Text written in collaboration with Diann Gerson and Ruby Radburn
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.
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.”
Photo: 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.”
View 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.
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.”
Photo: Ruby Radburn
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.