Deptford Is Forever

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On the 3rd of February 2018 the anchor was re-installed in its original location on the south end of Deptford High Street where it was removed from in 2013 as part of regeneration works. Anybody new coming into Deptford won’t be able to guess the story and battles fought over the newly polished anchor sitting on a new piece of contrasting paving; to a newcomer it might appear just like any other maritime monument symbolising some distant sea-faring history; they may not even notice it’s there. But to locals, and particularly those dedicated to preserving the much-neglected maritime history of Deptford, the anchor’s return not only symbolises Deptford’s heritage but also the struggle with the council to have it reinstated. And sadly, it is also a reminder of a problem the removal of the anchor was meant to have removed too: the street drinkers causing anti-social behaviour on the High Street. Needless to say, street drinking is underpinned by larger issues the government fails to look at, and the anchor’s removal did not solve that problem but instead moved it further up the road.

It took 4 years of persistent campaigning by Deptford Is Forever, which is run by the most dedicated local activists/artists (or bloody-minded and tenacious as the Deptford Dame calls them: deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-anchor-cometh.html) such as Sue Lawes, David Aylward and members of the Deptford Society to have the anchor re-installed. Seeing it back in its original location, albeit without the plinth where street drinkers used to sit, must feel like a huge victory of people power, particularly in times when battle after battle is fought to save Deptford from further capital-led partnerships between councils and property developers which tend to paper over Deptford’s heritage and its local residents. And the joy is visible in the photos and videos made when celebrating the anchor’s return which included a procession along the High Street with music, baptising the anchor with rum and the singing of the sea shanty written by Liam Geary-Baulch and the Deptford Shanty Crew.

© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever

I’ve been in contact with Fred Aylward, David Aylward’s brother, who was involved in helping with the Give Us Back Our Bloomin’ Anchor campaign and led the procession in top hat and tails (see image above) which some spectators thought alluded to Brunel the famous ship builder, and Sue Lawes who documented Deptford Is Forever’s work and is incredibly clued up on local issues and writes for another local blog (crossfields.blogspot.co.uk). They tell me that Deptford Is Forever was borne out of Deptford Is, a campaign group that ran workshops to help local residents object to the redevelopment plans for Convoy’s Wharf (formerly Deptford Royal Dockyard), which features 3,500 mostly luxury homes without a single one for social rent. Ironically, the anchor was stored on the site throughout the four years of the campaign. It is also four years since planning permission was granted by Boris Johnson for Convoys, yet not a single building is yet under construction. Deptford Is also came up with alternative proposals to preserve the legacy of the site’s heritage in the form of the Lenox Project led by Julian Kingston (www.buildthelenox.org), and the Sayes Court Garden project led by Bob Bagley and Roo Angell (www.sayescourt.org.uk), which is why they featured in the Anchor campaign. And the sea shanty performed during some of the rituals beautifully sums up the campaigners’ plight (see full sea shanty below; you can also listen to a recording of the original shanty here: liamgb.co.uk/deptford-shanty-crew).

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At the start of the campaign in 2013, little graffitied anchors had already appeared on the high street anonymously (we still don’t know who) and then the newly formed Deptford Is Forever carried a giant cardboard anchor built by local artist Laura X Carlé down the High Street during a noisy procession. 1000 paper bags with the campaign logo were given to market traders and shop keepers to use for their customers’ purchases and free anchor tattoos were offered in Kids Love Ink. Anchors made using red tape and chalk began appearing in the high street in 2016 while a petition initiated by the Deptford Society gathered over 4000 signatures. The supportive comments made on the petition were plastered all over the High Street by Deptford Is Forever. For anyone regularly walking down the High Street, it would have been impossible not to notice the campaign and its interventions, and the images and videos on the dedicated website are testimony to the fun, positive and creative side of the campaign (www.deptfordisforever.net).

© Photos by Deptford Is Forever and Laura X Carle

“This DIY approach comes out of a generation of punks which we were part of in the 1980s”, Fred tells me. “We used to run club and pub nights, and we also used to put on comedy nights and music events at the Albany. The Albany provided the venue and we provided the audience, so we were helping each other out. Now, the Albany hires out the venue, but the ethos of DIY came out of the punk thing. And this is still happening today – rather than waiting for someone to approve an action, we do things ourselves using the skills we have. And David, who is a drummer, always incorporates music into his campaigns.”

© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever

Eventually the Council commissioned a feasibility study to evaluate how and where the anchor could be re-instated, but, as Sue writes, the battle was far from over, battles over who would fund the reinstatement and over where the anchor would be placed. With campaigners persisting, demanding the anchor be reinstated at its original location, not hidden behind rubbish bins, the anchor is now once again the iconic landmark it once was (The campaign was also recently covered in Time Out magazine: www.timeout.com/london/news/how-people-power-got-the-deptford-anchor-back-022118).

Fred says that “winning a campaign like this restores hope that some things can be achieved”. When I ask Fred why the anchor is so important, there is no hesitation. “It’s a symbol of Deptford’s maritime history, and we need to preserve that history. History is important because it gives you roots, it connects you to the past to help you understand where we are now. It’s another big achievement that the Lenox Project and Sayes Court are now part and parcel of the Convoy’s Warf development because otherwise all the significant history of the Royal Dockyard would just be ignored. All the archaeology under the concrete, the timber beams from the old dockyard, and they even found evidence of the Romans in Deptford under the dockyard! Ship building can be traced back to the Romans; this is 2,000-year-old history, it’s fascinating! But all this will be built on because the buildings need deep foundations. But at least John Evelyn’s Sayes Court Garden will now extend into the yard, the Olympia building is protected, and there’ll be a place for shipbuilding once again. It’s interesting because the National Trust grew out of Deptford: in Victorian times a descendant of Sir John Evelyn together with Octavia Hill tried to raise the money to preserve the Manor House that once stood on the site where John Evelyn had lived. Unfortunately, it was too late to preserve it but it inspired them to create the National Trust. The Mulberry Tree in the garden is the only remainder of the garden’s history.”

© 2015 Anita Strasser; Convoy’s Wharf with archaeological findings and the anchor in the Olympia warehouse

Fred thinks there should really be a museum of Deptford that houses all the artefacts that speak of Deptford’s history, including the clocktower that once stood at the yard but is now in Thamesmead shopping centre. “The anchor”, Fred says, “and all the other projects mark the beginnings of preserving Deptford’s heritage.” Speaking to Fred it becomes clear that the anchor isn’t just about the anchor, it’s about the history of Deptford in general and about not allowing money-greedy corporations to do as they please.

When I ask Fred how he feels about the regeneration in the area in general, I’m surprised to hear that he likes a lot of it: the cafés, the art spaces, and the art and music scene in the area.  “Some years back you couldn’t get a good cup up coffee or a nice meal anywhere, but now, it’s great. And you still have other places like Café Bianca and others where people can get cheaper food. We now have 6 -8 art spaces, that’s more than in Peckham, that’s great!” For Fred, the problem is the lack of affordability and space. “The problem is with high density and the lack of remaining space as they are building on every bit of land. And there are not enough amenities: schools, doctor’s surgeries, they are all over-stretched already and they’re not building enough to deal with the rising population. The whole regeneration process seems very short-sighted. There should also be more youth projects, more clubs for young people to go to.”

Another element Fred doesn’t like is that the new developments are sold on the back of the arts. “Deptford is being sold based on the arts and Deptford’s artistic community, but the local artists are being pushed out.”  Luckily, Fred who has a background in Art and Design, lives in a council property in the St John’s conservation area with David where they don’t have to worry about their tenancy. However, David has had to move from music studios in cheap rented warehouses six times in the last 20 years because of increasing rent prices, and in order to be able to afford a space, 20 musicians have now formed a co-op and share a music studio called Silo Studio in one of the arches in Resolution Way. Fred is particularly concerned about the music scene. “Our local music scene is dying out – we’ve just lost the Montague Arms and now Vinyl is closing because of the increased rent prices. It’s going to become a cheese shop*. And opposite the Bird’s Nest Pub, they are developing all the empty spaces and as soon as people move in, there will be complaints about the music. The same happened in the Sail Loft pub – people moved into the expensive flats and then complained about the noise coming from the pub so now the pub has to shut its doors at 11pm.”

Given this context of current times, it’s not surprising the anchor’s return feels like such a victory. Let’s hope there will be further victories. The next urgent battle is to save the Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald House (more information here: www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden / www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham).

*There seems to have been a U-turn on the closure. More info here: vinyldeptford.com/.

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© 2018 Sue Lawes

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“Most laundrettes are surviving because they are in council properties and have a reasonable rent”

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Angelo is the owner of the Launderette on 369 New Cross Road. He comes in especially to have a chat with me about the demolition plans in New Cross, and together we go to Mughead Coffee where the staff seem to know exactly how he likes his coffee. He chats with Mark for a bit, the business owner – they seem well acquainted – before we sit down to talk about the Launderette.

“The Launderette itself has been here since the early 60s and used to be a Father & Son operation with other launderettes in New Cross and other areas”, Angelo explains. Then, in the early 90s, Angelo’s brother Joe bought the one on New Cross Road, did a lot of refurbishing work to it and replaced the old machines with newer versions, and then, several years later, Angelo took over in 2008. “It’s a contagious disease, I’m not joking”, he laughs, and tells how many of his family and friends have become involved with launderettes. “It all started with my brother dating a girl whose father was of Italian origin and owned a string of launderettes. The relationship didn’t last but my brother thought ‘I’ll try that’.” His brother has since bought a few, including one on Jamaica Road which is now owned by Angelo’s nephew. Even Angelo’s best friend, a former banker who had a midlife career crisis, unsure what to do, took his girlfriend to Nottingham to live above the launderette he now owns.

But being in the Launderette business doesn’t make you rich. “There is no growth”, Angelo explains. “A launderette business doesn’t grow like other businesses do, and it doesn’t have a high turnover. You can’t pay the high rents big restaurants can pay for example, and most launderettes are surviving because they are on good locations in council properties and have a reasonable rent. About four or five businesses on this parade are still on old tenancies and once the new development is here, the rent price will be double if not triple. Launderettes are viable businesses only because of low overheads. What kills them is the high market rates.” So, even if Angelo was offered new premises in the new development, the overheads would be too high to run it.

Interestingly for me, there is still demand for launderettes. “Not everybody’s got a washing machine, but even if people do”, Angelo says, “there’s still a demand which has nothing to do with people’s class position. The association of launderettes with merely the working-class and people in social housing is outdated – we have customers from all walks of life. The demand today is due to convenience: the machines we have can handle high capacity and the laundry can dry quickly, so the whole laundry can be done in an hour. Drying is a particular issue today. Many live in small flats with no space or facility to dry clothes so coming to a launderette solves that problem.” In Angelo’s launderette the water is also treated before it’s used and people notice the change in the fabric, another reason, according to Angelo, why his launderette is doing good business. “If the launderette closes, people will have to travel further for this convenience”, making this convenience less convenient.

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Angelo agrees that the parade needs investment but that this is due to the council not having done a lot for its upkeep. “It’s a nice parade but it’s stuck in the 60s”, Angelo states. Lewisham Council did commission the artist group ARTMONGERS a couple of years ago to spruce up the parade a bit and to paint work along the road. They came into the shops asking people what they’d like to see. Also Angelo was asked and together with the artist they designed the shop front we see today. “It really takes an artist to see things from a different perspective. I was just going to suggest some writing to advertise the services but the artists said no, we need something more interesting and then he came up with the design you see today. It really makes a difference”, Angelo says. But that’s all that’s been done it seems, and Angelo thinks that Lewisham council doesn’t involve itself much in making the parade look nicer. “Lewisham Council is more concerned with housing and the plans I’ve seen – 5-storey blocks across the whole parade starting from The Venue – this is huge! And I’m pretty certain the development plans will go ahead.” According to Angelo, the council have offered funding to relocate but despite this offer, Angelo doubts he’ll be able to set up again. “First, the business will be closed for a couple of years and then I need funds to re-invest in a new business. Also, will there actually be the chance of getting a unit on the new development and if so, it’ll be at full market rent which will be double or triple to what I pay now. I won’t set up another laundrette”, Angelo concludes.

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After our chat we walk back to the launderette where we meet Nicola, one of Angelo’s employees who would presumably lose her job if the launderette were to close. Angelo and Nicola seem to have a very friendly relationship, laughing and joking about being photographed, and together I photograph them in the launderette.

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