Today’s post is the first guest contribution written by Lucy Loves-Life, a local Deptford resident, campaigner, activist, and co-founder of the Deptford People Project, which feeds homeless people every Friday 12 – 2 in New Cross Field. For more information see: https://www.facebook.com/deptfordpeopleproject/ As part of my research, I have invited Lucy Loves-Life to express her views on the regeneration and gentrification of the area and how it is impacting on the local working-class population. Lucy Loves-Life has kindly invited me to contribute some of my images to her text.
When your area is featured in Time Out you know the worst is yet to come.
I imagine the conversations over breakfast by a couple who bought an ex-local authority Victorian semi in Deptford ten years ago. I can see the fair-trade coffee on the beech worktop and the children’s Crocs neatly placed by the back door. And I can hear the excitement in their voices as they discuss the local property price increase & how Deptford is set to be the new Dalston. Not that they ever really liked Dalston but apparently Dalston is the place to reproduce.
Dad will leave for the station & mum will upload a photograph of Henry, their two-year-old son, pouring organic porridge over his head, before getting them both ready for music buddies at the coffee shop & Monday’s yoga class. Life is good.
Dad loves his walk to the station. More so now because a local community group have helped to redevelop the run down green space just outside their home. Ker-ching! Another few grand added to the house. He knew getting into community was a good idea, he just wishes the local kids would stop graffitiing on the new skate park. No respect whatsoever, random names and RIP, not what one wants on their door step. He’d take photos, upload them to the Facebook groups & call the police.
The station was looking fab now too. No more rough sleepers hanging around especially since all the immigration raids. No, Deptford was definitely coming up. The quality of people was too: young arty types and young professionals, oh and a new Caribbean restaurant opening soon. This one we can take the family to not like the one down the road with big Rastafarians hanging about outside. No, things were changing for the better.
Rhys is a ten-year-old local lad kicked out of school because his ADHD hadn’t been diagnosed yet & the school just didn’t have the resources to fund a one-to-one support teacher. He was set to attend a new state-of-the-art free school but the residents of the apartments above have lodged a petition as they don’t want to have degenerates affecting the price of their properties. He’s bored and his nan who looks after him while his mum’s at work is old and doesn’t notice when he sneaks out to graffiti in the park. He likes spray painting, he’s seen the bigger boys doing it on the estate making pictures for that kid who was murdered up the road. He can’t do pictures like them but he’d like to. He likes the new park. Even when that weird man takes his photo. Life is good.
What does this have to do with gentrification?
They are all just numbers in a market research case study.
Just stereotypes. And yes we all carry them. At best, the majority of us know they are wrong and at worst, we think them but keep our opinions to ourselves. Truth be told, fundamentally we all want to be safe, accepted and feel part of the area that we live in.
But that isn’t profitable. Not for local councils and not for developers. Why? Because people that care for each other are less likely to buy into the redevelopment fantasy. The only thing that matters is a rise in eligible council tax payees, business rates & licences. And the ability to use the sale of land to offset the inhumane cuts to education, health and policing. These things affect us all. Cuts are felt by all.
Do you see the irony? Come to our newly developed area. Free from rough sleepers, hoodlums & benefit claimants… You will be provided with a ready-made lifestyle in your starter pack. Just open it and life will be good. Pay your council tax & everything will be alright. Ignore the obvious signs of deprivation around you. You have earned your right to live in this new complex. You are climbing the ladder of success… (just don’t forget to pay your council tax). Oh, and don’t get sick because you’ll have a long wait on the NHS. Oh, and you’ll need to make sure you’re living in the street of your school of choice because you might not get a place for your child otherwise. But it’s fine, you have a beautiful balcony overlooking the Creek. Don’t worry, the boat community will be moved very soon because we can now make money on the moorings.
What is gentrification? Who is responsible? And how is this related to stereotyping?
Gentrification is a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture. The term is often used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders. Often used negatively? Damn right it is! Because it’s based on the assumption that all people strive to be rich and that wealth is the only measure used to distinguish a thriving community.
Firstly the divide isn’t between the classes at all. It’s not about two communities fighting for land. Neither is it about rich & poor. The divide is between two ways of thinking. It’s between people who purposely choose to use the deprivation of an area because it has investment potential & those who choose an area to live in with the view of becoming a part of the community.
Then there are huge money generating corporations. Most of which are based in China. No one really knows what they’re doing here.
Is it social cleansing? After all, developers did build on a community garden but they gave the council a cheque and the offer of moving to a site 6 miles away with a quarter of the space. That’s not social cleansing – it’s a little shifting of furniture. The old telephone table will eventually be crackle glazed and made into a Martini bar & herb stand at the back for the garden. It’s social tidying, more like social regurgitation then cleansing.
There is a sea of metal & glass apartments laying half empty, unused commercial space dormant while community groups are forced out of local authority buildings. That is what gentrification really looks like. It’s empty. It’s an off-plan idea that is never meant to be lived in.
You see developers are not interested in the future. They create the future for you and then watch it dwindle as the investment potential wastes away along with the recycled cardboard flower beds. For them the purpose is a one-off event, a party that creates a substantial amount of money in a short amount of time. Then they leave and reproduce the same event in another deprived run-down area.
And they love to use the word economy in their projections. They’ll bring jobs to the area, bring shoppers to the High Street, when the reality is that people buying a Deptford new-build are more likely to be found in the city or at the train station than spending in Jerk Hut or the local Costcutter. The introduction of a new market, which isn’t actually anything like a market, which houses ethically sourced lifestyle stores and yet another rebranded coffee shop. Oh, and an art space, which basically means any business that has a wall. Ethically sourced products with unethical & false idealism placing a veneer over the people and community that already exists. Oh, and it’s called a yard! Proper street! New buzz word for this round of commercial space. Yard I assume to represent the nautical history of Deptford. I imagine they are not referring to the community of Jamaicans whose ‘yard’ is being stamped over! So much talk about ships and no talk about the people that came off those boats.
Promises of a hipster, ankle-swinging sandal-wearers heaven where drinks are served in jars and pallets are seen as authentic furnishings. All in the name of art & culture. But whose culture? The same culture that no one wants in Shoreditch now? The kit community. Pull tab, open box and Bob’s your uncle, a ready-made life for those that are yet to find their own form of expression. We’ll market Deptford not Dalston, that’ll work. The individual looking for a place to call home needs nothing more than a pre-packaged life style. After all, who needs to think for themselves when developers have a team to do that for you. And you’ll ignore the real graffiti over the commission lettering because actually the words ‘no gentrification’ & ‘get in the creek’ just fill you with a fearful excitement. Anyone visiting will totally appreciate how brave, artistic & authentic you really are for living in such a tough part of South London. Developers have psychoanalysed their potential victims. They know you better than you know yourself. They know that money gives the opportunity to buy the life you aspire to. Except it’s not your life at all. It’s you & 225 other people who also bought an apartment in your block. Look closely, you might even see yourself in the coffee shop depiction on the council’s website.
The problem has never been the people. The problem is developers using people to make profit. We are all being manipulated into an idea solely designed for the stock market. Commodities and shares that’s what we are. The land under our feet means nothing to these organisations. The only community that is valuable is a pre-designed community whose spending and resources can be projected and placed into an offshore bank account.
The point I’m attempting to make is while we all allow ourselves to be railroaded into a social category by some very well-paid, highly educated group of capitalists, we risk losing our communities completely. We have been sold a marketing dream used for our history, our abilities & our aspirations. These people rely on our stereotyping. Divide & conquer.
How do we stop gentrification? We stop thinking that we have no power. We stop believing the developers’ version of our dreams. We stop allowing stereotypes to dictate our place in society. But more so we start remembering what a home is. What being part of a community is. And we support only those projects, businesses & developments that serve everyone. Not investors!
If you have come to Deptford with no other intention but to make money I hope you’re willing to sell your soul. Because that’s what it will cost you. There’s a very good reason why Deptford was left until the last knockings. They still don’t know if it’s going to work here. They still can’t place Deptford people into a neat little marketing category. So we will have to see where the chips fall. And who’s left? The community or the investors. And seen as the majority of Deptford have nowhere else to go, I’d say the community might well win this one….