Tidemill Garden – one year on

Yesterday marked one year since Tidemill Garden was destroyed by Lewisham Council. One year since 74 beautiful, healthy and mature trees were felled in the name of regeneration. One year since the Tidemill Garden Community lost its precious and much-loved green space that mitigated air pollution by half on one of the most polluted roundabouts in south-east London. One year since Deptford lost its autonomous, culturally-democratic green space that was home to a large creative community that hosted meetings, workshops, discussions and festivals. One year since Tidemill Garden lovers lost a precious space for green light, better air and tranquility. One year since Lewisham Council announced a climate emergency.

Yesterday, some local residents painted trees to commemorate the loss of Tidemill Garden. They painted all afternoon and pasted the paintings onto the hoardings around the garden that have been in place since over a year – since the eviction of garden occupants in October 2018. The paintings and comments say more than I can write here about what the garden meant to people, how they view its destruction and how they feel about the decision to fell 74 trees. So, I shall say no more… except that all the paintings seem to have been taken down within 12 hours. And except that this is another example of community spirit in Deptford – people getting together, painting together, eating together, acting together, resisting together. This is real cultural activism; activism in the real sense of the word – collectively intervening in governmental policies to bring about social and/or political change; not the kind that wins £1.35million of funding.

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IMG-0457All photos by local residents.

Today marks one year since Andy Worthington, investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker who has been involved in local housing campaigns for several years, wrote the article Violent and Unforgivable: The Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford. I am republishing large extracts from his article below. Click here for full article.

IMG_3725Photo: Andy Worthington, 2018

Today is my birthday, and I find myself in a reflective place, looking, at one side, on death and destruction, and, on the other, at life and love and solidarity.

Perhaps this is appropriate at the age of 56, when I am neither young nor truly old — and, believe me, I reflect on aging, and mortality, and what it means, with some regularity, as my restless brain refuses to settle, endlessly asking questions and seeking new perspectives and insights into the human condition. But that is not why I’m in this reflective place today.

Yesterday, in the hallucinatory light and heat of one of the hottest February days in London’s history, I stood on a small triangle of grass by the horrendously polluted Deptford Church Street in south east London, and watched as a small group of tree-killers tore down almost all the trees in a beautiful community garden, the Old Tidemill Garden, whose tree canopy, which would imminently have returned as spring arrives, had, over 20 years, become an increasingly efficient absorber of that horrendous pollution.

As the heat waned and night fell, Lewisham Council held a meeting at which councillors — the same councillors responsible for the destruction of the garden — declared, with no trace of irony, a ‘climate emergency’, which involved calling on the Mayor and Cabinet to “pledge to do everything within their power to make Lewisham carbon neutral by 2030.” (Council Meeting Notes 27 February 2019). As the Lib Dems later tweeted, “you know going (net) zero carbon means you’ll need to store up more carbon in soil & trees? What you’re doing at Tidemill Garden isn’t really compatible with that.” (LewishamLibDems on Twitter 27 February 2019)

I cite this as just one example of the abundant contradictions involved in the destruction of Tidemill Garden — and the proposed destruction of the structurally sound council flats of Reginald House next door, whose residents, by an overwhelming majority, don’t want to have their homes destroyed, but haven’t been asked their wishes by the council.

For ten years, local people have fought to get the council to change their plans regarding a proposed housing development on the site of the Tidemill primary school, the garden (created by pupils, parents and teachers in 1998), and Reginald House, but to no avail. The school moved out in 2012, and guardians then moved into the vacant Victorian school, opening up the garden as part of their social and artistic activities. When they were evicted, the community was given ‘meanwhile use’ of the garden until the development plans were finalised. However, when the council asked for the keys back, on August 29 last year, the community had built up such support for the garden as a genuinely autonomous space for the people of Deptford, and as a precious environmental asset — and the council had shown such a persistent refusal to listen to why the garden was too precious, too genuinely invaluable to be sacrificed on the altar of profit — that we occupied it instead.

IMG_9089Photo: Andy Worthington, 2018

Two months later, on October 29, the council evicted us, using the union-busting bailiffs of County Enforcement, with the support of the police. When the council hired a tree services company to begin cutting down the trees in November, we persuaded them to very publicly withdraw from their contract, and the resulting impasse lasted until yesterday, when, in just a few hours, most of the trees were felled by chainsaws and a huge digger, and the entire garden turned into what looked like a war zone.

This is an apt metaphor, because, in a constant search for easy and excessive profits in the broken economy that crawled out of the Western establishment’s self-inflicted global crash of 2008 — when money-making financiers who claimed to have come up with an endlessly self-fulfilling economic miracle were revealed as the criminals they are, and the politicians who had all gone along with it lost their credibility — those in charge have now embraced a kind of cannibalistic capitalism, in which wars are now waged on poorer British people by their own leaders.

Driving all this is, of course, the open-ended and seemingly endless ‘age of austerity’ that was cynically declared by David Cameron and George Osborne when the Tories got back into power in 2010. This was — and still is — a naked onslaught on the state provision of almost all services essential for civil society and for anything resembling a society that can regard itself as fair and just. The cuts, which are both ongoing, and increasingly savage, hacked away at the funding available to councils and to those providing social housing, pushing both towards a harsh new political and economic reality that, to be honest, both parties have generally taken to with largely undisguised zeal.

Councils, pleading impotence — but, in general, secretly happy to not have to actually do anything themselves — have been hooking up with developers in order to build new housing, in deals that are contemptuous of those displaced by these arrangements — in general, the poorer members of these communities, those who, in Labour boroughs, actually vote for those dispossessing them, but who, in the post-Blair Labour Party, are seemingly of no concern to the party’s aspirational, middle class bureaucrats, who appear only interested in gentrifying anything that smacks of poverty or the working class.

And these unholy deals involve two routes to the current disaster in which we find ourselves. The first involves private companies awash with international investors’ cash, who acquire the land for a pittance so they can throw up the almost uncountable number of priapic towers that have risen across the capital in recent years for largely gullible foreign buyers. As this speculative housing market has started to lose its sheen, and the negative effects on international investor confidence of the self-inflicted madness of Brexit, a different kind of housing market has emerged, via housing associations, who, traditionally, provided genuinely affordable, long-term social housing — and who, since Margaret Thatcher began her destruction of council housing through ‘Right to Buy’, have also been given control of an increasing number of former council properties.

In recent years, the larger housing associations, who have come together under an organisational mega-umbrella, the G15, which is worryingly large, seem to have lost touch with their role as social housing providers, becoming an unhealthy public/private Frankenstein’s Monster, knocking down estates or finding other huge empty sites to build a mix of housing for sale, shared ownership, or for rent, with genuinely affordable social rents being devoured by a new regime of allegedly “affordable” rents that are not actually affordable at all.

At Tidemill, the main developer is Peabody, which still trades on its history as a philanthropic Victorian provider of housing for the poor, even though it is now completely unrecognisable, even from what it was ten years ago. We realised this when, in October 2018, we went to their head offices to protest about their involvement in the project, and were fobbed off.

To give just one example of how Peabody are now very fundamentally a part of the problem rather than any sort of solution, the former social housing provider recently signed an £8bn deal — yes, you read that correctly — with the Australian-based international property developer Lendlease to raze to the ground the whole of the Thamesmead estate in the far reaches of south east London over the coming years, in what will undoubtedly be — if it goes ahead — the biggest clearance programme to date in the wholesale gentrification of London. (Lendlease, in case anyone doesn’t know, play a major role in the redevelopment of Southwark’s Heygate Estate, in the Timberyard in Deptford, Lewisham, right next to the vulnerable Pepys Estate, and in Haringey if redevelopment goes ahead).For more information, please read article ‘Peabody picks Lendlease for £8bn Thamesmead regeneration’ in Inside Housing, 15 February 2019.

In this destruction — which can, and should, very genuinely, be described as an epidemic of social cleansing as politicians fail to genuinely stand up for the working class people of London, whether they are white British or part of the capital’s extraordinary melting pot of cultures and ethnicities – both Labour and Conservative councils are complicit.

And so, yesterday, on the eve of my birthday, as I stood on a small triangle of grass by Deptford Church Street, in that hallucinatory light and heat that, if you lost your focus for a moment, gave you the sensation that it was the height of summer, I watched what I can genuinely describe as a war on the ordinary people of Deptford — and, by extension working class people of all backgrounds and ethnicities across the whole of the UK — by the councillors who claim to be members of a caring Labour Party, the highly-paid executives of Peabody, endlessly delivering their narratives about being a charity that provides social housing, the tree-killers, and various other parties waiting in the wings, salivating over their potential cut of the £100m that, in total, the Tidemill site will deliver to all of those involved in its development as a dull collection of tiny identikit units punctuated by pockets of supremely unimaginative landscaping, including the inevitable ‘private’ gated garden for those with the most money.

In conclusion, then — and to offset all this terrible news — where is my hope on this ill-timed birthday?

Well, that, of course, lies with the community that I have grown to be part of over the last year and a half — the local people, the artists, the musicians, the shopkeepers, the market traders, social tenants, private tenants, sympathetic owner-occupiers, the residents of Reginald House, the homeless, the inspiring, hard-working squatters from across the UK and the EU, the environmental activists, visionaries and dreamers who have come together to defend an extraordinarily beautiful community space and green oasis, and who will continue to work together to resist the gentrification plans of Lewisham Council, Peabody and other developers.

DSC_0854Photo: Anita Strasser, 2018

The battle for Tidemill, of course, is still not over, as Reginald House still stands, and the building work has yet to begin, but other battles await elsewhere — primarily, in New Cross, where the council intends to destroy the Achilles Street estate, and a number of shops attached to it, as part of its intended re-making of the whole of the centre of New Cross, and in Catford, where the council intends to destroy the town centre — the 1970s shopping centre and Milford Towers, a council estate above it. In both cases it would make much more sense for Achilles Street and the Catford shopping centre and Milford Towers to be refurbished rather than destroyed and re-created, in developments worth hundreds of millions pounds to developers and other profiteers, but that will do nothing for local people, except to exile many former social tenants, to create empty glass towers of over-priced flats that no local people can afford, and to wipe out all existing local businesses, replacing them with empty shops of drearily ubiquitous corporate chains.

Please join us in whichever way you can. The Tidemill garden gave birth to a very powerful notion of what an autonomous space can be, and what an autonomous community can be, as, from the ground up, we dealt with Deptford as it is, not Deptford as its gentrifiers want it to be — providing a safe space for homeless people, providing a green space for children to play in, and for grown-ups to reflect and relax and escape the pressures of the outside world, providing opportunities for gardening, providing opportunities for anyone who wanted to put on arts events and musical events for free to do so, creating a venue for the internationally renowned Deptford X arts festival, and providing a space in which, genuinely, societal change seemed possible — via, for example, the structures that some of the occupiers built using scavenged materials, which could have been replicated to provide homes for the homeless, but which were, instead, smashed up by bailiffs within hours of the garden’s eviction four months ago.

 

 

The Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Social Cafe

Photos: Fred Aylward (left), Anita Strasser (right)

The Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Social Cafe is a squat on the Deptford High
Street that has sought to bring together people from all over the
neighbourhood to reclaim space for our own needs, and to find ways of
engaging with each other to address the issues in our community.
Launched by a group of locals, activists, and squatters in the wake of
the destruction of Tidemill Garden, the project has been running for 4
months, currently in its 4th building on the high street, providing
daily tea, coffee, snacks, clothes and warmth to all and any who pass
by. As well as operating as a cafe that is run by local volunteers and
donations, events such as art classes, open mic nights, housing
discussions and repair workshops have taken place in the venue. The
squat truly adapts to the needs and desires of those who participate in
it, and provides a platform to discuss and work from that isn’t bound
over by needless bureaucracy. As our community centres are being shut
down and our housing under attack, it is important that we seek to
defend our spaces new and old, and fight for our right to control our
own lives.

                                                Statement by Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Social Cafe, February 2020

 

Please come down and see this amazing autonomous community space for yourself. Have a cuppa while chatting to the many local people who come in, volunteer if you have time, run a workshop or join the many workshops that are organised usually on Friday afternoons. Jacquie and Anne have so far run several art workshops, “exploring drawing, collage for hanging/bunting, painting collage on the theme of opening up the page to create inside/outside space and painting on glass window” and I did a zine-making workshop end of January (more info below). Last Friday they decorated the cafe and painted the former shop window before they danced during the  benefit gig to support the Social Cafe, featuring the wonderful Ukadelix, Deptford’s Street Poet Mark Sampson, Flaky Jake and many others, including open-mic performances. It was a night described by Anne (and many others) as, “one of the best nights of music that I can remember in Deptford. The enthusiasm of everyone and improvised nature of the whole night was massively compelling. It was magic, and donations will enable another event in the near future.” Or as somebody else said: “Legendary!” Photos below.

Photos: Anne Caron-Delion

On the 31st of January, I did a zine-making workshop with @iamadamram , responding to the themes of housing issues, austerity and the changing face of Deptford. It was a wonderful afternoon of making, creating and connecting. Everybody made an individual zine but at the end we made a collaborative one (last image below). Below are some of the zines that were made during that workshop. As the zines speak for themselves, the rest of this blogpost takes the form of a visual essay, exploring how people are experiencing life in Deptford. The zines can also be found in the cafe.

DSC_3633The collaborative zine, on display at the Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Social Cafe

“This book provides a counter to the media, the developers and the council’s narratives”

Last month saw the launch of the book Deptford is Changing – a creative exploration of the impact of gentrification. The book has 260 pages, is 280x210mm in size, is printed in colour and contains essays, interviews, poetry, song lyrics, hand-written comments, drawings, paintings, models, maps and artworks of all kinds, as well as 400 photographs – all in response to the changing face of Deptford. The content was produced in dialogue with over 160 residents, some of whom produced their own contributions to this book. It is a book that documents and critically analyses the struggles that local residents are up against due to unjust social change and regeneration, but it also celebrates the amazing community spirit in the area that speaks of an ethics of care and social solidarity that is so typical of Deptford. The idea was to provide local residents with a platform for their voices and experiences and give people the opportunity to define for themselves what Deptford and life in Deptford means to them. I wanted to create an alternative history and a counter-narrative to the one we are used to from the council, property developers and the media, which is a narrative many local people do not identify with. Due to the funding received from CHASE, the book has been made available for free to all participants, local community spaces, organisations I worked with, and some local residents/families on low incomes. If you’re interested in reading/viewing the book, you can currently do so in the following places: The Pie ‘n Mash Autonomous Community Cafe on Deptford High StreetEvelyn Community CentreArmada Community Hall, New Cross Learning, St Nick’s Church and El Cheapou (77A Deptford High Street). The book will soon also be stocked at Deptford LoungePepys Resource Centre, Goldsmiths library and other places, which I will announce later on. In order to widen accessibility, I have also ordered further copies of the book, which can be bought for a general price of £25 for organisations, £20 for individuals, and £15 for people on lower incomes and campaigners. Donations are also welcome to save up for a reprint and book events, help me break even and to keep prices at a relatively low level for local residents. If interested, please contact me directly: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk

For the event, I wanted to bring the content of the book alive and involve participants not only in the organisation of the event but also, among other things, in presenting their stories and experiences of life in Deptford. One resident, Anne Caron-Delion, a supporter and friend of local campaigns and campaigners, who has also become a dear friend of mine, gave a moving evaluation of the Deptford is Changing project/book and I want to thank her not only for this beautiful account of the project but also for her friendship and for having the courage to speak at the event. Read her full speech below:

How did I get involved in this event?

I came across Anita in Spring 2018 sitting at a picnic table in the fresh air of Tidemill Wildlife Garden. The air was made fresh by the 124 mature trees and shrubs that had grown there. The occasion was a meeting to plan activities that would draw attention to the proposed demolition of council homes at Reginald House, and to put pressure on the council to re-draw plans for the development that would accommodate new homes on the site while keeping Reginald House and Tidemill Garden.

Anita had created a memory board, with historical and new photographs, as well as post-it notes for people to share their experiences of the garden, and which I added to. It felt surprisingly welcoming to be represented here and to recognise others in photographs. In her own way Anita was an active participant in the Save Reginald/Save Tidemill campaign. She ran her workshops with garden volunteers and brought community groups such as Meet Me at the Albany to the garden. She consistently documented the events organised by other garden volunteers (like children’s events, drawing workshops, live music, local election hustings and Jamaican Independence Day) and also a long string of public protests way too numerous to mention but including the occupation, the violent eviction and the protest camp that ensued. Her images taken with sensitivity by someone who fully understood the context were invaluable and they were used in press coverage, blogs, publicity material and our social media.

Anita was actively involved – which is why this book is not just an academic study by a sociologist observing communities in Deptford. She has managed to bridge 2 communities – the academic (Goldsmiths Uni) and the local (people living & working in Deptford who are effected by regeneration). The stories in her book wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the trust placed in her and the relationships she developed with people who feature in it. It goes beyond the “hit and run” culture of television sociology.

For me this book is seriously moving on many levels. First and foremost because it is record of people’s lives and an alternative history that will endure beyond this moment.

A self-published 260 page book is an enormous amount of work and a huge commitment. And this book is now in the hands of everyone who contributed to it, owned by all of us who participated. But this memory of things that happened locally is also going to be available permanently to other audiences, in institutions like universities and in local libraries.

Gathered together these stories are an acknowledgment and a celebration of personal lives and local networks in Deptford. These are small stories, told by individuals in their own words, and in the intimacy of their personal surrounding, and for me they are a welcome antidote to the jargon and duplicitous intent of so many community consultations.

This book is not a platform for those in power who have access to the media, much of which tends to sensationalise stories and use stereotypes to characterise local protest (for eg as violent and irrational). It provides a counter to the media, the developers and the council’s narratives by showing the actual financial and emotional cost of regeneration for existing members of our communities. And perhaps it will enable readers to acknowledge what others feel when they face the loss of their local community space, support network, business or home.

All photographs by Petra Rainer.

“So together let’s turn the tide of Deptford’s changing for the better”

The Deptford is Changing book launch was opened by the drumming performance of David Aylward, friend and local performance artist and musician, with whom I have worked on a number of occasions to highlight issues of uneven urban change. David was also part of the organisation of the event, for which I want to thank him very much. The effects of the aggressive housing and property market have become so bad and urgent that David, who until then only campaigned via non-verbal communication, felt compelled to give his first ever public speech after his performance. As he stood on stage with his signature orange outfit, he gave this powerful speech (see below):

My name is David. I am born and bred here in Deptford SE8. I am an artist, musician, performer. I use non-verbal communication as my means of expression. I am a community activist, an environmental campaigner and I’ve been a cultural ambassador all my adult life.

I think local, I act local, I am local. I’m a localist. I love living here in Deptford and I’m very passionate about the wellbeing of its people and the spirit of the place.

I was lucky enough to be born into social housing, so I can remain here at least whilst my tenancy is secure, which I don’t take for granted as my landlord is Lewisham Council. I have witnessed, since Deptford was seized by the London Borough of Lewisham in 1967, the systematic demolition of perfectly good council homes in the name of regeneration.

I am a founder member of Silo SE8, a musician’s collective that has made its home here in Deptford for over 30 years. We have been pushed from pillar to post, moved from warehouse space to warehouse space, following wave after wave of regeneration scams that have bombed us out of affordable creative spaces. We now find ourselves in Mechanics Path – oops! I mean Resolution Way, or should it be called Revolution Way. In a railway arch under Deptford Station we’re literally with our backs to the wall, fighting for our survival, due to the dodgy sell-off of thousands of railway arches by Network rail to Arch Co. AKA Blackstone – the world’s biggest landlord.

We have just received a rent review, and Arch Co. want to increase our rent by 100% making our existence totally unsustainable. The old adage comes to mind “Think global, act local” so we have now engaged in a David and Goliath scenario. We have joined arms and have become members of Guardian of the Arches, and are well on the way to becoming the biggest tenants association ever. As we become stronger in number, we intend to stop their plan for social cleansing and cultural extinction by organising ourselves collectively, to prevent being picked off arch by arch. This is yet another expression of open rebellion as we try to safeguard ourselves and keep on keepin’ on, adding to this rich mix of community and culture that we have here in Deptford.

Now Deptford is changing.

It’s always been changing.

Since the first Mesolithic hunter gatherer stopped here seasonally at the bum in the bend of the river Thames, now known as Deptford Beach, and on through the bronze and iron ages when burial mounds were erected on the high ground at Deptford Broadway. The Romans came and built high status posh villas with mosaic floors, probably the first wave of re-generation to be seen in the area; the Saxon village of Mereton (town in the marsh) was founded here, followed by Chaucer’s pilgrims on their way to Canterbury along Watling Street; the erection of Henry 8th Royal Dockyard and the first observation of a curry being made on the street outside the Kings Yard back in the Eighteenth century. Its also born witness to the rebellions of Watt Tyler, Jack Cade and the Cornish, and more recently the battle of Lewisham kicking out the National Front, and not forgetting the battle of Deptford – the campaign Save Tidemill / Save Reginald – a brutal eviction leaving a permanent scar on Deptford’s psyche.

And so we come full circle, we now have new hunter gathers in town in the name of social cleansing and gentrification. So watch your backs my friends, the developers and council’s broom is already beginning to sweep us all away. But Deptford is still the Deep-Ford and still water does run deep. So together let’s turn the tide of Deptford’s changing for the better. As it says on the T-shirt:

DEPTFORD IS FOR EVER.

All photographs by Petra Rainer.

Deptford is Changing book launch

_T1A7076I’m still beaming from the book launch of Deptford is Changing which took place last Friday (24 January 2020) in Deptford Town Hall. The book is the outcome of 2 years of collaborative and creative research into the impact of gentrification and austerity on local residents and contains all the posts that were previously published on this blog. This research is part of my AHRC-funded* PhD studies in Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. The book has 260 pages, is 280x210mm in size, is printed in colour and contains essays, interviews, poetry, song lyrics, hand-written comments, drawings, paintings, models, maps and artworks of all kinds, as well as 400 photographs – all in response to the changing face of Deptford. The content was produced in dialogue with over 160 residents, some of whom produced their own contributions to this book. It is a book that documents and critically analyses the struggles that local residents are up against due to unjust social change and regeneration, but it also celebrates the amazing community spirit in the area that speaks of an ethics of care and social solidarity that is so typical of Deptford. The idea was to provide local residents with a platform for their voices and experiences and give people the opportunity to define for themselves what Deptford and life in Deptford means to them. I wanted to create an alternative history and a counter-narrative to the one we are used to from the council, property developers and the media, which is a narrative many local people do not identify with.

*Arts and Humanities Research Council

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As part of my funding from CHASE, I have been able to give every participant, many local community centres and local residents on low incomes a free copy of the book. The book is available for reading in the following places: The Pie ‘n Mash Autonomous Community Space on Deptford High Street, Evelyn Community Centre, Armada Community Hall, New Cross Learning, St Nick’s Church and El Cheapou (77A Deptford High Street). The book will soon also be stocked at Deptford Lounge, Pepys Resource Centre and Goldsmiths Library. If you can think of any other local community spaces that would benefit from this book, please let me know. In order to widen accessibility, I have also ordered further copies of the book, which can be bought for a general price of £25 for organisations, £20 for individuals, and £15 for housing campaigners and people on lower incomes. Donations are also welcome to give out free copies to people who can’t afford books, keep prices at a relatively low level for local residents, help me break even and/or save up for a reprint. If interested, please contact me directly: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk

Back to the launch. I wanted to stick with the spirit and the making of the book so rather than me speaking for people, I wanted to bring the content of the book alive by inviting project participants – artists, campaigners and residents – to join me in organising the event and sharing the content through talks, participant-led discussions and performances. Just like the book, the event was an opportunity to share experiences, highlight the struggles faced by many, form networks and connections, and foster social solidarity. It was also a celebration of the Deptford spirit – its history, its people, its communities, its creativity and resistance. As such, it is no coincidence that the event took place in the iconic building of Deptford Town Hall (DTH), which was once in the hands of Deptford Borough Council (Deptford was amalgamated with Lewisham Borough Council in 1965 with the town hall now in Catford). The building was sold to Goldsmiths in the late 1990s, restricting access to the building mostly to Goldsmiths staff and students. I know of many local residents that have never been inside this building and the joy of having access for just this night was visible, with people admiring the wonderful marble and ironwork, and the wooden panels listing the names of Deptford mayors and other historical data. Goldsmiths wholly supported the idea of having this community event in DTH, perhaps also partly due to the 137-day occupation of the town hall by GARA (Goldsmiths Anti Racist Action), a group who are fighting against institutional racism in academia and who requested that Deptford Town Hall be open more to the local community.

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In the afternoon, David Aylward and other local residents and campaigners decorated the hall with campaign materials, Deptford information, materials produced during the Deptford is Changing project, and other paraphernalia that has been used to keep Deptford’s struggles and history alive. To ease into the event and deal with people pouring into the town hall, we started off with tasty pizza from Fat Slice on New Cross Road (sponsored by the Centre for Urban and Community Research – CUCR) and drinks (sponsored by CUCR and myself) and handing out books. The fact that the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts for south-east England (CHASE) funded the making and part of the printing of the book enables me to give a free copy to each participant, donate copies to local libraries, community centres and some local low-income residents and sell the rest at a low price to make up for my own investment. During that time, we also showed the campaign video for the Achilles Stop and Listen Campaign and the trailer for Harriet Vickers forthcoming film The Battle for Deptford. It also gave people time to leaf through the book, find the pages of their or their friends’ and neighbours’ contributions and read about the project. The event was then powerfully opened by a drumming performance by David Aylward, who came down the steps of the public gallery to make his way to the stage. David then gave an unprecedented (for him) speech about how rents have more than doubled in the arches in Resolution Way due to Network Rail selling off to a private equity firm, forcing businesses and a not-for-profit musicians’ collective, which David is part of, out of their premises. The fact that David gave a speech just demonstrates how urgent this issue is. I then introduced the book, talking a little bit about what it contains and represents, how and why it was made and what the evening would look like. Before introducing the speakers, me and Fred Aylward read out one poem each, which were contributed to the book: Sylvia Green’s Requiem for Tidemill Garden (this was read out in her honour as she passed away in November 2019) and Rebecca’s love poem for Deptford (I met 11-year-old Rebecca in the Community Store at Evelyn Community Centre).

After that we heard from our speakers who gave us very brief but moving accounts of local housing struggles, increased poverty levels and the Deptford fighting spirit that is so familiar to many. Jacquie explained the reasons behind the Achilles Street Stop and Listen campaign, how Lewisham council is steamrolling over people’s views and wrecking people’s lives and why she worked with the Deptford is Changing project. Christian then told us about how and why he got involved in the Achilles campaign to save his family home and what living in New Cross means to him. Diann gave a harrowing account of what living with managed decline is like (when the council stops maintaining the block to make it ripe for redevelopment) and the effects this and the proposed demolition of her home has had on her. Maureen from St Nick’s Church and the Evelyn 190 Centre shared her witness account of how Deptford has changed since 1965 but also about how recent governmental policies such as Universal Credit have increased poverty levels in the area, which she says are not necessarily visible on the surface. Natasha from Evelyn Community Centre discussed the high levels of food poverty, how she set up a Community Store with the help of many volunteers, and how she got involved with the Deptford is Changing Project. Ron, born and bred in Deptford shared some memories with us like when buses used to run down Deptford High Street and when there were public toilets. Harriet then spoke about the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! Campaign and the Tidemill Garden occupation, which she was part of and is making a film about (The Battle for Deptford). We then listened to Ian, who, with his supporting daughter beside him, gave us an emotional account of just why Tidemill Garden and the garden community meant so much to him. The panel finished with Anne providing her moving analysis of the Deptford is Changing project and book and what it meant for people to be part of it and how important it is to have a record of their stories. The speakers then joined tables and continued these conversations in smaller groups, involving the audience in discussions and visualisations (see below) of their own experiences of gentrification, austerity and life in Deptford or other post-industrial inner-city areas, as well as art and participatory research practices.

At that point, over 120 people were in in the Council Chambers of DTH – a mix of local residents old and young, campaigners, activists, artists, and academics – with a celebratory atmosphere that represented community, solidarity and friendship. Members of the audience included contributors to the book, friends and groups of local residents, representatives and supporters of the Achilles Stop and Listen Campaign, the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! Campaign, Deptford Is Forever, Friends of Deptford Creek, the Pie ‘n Mash Autonomous Community Space, Deptford Lounge, The Waiting Room Crew, members and volunteers of Evelyn Community Centre, members and volunteers of Meet Me at the Albany, friends of Armada Community Hall, representative of CHASE(who are funding my whole PhD journey), members of the Centre of Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, my supervisors and design team, peers from Goldsmiths Sociology, academics, students and artists from various fields, my students from the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC and many many friends. The discussions helped form new contacts, connections and knowledge.

Dr Alex Rhys Taylor then rounded up the discussions by highlighting some of the issues that had come up during the discussions, sharing his own experience as a housing campaigner in Tower Hamlets and highlighting the complex role that Goldsmiths plays in the changes happening to the New Cross area. Dr Alison Rooke then spoke about the dangers of participatory processes, particularly in arts research and community CONsultations, something local residents are well aware of, praising Deptford is Changing as an example of a good and alternative practice. She also said how delighted she was to see all the people she had heard of and see their stories come to life that evening. To finish the evening, it was only natural that these talks were followed by two performances by local singer/songwriters Mark Sampson and Rachel Bennett, who each contributed a song to the book (Rachel contributed two). Mark performed his Old Tidemill Garden and Rachel sang Somethin’ don’t feel right – two absolutely wonderful performances that were well received by the audience. The third performer, Andy Worthington, campaigner, housing activist and contributor to the book, was sadly forced to pull out after he had a bike accident the night before (thankfully no need for an ambulance or doctor but a very painful left leg nevertheless). The evening ended with a surprise: we invited the audience to sing with us the Sea Shanty written by Liam Geary Baulch for the return of the anchor to Deptford High Street. It was a beautiful ending to a very special evening that I shall not forget (including the amazing feedback I received for the book and the very long and loud applause at the end).

The event was hosted and generously supported by CUCR and organised by myself with the help of my two supervisors Dr Alison Rooke and Dr Alex Rhys Taylor, Sociology administrator Philippa Springett and David Aylward, local musician, performance artist and campaigner. Thanks also to those that contributed ideas, helped set up, volunteered during the launch and particularly those that had the courage to speak to a 120-people-strong audience on stage. As with the book, you helped make the event a successful one!

All photographs of the event featured here were taken by my very good friend and photographer Petra Rainer, who flew over from Austria especially to be at the event.

 

“You need to nurture communities, not just benefit from them!”

In May 2019 I meet with my friend and former work colleague Jade Le, her mum Thanh, her brother Jayden, and her partner Matthew in Deptford Lounge to talk about how they are experiencing the changes happening in Deptford. Each of them created their own time-lines, writing about their experiences in and of the area.

20X Jade, Matthew, Jayden and Thanh in Deptford Lounge May 2019. Photo Anita Strasser

Thanh came to Deptford in 1985, so she has been living here for 34 years. She first came to Scunthorpe from a Hongkong refugee camp with her first-born and then had Jade. They then moved around a lot and when they were living in Peckham, a friend, who was living in Deptford told Thanh that Deptford was a nice area to live, so she moved to Deptford and has stayed ever since. “The community at the time was great and soon I knew everybody on the High Street and in my block. All my kids – 7 altogether – went to Tidemill School and they all made friends there.”

20X Thanh's Timeline of life of Deptford

Jade remembers this time well when she went to Tidemill School (then to Deptford Green and then Lewisham College) and when all the kids used to play outdoors until they were called in for dinner in the evenings. “Your friends would always come out and knock for you and say ‘let’s go out to play!’ It’s not that we didn’t have consoles, but we preferred to be outside. And it was safer then because so much of people’s lives was spent outdoors, meaning you knew the whole community who would be looking out for you. People would know you and your parents, and if they saw you and knew you’d done something wrong, they could tell you off. But nowadays it’s a lot different because most of my mum’s neighbours have gone now, and I find that there’s no sense of community anymore. So for example, a while ago, some kids bashed stones against my mum’s window and I went out to tell the parents but they weren’t interested and pretended it had nothing to do with them. I find that really disrespectful. I’m not saying we should stick our noses into other people’s lives, but now everybody keeps themselves to themselves and it just doesn’t feel as safe, and I think kids spend too much time indoors not only because of technology but because they don’t always feel safe and don’t have places to go.”

Indeed, Jayden, Jade’s 12-year-old brother, echoes her worries. “There aren’t many open spaces where you can see who’s there and feel safe. All those buildings create long and narrow streets and you can’t escape if you meet a shady person. And with all those buildings and streets and no open spaces for children to play, you don’t really know what to do! Some younger people are carrying knives and end up making bad moves because of our surroundings – there’s so many buildings, just buildings and you don’t really know what to do. Some time ago, somebody was following me after school, a very angry man so I ran back to the school because I felt threatened. If there’d been a playground nearby, I could’ve run there because then I wouldn’t have been alone and people would have seen me, which would have made me feel safer. But there are only streets and buildings.”

Losing Tidemill Garden was a major loss for Jayden, as he used to go there a lot with his friends. “There were always many friendly people there, so you were never by yourself and you could always do something there. Sometimes we helped the people cutting the weeds or planting things. There was loads of wildlife and there was also a great treehouse and loads of kids would go up (see image below). It’s all dead now.” Jayden understands that there is a need to house the homeless but says: “I think we already have enough buildings with empty rooms, which homeless people could occupy. And the new buildings they are building are not for the homeless because they can’t afford those places.”

DSC_2078

According to Jayden, there is a need to have more spaces for children, so they are not just stuck in the high-rises or get involved in crime. And there needs to be free places, because, as Jayden points out: “Some kids are not as fortunate as others, and their parents don’t have enough money to send them to places where they have to pay. Tidemill Garden was free and anyone could go there, and it was so nice being there. I miss it. It would have been better if the council had taken down the old school building and built more flats for people who don’t have much money there and preserved Tidemill Garden to have a safe place for kids to play.”

Luckily, there’s McMillan Park, where Jayden and his friends go, and the Adventure Playground, named after Richard MacVicar, who played a very important role in the family’s life. “Mac, as we used to call him, was a really great part of my childhood”, Jade says. “We always used to go to the Adventure Playground which he built up from scratch, and he always used to help us write formal letters, complete forms, get our passports; we really used to look up to him and I would say he was one of my mentors. He helped me, my sister, my cousin get funding to become part of this new Mulan Youth Theatre. There was an Indo-Vietnamese Community Centre near the Adventure Playground, and they had funding to hire a dance teacher, so we were part of this Indo-Vietnamese Dance group, and we actually held some shows in the Albany Theatre. And so through the Mulan Youth Theatre, an oriental-Asian drama club funded by the National Lottery, we were able to open up a wider network and do shows across London, which was great. I went there from when I was 14 until I was 16; then the funding just ended abruptly and they had to shut down, which was such a big shame because we really enjoyed it and otherwise we just hung out on the streets being naughty. Being part of that project made us see that you can actually do something with yourself. I was also involved in this project called ‘The Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre Project’ – also funded – as a teaching assistant, so I was helping young children learn drama and make puppets and things. They were based in the community centre near Pepys. And there was also another project, a photography project, Mac got us involved in, which was in Co-oPepys on the Pepys Estate. So at the age of 14 I learnt how to take pictures with a camera and the skills of how to work in a darkroom with different filters, and things like that. I really enjoyed it. Richard MacVicar always managed to get funding for us local children and to keep the Playground open. He’d get us involved in projects and take us on trips to Macaroni Woods, which is a place where you learnt how to camp, ride a horse or go cave exploring. I would never have learnt how to do these things without him.”

Jade performing with the Indo-Vietnamese Dance group (left) and her timeline (right)

Jade’s happy childhood memories are basically connected to funded community projects she was involved in – a memory Jayden won’t ever have as there is no more funding for such projects. “There were loads of things to do back then, but now there’s nothing or you have to pay for it”, Jade says. “Nowadays, children are walking around with knives! Why not have more projects in the community for these young children to have something to do? Support the people doing voluntary community work like those in Co-oPepys so they can give back to the community! You need to nurture communities, not just benefit from them!” But Jade is aware just how hard it is these days to get funding! “So many hoops to jump through to just get one project going!”

When I ask Jayden whether he can imagine his future within Deptford, he’s not sure. “If they keep putting up these buildings, I won’t want to live here because it’s too compact and cramped with too many opportunities to get robbed or knifed. I don’t want to put my life and my children’s lives at risk. If they start building more playgrounds, parks and open spaces where children are safe and where we can see them, then I might stay here. I want Deptford to be a good place, it’s my only home and if I can, I’d like to stay.”

Jayden writing his impressions of life in Deptford as a teenager

Thanh, his mum, is definitely going to stay in Deptford forever. She’s been here so long, she doesn’t want to move. And she actually likes the new look of Deptford. “Deptford itself looks better now – it has nicer buildings, better shops and it’s more lively.” But she also says that Deptford is more for students and young people now. Many of the people she once knew have either moved away or died. From all the old shopkeepers, only a few are left and there isn’t the same kind of social engagement or strong sense of community with new shopkeepers, she says. According to her, they seem less interested in getting to know and chat to her, and shopping is merely transactional. She misses the friendly chats she always used to have in the shops. It is through these social engagements that she learnt to speak English and built friendships. When she first arrived, she only spoke Vietnamese and shopkeepers like Terry helped her learn English vocabulary and feel part of the community. Despite knowing fewer people now, Thanh is still very well known in and connected to the remaining community and her shopping trips down the High Street and through the market are still full of social encounters.

In the end, I ask Matthew, Jade’s other half, to tell me how he views the changes of Deptford. He first came to Deptford in 2003, when he found work as a film editor in the Albany. He’s a North-Londoner and admits south-east London was still a bit of a mystery to him when he first came. However, he quickly developed a love and understanding for Deptford and got to know its intricate social networks after meeting Jade and her family. “I was impressed with the very tangible sense of community and the creative energy here, especially in the Albany and the different things they do with differently-abled people – it’s amazing!  Then I found love at work and became enamoured with the traditional feel of Deptford and New Cross because they still had a lot of working-class culture part of their fabric, like Pie and Mash shops on the High Street, and I think that’s really important. But I could also spot the potential for regeneration there and then, that it was primed for gentrification. I mean, it’s in Zone 2 with trains to London Bridge, close links to East London, and Greenwich, it’s got lots going for it despite being rough around the edges. I know regeneration is sort of inevitable but I’m aware that it can often isolate the natives and the locals, the ones that grew up here. Change often comes at a great price and pains for a lot of people that have always lived here. There’s always that juxtaposition of the new and the old and it creates this tension and boundaries that stop people connecting with each other. Deptford Market Yard is an example of that because even though it’s still part of the market, it’s not quite part of the market; it’s its own little enclave and it does its own thing. And obviously, some people get priced out unfortunately and there’s still a lot of buildings that don’t seem to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing – actually housing people.”

For Matthew, Deptford has become his home-from-home, and he loves the fact that Deptford still has a strong sense of a close-knit community. In his view, despite all the changes Deptford has witnessed, it hasn’t lost its heart and soul. “When I go out with Jade and mum and we go through the market, we can never just go out to get something because people start saying Hello and How are you. What starts as a 5-minute trip turns into a 2-hour sojourn”, he laughs. According to him the danger that Deptford will become the new Shoreditch or Dalston is always there. He gives what happened in Islington as an example how one of the roughest areas of London was turned into a hotspot for the wealthy. But like many others, he feels that people in Deptford, who he describes as salt-of-the-earth people, have a reluctance to let that happen. “It really depends on the young people we see now and how they deal with it. In Islington, there didn’t seem to be much of a fight; they were offered sums for their houses they bought for a fraction of that years before and saw the opportunity to make a better life for them and their families. You can’t really blame them. Market forces unfortunately do determine where we live and how we live. There is no guarantee that you’re going to live where you were born and grew up and knew all your life, and it sucks the life out of places destroying their identities and making them sanitised and homogenous like everywhere else. As a community, we can only do so much, but because of the active participation of the local community here in Deptford, it’s less likely to be wholly gentrified. There’s too much love for the area and people know what they’ve got here; there’s a deep-seated feeling of ‘this is where I’m from, this is where my family is from, generations of our family have been here’. I think it’s also to do with the geography, it’s so close to Greenwich and the centre of London, and the river gives it an expansive feel. An area needs an identity, it needs to be authentic. Sadly, today the celebration of an area is more the commercial aspect rather than its authenticity. Deptford still has that level of authenticity, even if it’s the homeless people sitting outside Deptford Lounge or down-to-earth people walking down the market. We need to look after all people and perhaps the future lies in trying to re-establish a way of looking after Deptford communities.”