“This book provides a counter to the media, the developers and the council’s narratives”

Last month saw the launch of the book Deptford is Changing – a creative exploration of the impact of gentrification. The book has 260 pages, is 280x210mm in size, is printed in colour and contains essays, interviews, poetry, song lyrics, hand-written comments, drawings, paintings, models, maps and artworks of all kinds, as well as 400 photographs – all in response to the changing face of Deptford. The content was produced in dialogue with over 160 residents, some of whom produced their own contributions to this book. It is a book that documents and critically analyses the struggles that local residents are up against due to unjust social change and regeneration, but it also celebrates the amazing community spirit in the area that speaks of an ethics of care and social solidarity that is so typical of Deptford. The idea was to provide local residents with a platform for their voices and experiences and give people the opportunity to define for themselves what Deptford and life in Deptford means to them. I wanted to create an alternative history and a counter-narrative to the one we are used to from the council, property developers and the media, which is a narrative many local people do not identify with. Due to the funding received from CHASE, the book has been made available for free to all participants, local community spaces, organisations I worked with, and some local residents/families on low incomes. If you’re interested in reading/viewing the book, you can currently do so in the following places: The Pie ‘n Mash Autonomous Community Cafe on Deptford High StreetEvelyn Community CentreArmada Community Hall, New Cross Learning, St Nick’s Church and El Cheapou (77A Deptford High Street). The book will soon also be stocked at Deptford LoungePepys Resource Centre, Goldsmiths library and other places, which I will announce later on. In order to widen accessibility, I have also ordered further copies of the book, which can be bought for a general price of £25 for organisations, £20 for individuals, and £15 for people on lower incomes and campaigners. Donations are also welcome to save up for a reprint and book events, help me break even and to keep prices at a relatively low level for local residents. If interested, please contact me directly: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk

For the event, I wanted to bring the content of the book alive and involve participants not only in the organisation of the event but also, among other things, in presenting their stories and experiences of life in Deptford. One resident, Anne Caron-Delion, a supporter and friend of local campaigns and campaigners, who has also become a dear friend of mine, gave a moving evaluation of the Deptford is Changing project/book and I want to thank her not only for this beautiful account of the project but also for her friendship and for having the courage to speak at the event. Read her full speech below:

How did I get involved in this event?

I came across Anita in Spring 2018 sitting at a picnic table in the fresh air of Tidemill Wildlife Garden. The air was made fresh by the 124 mature trees and shrubs that had grown there. The occasion was a meeting to plan activities that would draw attention to the proposed demolition of council homes at Reginald House, and to put pressure on the council to re-draw plans for the development that would accommodate new homes on the site while keeping Reginald House and Tidemill Garden.

Anita had created a memory board, with historical and new photographs, as well as post-it notes for people to share their experiences of the garden, and which I added to. It felt surprisingly welcoming to be represented here and to recognise others in photographs. In her own way Anita was an active participant in the Save Reginald/Save Tidemill campaign. She ran her workshops with garden volunteers and brought community groups such as Meet Me at the Albany to the garden. She consistently documented the events organised by other garden volunteers (like children’s events, drawing workshops, live music, local election hustings and Jamaican Independence Day) and also a long string of public protests way too numerous to mention but including the occupation, the violent eviction and the protest camp that ensued. Her images taken with sensitivity by someone who fully understood the context were invaluable and they were used in press coverage, blogs, publicity material and our social media.

Anita was actively involved – which is why this book is not just an academic study by a sociologist observing communities in Deptford. She has managed to bridge 2 communities – the academic (Goldsmiths Uni) and the local (people living & working in Deptford who are effected by regeneration). The stories in her book wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the trust placed in her and the relationships she developed with people who feature in it. It goes beyond the “hit and run” culture of television sociology.

For me this book is seriously moving on many levels. First and foremost because it is record of people’s lives and an alternative history that will endure beyond this moment.

A self-published 260 page book is an enormous amount of work and a huge commitment. And this book is now in the hands of everyone who contributed to it, owned by all of us who participated. But this memory of things that happened locally is also going to be available permanently to other audiences, in institutions like universities and in local libraries.

Gathered together these stories are an acknowledgment and a celebration of personal lives and local networks in Deptford. These are small stories, told by individuals in their own words, and in the intimacy of their personal surrounding, and for me they are a welcome antidote to the jargon and duplicitous intent of so many community consultations.

This book is not a platform for those in power who have access to the media, much of which tends to sensationalise stories and use stereotypes to characterise local protest (for eg as violent and irrational). It provides a counter to the media, the developers and the council’s narratives by showing the actual financial and emotional cost of regeneration for existing members of our communities. And perhaps it will enable readers to acknowledge what others feel when they face the loss of their local community space, support network, business or home.

All photographs by Petra Rainer.