or by masked protesters trying to provoke violence.” Notice the use of the words unnecessary and excessive, and the attempt to equate the assaults of these private security guards, who are paid and authorised by the Council and fully backed up by the police, with the actions of those who dare to resist. Furthermore, is it not a provocation to send a gang of private security (many of them masked) to drag people out of bed at 6am and forcibly seize a place the local community loves, in order to destroy it?

Cllr Paul Maslin’s contempt for protestors whose resistance and expression of anger continued outside the Bird’s Nest Pub on the evening of the eviction is another example of this demonisation: “shouty, masked people who live we know not where, who act with violence, block roads and jump on people’s cars after getting lagered up in the pub”. Shock, horror! How outrageous! But where is his outrage over the shouty masked people who live we know not where (i.e. County Enforcement), who act with violence against ordinary people, including women, and who block the gates to a community garden while they smash down a children’s treehouse in front of the people who built it? Where is his outrage for the animals and insects whose habitat the Council plans to destroy?

Photos by Anita Strasser, 2018

After a protest at the New Cross Assembly on 6th November 2018, Joe Dromey posted in the I Love Deptford Facebook group that there were “a group of around 40 protesters – most of them masked” and then said: “they attacked me and a council officer”. The implication that he had been attacked by 40 masked people was quickly challenged by members of the public, some of whom had been there, and he then clarified that he actually meant 3 or 4 people. But the original wording of the post was clearly a cynical attempt to exaggerate and distort the facts to demonise protestors, which is characteristic of Dromey’s approach. I wasn’t there after the Assembly and I haven’t seen any evidence to prove or disprove his claims of being physically attacked. A Council spokesperson said in the News Shopper that “police intervened to protect them…and ensure everyone got home safely”. Just one arrest was made, by the way, for a public order offence (not for assault).

In emotive language never used by Councillors to describe the violence of the eviction or the destruction of the garden, Cllr Brenda Dacres said in reply to Dromey’s Facebook post that it was a “shocking and disgraceful scene” while over on Twitter Cllr Paul Bell was “very saddened by the events”. Mayor Damien Egan’s response in the News Shopper went even further: “The Mayor condemns, in the strongest possible terms, any abuse, intimidation and violence directed at council staff, councillors and members of the public.” Wait, let’s just read that again: “The Mayor condemns…any abuse, intimidation and violence”, including towards “members of the public”. This is obviously a ridiculous statement. If he truly meant this, he would have to condemn the eviction he authorised, and condemn the private security firm he is paying to intimidate people, and condemn the police who pushed people and threw them to the ground in order to “ensure everyone got home safely”. As a friend of the young man who was arrested astutely commented, along with clear photo evidence (shown below) of a policeman kneeling on his back, gripping his neck and shoving his face into the concrete, “This is what being attacked looks like.”

Photos by Patty Gambini, 2018

The abuse, intimidation and violence of those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is supposed to go unnoticed, and if it is noticed, it is rationalised as the natural order of things. But a read-through of the hundreds of angry comments on Dromey’s Facebook post shows that, thankfully, people are really not that stupid. As the popular local refrain goes, ‘Deptford ain’t ‘avin it.’

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From my kitchen window, I can see the guards slouching against the newly-painted white fence, now with corporate blue strips at the top and bottom. I can see the raw stumps of branches that were needlessly hacked from the overhanging trees and hedgerows in November. A couple of pigeons peck at the few remaining red berries, their usual winter store having been “fed” to a wood-chipper. The guard dogs are let out for one of their daily runs, and they race across the flattened mud, scaring the birds away, for now at least.

I think about the garden before the eviction, all that life inside it, now fenced, guarded, and earmarked for destruction. This is the state of things, not just in Deptford, but in the world. We are on the brink of a climate catastrophe and we all know it, even if we try not to think about it. Global warming, deforestation, rapid species extinction, the collapse of insect populations. Tidemill Garden is only a tiny, tiny speck in the much larger picture of relentless destruction of the earth by those in power. They claim ownership of the planet we all live on, and it is fenced, guarded and earmarked for destruction. They enforce their claim to ownership through violence, and we are supposed to just roll over and take it. But the world hasn’t been (completely) destroyed yet, and neither has the garden. The trees are still standing, and every day I think about what will happen when Lewisham Council come to cut them down, if and when the final legal route – an appeal for a Judicial Review – is exhausted. Already, the men in suits are coming to eye it up, walking around it with a proprietary air (see below). Watching from my window, at times I feel complete despair, occasionally hope, but mostly just rage, which fuels a healthy defiance.

Despite the fence and the guards and the dogs and the ever-present threat of violence, I refuse to accept that the garden belongs to the Council and I refuse to accept that they have the right to destroy it. The amazing campaigners and activists I have met since the eviction (and in case it isn’t already clear, I now proudly count myself as one of them), sum up that spirit of defiance in another popular refrain, chanted loudly at every protest and during every procession from Reginald Road, and down the High Street: “Whose garden?…Our garden! Whose garden?…Our garden!”

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When something belongs to you, in the real sense that you have helped to create it, nurture it and protect it, you have to keep trying to save it. It’s our garden, and this fight isn’t over yet.

 

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“My world would fall apart”

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Rose is the proprietor of Rose’s Kitchen on 8 Clifton Rise, New Cross. I have often eaten food from Rose’s Kitchen. I’m in New Cross a lot and as I appreciate good and healthy food, Rose’s Kitchen is the best place to go. I remember the first time I walked in – I was glued to the food counter admiring the tasty-looking, home-made dishes, wanting to try it all. What a difference from all the chicken shops and other take-away food! The portions are huge, the price is good and the food tastes amazing. And each time you walk in, you are served by the same three people and it’s not long until they remember you. When I walk in, just after lunch time, Karlene (one employee) is serving three customers and Rose is in the back preparing for the next day.

Before Rose set up her shop 10 years ago, she had been cooking with someone else in a restaurant, and it was there that she fell in love with cooking. “I love cooking and I decided to follow my dream”, she says with a big smile on her face. In 2008, she set up Rose’s Kitchen and now she has 2 employees working for her.

DSC_1962Rose in Rose’s Kitchen

“When I first came here, there was not a lot going, there wasn’t a lot of business because people didn’t know me. But when they came and got to know me and the food, they started to enjoy my cooking. I now have customers not only in London but people who come a long way as well: from Kent, Croydon, Birmingham and even Kingston. Yes, people who come to London from Kingston come into my shop to get food. And people who used to live and eat here but have moved away, for example Birmingham, and come back to anywhere near here, they come back and buy large quantities to put in the fridge.” When I ask Rose how she got so many customers, especially from so far away, she says: “It’s all word-of-mouth; through good and healthy food, and good relationships with customers. I have never done any advertising.”

The food is a mix of English and Caribbean food and caters for different tastes. All the time I’m sitting in Rose’s Kitchen, talking to Rose and photographing, there is a constant coming and going of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. “We have all kinds of customers”, Rose states, “Chinese, White, everybody, and of course people of Caribbean heritage because it gives them authentic food from home.”

Rose’s Kitchen does the catering for Deptford Green School prom and the Black History Month. It also provides lunch time specials and offers £2 school meals during term time for pupils from Deptford Green and Childeric Primary. Also many Goldsmiths students come down for lunch time specials. Rose seems to have a very special relationship with the local kids, wanting to make sure they have the opportunity to get a fresh, healthy meal. “Sometimes parents don’t have the time to cook and give their children healthy meals; sometimes kids don’t even have lunch money but I give them food anyway. And parents often come in to thank me with presents.”

I ask Rose to tell me a memorable story and she told me that “there was a student from Goldsmiths who came in regularly and on the day of his graduation his mother came in with a bunch of flowers and said: ‘thank you for feeding my son your healthy food. I cannot cook very well and my son doesn’t like my food. I wish I could have provided him with the food you did but I couldn’t. My son speaks about you all the time and sometimes I even feel upset because he speaks of you as if you were his mum. I thought I have to meet this lady, I want to know who this Rose is and today I want to thank you for being so kind to him’”.

Talking to Rose it strikes me just how important her work is to her and to the local, and larger community. Rose’s Kitchen is not just a shop or a food joint with social interaction a mere exchange of food and capital; it is a social space, an intricate network of social contacts formed through food that reaches much wider than just the stomach or the local area. “We are like a family here. Even if people have moved away but come back to visit, they come in. People see me as a family member, like a mum or a gran and for me, my customers are like my children”, Rose explains.

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When I ask Rose about the planned demolition of the shops on Clifton Rise, her facial expression becomes more sombre. “I could never lose this place! I don’t want to lose my customers. I look forward to going to work every day. Sometimes I wake up tired in the morning but when I come here I don’t remember that I was tired. If you can have a laugh at work, it is so important. I would like the shop to remain the same.” The same can be said for her customers, most of whom have signed the petition to stop the demolition of Clifton Rise (the figure of signatures from just her shop is in the hundreds). “If the shop were to close, for my customers it would be like losing their mum or gran, and it would deprive many local kids of fresh and healthy food. It’s like taking candy away from a baby.”

Rose feels that the small businesses on Clifton Rise are not being treated well by the council. “We’ve had no information, nothing’s been offered, and we don’t get compensated for anything. When we try to call we just get passed on from person to person – you’re never able to speak to anyone. The regeneration here is terrible, it’s just about making more money. They are demolishing small businesses like us who have no chance, who can’t afford the prices they are charging. Everything is sold to private people with money. They are not going to want us here.” I ask Rose what message she would like to pass on to the council and she replies with: “If you break us up, it’s like you are destroying a home!”

As I sit there listening to this, I become incredibly sad. It is another story of somebody who has contributed to and built up strong relationships with the local community; somebody who has invested a lot of positive energy into creating a thriving business that serves the local area not only with affordable, fresh and healthy food but also with important personal connections that have developed into long-lasting friendships. For me, Rose is a real pillar of the community and her displacement would be a tragic loss to the area. It is another story of dispossession and displacement, of communities being destroyed to be replaced by luxury developments for private gain; a story of an uncertain future, of having to start all over again.

I ask Rose whether she has thought about what she is going to do if demolition goes ahead. She shakes her head, visibly upset by this prospect. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know any other job; I only know cooking.” But it isn’t just about the shop itself, or her love for cooking, it is about much more than that. “My whole world would fall apart”, Rose exclaims, “I don’t know anything else.”

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After our conversation, Rose goes back into the kitchen to carry on preparing for tomorrow. Karlene is busy cutting onions and serving the customers that keep coming in: kids, Goldsmiths students, a young local lad of Caribbean heritage, an elderly gentleman…

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Dealing with the effects of the Tidemill eviction

Text written in collaboration with Diann Gerson and Ruby Radburn

Tidemill Eviction 29 Oct 2018 Anita Strasser (16)

Life hasn’t been the same on Reginald Road since the violent eviction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on 29 October 2018. Not only has bearing witness to the heavy-handed eviction by over 100 bailiffs and security guards and the subsequent boarding up of the much-loved community garden left scars on this quiet street, the 24-hour presence of at times unpleasant security guards and the constant noise from nocturnal chatter, vans and chainsaws since then, as well as the incessant barking from security dogs on the site (in fact, as we sit here, the sound of barking can be heard constantly), apparently to deter campaigners from trying to access the garden, has left some residents unable to sleep, experiencing stress and anxiety attacks. One such resident is Diann Gerson, who has lived in Reginald House for 30 years and who has been prescribed sleeping pills to help her cope with the stress.

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Diann is the granny that was assaulted by a 7’ bailiff who pushed her to the ground when she was trying to go home on the day of the eviction. She’d already had her arm in a clearly visible sling due to a fractured shoulder, and after she landed on the hard asphalt, she had to go to A&E to check whether more damage was done to her shoulder. The police did not interfere on the day and Diann was instead assisted by Reginald/Tidemill campaigners. Diann tells me: ”I reported this to Cllr Joe Dromey who forwarded this to Kevin Sheehan on 1 Nov 2018. I received a quick response the same day or day after but haven’t heard back since. I’m not sure anything is being done about it. I have also reported the assault to the Police and they took my and witnesses’ statements, checked my hospital report and seem to be looking into it, but I’m not sure what’s going on.”

Diann also tells me how she feels living in Reginald Road after all that’s happened in the last month. “Seeing all that police and being manhandled at the time created an effect. The first day I went back to work after that horrid day of the eviction, I was having panic attacks all the way to the station, and it’s been like that every day since. I’m also having nightmares with people coming through my door without warning. I’m not sleeping, which makes me hear the dogs barking even more. I don’t know what kind of thugs they hired because proper security dogs don’t bark unless there’s an immediate threat. Basically, it got to a stage where I had to approach a doctor, and she said let’s deal with the biggest problem first – sleep. I was prescribed sleeping pills. I’m seeing the doctor again next week to deal with the panic attacks and the stress of this situation. Every time I go out the door, I feel stressed, it affects me. The panic attacks have become a bit less now, I’m okay when I go to work, but when I’m coming home and hit this road, I start feeling anxious.”

Ruby Radburn02Photo: Ruby Radburn

Diann has avoided going in the direction of the garden as she can’t face the security guards and the boarded-up garden. Recently though, she had to walk past it as she was coming from a different direction. She noticed that the pavement has been halved with the fence, forcing you to walk past the guards really closely. She finds this intimidating and uncomfortable. She also remembers the day the diggers came at the weekend of the 10th and 11th of November. When she and her granddaughter looked through the fence to see what was going on, “a guard came up right behind us and just stood there. I said ‘why are you so close, can you move from behind me and my granddaughter, I’m uncomfortable’, but he didn’t move.”

That weekend, which was Remembrance weekend, the diggers started at 8am Saturday and Sunday morning. What Diann observed through the fence was the dismantling of the treehouse and sheds in the garden and the crushing of all the wood from the shed. “They might as well have made toothpicks out of it all. The most annoying thing is that it feels like a lot of this is done on purpose: smashing everything in the garden, cutting off half the path, badly-trained dogs, cutting the tress – anything to inconvenience and annoy. To me it seems like it it’s all just to create a reaction, and all that while the Judicial Review is pending. Maybe they want to destroy everything so even if we win the case it’ll be too late. But complaining to the council is useless, because they just protect each other and blame it on something daft like miscommunication.”

DSC_0186View of the boarded-up garden from Diann’s flat

Diann and her neighbours have also noticed markings on the stairs of Reginald House, which have recently appeared. Residents can only explain these markings and the poor attempts to hide them by plastering over them as being to do with knocking down their block. “It seems like someone is sneakily taking measurements for one reason or another and then trying to hide this from the residents. They really think we’re stupid! And the worst thing is not knowing what is being done behind your back. There’s this constant feeling of threat and aggression in the air.”

 

What annoys Diann as well is the money that is suddenly being spent on repairs in Reginald House. “I know these repairs are for our comfort for the next two years but it’s such a waste if everything will be knocked down. If they had spent the money on repairs much earlier, rather than running the block to the ground, and money on redrawing the plans to save this block and the garden, they wouldn’t have to waste all this money now. They could also have saved the ridiculous amounts of money they are now spending on security. From day one, now 10 years ago, all the residents were involved with petitions against the demolitions of our block, but we were ignored. To think how much money and time could have been saved if they had listened. But they didn’t. It feels like we can’t win, no matter what we do.”

The hardest bit, and what causes much of the stress is, Diann says, that she feels permanently threatened. It’s often very subtle, but all the time there is something that reminds Diann of the threat the whole neighbourhood is under: the markings, strangers in the block, the dogs, chainsaws, and the rumour that the townhouses on the other side of the road are next.

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Another person who has suffered immensely is Ruby Radburn who lives right opposite the garden and was woken by the raid at 6am. She supported the campaign and had been friendly to protestors occupying the garden, so when she heard cries of, “Help, help!” and looked out of the window, she knew straight away what was happening. But she still could not believe the scale and force of the operation. “There were dozens of bailiffs already at the gate and loads more coming down the street. They were really hyped up, shouting, ‘Go, go, go.’” Over the course of that day, as the crowd in the street grew and a cordon of police surrounded the bailiffs, tensions rose, not helped by the aggressive and mocking behaviour of many of the bailiffs and private security. “They were laughing at people from behind police protection, it was really horrible,” she says. “And there were a few who were clearly spoiling for a fight, being really heavy-handed, enjoying the power trip. At one point they were getting out of control and police had to tell them to keep back. But the cops weren’t much better, throwing people to the ground and shoving them.”

 

Photo: Ruby Radburn

Seeing all this unfold, Ruby says, has made it even harder to have to live with security guards from the same company, County Enforcement, lined up opposite her house, round-the-clock for the last six weeks. “I recognise some of them from the eviction,” she says. “They recognise me too. They’re facing my house the whole time and see me come and go every day. The noise from guards talking and the dogs barking has really affected me. I went out once in the middle of the night to complain, and one of the guards filmed me on his personal phone. That felt really horrible and intimidating. The same guy always stares right at me as I go by. I hate it. Even when I’m inside, I can feel their presence all the time.” Ruby was shocked that the Council did not provide any information to residents about the ongoing security. “For the first month, there were at least 40 guards standing round the place, it was like some kind of military occupation.”

 

Photos: Ruby Radburn

About a week in, after another night of broken sleep, Ruby set up a Twitter account to document what was happening (@under_seige_SE8). She also started contacting Councillors to complain about what residents were going through and get answers as to when it was going to end. “Joe Dromey seemed to take it seriously at first and said he’d raise my complaints but then nothing changed. Paul Bell ignored me for weeks, and again, when he did finally reply, very little changed. I tried emailing Kevin Sheehan as well, he only replied when I’d chased him for weeks, and then was very dismissive. It’s been really frustrating, and exhausting.”

Security presence has now been reduced to around 10 guards around the perimeter, and on Friday 7th December, Paul Bell announced on Twitter that he would be removing County Enforcement from the garden and replacing them with another company. On 10th December the dogs were removed from the garden. “But when are the council going to take responsibility for what they’ve put people through?” Ruby asks. “It’s good they are getting rid of County because I’ve seen how aggressive they are. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Council made the decision to evict the garden in that really heavy-handed way in the first place. It seems they didn’t even think about how it would affect people, and they need to be held accountable for that.”

Ruby Radburn03Photo: Ruby Radburn

These are only the stories of two people. I know of many more that have been affected badly by this: residents on and around Reginald Road, and all the campaigners, local residents and friends of Tidemill Garden who used to meet in the garden and whose vital green and gathering space has been taken away from them by force. I don’t think the council will ever fully understand the pain that has been inflicted on this community.

Tidemill Garden: a creative tribute

This post is a collection of creative responses to the destruction of Tidemill Garden. It consists of comments and artworks created by local residents, artists and campaigners to express their feelings about the loss of this green oasis in the heart of Deptford.

Defend Green Spaces: painting made in and for Tidemill Garden by a campaign supporter

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OLD TIDEMILL GARDEN: a song written by Mark Sampson, a local resident who has spent happy times in the garden and is angered by its proposed destruction

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OLD TIDEMILL GARDEN

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

Elected to power and voted in
It turns out now that was a sin
As they sell off public land
Developers profit off our back
Community under attack
This gentrification planned

They say that there’s nowhere else they can
And that is why this is their plan
But that simply is not true
There’s other space they can build upon
Despite their vain attempts to con
And Labour red turns blue

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

So fine old trees will be coming down
There’s not enough in Deptford town
Apartments will take their place
A block of flats that’s structurally sound
Will soon be falling to the ground
And that will be a disgrace

Elected to power and voted in
It turns out now that was a sin
As they sell off public land
Developers profit off our back
Community under attack
This gentrification planned

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
A community space
A peaceful place
So quiet and so serene
Enclosed around
By the traffic sound
An oasis of green

Sculptures (and comment) by Glenn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick

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“As an artist/war veteran, I have spent many a time in Tidemill garden finding peace, airspace, calmness and tranquility. I found this calms me in difficult times as I suffer PTSD, it is the one place amongst trees I feel safe in. This place is divine, I love it. The trees cover your head and connect you to nature. It is amazing to sit in a pocket that allows you to experience a wood in a built-up area. By way of saying thank you to Tidemill and its people I have donated my sculptures which are repurposed nitrous oxide canisters which have been locally sourced. This place has inspired me and in return I hope others can turn up; see some art, nature and engage with its creative clarity. Long live Tidemill, it is more than a plot of land, it is a pocket of creative paradise which is there for us to love and share…. COMMUNITY. To take this away is to take away nature and freedom. This is heart breaking. Please share this as it is from the heart.”

Tidemill Mutterings: poem (and painting below) created by Michele Petit-Jean, a local artist, musician in the band Ukadelix, puppet-show performer at Magic Book Puppet Theatre and supporter of the Tidemill Campaign

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TIDEMILL MUTTERINGS

On market day the Stalwart sisters
hand out leaflets and get petitions signed.
Everybody wants to save the trees.
Tidemill garden. Love and Peace.
Behind their screens the journo teams
hound Lewisham with points of law.
Emails fly and Facebook draws more
cyber soldiers to the cause.
The fight to save this patch of green,
its Laurel groves and Indian bean,
this summers idyll, this music scene
this urban Eden.
So
The Cavalry move in.
Battle-hardened activists arrive
and occupy, prepared for confrontation.
Tents and cabins multiply and
tree-house look-out stations.
The sun shines on the righteous heads
gathered round the pumpkin beds,
planning more and more events
to halt the council’s bad intents.
The enemy shape-shifts and changes,
but still the threat remains.

The BBC have been and gone, democracy drowns in the pond.
The carnival is over, and Stalwarts bicker as drunks arrive and leave their litter.
The compost toilets both are full,
ready for the bailiffs’ call.

Michele Painting

Drawings (and comment) by Jacqueline Utley

“My connection with the garden is layered; my children went to Tidemill in the 90s. It really was a long collaborative process between pupils, parents/careers, staff, the landscape designer and the wider community to make the garden happen. Now over 20 years later it has matured into a beautiful, inclusive community garden just how everyone imagined. This year during the Summer 2018 as part of the campaigns programme of events in the garden we facilitated some open to all drawing workshops where we meandered round the garden to look at the garden and trees through drawing. Like many in our community, I am devastated by the brutality shown by Lewisham Council to the community and dismay at such short sighted, unimaginative Lewisham council unable to see the gardens benefits.”

Requiem for Tidemill Garden: poem by Sylvia Green

Photographs and comment by Fred Aylward, local resident, artist, volunteer and supporter of Tidemill campaign

FredFred21Photograph and comment by Jacquie and Rose – local residents who attend Meet Me at the Albany, an all day arts club for the over 60s

 

Ode To Tidemill Garden by Gordon Robertson, who was born in south east London and lives and works close to Tidemill. Gordon has been along to and participated in campaign events over the past few years, playing music in the processions through Deptford & New Cross. In the photo below he is seen playing the Mandolin next to Captain Rizz on his snare drum.

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Ode to Tidemill Garden

The children learnt of nature,
amid old Deptford’s grey,
though their own homes have no garden,
they had somewhere to play.

The elderly ones also,
surrounded by concrete and brick,
had a place for quiet contemplation,
a place where they could sit.

Where the community could come together,
to discuss the urban plans,
to offer an alternative
and try to make a stand.

Against nature’s destruction
and the polution of our air,
the locals came together
to show the council that they care.

But the authorities had other plans
and money to be made,
the trees that breathe the cleaner air
were not there to be saved.

Instead a richer clientele
had to be catered for,
so they hired a private security force
and declared war on the poor!

 

A Tribute to Tidemill Garden

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On Monday, 29th October 2018, the occupiers of Tidemill Garden were evicted by heavy-handed bailiffs and security guards ordered by Lewisham Council. At 6am, a total of 120 bailiffs and security guards with balaclavas, as well as 3 local police officers to ‘prevent a breach of the peace’, arrived and without any warning or attempts at dialogue the handful of occupiers in the garden were forcefully evicted. Save Reginald Save Tidemill activist Damien Hughes, one of the 4 occupiers left in the garden at that time, narrates:

“It all happened so quickly. They came like a swat team, and in huge numbers. It was shocking to see so many uniformed security personnel in a wildlife park in London at that hour of the morning and acting with such aggression. There were about 50 pretty evenly spaced security guards lined up around the outer circle of the garden in yellow vests, plus some bailiffs in blue vests dotted here and there. Others were moving and standing in different formations in the back car park and the basketball court. The perimeter path outside of the garden also had a line of security men and women. Lights were flashing everywhere throughout the garden and the whole site, plus a bugle was sounding constantly by one of us, intermingled with the sounds of people shouting for help clearly being roughed up by the security/police. The sheer ferocity of the invading forces was quite violent and brutal, which managed to clear the garden quite quickly. So those 50 security guards in the Garden alone at 6.10am were for us four folks.”

Shortly after, one young woman who managed to climb the garden gates was dragged down by 6 men, putting her at risk of serious injury. Another young woman managed to climb to the top of a large tree and remained there for at least 7 hours despite attempts to get her down too. As the day unfolded, more police arrived, surrounding the garden with a solid line of police officers, security guards and bailiffs to keep protesters out, allowing the bailiffs in the garden to aggressively destroy all the lovingly-built structures such as sheds, tree houses, a memory board and other things without disturbance. A few youngsters who were brave enough to try and get into the garden to stop its destruction were pushed to the floor. The nail in the coffin came when a 7’ bailiff pushed Diann Gerson, a grandmother with a fractured shoulder and an arm in a visible sling, to the floor. Diann is a resident of Reginald House and wanted to go home when she was pushed to the ground. Bruised and in pain, she ended up in A&E to check whether her already fractured shoulder had been damaged more in the assault. She has since been advised to report the assault to the police. The police where there! They did nothing! Although many police officers seemed uneasy about their role in this whole fiasco (many didn’t actually seem to know what it was all about, and when protesters told them the whole story, many officers seemed sympathetic to the protesters’ cause and intentions), the police’s failure to interfere with these assaults, justified by ‘I’m just doing what we’ve been told to do’, is not going to help in restoring faith in the idea that the police is there to protect citizens in need.

As usually happens after such events that inconvenience the authorities, the narrative that is cooked up afterwards is that of vilifying protesters and campaigners, portraying them as the aggressors and those breaching the peace. Media reports are usually guilty of this too, but all the media reports that have covered the eviction (whether in support of the campaign or not), that I have seen, have expressed shock and surprise at such a heavy and aggressive presence of bailiffs, security and police to deal with people who are simply trying to save a much-loved community wildlife garden. Despite the many available videos and images online that evidence the reports, members of the local authority are denying the heavy-handedness of the bailiffs and attempt to shift the focus on a handful of people whose appearance helps to reinforce common stereotypes they already have. Comments such as “shouty masked people who live we know not where, who act with violence, block roads and jump on people’s cars after getting lagered up in the pub” (Paul Maslin on Twitter) are typical when speaking of protesters and activists, but the irony is that this description is actually much more fitting of the bailiffs on that day, who were masked (and in much larger numbers than masked protesters), shouted at anybody coming near them, do not live locally, acted with violence, blocked entry to a community garden and might have also had a beer in a pub at the end of the day. The comment on drinking is very telling though; the fact that a couple of people had a can of Lager in their hand is an easy excuse. I suppose somebody in smart-casual wear drinking a £6-pint in a bar in the middle of the day is okay, but a protester trying to keep themselves warm with a drink when spending a whole day in the cold to fight for social justice is despicable! I also found other comments from local residents on social media very surprising, such as “jackals from fringe parties and outside the area who have sniffed a chance to get some publicity”. To clarify things: the woman attempting to climb the fence lives locally and has been a vital part of the campaign for a long time. The woman in the tree and the other three masked protesters also live locally and have been vital for the success of the campaign. The idea that they were out for some publicity for themselves is just ridiculous considering that they are masked, thus hiding their identity. In fact, they have been supporting the campaign without the need to congratulate themselves publicly. And anyway, does it matter whether they are local? Surely what matters is a common belief in a fairer society and more sustainable future. As another person on social media commented: I don’t need to live in the Brazilian rain forest to fight against its destruction!

Did some campaigners shout out their emotions? Of course they did! Who wouldn’t when faced with angry and shouty security guards and cruel injustice! But this focus on a handful of masked people and describing them as violent because they attempted to climb trees and fences, as opposed to focusing on a whole army of bailiffs, security and police, many of whom were masked and violent, is laughable. Whilst some campaigners acknowledge the presence of police officers who were sympathetic and understanding, the opposition to the campaign totally denies the presence of over 100 unmasked protesters who congregated with the 5 masked protesters to campaign peacefully to save a wildlife garden. There are no reports of the amazing community spirit so typical of Deptford on that day, with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds coming together to save this beautiful space, of the people dancing, singing, playing music, cheering and providing support for each other. There is no mention of the two elderly ladies standing there for 8 hours crying their eyes out having to watch their much-loved green space being closed down in front of their eyes; there is no mention of residents of the townhouses opposite the garden allowing campaigners to use their front porches and toilets; there is no mention of the fiddle-player and the drummer who kept the girl in the tree motivated to stay in the tree for so long; there is no mention of locals who were detained from joining the protest due to work-commitments but who popped by to bring food and drink; there is no mention of Captain Rizz’s moving speech to police officers about what the garden means to him; there is no mention of former strangers joining up to fight for common beliefs; there is no mention of the hugs and support people have provided for each other; there is no mention of the fact that this day was only the culmination of a 4-year peaceful and considered campaign NOT against the building of social housing but merely FOR sparing a small community garden and existing council block in the process of building social homes. Joe Dromey says the eviction needn’t have happened if occupiers had left the garden when instructed to do so. However, the occupation needn’t have happened had the local council listened to and worked with the campaigners. To repeat: campaigners have never opposed the building of social homes or the development of the site, hence the engagement with a local architect who drew up alternative plans that spare the garden and Reginald House. They have only ever opposed the destruction of these valuable community assets that mean so much to them. If this had been taken into consideration in the planning application, neither the occupation nor the eviction would have needed to happen. But if councillors think green spaces only have value if they look like Kew Gardens or the hanging gardens of Babylon (as expressed by Paul Bell on BBC News), how can one even begin a dialogue about the value of community.

What I witnessed on the day of the eviction is what I have witnessed throughout the campaign and among campaigners: love, compassion, creativity, hope, friendship and a belief in a fairer society; community spirit like I have never witnessed anywhere else. At the beginning of this year, I created a Memory board (see image below) whose contents were thankfully saved the night before the eviction (the structure it was attached to was unnecessarily destroyed by bailiffs during the eviction). It showed images taken of the garden since the 1990s and invited comments by garden users, who have noted down some memorable stories and their feelings for the garden. I am including these here to pay tribute to what Tidemill Wildlife Garden means to people.

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“Tidemill Garden is part of the cohesiveness of Deptford”

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Performer, musician, community development worker, local activist, volunteer and campaigner Heather Gilmore has lived in Deptford for 24 years. Together with other campaigners she is resisting the demolition of the currently occupied Tidemill Wildlife Garden and the 16 council flats of Reginald House on Reginald Road in Deptford, which are to be replaced with 209 flats. The campaign group have worked tirelessly to save these invaluable community assets by using their artistic skills and local knowledge to organise events, create promotional materials, demonstrate, protest, draw up alternative plans and raise London-wide awareness. Their campaign activities were also incorporated into this year’s Deptford X, London’s longest running contemporary visual arts festival, featuring David Aylward’s (RUR) silent procession Hands Off, Sue Lawes 74 Trees (Tree Demolition Schedule), Caroline Jupp’s Buddleia Bulletin in the Reading Room that was entirely made with recycled materials by campaigners, and Sophia Kosmaoglou’s Art and Gentrification Walk and Debate (as well as an impromptu sound/walk performance by APT Gallery).

Deptford Aint Avinnit: Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! as part of Deptford X 2018

Since 29 August, the day the council wanted to lock the gates, campaigners and activists have occupied the garden and managed to defer an eviction order until 24 October 2018. In the two days before the bailiffs come, they are holding a two-day celebratory peace camp and a candle-lit vigil (Tuesday, 23 October 7pm) to ‘show some people power in the resistance to the seizure of our land’ (Campaign Facebook page). Due to persistent campaigning and awareness raising, there has been great media coverage of the campaign, with Heather having become the public face of it (see links at the bottom for media reports and videos). I want to write about the positive creativity, dedication and determination campaigners have displayed, all based on the fundamental belief that we should all be living in a fairer society that caters for all. I have huge admiration for those that are ‘sacrificing’ their whole free time to serve the community and fight for a more sustainable future. Despite what campaigners are up against, there has always been a sense of calm hope in the air and the use of any artistic talent, be it photography, drawing, music, performance art or theatre has contributed to keeping up motivation and keeping the campaign fun. I wanted to speak to Heather about her personal motivations for being a local activist and what living in Deptford means to her. Here is what she told me.

“I moved to Deptford in 1994. When the opportunity came up, I grabbed the chance because I’d grown to love Deptford when I lived here in the 80s. At that time, I was working on arts projects at the Albany and I’d never lived in such a cohesive community before. It was very artistic, very underground – very community focussed. It housed predominantly working class people with and without further education experiences who worked together using their artistic talent for the benefit of the community.  I have always felt a pull towards community work combined with the arts, and Deptford inspired me.

In 2006, when my daughter was older and I had more time available for community engagement, I became part of Deptford Stories, a play about the history of the Albany.  It was the first theatre piece I had been involved in for years.  Just after that a group of us locals helped the Albany with a Community Event and as a result of that established A Madcap Coalition, a community arts project for the people of Deptford to bring people together on their estates and engender respect for each other’s cultures through the arts. We secured premises on the Pepys Estate and managed to fund-raise for tents, materials and paid artists for the events. We travelled from estate to estate, set up tents, made various fair-ground games, and in 7 years we’d organised about 50 events! The response was so positive, with one young woman studying Community Cohesion as part of an A level course, saying: “This is it!” and a local resident commenting: “This is exactly what we need!”

Unfortunately, after 7 years I burnt out. We had no paid staff to manage the project and I wanted to balance my life with some creative expression. I’m an actress and musician and as organising all these events took up all my time, I didn’t have space for my creative aspirations and felt trapped in a managerial position.  The final straw for me was when we failed to secure a funding bid to Deptford Challenge Trust, which was for projects needing to take the next step in their development. We had done so much including becoming a registered charity.  I was so devastated that a local trust which supports local projects would not fund us, I simply burnt out and couldn’t carry on. Before I left in 2013, we were asked to do an event in Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and I fell in love with it the moment I walked in. The garden was beautifully designed by a landscape architect and planted 20 years ago by the teachers, parents and pupils of Tidemill school. This garden is magical and has become incredibly important to me. I’m registered blind – I have a degenerative condition and my eyesight has got worse over the years. I now have 5% of blurred vision and I may go completely blind one day. But when I come in here, my eyes are bathed in green light and it helps me relax and imagine I am in the country. I have to rely on others to help me get out of London, but the garden is close to my flat, and the bird song and the over 100 trees thrill me and I feel at peace when I’m here.­

I got involved in the campaign to save the garden and Reginald House flats in 2014 – as soon as I heard they were under threat. When we found out that Reginald House tenants had been campaigning against the demolition of Reginald House for 6 years, we linked up and concentrated on developing planning objections to the proposals together. The numbers for social housing were appalling at the time and formed part of our objections. We presented alternative outline plans drawn up by an architect member of the group, but they were dismissed out of hand. They were meant to be used as an example of what could be done – not submitted as a planning application.  That would cost around £50k – unaffordable to a community group.  The Council’s line is that they are unworkable as they stand because they are not detailed drawings.  We purely tried to show that the council could get the same amount of units with bedroom numbers equivalent to the council’s plans.  We also presented photographs, a list of events, and the fact that our group opened the garden up to the whole community (previously it was only open to the Tidemill School community). But the main argument was pollution. Data collected by Citizen Sense, a Goldsmiths University study has shown that the garden mitigates pollution by half in an area six times over WHO limits (https://datastories-deptford.citizensense.net/old-tidemill/) To our surprise, we won a deferment and made good use of this extra time to campaign for alternatives. We arranged meetings and worked tirelessly to persuade the council and developer to meaningfully engage with us, at every opportunity and in every way possible but no representative of the future social landlord ever came to our meetings. Ironically, in August 2017 the Garden featured as a Case Study for children at play for the Greener City Fund from the GLA (https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/greener_city_fund_prospectus.pdf). Only a month after that planning permission was granted to build on the garden.

GLA case for Tidemill croppedLewisham Council’s developers now have planning permission to build 209 flats here – 49% will be for new social tenants at ‘London Affordable Rent’ which is 63% higher than present Lewisham council rents. We want the social housing but not the destruction of current community assets. It will just take a bit of imagination.  To that end we have requested that the developer go back to the drawing board to come up with a community-led design that will spare the garden and Reginald House. Our request has been dismissed out of hand.  We have been treated contemptuously by our elected representatives and their back officer agents.  When we were instructed to leave the site by 29 August 2018, we decided to occupy it. A judge then ruled that the council’s recent possession order has to be deferred until seven days after our Judicial Review application was assessed, on 17th October, to decide whether to go to full hearing. Our application was refused and we are expecting the bailiffs on Wednesday 24th October. However, we are applying for an appeal at the High Court and will not give in until we have exhausted all possibilities to stop the council from taking possession of the garden.

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Among us garden users are some amazing creative and resourceful activists who have used their ingenuity in the building of sheds, tree houses, a functioning kitchen area, a store room along with creating artworks, placards and banners. We have organised many events and through them and our campaigning, thousands of people have visited and local people have come together to enjoy the garden and resist its annihilation. I have developed beautiful friendships here and organising events for the campaign has made me feel valued, capable and confident that despite my disability I can still contribute to community life. This garden is part of the cohesiveness of Deptford. It has so much potential to provide working-class people, young and old, who may not want to or cannot fully participate in the culture of gentrification, with a creative, healthy and affordable space to be. It can offer motivation and hope too.

Campaigners in action
Some of the creativity and resourcefulness shown during this campaign

In Deptford it currently feels like we’re being assaulted by concrete, glass and metal, as well as noise and air pollution. With the constant hum of digging, the increased heavy vehicle traffic and all the monstrous luxury developments, this garden is becoming more and more necessary – it’s priceless. I live on the Crossfield’s Estate which faces another 4 developments (No 1, 2 and 3 Creekside and Sun Wharf), and this together with the Tideway Tunnel and all the development on the Greenwich side of the Creek is causing more and more pollution. As I said, the garden mitigates air pollution from a road 30 metres away by half and there are clear links between green spaces and people’s well-being – physical and mental. I’m concerned for my health and that of the community, and I feel stressed with all that is yet to come. Coming into the garden de-stresses me, and I know of others who come in here ‘to sort my head out’ – as one ex-vet neighbour suffering from PTSD said.

(For more information on planned developments in the area, including Tidemill, please visit this blog: crossfields.blogspot.com).

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I fear that with all the development in this small area, the cohesiveness of Deptford will fall apart. These developments are not for people born and those already living in this local community and have devastating effects on working-class families. Most of the children of the people of Deptford will not be able to live here when they’re older, diminishing the good will of young people who would like to contribute to their area. Deptford will be full of high-rise developments (behind Laban they are building one 30-storey and one 27-storey block) owned by private investors often sitting on empty flats. And I am not convinced or confident that newcomers who can afford to pay £500,000/600,000 for a flat will understand the impact this will have on local working-class people or have the will to support them through their increasing vulnerability to being homeless.  There are an estimated three million people in this country who are one pay packet or benefit payment away from ending up on the streets. This is not to put all newcomers into the same box – I have spoken to many and they get where we’re coming from when I explain the reasons behind our campaign.  It is after all in their interest to live in a peaceful and healthy community. The problem is that many people are not aware of the impacts of gentrification as they are sold a con, a particular version of life that does not include us. It is the first time in 24 years that it occurred to me that I might want to get out of here…but then again, I have little choice and I couldn’t leave anyway because Deptford is my spiritual home. That’s why I will continue to resist its destruction.”

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You are welcome to visit Tidemill Garden, Reginald Rd, Deptford SE8 4RS – Heather’s there most days. You can follow the campaign on Facebook: Save Reginald/Save Tidemill and help to raise funds for the legal campaign:   https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-reginald-save-tidemill

For further reading on the campaign and its press coverage, please click on the various links below:

http://rupturezine.org/pdf/Rupture-2018_Autumn-SCREEN.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3z8UY44tf2qYAqlQ4lznhuXzMRdfW8Wq8RhRJeg_1GJiU_2NkcYI_smQk

https://neweconomics.org/2018/10/tell-us-about-your-public-land-campaign?token=D3BC9yzQYtuIHgRLDsvDlW7WpKo4ZI5y&fbclid=IwAR3elv1ZXzGV85Riwa0Sj2mtMB52d8WtaHSxcSFakQHoyR_cWXRx4WIeQgo

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/10/15/a-radical-proposal-to-save-the-old-tidemill-garden-and-reginald-house-in-deptford-use-besson-street-an-empty-site-in-new-cross/?fbclid=IwAR2eSfka6qCv6FjQaNfD-iHjRgCL37n_OeXD7YZQ-khwfFio926qUY-QHsw

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/10/02/shame-on-peabody-calling-on-the-former-philanthropic-social-housing-provider-to-abandon-its-plans-to-destroy-the-old-tidemill-garden-and-social-housing-in-deptford/

https://pasttenseblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/07/save-reginald-save-tidemill-resisting-new-enclosures-and-the-destruction-of-social-housing-in-deptford/

http://www.sianberry.london/news/housing/2018_09_23_old-tidemill/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6248277/Save-parks-Victory-Government-orders-local-councils-stop-selling-green-spaces.html

https://www.londonlive.co.uk/news/2018-10-04/save-tidemill-campaign-continues

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/09/28/30-days-into-the-occupation-of-deptfords-old-tidemill-garden-campaigners-celebrate-court-ruling-delaying-eviction-until-oct-24/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk315II-TCM&feature=youtu.be

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loJZ-sXpTQ4&feature=youtu.be

https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/16902075.old-tidemill-wildlife-garden-campaigners-served-court-notice/

https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/16883713.campaigners-occupying-old-tidemill-wildlife-garden-vow-to-fight-on/

https://realmedia.press/old-tidemill-occupation/

https://novaramedia.com/2018/09/13/the-battle-for-deptford-and-beyond/

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/09/04/party-in-the-park-new-cross-and-deptford-2018-sun-solidarity-and-the-struggle-against-social-cleansing/

https://www.londonlive.co.uk/news/2018-08-10/campaigners-fight-to-save-old-tidemill-wildlife-garden

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/deptford-community-garden

https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/16606512.occupation-of-old-tidemill-wildlife-garden-continues-despite-council-order/