“I dance in sites/landscapes to raise awareness of issues”

This text was written by Manuela Benini after she performed at the Tidemill Garden Eviction one year ago today. Photographs taken by Anita Strasser.

07XX Manuela Benini's Red Dress Performance during the Tidemill Eviction 29 October 2018. Photo Anita Strasser (1b)

My name is Manuela Benini and I have lived in south London for more than 24 years, so I consider myself a Londoner who was born in Brazil.

I have a life-long performance art project called “the red dress project”. As part of this ongoing series of outdoor interventions all over the world, I dance in sites/landscapes to raise awareness of issues that I believe are important to myself and communities in the places I live and perform.

I have lived in Lewisham for 8 years and have many friends who live in Deptford. I’m currently an MFA (Master’s of Fine Art) student that studies in Deptford at Trinity Laban. When I found out about the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign I felt not only the sadness of the idea of losing Tidemill Garden – what I considered a gem of a place in the middle of the city, an oasis of wildlife, different people and a place where I could just be –  but I also felt I wanted to support the campaign in whatever way I could. So I danced.

07XX Manuela Benini's Red Dress Performance during the Tidemill Eviction 29 October 2018. Photo Anita Strasser (6)

I feel the loss of a true community garden was a massive oversight by Lewisham authorities in the name of affordable housing, that we all know is only affordable for those who are in secure well-paid contracts, which is not the reality for a vast number of us Londoners. This is affordable housing for whom?

So my question is: How can the loss of a public space like Tidemill Garden, where a truly mixed Deptford crowd was represented, where trees and wildlife thrived, where the air was cleaner in a very polluted area, be justified for “affordable housing”? Who are the winners in this terrible loss of public green space?

We can’t change the fact that London is a growing city and affordable housing is a serious issue that many of us Londoners face. So the development of Deptford is a welcome initiative in my opinion, as long as it is developing opportunities for the community as a whole: building new schools, places where young people feel they belong to, activities for the elderly and people with different learning and physical abilities where they can thrive AND keeping green public areas. Pollution is a big challenge this city is facing and the loss of green spaces in the light of a climate emergency should NOT be allowed under any circumstance.



No vote for business owners regarding the demolition of their businesses on New Cross Road

The ballot regarding the demolition of the Achilles Street area opens today. It’s a YES or NO to demolition vote; refurbishment and infill is not an option. The demolition plans include the businesses on the parade on New Cross Road, but business owners aren’t allowed a vote. They have no say in the decision regarding the future of their businesses. A while ago, I interviewed Angelo and his nephew Marco – owners of the Launderette on 369 New Cross Road. I met Angelo in 2017, when he was still the owner (he handed it over to Marco in spring 2019). He told me about the Launderette.

“The Launderette itself has been here since the early 60s. It used to be a Father & Son operation with launderettes in different areas”, Angelo explains. “In the early 90s, my brother Joe bought this launderette and did a lot of refurbishing work, replacing the old machines with newer versions.” Angelo took over in 2008, and now, it’s in the hands of his nephew Marco. “It’s a contagious disease, I’m not joking”, Angelo laughs, and tells how many of his family and friends have become involved with launderettes. “It all started with my brother dating a girl whose father was of Italian origin and owned a string of launderettes. The relationship didn’t last but my brother thought ‘I’ll try that’.” His brother has since bought a few launderettes, including one on Jamaica Road which is now owned by another one of Angelo’s nephews.

Marco, who runs the New Cross launderette by himself now, wanted to carry on with the family tradition and took over the business in 2019. As soon as he started, he repainted and decorated the inside, but he hasn’t invested too much as he is aware of the development plans for the area. He also got to know his customers very quickly and built up nice relationships with them. He is particularly fond of Bill from Austin House, who comes in every Friday and tells Marco stories about the past. They also talk a lot about football.

New Cross Launderette Copyright Anita Strasser 05Taking over the business was a great opportunity for Marco, especially being 21 years old. But being in the Launderette business doesn’t make you rich. As Angelo explained previously, “a launderette business doesn’t grow like other businesses do, and it doesn’t have a high turnover. Most launderettes are surviving because they are on good locations in council properties with a reasonable rent. What kills them is the high market rates, so once the new development is here, with rent prices double if not triple, we won’t be able to return. Even if we are offered funds to relocate, which the council has, and new premises in the new development, the overheads will be too high to run it.” Another issue is, Marco explains, the 2-3 years it will take to redevelop the area, during which the business would be shut. Additionally, the machines wouldn’t be running during this time and might not work anymore afterwards, so he’d have to invest in new machines, which would cost a lot of money. “I don’t have the capital to do that so I doubt I’ll set up again!” Marco still has hope that he might be able to stay but says “we don’t have the power to decide that.”

As business owners, they say, they are keen to see investment in the area and people with more money coming in but this shouldn’t mean that others with less capital, including themselves, are priced out. They agree that the parade and the area needs investment but they know that this is due to the council not having done a lot for its upkeep. “It’s a nice parade but it’s stuck in the 60s”, Angelo states. Lewisham Council did commission the artist group ARTMONGERS a few years ago to spruce it up a bit. They came into the shops asking people what they’d like to see, and Angelo, together with the artist, designed the shop front we see today. “It really takes an artist to see things from a different perspective. I was just going to suggest some writing to advertise the services but the artists said no, we need something more interesting and then he came up with the design you see today. It really makes a difference”, he says. “But that’s all that’s been done. Lewisham Council doesn’t involve itself much in making the parade look nicer, they are more concerned with housing. The plans I’ve seen for this area – 5-storey blocks across the whole parade starting from The Venue – this is huge! And I’m pretty certain the development plans will go ahead and I’m pretty certain we won’t set up another launderette here.”

New Cross Launderette Copyright Anita Strasser 08Many people might think that because of improved living standards there is no need for launderettes anymore. In actual fact, there is still demand, even if most people can afford a washing machine. “The association of launderettes merely with the working-class and people in social housing is outdated – we have customers from all walks of life. The demand today is due to convenience: the machines we have can handle high capacity and the laundry can dry quickly, so the whole laundry can be done in an hour. Drying is a particular issue today. Many people live in small flats with no space or facility to dry clothes so coming to a launderette solves that problem.” In this particular launderette the water is also treated before it’s used and people notice the change in the fabric, another reason, according to Angelo, why this launderette is doing good business. “If the launderette closes, people will have to travel further away for this convenience”, making this convenience less convenient. I immediately think of 90-year old Bill. Where will he have his laundry done?

New Cross Launderette Copyright Anita Strasser 06

“I want to live in this flat for the rest of my life”


In September 2019 I met Christian, a young man in his mid-twenties who works as a project manager for a tech start-up. He lives in the building referred to as 363, which contains maisonettes above the shops on New Cross Parade on New Cross Road. The maisonettes and the shops are under threat of demolition as part of the Achilles Street development. From Christian’s front door you have a fantastic view into Fordham Park and over to the Pepys Estate and other high-rises scattered across Deptford. You also see the green shrubbery that surrounds the Achilles Street buildings. The approaching sunset over the buildings as we approach the door adds another dimension to the view. The first thing I notice is space – green space, space for play, for cars, space to breathe. We go onto the spacious balcony on the other side of the building, overlooking New Cross Road. This is Christian’s favourite place in his home and together with his dad we stand there for a bit and watch the world go by. It’s an interesting new perspective of New Cross for me. Being raised above the usual eye level, I suddenly see writing on top of buildings I have never seen before and I notice the sense of space you get from having the buildings set back from one of the busiest roads in south-east London. I ask them if they experience noise issues being so close to a major artery, but they say that the width of the parade does not allow the noise to come through good windows much. They can’t imagine what it would be like though if the building went right up to the road – like they will if redevelopment takes place.

The thought of having their family home demolished is very upsetting for Christian and his family. “This is our home, where our memories are kept. This is where some of our greatest memories happened, where our community is and where we feel a strong sense of belonging. I want to live in this home for the rest of my life! Having that taken away from us means we have to start building a life from scratch again because we won’t be able to afford a new place in the area”, Christian explains.


Christian gets his photo album out and together we look through it. It contains mostly family photographs taken in this flat, particularly in the lounge. Some features like the fireplace, the wooden beams and a lamp are still the same. Other things like the photograph of Christian’s late grandmother, who passed away last year, are newer additions. There are photographs of birthday parties and other gatherings, school photographs and family portraits (see below). Somewhere in the flat there is also a VHS of Curtis’ first birthday party.

Christian’s parents came to South-East London from Ghana at different times and didn’t meet until they were both living here in the 1980s. After they’d known each other for a few years, they moved into a flat in Hawke Tower on the Woodpecker Estate in Deptford in 1989. When the mum got pregnant with Christian, they were given this flat in the 363 building in 1993 – the year Christian was born. His brother Curtis was born a year after. When being told about the flat, the councillor at the time said: ‘You are lucky, your flat is in New Cross’ but Christian’s parents didn’t actually know where New Cross was. Now, they can’t imagine living anywhere else. Gradually, the family made the flat their home – they decorated it, had birthday and family parties. One of Christian’s favourite memories is sitting on the floor in front of the hot fireplace in winter, wrapped in a blanket and watching TV.


Christian and Curtis first went to St Michael’s Nursery on the Woodpecker Estate before they went to Childeric Nursery just around the corner from 363. The two of them were often dressed in matching outfits. “Mum had always wanted twins and since me and Curtis are only one year apart, we practically were twins. I remember walking through Fordham Park to get to nursery. I also learnt to ride a bike in Fordham Park and me and my brother used to cycle around the park. We always stayed in the area. We used the playground on Achilles Street, where we played with local kids from Azalea and Fenton House. The other kids often used to come to our flat”, Christian tells me. The boys then went to St Joseph’s Primary School on Deptford High Street before going to St Michaels Catholic College in Bermondsey. They often played football together on the parade in front of the block and they’ve had many parties and BBQs on the balcony.

Christian at St Joseph's School. Photo Stanley Baker Studios LtdChristian in St Joseph’s Primary School. Photo: Stanley Baker Studios Ltd, with the kind permission to reproduce it here

There are other close connections located within the area. Ever since they arrived, the family have been going to the Catholic Church of Our Lady of The Assumption on Deptford High Street. “The boys were baptised there, had communion there and confirmation. Now I’m waiting for holy matrimony”, Christian’s dad laughs. Christian also loves Deptford flea market. Funnily, he didn’t like it too much when he was younger. “Mum always dragged us down to the market to buy second-hand clothes. We were embarrassed because we went to St Joseph’s. Now I love the market, I always get bargains and I know everyone there. Funny how perceptions change but when you’re a kid you don’t always understand things”, Christian says.

After about 8 years living there, his parents managed to buy the flat off the council. It took a lot of hard work. Christian’s mum, for example, worked 2 jobs and studied at the same time. Christian’s dad started studying later. The parents had a plan: to work hard and build up a secure future for their two sons. “In a city like London it is especially important to have a security blanket that protects you from a life of uncertainty and instability”, Christian says.

Having the dream of homeownership fulfilled and the ‘assurance’ of providing their children with a ‘stable and secure’ home, Christian’s parents were slowly preparing to move back to Ghana. Then news broke that the council was planning to demolish 363 along with the shops and the four blocks on Achilles Street. Since then, and particularly with not knowing what is going to happening, their lives have been put on hold. The move back to Ghana has been put off until no-one knows when, and the family feel that the rug is being pulled from beneath their feet. “We’re living in limbo. It is very destructive and hurtful. We’ve worked so hard to have security and provide opportunities for our children and this is now being taken away. Those making the decisions don’t understand what they are doing to us and our neighbours, who have been here so long as well”, Christian’s dad says.

Losing this home would mean losing a kind of structure for Christian: a secure home, a sense of belonging, and the connection to the building through all the memories that have been shared in it. “Living in a flat in a new-build won’t be the same. They lack character, they don’t have the same amount of space and it would be an empty shell. We would have no connection to it, no family memories. It would be a house instead of a home.” But Christian’s family probably won’t be able to afford a new build in the area anyway (except shared ownership which does not provide the same security as full ownership). Although it seems they are being offered the current value of their home plus 10%, it still won’t be enough to buy a 2-bedroom flat in a new development or in the area. In fact, the way things are going, it won’t buy them anything in Zone 1 or 2.

DSC_0761This isn’t just about losing a safe and secure home, it is also a story about belonging to a place where one grew up and where all one’s memories are stored. Both Christian and Curtis love living in New Cross, with Christian describing his life in the area as “wholesome”. “It’s been home since I was born, it’s where my family are, and my close friends are here on the Woodpecker, in New Cross, Deptford and Greenwich. It’s a great community, it has a very diverse population, good transport links to other areas, and a great mixture of busyness and quietness. It has everything from Jamaican, Indian, Turkish, African food to Pizza for a good price, my dad gets his hair cut in Unique Hair Technique across the road (I used to go there too but now I go to a hairdresser in Deptford) and I love listening to Motown Music on the balcony and people watching. It’s a great place!”

Ever since they have found out about the potential loss of their much-loved home, their lives have been full of uncertainty. Christian says that, at first, he didn’t buy into the idea of ‘social cleansing’ and he thought that the people employed by the council to talk to residents in the newly opened community space at Fenton House really had the community of Achilles Street area at heart. However, having seen what is happening in New Cross and Deptford and noticing how the demographic is changing, and experiencing the threat of displacement himself, he does believe it is social cleansing. “You just need to go to Deptford flea market on a Saturday and then cross over to Deptford Market Yard. You can see a barrier there.” To Christian it feels like the heart of New Cross will be ripped out if the redevelopment plans go ahead.

I ask Christian and his dad whether they’ve made plans in case their home will be demolished. They haven’t. They can’t bear thinking about it; it’s too upsetting. They keep hoping that their home won’t be demolished and that they can finally follow up on their original plans.

DSC_0745View from the front door



Somethin’ don’t feel right

Photo on left: © Alexandra Waespi, with the kind permission to reproduce it here

Rachel Bennett has been running the band Raiemusic for over a decade.[1] The band (which has evolved to some degree) have performed in London venues including: The Forge in Camden, Hammersmith Apollo, The Albany Theatre in Deptford, Ronnie Scotts, Club Floridita in Soho, Cafe Concerto in Leicester Square, Map Cafe in Kentish Town, The Pheasantry in Chelsea, Cottons in Angel and lots of pubs in and around London. They have recently produced an 11 song album with renowned engineer and producer Wes Maebe. The music is Country with a hint of blues/soul and the songs are mostly narrative and protest based.

Rachel has written two songs in response to Deptford’s regeneration. You can listen to them below. Lyrics are at the bottom of the post. She explains their meaning and why she wrote them:


“I wrote this some years ago when it began to be apparent that it was ‘trendy’ to hang out in Deptford so we’d get news articles about how Deptford was this edgy place where you could hear live music in the bars. We got the Greenwich ‘well to do’s’ often appearing at gigs and also in the slightly less rough bars. Of course they were entitled to come but we always felt they didn’t fit in. The Albany was our stomping ground and when some theatre companies came to put on what we felt were ‘not our scene’ projects and workshops, we were a little less than celebratory … new employees coming from across town who had no experience of Deptford and who brought their ‘friends’ to do work there. There is a dark history around the Albany at that time [2] so we were very mistrusting.”

© Bennett/Cochrane 2004
Engineered and Produced by Nixon Rosembert at Studio 101A

Guitar Dan Cochrane | Lead and background vocals Rachel Bennett



“This is a comment on the hype and night-life in Deptford and how the new faces and high-rise buildings don’t fit with the way we live. We feel we are being encroached upon and that our community ideals are put last on the list – when in fact they are the actual triumphs of a working-class area that has strived to do well for its youth. The youth clubs are gone, where those YPs who don’t want to dance or act could go and hang out. The Tidemill Garden saga is a total disgrace and we are all deeply saddened and affected by this. We are also heading for buildings with two entrances – one for the buyers and one for the council tenants … so the line … something don’t feel right … is about the above. The rest of the song describes our street life.”

© Bennett/Brown 2018
Guitar Jordan Brown | Lead Vocals Rachel Bennett | Background Vocals Abdul Shyllon

[1] Rachel also runs the famous Meet Me Choir at the Albany.

[2] More information about this can be found in Jess Steele’s book Turning the Tide, 1993, p. 204.


Screenshot 2019-10-02 at 09.50.59