“Affordable housing is the joke of the century”

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I recently did a workshop with three members of the Deptford Divas at Armada Community Hall on McMillan Street. The Deptford Divas are a group of ladies over 60 who meet every Wednesday in the hall to do art & crafts, but the three ladies are also part of the Sir John Evelyn Charity Pensioners and regularly eat lunch with other Deptford pensioners at Armada Hall on Fridays. They are a lively group who have been coming to the Armada for many years and who have witnessed the many changes to the area. In the workshop we talked about Deptford and its regeneration – what we like about it, what we don’t like about it, and what a better vision for the future would be. For the workshop I used a toolkit called Ketso – an African word (from Lesotho, southern Africa) meaning action. On the Ketso website it states that “the toolkit was invented in Lesotho and has been refined over two decades of action research with communities across the globe. With Ketso, everyone can participate and be more creative. Ketso gives everyone a voice, so everyone is more engaged. With Ketso we are more creative, more productive, more committed.” (http://www.ketso.com/) With the small group I was working with, it was less difficult to give everyone voice, but the toolkit helped to ensure everybody got a chance to speak and voice their opinions. There was time to think, write and discuss, as well as listen to other’s views and change one’s opinion. The different-coloured leaves helped to organise thoughts and ideas and create a visual image of the process.

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Maralyn has lived in Gilbert House for over 20 years. “I’m not your average pensioner”, she says, “I have a busy social life and do not engage too much with local life as I’m out and about in the West End, Greenwich and other places. I love dancing, particularly ballroom dancing, I’m a member at the British museum, in Greenwich Picture House and some other theatres. These memberships allow me to access plenty of activities because being a pensioner, I do need to think about how to spend my money. I also like most of the regeneration going on in Deptford: there are now more upmarket places which I like and can try out. I’m very keen to try Marcella, the new Italian restaurant, and I like the new wine bar, the new shops and the new, media-savvy people coming in. Overall, I find that Deptford has a great variety of ethnic shops too and is generally an interesting hotchpotch of cultures. I also think Convoy’s wharf will look nice, the riverside walkway with the swing bridge is a great improvement, I love the new Deptford Train Station – I’d been waiting for this for a long time, the High Street is improving, and I feel that Deptford is now a lot safer, although I still wouldn’t walk around alone at night because of gangs hanging out on the High Street. If we had more walking PCs, I’d feel safe coming out of the station and walking home alone at night.”

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However, Maralyn agrees that most of the changes are intended for people with money. “The only thing I don’t like is that the new houses are built for people with top jobs and high salaries who can afford these places. I do worry about Convoy’s Wharf, the access to the river and whether there will be some affordable housing. The new developments do contain lovely flats but they are not affordable; even if you live in a Housing Association flat, it’s not secure tenancy and they can put the rent up when they feel like it. Housing now is not affordable unless you’re working full-time earning a minimum of £50,000 a year, so when they say affordable, it’s the joke of the century. We need new life here but we need to be able to exist together.”

Maralyn does believe that gentrification makes areas safer, but only if it’s provided for everybody. “Years ago in Southwark, you wouldn’t have walked around at night, it was way too dangerous. Now, you can walk around no problem. You might not be able to afford the restaurants but it’s safer to walk there. And, there is so much going on, for free! We have to go forward and accept change: change brings safer places, a new station, transport, etc. You have to embrace change, accept the shops even if you can’t afford them! But I can see that many older people cannot access this change, and that many of these nice new things had to be fought over as well: access to the riverside or opening gated communities, for example, was only granted after local populations expressed their views. So this can also be seen as a positive thing as issues can give local people voice sometimes.”

However, Maralyn also used to do the electoral roll for 5 years, going round to houses to establish who lives where. She got a real insight into some people’s living standards, particularly in flats above the shops on Deptford High Street, where the smell coming out of some flats used to make her ill. At times it was hard to guess just how many people were living in one flat and what the arrangements were in terms of bed-sharing. She also became aware of people living in garages and sheds. “And it’s not just here”, she says, “it’s in the whole of inner London. It’s like third-world standards here, in a country as rich as ours! It all boils down to cut-backs, whether that’s to do with the council, the police or with community centres.”

 

Brenda is a retired council employee (housing) and really likes Deptford, its transport connections, its diversity, and above all, its people. “I think there is something about Deptford people – they are easy to talk to, easy to get on with, and they are very friendly and you always find someone to talk to.” Brenda also likes the new blocks of flats being built all around, especially those along the river. “They look good and it’s quality housing”, she agrees, “but it’s not for everybody, is it. It’s bringing people into the area who want to live here because it’s convenient, but they go and work in the city or elsewhere because you need to earn a lot to be able to afford to live here. What about all the young people in Deptford? They will all want to get work some time in the future, and not everybody can work in an office somewhere and they’ve not brought any industry back into the area, it’s all been replaced with housing. There used to be little factories all around, but now it’s just apartments and they are not really introducing new jobs.” Brenda sums up Deptford’s (and London’s) regeneration as “replacing industry with outpriced housing”, making it impossible for local people to buy or rent.  Brenda is clear that this has resulted in the breaking up of families and community networks. With young adults having to move out to other areas as they are unable to afford where their parents live, the whole family structure of looking out for each other, helping with childcare instead of having to pay huge amounts of money for nurseries, and looking after elderly relatives has been broken up. “We need more affordable housing in order to keep families together! Whole families are being split and we’re also losing community because local people can’t afford all these new places and the new people coming into the area often don’t get involved in our community.”

Finally, Brenda also thinks that Deptford needs more places for local people to socialise. “Most places now cater for young and able people, but there’s a lot of people around who cannot travel elsewhere to socialise, they need a local place nearby where they can just nip in for a bit”.  All in all, Brenda thinks, change is good and many good things are happening, but change has got to be fair and for everybody.

Chrissie lives in Armada Court, just behind Armada Hall, where she maintains the community garden together with her neighbours (photos above). For Chrissie, community networks are really important and what she appreciates about Deptford is that she feels she belongs here. “When I go to the market, people always say hello even if you don’t know them, and if they see you sitting there, having a cup of tea, there’s always someone asking you ‘are you alright? do you need anything? do you need help?’” But Chrissie agrees that this sense of community is getting lost with people coming in who are not interested in getting involved. “What we do here at the Armada, table-top sales and other activities, even if we advertise, on the internet putting leaflets out and sitting outside, people don’t turn up to things we do here, they don’t seem to want to know.”

Being a mother and gran, Chrissie’s biggest concern is the lack of places and spaces for kids and youngsters (and adults). In her view, there aren’t enough parks and clubs, and with the adventure playground in Deptford now shut, there simply aren’t enough places for kids to go to. “When we were kids, we used to play on the streets, and schools used to be open at weekends and school holidays where kids could go and where volunteers used to keep an eye on them, but the streets aren’t safe anymore and the council is not putting enough money into keeping places like the adventure playground open.  Where are the kids supposed to go when their parents are at work?”

In terms of Deptford’s regeneration and housing in the area, Chrissie is clear that property now is too dear to buy and to rent. “All the new properties are not for the likes of us really, and even housing association flats are too dear for some people. One of my grandsons who’s 24 still lives with his mother because he can’t afford to rent, and another one of my grandsons lives in a housing association flat. He’s got two children and works at the museum, and he says he’ll never be able to save up for a deposit to buy because the rent is so high. Another example is a friend of mine who’s got two children and who’d moved down from Manchester because of a good job, but with the service charges so high, she couldn’t afford the flat and had to move back.” Chrissie also points out the condition of some of the flats rented out by poorer people.  “Sometimes you have 5 or 6 people living in flats on the High Street, paying high rent prices for places I wouldn’t let anybody live in, black walls and things like that, but they do because they can’t afford anything else!”

Deptford High Street is a particular discussion point for Chrissie. She doesn’t feel safe at all coming up this way (from the train station to Evelyn Street), and to her the High Street looks like a slum. She thinks the shops look disgusting and with many shops shut it doesn’t look very inviting. “The problem”, she says, “are the high rates, the lack of business because the new people don’t shop there, and because the council wants poorer people out anyway.” Chrissie points out the railway cafés and places, and how nice they look and that they should make the High Street shops look as nice as them. “If they do all the old buildings up nicely and keep the rates down so that shopkeepers and stall holders can afford to stay, then the rich, upper-class people might come in and shop there too.” But if local people don’t have work then they will move out eventually.”

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What strikes me about these comments from this workshop is that these three pensioners don’t seem against the physical regeneration of Deptford at all, and don’t dislike the new blocks of flats, cafés and eateries, and things looking nicer and cleaner. What they dislike is that these improvements are only happening to provide economic gain for others and caters only for the people who can afford the overpriced properties and who aspire to a certain kind of urban lifestyle; that these changes mean the displacement of existing residents and the breaking up of their community and family networks. Change should be for all and should be fair.

 

 

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