The Battle for Deptford – the film premiere

The end of April 2022 saw the film premiere of The Battle for Deptford, a feature-length documentary film by local campaigner and film-maker Harriet Vickers. It was shown in St Nicholas Church in Deptford as part of the New Cross and Deptford Film Festival (the online premiere took place a week later).

Hat Vickers introducing the film at the premiere. Photo: Anita Strasser

The event attracted a 200+ strong audience. It was the first big event since I launched the book Deptford is Changing in January 2020. Then Covid-19 hit and large gatherings were no longer possible. Now that we seem to be at the end stages of the pandemic (hopefully), this film premiere re-opened the season of gatherings. It was, in a way, a reunion of London-wide activists, campaigners and friends and a celebration of solidarity, community and friendship, as well as the achievements during the struggles of inequality. The film documents the struggle to save Tidemill Garden, a community garden, and Reginald House, a council block, in Deptford south-east London. As reported in previous blog posts, the campaign argued for community-designed proposals which would keep the garden and Reginald House and build the same amount of housing units and 100% social housing, not 11% as the council initially offered. Although these proposals were thrown out by the council, local pressure achieved 56% social housing in the planning proposals – an achievement for which the campaign is never officially credited. The campaign continued the fight to save the garden and block until the very end. Sadly, the garden has been destroyed and is being built on as I write this. Reginald House is still on the cards for demolition.

The main focus of the film, however, is on what the garden, the garden community and collective resistance meant to people. It gives an emotional account of the friendships, love and care and social solidarity this space and community activism enabled and what can be achieved through affection, loyalty and commitment. The photographs from different decades and taken by different people depict people of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, engaging in activities such as gardening, making music, doing art and socialising; the music is from local performers and musicians who accompanied the resistance all the way; and video footage covers all the events, protests and processions; the interviews zoom in on valuable details that elaborate on resistance, community and friendship. Altogether, the beautiful film gives an indication of the collaborative element of this campaign and community and how much it meant to be part of it.

Deptford Carnival in summer 2018 as featured in the film. Photo: Hat Vickers

One thing comes across really clearly in the film: the value of Tidemill Garden and the people who made this space; people from all walks of life who found meaning, purpose and affection. How could the council get it so wrong? How could they say the garden wasn’t used and had no value? Paul Bell’s comment in the film of it not looking like Kew Gardens or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and therefore not having any value is telling. Although the campaign lost the fight to save the garden, the film shows that people can affect social change through resistance. Resistance is not only fighting against social, spatial and environmental inequalities, housing schemes that favour the few and not the many, decided by those that favour the aesthetics of landscaped Kew Gardens and uniform high-rises than that of truly socially-mixed housing and a community garden made by local children, parents, teachers and artists. The campaign achieved an increase in the percentage of social housing (from the ridiculous 11% to 56%), better communication with “decanted” residents and better relocation offers for some. Resistance is also about combating attempts to break up social solidarity, community and mutual support in a neoliberal environment that pits groups and individuals against one another in the fight for scarce resources. And this is the most beautiful thing that has come out of resistance in Deptford: it has strengthened social solidarity.

Heather Gilmore, local campaigner and one of the main protagonists of the film, speaking at a rally. Photo: Hat Vickers

The film is a beautiful depiction of community, solidarity, love and affection. The film premiere itself reignited the same feelings. And I feel so privileged to be part of it and to count campaign members and garden supporters as my friends and peers. Never before have I been part of such a solid, committed, inclusive and creative community. It was wonderful to be together again in the same room, to watch this amazing film and to see the community is still going strong despite all that’s happened. The premiere and the subsequent Q&A with Hat, some interviewees from the film and representatives of Catford Against Social Cleansing and the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign, as well as engaged members of the audience, showed that Deptford still aint avvin’ it! Discussions focused on how we can continue resisting. There is more resistance to come with lots of loud, creative and vibrant noise.

An engaged audience during the Q&A after the film. Photo: Anita Strasser

If you have missed the premieres, there will be further screenings across London and the film is now also available to watch on youtube (click here or on image below) . It’s a “must watch” for all those interested in Deptford life past and present, housing and green space campaigns and resisting the social, spatial and environmental inequalities of our times.

Click image to the watch the film