“My world would fall apart”

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Rose is the proprietor of Rose’s Kitchen on 8 Clifton Rise, New Cross. I have often eaten food from Rose’s Kitchen. I’m in New Cross a lot and as I appreciate good and healthy food, Rose’s Kitchen is the best place to go. I remember the first time I walked in – I was glued to the food counter admiring the tasty-looking, home-made dishes, wanting to try it all. What a difference from all the chicken shops and other take-away food! The portions are huge, the price is good and the food tastes amazing. And each time you walk in, you are served by the same three people and it’s not long until they remember you. When I walk in, just after lunch time, Karlene (one employee) is serving three customers and Rose is in the back preparing for the next day.

Before Rose set up her shop 10 years ago, she had been cooking with someone else in a restaurant, and it was there that she fell in love with cooking. “I love cooking and I decided to follow my dream”, she says with a big smile on her face. In 2008, she set up Rose’s Kitchen and now she has 2 employees working for her.

DSC_1962Rose in Rose’s Kitchen

“When I first came here, there was not a lot going, there wasn’t a lot of business because people didn’t know me. But when they came and got to know me and the food, they started to enjoy my cooking. I now have customers not only in London but people who come a long way as well: from Kent, Croydon, Birmingham and even Kingston. Yes, people who come to London from Kingston come into my shop to get food. And people who used to live and eat here but have moved away, for example Birmingham, and come back to anywhere near here, they come back and buy large quantities to put in the fridge.” When I ask Rose how she got so many customers, especially from so far away, she says: “It’s all word-of-mouth; through good and healthy food, and good relationships with customers. I have never done any advertising.”

The food is a mix of English and Caribbean food and caters for different tastes. All the time I’m sitting in Rose’s Kitchen, talking to Rose and photographing, there is a constant coming and going of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. “We have all kinds of customers”, Rose states, “Chinese, White, everybody, and of course people of Caribbean heritage because it gives them authentic food from home.”

Rose’s Kitchen does the catering for Deptford Green School prom and the Black History Month. It also provides lunch time specials and offers £2 school meals during term time for pupils from Deptford Green and Childeric Primary. Also many Goldsmiths students come down for lunch time specials. Rose seems to have a very special relationship with the local kids, wanting to make sure they have the opportunity to get a fresh, healthy meal. “Sometimes parents don’t have the time to cook and give their children healthy meals; sometimes kids don’t even have lunch money but I give them food anyway. And parents often come in to thank me with presents.”

I ask Rose to tell me a memorable story and she told me that “there was a student from Goldsmiths who came in regularly and on the day of his graduation his mother came in with a bunch of flowers and said: ‘thank you for feeding my son your healthy food. I cannot cook very well and my son doesn’t like my food. I wish I could have provided him with the food you did but I couldn’t. My son speaks about you all the time and sometimes I even feel upset because he speaks of you as if you were his mum. I thought I have to meet this lady, I want to know who this Rose is and today I want to thank you for being so kind to him’”.

Talking to Rose it strikes me just how important her work is to her and to the local, and larger community. Rose’s Kitchen is not just a shop or a food joint with social interaction a mere exchange of food and capital; it is a social space, an intricate network of social contacts formed through food that reaches much wider than just the stomach or the local area. “We are like a family here. Even if people have moved away but come back to visit, they come in. People see me as a family member, like a mum or a gran and for me, my customers are like my children”, Rose explains.

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When I ask Rose about the planned demolition of the shops on Clifton Rise, her facial expression becomes more sombre. “I could never lose this place! I don’t want to lose my customers. I look forward to going to work every day. Sometimes I wake up tired in the morning but when I come here I don’t remember that I was tired. If you can have a laugh at work, it is so important. I would like the shop to remain the same.” The same can be said for her customers, most of whom have signed the petition to stop the demolition of Clifton Rise (the figure of signatures from just her shop is in the hundreds). “If the shop were to close, for my customers it would be like losing their mum or gran, and it would deprive many local kids of fresh and healthy food. It’s like taking candy away from a baby.”

Rose feels that the small businesses on Clifton Rise are not being treated well by the council. “We’ve had no information, nothing’s been offered, and we don’t get compensated for anything. When we try to call we just get passed on from person to person – you’re never able to speak to anyone. The regeneration here is terrible, it’s just about making more money. They are demolishing small businesses like us who have no chance, who can’t afford the prices they are charging. Everything is sold to private people with money. They are not going to want us here.” I ask Rose what message she would like to pass on to the council and she replies with: “If you break us up, it’s like you are destroying a home!”

As I sit there listening to this, I become incredibly sad. It is another story of somebody who has contributed to and built up strong relationships with the local community; somebody who has invested a lot of positive energy into creating a thriving business that serves the local area not only with affordable, fresh and healthy food but also with important personal connections that have developed into long-lasting friendships. For me, Rose is a real pillar of the community and her displacement would be a tragic loss to the area. It is another story of dispossession and displacement, of communities being destroyed to be replaced by luxury developments for private gain; a story of an uncertain future, of having to start all over again.

I ask Rose whether she has thought about what she is going to do if demolition goes ahead. She shakes her head, visibly upset by this prospect. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know any other job; I only know cooking.” But it isn’t just about the shop itself, or her love for cooking, it is about much more than that. “My whole world would fall apart”, Rose exclaims, “I don’t know anything else.”

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After our conversation, Rose goes back into the kitchen to carry on preparing for tomorrow. Karlene is busy cutting onions and serving the customers that keep coming in: kids, Goldsmiths students, a young local lad of Caribbean heritage, an elderly gentleman…

DSC_1978Karlene serving customers
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Dealing with the effects of the Tidemill eviction

Text written in collaboration with Diann Gerson and Ruby Radburn

Tidemill Eviction 29 Oct 2018 Anita Strasser (16)

Life hasn’t been the same on Reginald Road since the violent eviction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on 29 October 2018. Not only has bearing witness to the heavy-handed eviction by over 100 bailiffs and security guards and the subsequent boarding up of the much-loved community garden left scars on this quiet street, the 24-hour presence of at times unpleasant security guards and the constant noise from nocturnal chatter, vans and chainsaws since then, as well as the incessant barking from security dogs on the site (in fact, as we sit here, the sound of barking can be heard constantly), apparently to deter campaigners from trying to access the garden, has left some residents unable to sleep, experiencing stress and anxiety attacks. One such resident is Diann Gerson, who has lived in Reginald House for 30 years and who has been prescribed sleeping pills to help her cope with the stress.

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Diann is the granny that was assaulted by a 7’ bailiff who pushed her to the ground when she was trying to go home on the day of the eviction. She’d already had her arm in a clearly visible sling due to a fractured shoulder, and after she landed on the hard asphalt, she had to go to A&E to check whether more damage was done to her shoulder. The police did not interfere on the day and Diann was instead assisted by Reginald/Tidemill campaigners. Diann tells me: ”I reported this to Cllr Joe Dromey who forwarded this to Kevin Sheehan on 1 Nov 2018. I received a quick response the same day or day after but haven’t heard back since. I’m not sure anything is being done about it. I have also reported the assault to the Police and they took my and witnesses’ statements, checked my hospital report and seem to be looking into it, but I’m not sure what’s going on.”

Diann also tells me how she feels living in Reginald Road after all that’s happened in the last month. “Seeing all that police and being manhandled at the time created an effect. The first day I went back to work after that horrid day of the eviction, I was having panic attacks all the way to the station, and it’s been like that every day since. I’m also having nightmares with people coming through my door without warning. I’m not sleeping, which makes me hear the dogs barking even more. I don’t know what kind of thugs they hired because proper security dogs don’t bark unless there’s an immediate threat. Basically, it got to a stage where I had to approach a doctor, and she said let’s deal with the biggest problem first – sleep. I was prescribed sleeping pills. I’m seeing the doctor again next week to deal with the panic attacks and the stress of this situation. Every time I go out the door, I feel stressed, it affects me. The panic attacks have become a bit less now, I’m okay when I go to work, but when I’m coming home and hit this road, I start feeling anxious.”

Ruby Radburn02Photo: Ruby Radburn

Diann has avoided going in the direction of the garden as she can’t face the security guards and the boarded-up garden. Recently though, she had to walk past it as she was coming from a different direction. She noticed that the pavement has been halved with the fence, forcing you to walk past the guards really closely. She finds this intimidating and uncomfortable. She also remembers the day the diggers came at the weekend of the 10th and 11th of November. When she and her granddaughter looked through the fence to see what was going on, “a guard came up right behind us and just stood there. I said ‘why are you so close, can you move from behind me and my granddaughter, I’m uncomfortable’, but he didn’t move.”

That weekend, which was Remembrance weekend, the diggers started at 8am Saturday and Sunday morning. What Diann observed through the fence was the dismantling of the treehouse and sheds in the garden and the crushing of all the wood from the shed. “They might as well have made toothpicks out of it all. The most annoying thing is that it feels like a lot of this is done on purpose: smashing everything in the garden, cutting off half the path, badly-trained dogs, cutting the tress – anything to inconvenience and annoy. To me it seems like it it’s all just to create a reaction, and all that while the Judicial Review is pending. Maybe they want to destroy everything so even if we win the case it’ll be too late. But complaining to the council is useless, because they just protect each other and blame it on something daft like miscommunication.”

DSC_0186View of the boarded-up garden from Diann’s flat

Diann and her neighbours have also noticed markings on the stairs of Reginald House, which have recently appeared. Residents can only explain these markings and the poor attempts to hide them by plastering over them as being to do with knocking down their block. “It seems like someone is sneakily taking measurements for one reason or another and then trying to hide this from the residents. They really think we’re stupid! And the worst thing is not knowing what is being done behind your back. There’s this constant feeling of threat and aggression in the air.”

 

What annoys Diann as well is the money that is suddenly being spent on repairs in Reginald House. “I know these repairs are for our comfort for the next two years but it’s such a waste if everything will be knocked down. If they had spent the money on repairs much earlier, rather than running the block to the ground, and money on redrawing the plans to save this block and the garden, they wouldn’t have to waste all this money now. They could also have saved the ridiculous amounts of money they are now spending on security. From day one, now 10 years ago, all the residents were involved with petitions against the demolitions of our block, but we were ignored. To think how much money and time could have been saved if they had listened. But they didn’t. It feels like we can’t win, no matter what we do.”

The hardest bit, and what causes much of the stress is, Diann says, that she feels permanently threatened. It’s often very subtle, but all the time there is something that reminds Diann of the threat the whole neighbourhood is under: the markings, strangers in the block, the dogs, chainsaws, and the rumour that the townhouses on the other side of the road are next.

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Another person who has suffered immensely is Ruby Radburn who lives right opposite the garden and was woken by the raid at 6am. She supported the campaign and had been friendly to protestors occupying the garden, so when she heard cries of, “Help, help!” and looked out of the window, she knew straight away what was happening. But she still could not believe the scale and force of the operation. “There were dozens of bailiffs already at the gate and loads more coming down the street. They were really hyped up, shouting, ‘Go, go, go.’” Over the course of that day, as the crowd in the street grew and a cordon of police surrounded the bailiffs, tensions rose, not helped by the aggressive and mocking behaviour of many of the bailiffs and private security. “They were laughing at people from behind police protection, it was really horrible,” she says. “And there were a few who were clearly spoiling for a fight, being really heavy-handed, enjoying the power trip. At one point they were getting out of control and police had to tell them to keep back. But the cops weren’t much better, throwing people to the ground and shoving them.”

 

Photo: Ruby Radburn

Seeing all this unfold, Ruby says, has made it even harder to have to live with security guards from the same company, County Enforcement, lined up opposite her house, round-the-clock for the last six weeks. “I recognise some of them from the eviction,” she says. “They recognise me too. They’re facing my house the whole time and see me come and go every day. The noise from guards talking and the dogs barking has really affected me. I went out once in the middle of the night to complain, and one of the guards filmed me on his personal phone. That felt really horrible and intimidating. The same guy always stares right at me as I go by. I hate it. Even when I’m inside, I can feel their presence all the time.” Ruby was shocked that the Council did not provide any information to residents about the ongoing security. “For the first month, there were at least 40 guards standing round the place, it was like some kind of military occupation.”

 

Photos: Ruby Radburn

About a week in, after another night of broken sleep, Ruby set up a Twitter account to document what was happening (@under_seige_SE8). She also started contacting Councillors to complain about what residents were going through and get answers as to when it was going to end. “Joe Dromey seemed to take it seriously at first and said he’d raise my complaints but then nothing changed. Paul Bell ignored me for weeks, and again, when he did finally reply, very little changed. I tried emailing Kevin Sheehan as well, he only replied when I’d chased him for weeks, and then was very dismissive. It’s been really frustrating, and exhausting.”

Security presence has now been reduced to around 10 guards around the perimeter, and on Friday 7th December, Paul Bell announced on Twitter that he would be removing County Enforcement from the garden and replacing them with another company. On 10th December the dogs were removed from the garden. “But when are the council going to take responsibility for what they’ve put people through?” Ruby asks. “It’s good they are getting rid of County because I’ve seen how aggressive they are. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Council made the decision to evict the garden in that really heavy-handed way in the first place. It seems they didn’t even think about how it would affect people, and they need to be held accountable for that.”

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These are only the stories of two people. I know of many more that have been affected badly by this: residents on and around Reginald Road, and all the campaigners, local residents and friends of Tidemill Garden who used to meet in the garden and whose vital green and gathering space has been taken away from them by force. I don’t think the council will ever fully understand the pain that has been inflicted on this community.