It’s been a while since I last published an article. The last few months have been strange times for all of us and all the gatherings with campaigners, activists, musicians and local residents, and all the spontaneous encounters on the High Street seem so far in the distance. Even further away is a photography walk I did with local kids two years ago, and it’s strange to remember the carefree way of using public space and being at close proximity with many people at the time. It’s a story I haven’t published on here yet and it seems fitting to publish it now that lockdown is easing. Let’s hope that activities such as this one are not too far off in the future.
The photography walk and workshop followed on from a Lego® workshop I did in January 2018 with local Cubs at 2nd Deptford – the local Scouts Hall. The purpose was to understand how children that age (8-10) understand regeneration and how we could engage them in critical conversations about their urban neighbourhood. To continue this conversation and to engage more directly and critically with the urban environment, we decided to do a photography walk, where children would take photos of the local area (with support) and where we would ask them questions about what they were seeing. This session was followed by a photo-elicitation session the week after to see what they had remembered. The photos in the first half of the article were taken by the kids (except the group shot below right).
As we had to start and finish at the Scouts Hall on Childers Street, I planned a 1.5 hour walk down Childers Street to the Lord Clyde and Evelyn Community Centre and back via Arklow Road and the Anthology Deptford Foundry Development. I went out with a group of 15 Cubs, 2 Scout Leaders, one parent and my husband, who all helped me with questions and answers, keeping an eye on traffic and that the children wouldn’t run out into the streets. I asked questions, recorded answers and helped the kids take photographs with three different cameras.
The walk and talk started at the controversial empty business units on Childers Streets, units that, according to Deptford Folk, were intended to provide much-needed employment floorspace and to support the local economy, but which have been priced in excess of the quoted price, thus making the units unaffordable to local tenants. At the time of the walk, the developer was planning to make these units into residential units, but their application was being challenged by Deptford Folk. When I asked the kids what they thought the units were designed for, one child replied: “It’s supposed to be an office to sell flats!” This is interesting considering that many developments do have a sales suite on ground floor level. When I asked why they thought it was empty, they replied: “It’s too expensive!”
We took some photos and continued our walk to the old cardboard factory where Warren, a Cub’s father, worked when he was young. “I used to make sure all the women had lots of pamphlets to stuff in envelopes otherwise they would shout my name out. They’d go WARREN!!!! You see, they used to get paid by the amount of leaflets they got through so they used to be really quick in shoving them into the envelopes. Those were the envelopes that would go through your door as trash mail. That was my Saturday job.”
We noticed that one end of the building was abandoned and covered in graffiti while the other end had already been developed into new-looking flats without graffiti. We first looked at the undeveloped end and asked the kids to explain the condition of the building:
“It hasn’t been used for centuries.”
“I think it’s going to be knocked down and turned into a new shop.”
“I think they’re going to renovate this place.”
“There’s a lot of graffiti on it.”
“It’s old and abandoned.”
“I think this was like old abandoned flats which was long ago and now I think it’s going to be renovated or demolished to make something new.”
Peter, one of the Scout Leaders, explained that it is a Grade B listed building, which is why the old front of the building is still there. “The front, the face of the building, cannot be demolished, only cleaned up, but the interior and the back can be completely redeveloped, which is what is happening.” When I asked the children to look at the redeveloped side of the building they noticed:
“There’s no graffiti on it!”
“It doesn’t have the grills in front of the windows.”
“This building has flats in it, it’s not abandoned.”
“If people live here and somebody comes and does graffiti they would want them to go.”
We continued and stopped outside the now closed Lord Palmerston Pub on the same street, which Deptford Folk have been trying to save to preserve cultural heritage and to have it re-opened with improved facilities that could cater for the rising numbers of people moving into the area. I asked the children why they thought it was empty. Interestingly, they could not really come up with an answer. Instead, we got some funny responses like the owners didn’t keep it clean enough or drank too much of the wine themselves. Another response was: “I think there are dark forces in the pub.”
In the end, Warren explained that the beer in pubs has become so expensive that people can’t afford it anymore and are buying it in the supermarket instead, to which one child replied: “It’s always about money, everybody always goes after money.” Another child then remarked: “Money money money money!” We then talked about another pub building – the Lord Clyde. Peter informed us that the building used to house two things. After guessing “pub” immediately, the children started shouting out whatever came into their heads: “a pharmacy, a bank, a shop, a betting place?” Peter explained that downstairs used to be a bar and upstairs was a boxing club and a gym. “After years and years of being in the community and deemed nice, it was suddenly declared not fit for purpose. Now we have flats”. One child responded: “Why does Deptford have so many flats?” They were able to answer the question themselves: “Because with new people coming, flats are more ideal because they can house more people.”
When we started looking at the Evelyn Community Centre and the blue tower blocks of the Evelyn Estate, the children’s responses became more interesting. One girl thought that “poor people who live in the streets and don’t have any food and water can live in those blocks” but she was very quickly corrected by another boy who lives there. He told her in no uncertain terms: “I disagree with you. I live here and my friends live here, not poor people from the streets.” A different child noticed the colourful mosaics around the estate and commented that people are attracted to colourful places. We turned to Evelyn Community Centre where Peter got married and regularly goes to meetings to discuss changes to the area. One child immediately recognised it as a community centre where people can go for help, attend meetings to talk about the community and the area, where children can come and play while their parents are working (it has a nursery at the back) and where homeless people can come to ask for advice. At the end, one child said in a very sad voice: “I think it’s going to be turned into a block of flats because they know what the rest of the place is like!” Peter assured them this was never going to happen because people would be putting up a good fight.
We carried on to the Anthology Deptford Foundry site on Arklow Road, going past the houses that stand on what was once a park. Warren remembers playing in that park when he was a kid. I point the children towards the towers covered in blue material and ask them what we’re looking at.
“Flats being built.”
“Construction going on.”
“I know what it is…for the FBI.”
“It might be the Illuminati.”
It was time to go.
Each child had taken 2-4 photographs which we discussed the following week to see what the children remembered about the conversations we’d had during the walk. After a brief task to see what they remembered about what we’d done the week before, I lay down all the images and asked the kids to organise them into the order of taking – basically laying out the walk in images. They were very keen to find the images they’d taken and after that excitement passed, they managed to put them in the right order, almost anyway. We then went through all the buildings we photographed to see if they had managed to retain any of the information from the week before. They remembered some of it, like that the houses on Arklow Road replaced a park and that most buildings are to do with building flats.
I asked them again about the tall buildings covered in blue material at the Anthology Development by Arklow Road. Below are some of their responses:
“I think it’s flats being built for the future.”
“I think it’s gonna be turned into like, big and wide flats.”
“I think it’s for people that have like, people like landlords, people who like work for the mayor.”
“I think it’s for people that are moving to London, they might want to live in those new flats.”
“People with money.”
At the end, I asked the children to choose the 15 best photographs – each child chose one. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to talk to them a little bit about composition and what constitutes a good photograph or to ask them about the reasons for their choices other than “I like it”. We quickly hung the images on the wall of the Scout Hall and the rest of the images were handed out to the children.
 Deptford Folk: the park user group for Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens in Deptford SE8