This text was written by Mat Kennedy, boat builder, member of Deptford’s residential boating community and board member of Friends of Deptford Creek.
I moved onto a boat in Deptford Creek around 2012. Like many Londoners, there are areas of the city I have never seen and will probably never see. In 2012, Deptford was one of these areas for me. I grew up in Harlesden, which in many ways is Deptford’s reflection on the other side of the river, and maybe that goes some way to explain why the area fits so well for me. But the thing that struck me so completely was the sense of community in Deptford, something many areas of London including Harlesden have lost. There are very few places as tolerant of differences as Deptford. I feel like the sense of dignity extended on the street to even the most difficult or marginal characters is a testament to an area whose cultural identity is rooted in worldliness. There is genuinely a feeling of inclusiveness that somehow celebrates the imperfect, and in a world obsessed with aspiration and quite frankly mentally deranged because of it, this sort of attitude is of value and worth protecting. The market is, in my opinion, the thing that holds this together; its rhythm pulling everyone back out into the street three times a week and reminding people again and again that we are all alright and your neighbors are mostly nice people and the world is fun and all that shit in the news a false reality.
Today Deptford is at a crossroads; as a post-industrial area, there are large tracts of land earmarked for development. In addition to this, there is a vast reserve of publicly owned housing stock, schools, hospitals, social care buildings and other municipal service centers being directly sold off to plug funding gaps or bargained for ‘affordable’ new build housing. Central government is starving local councils and instructing them to extract revenue from existing assets while simultaneously setting new build targets. This lack of funding in combination with a target driven housing agenda means the classification of what constitutes affordable has been willfully stretched to the point of absurdity. The housing crisis is being constantly referred to as a supply issue while tens of thousands of so-called luxury flats sit empty, bought as investments or simply as a way to park vast sums of wealth. Luxury investments are touted on a global marketplace while often substandard ‘affordable’ housing is sold at inflated prices to a captive market of young buyers trapped by the terms of the help-to-buy scheme. Developers and government sell the idea that the new apartments will act as a stepping stone towards a life of rising investment value, security and wealth. But this is a lie, and not only a lie that threatens to ruin the lives of so many individuals in the coming years, but a lie that threatens the very fabric of London as an un-ghettoised metropolis. Nowhere is this more evident than in areas like Deptford. In order to facilitate the allusion of an investment on the rise, Deptford has needed to undergo change. This is not the sort of natural change that areas undergo through socio-economic shifts. From the outset this has been a coordinated and shameless corporate campaign waged by developers and wealthy investors, supported by major press publication through lazy repetition and encouraged by a government lacking in imagination to see when it is being completely shafted.
Some examples include development companies like Cathedral, heard to ‘only fund art projects aimed at drawing well-heeled punters to the area’ (anonymous source) while openly touting ‘off plan’ developments to far eastern investors as a rising opportunity in an artistic area. Deptford Market Yard has culturally appropriated the name of Deptford Market on Google so that it appears as if it is Deptford Market (a street market that has existed for hundreds of years). The Old Tidemill Garden, flanked by around 60 bailiffs at the time of writing, holding off the community while they decimate a public garden that could easily have been integrated into plans for more apartments. The list is very long and much of it is of an insidious nature; it’s the drip drip effect of a weird type of social conspiracy that aims to sanitize, manipulate and divide a community and ultimately supplant it with a vision of something that looks like an investment opportunity. These actions are seriously damaging trust and are designed solely to sell flats, but by creating this narrative, a new reality forms on the street, a strange world of invisible dividing lines and resentments.
It’s impossible to describe the anger felt in London as a whole and more acutely in areas like Deptford towards the deceptive strategies deployed by councils and developers and the narratives they spin; from building site awnings adorned in fake graffiti and local cultural referencing designed to somehow camouflage the unattainable price tag to the fundamental premise of a housing crisis based on supply propagated as both a profitable piece of bullshit for the developers and an ideological feedback loop for a state. Almost anyone I speak to can see something deeply unhealthy about the way this is being done and no matter what side of the political spectrum you sit on, it is clear that the state has an obligation to protect people from corporate conspiracy – a role which it negates because it is complicit.