Banners in Deptford

 

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Banners appeared in Deptford over the weekend, accusing Lewisham Council of social cleansing and gentrifying Deptford, and calling on the public to fight against these practices. The banners went up near sites under threat of demolition and redevelopment: Creekside and the boating community on Deptford Creek, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House, where planning permission has already been granted to build on the garden and to demolish Reginald House to make way for more luxury flats. One banner appeared on Deptford Bridge DLR station, and two more banners were hung on either side of the underpass between New Cross and Deptford, leading to Achilles Street and New Cross Road, where plans have been announced to literally rip out the heart of New Cross to make way for luxury developments. Most redevelopment in Deptford has so far taken place on brownfield sites, post-industrial wasteland, which has not necessarily meant the direct displacement (evictions) of local residents (although the effects of indirect displacement such as rising rents, difficulties with making ends meet, feeling unwelcome in a place they have called home for years, and living in a constant state of anxiety and insecurity about what might happen should not be underestimated). However, with current plans to demolish whole council blocks, blatantly and radically reducing truly affordable homes including boats, and to build on important community spaces and green spaces, the imminent displacement, direct and indirect, of the local population is threatening to break up whole communities in the process. The messages written on the banners are a stark reminder of the grim reality faced by many residents, and the dark passage from Deptford to New Cross, particularly at night time, and the dimly lit haunting messages above the underpass reminded me of the inscription above the gate to hell in Dante’s Inferno: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

There is still hope of course; otherwise the banners wouldn’t have appeared, housing campaigners wouldn’t be collecting signatures on Deptford market on Saturdays and sending Freedom-of-Information requests (FOIs) to find support for alternative solutions, and people wouldn’t be having meetings to discuss how forces could be joined to stop some of the proposed plans. I say some because what I have generally found is that people are not against regeneration per se, not at all. They are against the kind of regeneration that caters only for the desires of the few and not the many, only for the privileged and not the ordinary, for newcomers and not the existing, for the wealthy and not for the less well-off. It’s about striking a balance so that people can co-exist and work together, and if local people were consulted and considered in the plans, there would be much less resistance and more co-operation. “Deptford has always welcomed all people from all walks of life, this is what makes the area special”, a local resident tells me, “but now we, the uneducated, the disabled, the working class, are not welcome anymore and are being pushed out.” There are academic debates around the term ‘social cleansing’, whether it is apt and appropriate or too leftist and aggressive. For many local people the term symbolises exactly what is happening: the pushing out of people who have not reached a certain income level that would enable them to pay the extortionate rents and house prices and to live the trendy urban lifestyles advertised on all the hoardings. And even if you can just about pay the rent, the daily reminders that redevelopment is not intended for you creates this us-and-them segregation, making you feel out of place.

There is still hope to be able to make decision-makers, authorities and developers, see sense in this senseless pursuit for greed, profit and private gain. It is a case of changing the political will to consider alternatives. There is hope to succeed in the fight for more humane development plans that do not result in losing essential green spaces that enable local children to have essential contact with wildlife and nature, do not result in people losing their homes where they have lived and loved for decades, and do not result in depriving people of the right to stay in the area they call home or to feel welcome and valued. There is no shortage of solutions: campaigns have put forward viable alternative solutions that would prevent the aforementioned impact of current plans, and data received from FOI requests shows that managed decline, the deliberate neglect of council property in order to make it ripe for development, is a political choice rather than a financial necessity. The data also indicates that refurbishment and maintenance would be cheaper and a better investment for the council and the community than demolition and redevelopment. Many schemes frequently deploy the term community, luring people into the area selling them the romantic dream of quaint and authentic urban living but also to appear as considerate firms that have Deptford people at heart. This ubiquitous use of the term in their brochures has emptied the concept of any real meaning, being mere rhetoric to sell luxury flats. But for the locals, community is at the heart of Deptford, indicating a feeling of belonging, membership and home in a place (places) where friendships have formed over years through proximity, collective action and shared experience. As one resident told me: “If you’re taking the people out of Deptford, they will take the community and everything Deptford is with them, leaving behind an empty sterile shell.”

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Pauline, a resident at Reginald House since 1995, who will be losing her home in the planned Reginald Road redevelopment scheme, tells me about the importance of her community who have been living together on Reginald Road for years, saying that if she were to lose this community, it would be like taking her family away from her. She tells me of how people have looked after each other’s kids and how she could leave her daughter with the lady upstairs without any worry. She also tells me about the surprise birthday party for her daughter, where many neighbours hid in Pauline’s flat to surprise the unsuspecting daughter for her special day. Pauline is upset about losing her much loved home and is angry and frustrated at the same time. She shows me the confusing correspondence and mixed messages received from the council over the last couple of years. One letter from the Regeneration Project Officer in November 2017 is particularly worrying, not least because of the language being used. After introducing herself, the officer writes that she ‘will be working with residents to assist in the decant of 2-30A Reginald Road’ saying that ‘there are still a number of residents that need to be visited to discuss the decant’. The upset this letter caused is understandable.

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Pauline is intent on fighting the plans together with local housing campaigners. “This is my home”, she says, “I brought up my daughter here and my grandson was born here.” They now live elsewhere but come most weekends to stay with Pauline. She has been promising her grandson a new bedroom for some time now, but with the knowledge that her home might be bulldozed, there seems little point in investing the money. “How do you explain to your grandson why he is not getting the promised bedroom?”, she asks. If the plans go ahead, Pauline’s grandson will never see the new bedroom, and as Pauline will probably be moved into a one-bedroom flat, it will be impossible for her daughter and grandson to come and stay at weekends. “What are we supposed to do? Sleep in one bed? The three of us?”

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There is still hope. An appeal was sent by Deptford Neighbourhood Action to Sadiq Khan to re-examine the planning application and to support a new community plan for the site. And the banners put up in Deptford over the weekend are an indication that people will keep fighting. We keep hoping.

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For more information, please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham/

https://www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden/?ref=br_rs

https://achillesstreetstopandlisten.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/fact-sheet/

http://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk/2017/12/lewisham-residents-fighting-save-homes-demolition-accuse-council-social-cleansing/

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“I have stopped making plans”

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The businesses and maisonettes along New Cross Road, between Clifton Rise and Pagnell Street (except The Venue and the old bank building) are currently under threat of demolition (as well as all the homes in Achilles Street). The plan is to build high-rise, high-density housing in partnership with private developers. Whilst nothing has been finalised  yet, the impact of the proposed plans is already felt.

Teyfik Taghan is the manager of Delicious Café on 365 New Cross Road. The current owner and team have been here for more than 2 years (coming up to three years soon), and they are not happy about the plans. Teyfik explains:

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‘The team here have worked hard to build up the business which is going really well. We all have families to look after and bills to pay, and running this business has enabled us to do that. When we came here, nobody said anything about the redevelopment plans. We have never received a letter from the council about the demolition. Some time ago, the developers sent a letter announcing the plans. When I called them, they said they have plans but need time to work on them. How long, we don’t know.’

Teyfik and the team are not happy about the plans as it would mean losing their business and having to start all over again. Over the years, the team have built up very good relationships with their customers, which they see as very important. Some of the regular customers are teachers and pupils from Deptford Green School and Goldsmiths students. Teyfik recognises most faces and some contacts have even developed into friendships. Sitting in the café for some time, you can tell Teyfik has a very good relationship with his customers by the way he talks to them.

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Losing the business would have devastating consequences for him and his team, but even without the plans having come into fruition yet, the impact is already felt. ‘I have a family to worry about. I have 4 kids and I feel really settled here. I had lots of plans for my life: we wanted to go on holiday, send the kids to a good school to provide them with a better future. But now, I have stopped making plans because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know whether we’ll be here another year, 2 years, 5 years. It’s like with Brexit: people don’t know whether to stay or leave, whether to invest or not, buy a house or not. We’re in limbo, unsure of what to do. Anyway, if we lose the business, we will have to start all over again.’

Teyfik also says it’s not just about him. The rest of the team are in the same situation, they all have families and feel the same about being here. Finally, he concludes: ‘I’m very happy here. I love this place, I love the people here. I really want to stay.’

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For more information about the redevelopment plans and the campaigns to try and stop the plans, please visit the following sites:

https://achillesstreetstopandlisten.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham/

 

“Locals are priced out”

I recently met Paul and Jerry, two elderly gentlemen, in Rough & Ready, the café on Evelyn Street run by DAGE (Deptford Action Group for the Elderly). Paul and Jerry have been friends for a long time and regularly meet up for a coffee and a sandwich in different cafes. While I was waiting to speak to Sharon, the business owner, I asked Paul and Jerry if they would tell me about their experience of Deptford and their views on what is currently happening in the area.

Jerry has lived in Deptford since 1980; he lives in a council flat near Abinger Grove, near Childers Street. He got decanted from Limberg House on Longshore on the Pepys Estate (next to where Aragon Tower now stands) in 2002 and was moved into the 2-bedroom council flat where he is now. “Although as an old age pensioner you don’t have to pay for a spare bedroom, when the bedroom tax came in, I was told I’d be moved to a one-bedroom flat”, he says, “but they soon realised that there are none available, so I was able to stay.” But Jerry might have to move again. As his place is very near the Anthology Deptford Foundry development, he worries that he might be evicted and moved on again to make way for more luxury flats.

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Childers Street before development started

Paul is the leaseholder of a former council flat nearby, and wonders where the council tax goes. “Being a leaseholder”, he says, “I pay a fortune for a caretaker and maintenance services, but nothing gets done.” Paul has been to a couple of meetings with the council and he doesn’t understand where this money goes. “The council seems to have enough money to put towards private developments, but the old stock gets neglected. I’ve complained to the council many times, but you never hear back from them and nothing gets done. The council just blames the government but they have more money than they say I can tell you, I know.”

Both Paul and Jerry say that there is a serious lack of facilities. “With large numbers of people coming into the area and no new facilities such as doctor’s surgeries, the local population is not serviced. You wait for ages to see a doctor now.” However, in terms of existing services, Paul has nothing but good things to say about Lewisham hospital for example. He had his cancer treatment there and whilst he had private cover from his firm he chose to stay on the NHS as it was so good. “There is no better hospital”, he says, “but it’s the only one in this growing area and they are threatening to close it! We’re just numbers on a piece of paper, it’s just about money.”

Both agree that changes have got to happen in Deptford but that what is happening “is not for the likes of us”. “Let them build new flats if they have to, but don’t have them all for sale! Locals are priced out.”

Paul and Jerry like trying out the new cafes part of the new developments, but often they find that they cannot afford them. “There’s a new café not far from where I [Jerry] live, we went in to try it. It’s huge and really posh. We asked if they do toasted sandwiches, they said no; then we saw giant sausage rolls there and asked if they can heat them up, they said no. So we ordered two coffees, which were tiny with not much in them, and 2 of those sausage rolls and it came to £14! We can’t afford that! We’re old age pensioners!  I [Jerry] wanted to pay with cash but they said card only. I don’t have a card! Luckily Paul had his card with him. What would we have done otherwise? We couldn’t have paid. These places are only for people in those flats, they’re not for us.” Paul and Jerry had a similar experience when going to one of the new cafes under the railway arches. “2 coffees, a sandwich and a muffin cost us £12.50 – it’s too much, we can’t afford that!”

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They used to go to the train café: “It had a wheelchair accessible ramp and toilet, it was reasonably priced, it was lovely. It cost a fortune to bring it here with the tracks and everything else. They said they would bring it back after it was taken away, but it’s not coming back.* Same with the anchor, it was ours and then it was taken away. We are given promises but nothing ever happens, and Deptford’s history is being erased and ignored. The anchor is just a little example of what goes on, but it’s little things like that that are being taken away. The local population is simply not consulted or considered.”

Finally, Paul and Jerry talk about the new cycling route through Deptford. “This proposal for the new cycling route we got through the door the other day – they’re planning to move bus stops and make changes to where you can turn with your car. Evelyn Street is one of the busiest roads in the area and is one of the major routes to the centre, and there is already too much traffic and with these changes the roads will be even more congested. Why don’t they consider locals? Moving a pedestrian crossing or a bus stop further away from the shop where you can top up your Oyster can have a huge impact on the elderly and people with walking difficulties.”

After an hour or so, Paul and Jerry had to leave. I thanked them for their insightful comments and I hope I’ll meet them again some time soon.

*it has since emerged that the anchor is coming back. For more information please see: http://deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-anchor-cometh.html