“We need green spaces – we are breathing in a lot of toxic air!”

This post was written by Jacky Jones, long-term Deptford resident, community worker, volunteer and grandmother. She tells the story of how she dealt with her own loneliness and depression by becoming a member of the community that helps others in need. Worried about the increasing levels of loneliness and mental health issues in a vastly growing area, she has recently set up a befriending club, offering the most precious gift: time to listen.

Photographs by Anita Strasser: Jacky in her favourite green space in Deptford – Sayes Court Garden.

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My name is Jacky and I have been living in Deptford/New Cross for more than 30 years. When I arrived in the 80s, I moved into a flat in Arlington House along Evelyn Street SE8 with my young daughter. My son was born not long after. When I first arrived, I didn’t think much of the area. In fact, I felt very depressed because I didn’t know anybody and went weeks without talking to anyone. Where I come from, a small village in Wales, people are very friendly and always nod their head when they see you. In London it was difficult to even get eye contact and not being acknowledged made me feel even more depressed. Some days I would smile and acknowledge people whom I had seen on many occasions. If I got one smile, I felt it wasn’t so bad. I suppose it’s what you make of your situation. Overall, I wasn’t in a good place mentally when I moved here, but I knew I had to do my best for my daughter!

To help me with my loneliness and depression, I started doing voluntary work for a charity in London. I was supporting families of people in prison in the London courts. I also trained to be a befriender and worked on the national and local helpline. Because of my experience in the courts and other volunteering work, I was offered paid work in the Deptford nursery my daughter went to. I was also able to take my son into work, which was a bonus.

From my flat in Arlington House, I could see young children at the bottom sniffing glue. I was mortified and realised, I don’t want my kids to grow up hanging around the streets so I decided I wanted to run an after-school club for my and other children to keep them off the streets. I went to college to do a business course and to get a diploma in Child Care. This enabled me to be qualified to run the after-school club. During that time, I realised how little there was going on for young children or how little there was on offer to help parents to go back to work or college. After my qualifications, I did a business plan and I had to present my ideas to a grant committee with people from the government and trustees from the John Evelyn Trust. Doing all the qualifications and volunteering work had really lifted me and given me so much self-confidence and determination to make things work. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in front of this committee talking about my business plan! The funders liked my proposal so much, I got a start-up grant there and then!

I ran the club in Charlotte Turner School for years until financial issues prevented me from continuing. In the 30 years I’ve lived in Deptford, facilities for the young have not really changed. Other things have changed like more blocks of flats and less green spaces. Even I live on land which used to be a park for local people. The council sold it off over 20 years ago and now the land has houses on it. Obviously, I am very pleased to be able to live in one of the houses – the flat in Arlington House was too small for a family with two children and I moved over 20 years ago. I can now grow food in the garden, which is my passion. But all these big construction companies promise to build extra facilities for all the extra people and then don’t. Regeneration is important but it’s also important that they provide extra schools and facilities to cater for the needs of people. Lots more flats are being built but not everyone can afford to live in them or buy them. It’s grossly unfair to the local people whose families have been extended and live in overcrowded conditions for a long time. Some families have moved out and many are even leaving London. Some retire and move into the countryside or the seaside, but others move because of the stresses and strain of living in the city. With all the gentrification going on and all the new people moving in, they build up into the sky because there is no more room on the ground and that means more isolation for people. I know because I lived in a tower block for over 10 years and I felt totally isolated because you never see anyone. This isolation then causes multiple other issues such as mental instability and depression, which then cause strain on national health services. Also being surrounded by such tall blocks is enough to make one feel suppressed. When I come out of my house, I now have a 22-storey and other, smaller blocks in front of me. This takes away a lot of day light and makes me feel closed in. It’s not good for our mental health. Here’s a little poem I’ve written:

Oh no, walk out the door
Oh no, another floor ☹
Oh no, how many more
Oh no, can’t see the sun no more ☹

Another big problem with all the extra people coming in is traffic, which has got so much worse over the years. And because of that, we are breathing in a lot more toxic air! The pollution has gone so bad and at the same time we are losing all the green spaces. There are hardly any left in Deptford and I often walk around with a scarf covering my nose and mouth because of the pollution. With all these huge building projects like Convoy’s Wharf for example, there must be money about. These big corporations deal with millions if not billions and it wouldn’t surprise me, if they paid the council some money too. All those feasibility studies – who pays for that? We need green spaces and places for people to go to.

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I’m not saying everything about gentrification is bad; it’s much better than slumification. The type of people that are coming in now just have different requirements. Many like eating vegetarian food and like to sit in coffee places. Not all the people coming in are rich; many move here because that’s the only place they can afford. We all just want to make a decent living and make the best out of life. In Deptford, people congregate from all over the UK and the world. I’m not a local here, although after 30 years in Deptford I do see myself as a local. My children certainly are. Anyway, London’s always been a place where all kinds of people congregate, and if you have the energy and passion, anything can be achieved in this city. But I fear London is running out of space and it will just be high-rise homes in the future. And the problem is that when there’s gentrification going on, there’s mostly always deprivation alongside of it. Statistical information shows that Deptford was one of the most deprived areas in London 30 years ago. I don’t think this has changed much. The only thing that’s changed is that more and more people have moved in. Years ago, I used to go to a lot of council and planning meetings and already then they used to say Deptford was up-and-coming. Oh yeah? I see more betting shops than ever! With the influx of so many different nationalities who gravitate to London for a better life, different people face different challenges every day. The social make-up has changed a lot in the area and for me it’s about getting the balance right to create change for all people. We’re all different people with different needs and we need to live together the best we can. I think the vibrational energy is much better now than 30 years ago so evolution can be a good thing but it depends on your situation whether change is good for you or not.

There is such a lack of social clubs for the elderly and for the young, there is nowhere for them to go and because of that I have recently started up a befriending drop-in in my local community centre, doing holistic healing and other things. Older people, especially those that have been in Deptford for several generations, are often too proud to seek help and admit that they are lonely. So many older people out there are lonely, have no-one to talk to so I’m here for them. I make them a cuppa, talk to them, give them a little back massage, or we do some knitting and drawing. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s achievable if there’s enough support. If I can help only one person each time, it’s worth it. I feel lucky that I was able to achieve what I have.

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