How do some of Deptford’s elderly experience the regeneration of Deptford?

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I have been working with members of Meet Me at the Albany, an all-day arts club for the over 60s who meet every Tuesday to talk, sing, dance, eat and create artworks together. Meet Me at the Albany is co-produced by the Albany and Entelechy Arts, whose artistic director David Slater says that the idea behind Meet Me is “to re-imagine possibilities for frail and vulnerable elderly people and create circumstances in which they can flourish” (in an interview with David Slater in 2018). Indeed, one member of Meet Me, Jacquie, who started writing poetry in this arts club, commented: “Here you don’t get fobbed off as an elderly like in other places, and they bring out your creativity you didn’t know you had”. The Meet Me Choir and their performances, as well as the 21st Century Tea Dance and the travelling installation Bed have become legendary events, and it seems that once a person has joined Meet Me at the Albany, they cannot imagine life without it anymore. All the people I have spoken to say the same thing: “Every week I look forward to coming here on Tuesday. This gets me out of the house. Meet Me gives me purpose.” For many members it is the only day of the week where they are outside their own homes and among people, indicating the necessity for the elderly to have places and opportunities where they can gather.

As my research focuses on the changing face of Deptford, I have been speaking mostly to members and volunteers who have lived in Deptford either all their lives or for many years. Their comments regarding the changes are very similar: they like that “better and nicer looking shops” are coming back into the area because they don’t like the amount of betting shops, “the thousand and one hair dressers” and the fact that “there are too many shops of the same kind on the High Street.” According to my participants, in the past Deptford was full of good shops such as Marks & Spencer’s, Woolworths’ and individual specialist shops, and the market was much better and bigger. Even if they don’t go in the new shops under the Railway Arches (Deptford Market Yard) for example, they like the look of them, and overall, they feel that Deptford is looking better now than a few years ago. What they don’t like are the very tall buildings that take away much-needed sun-light, the new apartments that are too expensive for them and their families to live in (some of their children have had to move to other areas because they could not find affordable homes in Deptford where they grew up) and the fact that there are very few green spaces left. People are concerned about air pollution and the lack of green spaces for children to play.

Some were born and bred in Deptford, like Ron Savill for example, who loves Deptford’s maritime history and misses elements of ‘the old Deptford’, the times when there was a pub on almost every corner and when “the old Deptford boys” and the street callers were still around. Ron also brought in copies of historic images of the docks, Watergate Street (see below) and ancestors. However, Ron also says that “many of the old people of Deptford are still the same”, and that “the people in Deptford are very down to earth, they are the salt of the earth.” As he says this, he points over to other Meet Me members who are sitting in the café singing. “Where else do you get that? Where do people just sing and feel happy in the middle of a café?” he asks with a smile.

IMG_20190125_0003Watergate Street (photographer unknown)
Paintings Ron has hanging on his wall at home (painters unknown)

Fred Aylward, local artist, activist and volunteer at Meet Me, is also fairly positive about the changes in Deptford and likes the cafés, the art spaces, and the art and music scene in the area. But what Fred doesn’t like is that the new developments are sold on the back of the arts, which have been around for a long time. He is particularly concerned about the music scene. “Our local music scene is dying out – we’ve just lost the Montague Arms and with the development opposite the Bird’s Nest Pub, people are bound to complain about the music coming from the pub after moving in.” Another problem, Fred says, is the lack of affordability, amenities and green spaces, as well as facilities for young people.

Jacquie, who has lived on the Crossfield’s Estate for many years, is less positive about the changes. She feels totally closed in on Creekside with all the new tower blocks that are too tall for her liking, and she’s glad that the Sue Godfrey Nature Reserve is there to give her a bit of space to breathe. She explains that this reserve was previously common land that would certainly be built on today if it weren’t for Sue Godfrey, a woman who tended the land and always looked after others. When Sue was killed by a lorry, Jacquie looked after the land a bit, picking up rubbish and doing other things. Jacquie knew Sue quite well and misses people like her who care for the community. She feels the council is more interested in the new and wealthier people moving in than looking after existing communities and the elderly.

Another person who feels closed in by the tall tower blocks is Rose, a volunteer at Meet Me and involved in many other clubs and groups. Rose is an incredibly active member of the local community and is always willing to help others. She suffers from claustrophobia and all these tall blocks that surround her house on Arklow Road (see images below) and make her feel closed in are part of the reasons why she is so active.  “I can’t stay indoors much, I need to get out as I don’t feel well otherwise and too closed in. That’s why I’m so active and part of many clubs. I thought after 9/11 they weren’t building tower blocks anymore but now they’re building 30-storey blocks. The new apartments are also not affordable”, she says.

Finally, I speak to Carmen, a lady with walking issues and who is concerned for her safety with regards to the changes in Deptford. She too likes the look of the new buildings at the train station but says she could never live there. “I am disabled and generally, when there is a fire in such tall buildings, the lifts usually doesn’t work so I don’t want to live there. I need to live on the ground floor. Anyway, these new buildings cost too much for me to enjoy”, she says. Carmen is also concerned about cyclists, particularly those that cycle on pavements and through the market. “I walk with a stick and struggle with balance and when cyclists come past me either too quickly or too close – it throws me off balance and could knock me to the ground. They should not be allowed to cycle through the market.” The same goes for cars parked on pavements, leaving little space for pedestrians to navigate their way through. Bumping into a car could make Carmen fall to the ground.

After these conversations which took place over a few weeks, allowing me to get to know these Meet Me members better, we decided to go on a photography walk around Deptford to photograph and discuss some of the changes. Members would take photographs with or without my assistance and a week later we would sit down, look at the photographs and write captions about what the images mean to people. Together we planned a route where members wanted to go, taking into consideration that we had 1.5 hrs and that there would have to be enough stops to sit down and rest. The group decided they wanted to walk down Deptford Market Yard, down the High Street to Deptford Lounge, through to Tidemill Garden and back via Reginald Road.

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One day in the summer of 2018, Ron, Rose, Fred, Jacquie, Maureen, Dahlia and me prepared to go on our walk. Armed with three digital cameras and 2 phone cameras, as well as walking sticks and wheelchairs, we set off to Deptford Market Yard. Some participants were already very skilled photographers, able to handle digital cameras and phones, but for Dahlia, a 93-year old Jamaican lady, it was her first ever digital image (with my help to keep her hands steady) and she was thrilled when she saw the fantastic image she took. Below are Jacquie’s image of the train station, Ron’s images of Deptford Market Yard (and Jacquie) and Dahlia’s image of Deptford Rise and the arches.

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Ron also pointed out the Shelter Sign at the beginning of The Yard, explaining that these are remnants of WWII and scattered across south-east London, indicating where bomb shelters used to be. In his view, the history of a place should be preserved and commemorated to remind people what once was. See Fred’s ‘Shelter’ image below.

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We then made our way down the High Street, with participants photographing Terry’s Shop (everybody knows Terry’s Shop) and Our Lady of the Assumption RC Church that Fred’s mum and aunt used to attend in the 1930s. Participants photographed aspects of the High Street that have historic meaning and/or are important to them and to Deptford’s identity (Rose and Ron’s images below).

Anita (26)Ron taking photographs on the High Street

When arriving at Deptford Lounge, we took a short break, sitting down, chatting about Deptford and taking photographs. Here it was Maureen’s turn to take her first ever digital image. With my and Fred’s assistance, she took an excellent shot of Deptford Lounge – a symbol for many of Deptford’s regeneration (see below). At the time, a Meet Me member was having an exhibition in the Lounge and members were looking forward to seeing it.

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Maureen 04

We continued to Tidemill Garden, a space some of the participants knew nothing about. The reactions when entering the gate was one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced. Wide-eyed and mouth open, the participants who had never seen the garden before were awe-struck by the beauty of this green space. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing – a green space full of plants and wildlife in the heart of Deptford. Upon hearing that it was going to be demolished, they expressed disbelief and sadness. Concerned about pollution and the loss of green spaces at the same time, they expressed how important green spaces such as Tidemill Garden are and that we must keep them.

Rose, Ron and Fred went off to the centre of garden to meet the musicians that were having an accordion lesson and to take photos all around the garden (see their images below). Unfortunately, Maureen and Jacquie were unable to navigate the garden but together they enjoyed their chat under the green canopy at the gate, away from traffic and noise. Dahlia, however, asked me to lead her around the garden, eager to lay eyes onto every corner of it. Taking my arm with her right arm and holding on tightly to her walking stick with her left arm, we walked around the garden. When I suggested the easier route, the flatter path, she pulled me up the uneven mounds saying: “I want to walk. You see, my dear, this is the only day I’m out of the house… and when I go to church on Sundays, but for the rest of the week I’m at home, indoors. I want to walk in this beautiful space.” With more strength than I would have given her credit for, she pulled herself up the uneven mounds in the garden, excited about each new perspective of the space. When we stood by the pond, Dahlia asked me: “Can you please pick one of these leaves for me? You see, my dear, I’m 93 and my memory is not what it used to be. This leaf will help me remember this beautiful day.”

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It was getting late and we had to head back for members to catch their transport. A week later, I brought in the printed images participants had taken, and I asked them to write captions for images of their choice, bearing in mind that their responses should relate to the changing face of Deptford. Below are their responses:

At the end, participants commented on how much they enjoyed this series of workshops, particularly the walk and taking photographs, and that they would like to repeat this some time if possible. I also asked Dahlia if she still had the leaf from Tidemill Garden to which she replied: “Oh yes! It’s on my window sill. It was so beautiful in this garden.” And when I spoke to Jacquie about the garden months later she said “magic, it was a magical space.”

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Some weeks after the workshop, Gwyneth Herbert created a song about Deptford with Meet Me at the Albany participants as part of Gwyneth’s Letters I haven’t Written project. Gwyneth kindly gave me permission to publish the song here. The song is called Meet Me (© Gwyneth Herbert, October 2018)

MEET ME

Meet me at the bus stop
Meet me on the train
Come and meet me at the Albany
Where we’re sure to meet again

Take a wander down the market
Where every plate’s got soul
Even cheaper after 4pm
Bag a bargain in a bowl

Whatcha after Auntie?
They always know your name
And though every face is different
They treat us all the same, for –

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
AND THAT’S WHAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

Squirrels in the branches
And foxes in the bins
The chiming of the clocktower
As the traffic hum begins

Laughter in the playground
And drunkards in the street
Then a load of bleedin’ sirens
And the sound of running feet

Ackee, bread and saltfish,
Dumplings, rice and peas
You can travel all around the world
On the spicy Deptford breeze – for

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

The years run by in Deptford town
New shops doors open, pubs close down
No ha’penny bits, no coster calls
No buses rattling the market stalls
So much has come and gone and changed
But still our hearts are singing out the same…

FOR NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE CALL HOME

NO MATTER WHERE WE COME FROM
NO MATTER WHERE WE ROAM
EVERY STRANGER IS FAMILIAR
IN THE PLACE THAT WE
THE PLACE THAT WE
THIS PLACE THAT WE
CALL HOME

 

 

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