“The council has not fulfilled their part of the deal”

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Emma Zhang is the owner of YIP Oriental Store on 361 New Cross Road, a shop which will be demolished if the redevelopment plans for this area are going ahead. Emma has had her shop for 7 years during which she has built it up to a thriving business which has a good customer base, particularly with students from Goldsmiths. The shop serves local students but also the Chinese and Japanese student communities, and many of the students signed the petition to stop the demolition of the shop because it would mean that they would lose the store where they buy their products. Emma has built up a very good relationship with all her customers, who, according to her, are very kind people and often come in every day. Some of her customers have become friends over the years as well.

“We don’t want them to knock down the buildings. The council posted a letter and then we had a meeting in Deptford Green School where we told them that we’re not happy about the plans. This is about 2 years ago, and we haven’t had confirmation yet about what’s going to happen. Demolition will be very expensive and really affect our business, and there is no guarantee that we will be able to move back or stay in the New Cross area. We have invested a lot of money in setting this up and if we have to find another location, this will lose us earnings and we’ll have to invest more to set up again. It’s unlikely we would be able to stay in this area, and so we would lose all our customers as well. We would have to start afresh.”

 

 

Emma agrees that the area is and looks run-down and needs refurbishing. She and her colleague also have experience of knife-crime in the area, and the shop has been robbed a few times. Just 3 days before I met with her, somebody tried to break into the shop again. She says the area is dangerous and that there is not enough police presence in the area, not enough CCTV and not enough protection for local residents or businesses. However, Emma does not think that this is a reason to demolish the existing blocks and shops as the run-down character and dangerous feel is due to the council’s neglect of the area.

“We have an agreement, a contract with the council. As tenants we have to look after our property inside, and it’s the council’s responsibility to maintain the outside and the building with the rent we pay. We have paid our rent, and before we opened the shop years ago, we changed the terrible shopfront into a much nicer one so it looks much better now. But the council has not fulfilled their part of the deal which is to look after the outside. Maintenance and regular repairs cost much less than to redevelop everything. If a little money had been invested over the years, the area wouldn’t be in such a state now. You could improve the area a lot by refurbishing and looking after it rather than demolishing everything.”

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Emma also says that the council needs to consider the local area more: “It’s quite a special area with lots of interesting people who come into the shop. We also have many working-class people who shop in here. If you build more properties, the rents are going to be more expensive. The developers are promising people that they will have the same conditions afterwards and people might think ‘oh great, I’m moving into a nice flat in a new development for the same price’ but they just don’t realise that prices will go up in the near future and that the service charges for shared equity properties are really high. We’ve seen this happening in other areas.”

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How do children see Deptford’s regeneration?

As I’m keen to find out what children think about Deptford and what is going on in the area, me and Adam, a licenced Lego® Serious Play® facilitator, and assisted by Scout leaders Peter and Michelle, recently ran a workshop with the Cubs (8-10-year old Scouts). We started off by asking the kids in what kind of buildings they live and what they like and don’t like about living there. With the majority of the kids living in blocks of flats, they complained about being unable to sleep because of noisy neighbours banging and stamping on the floors and playing loud music in the middle of the night. When I asked them what they liked about where they live, most answers were related to space: a spacious bedroom, space to play football, and having parks nearby where they can play and relax. When we shifted the conversation to Deptford itself, and all the new buildings being built in the area, they all commented on the huge amount of flats being built and that there aren’t enough schools and surgeries for all these new people coming in. In their view, there are too many flats; flats that block out the sunlight for others, flats which stay empty and flats built for the rich.

We then asked them to build buildings with Lego and place them somewhere on a giant hand-drawn map of Deptford. In the first round, we left the brief open to see where their imagination would take them. After talking more about Deptford and the regeneration of the area, we asked them to build something that is missing in all this, something that would make Deptford a better place. This is what they came up with: a hospital because there are so many new people here but no new hospitals or doctor’s surgeries, a police station (located next to the hospital so that injured people found by the police can go straight there) as there are too many robberies in the area, a few new schools with one that involves animals in education, a café where people can overlook the Creek, a garbage centre that recycles automatically, situated near the river to stop all the plastic bags being thrown into the Thames, a ‘safety place’ in Deptford Park where people can relax and feel safe, and more parking spaces outside schools and nurseries.

When we asked them at the end what they’ve learnt from this workshop, aside from the realisation how big Deptford is (as they commented), two children said: “If we used our imagination we could make Deptford better” and “I learnt that if we put into Deptford what we have here, then Deptford would be a lot better place.” Finally, one child is put forward to be the next mayor to which he responded: “When I’m older, I’m gonna get a job, go in a crane and get a wrecking ball and break down some of the flats and build more schools. That’s what I’m gonna do for the future!”

What I learnt from this workshop is that children are more aware of their surroundings than we might give them credit for. Their ideas in this workshop were incredibly valuable and insightful. This workshop was a really enjoyable experience, and I’m looking forward to working with them again in the near future.

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Before I did this workshop, I’d met the kids and the leaders and observed a couple of Wednesday sessions with the Cubs, led by Peter Hulcup. Peter also used to be in charge of the Scouts, but Charlie Baxter has recently taken over as Scout Section Leader from him, and his main responsibility now is looking after the Cubs. Being leader for both sections is simply too much work for one person and so Peter is relieved Charlie has taken over (there are also other people involved such as Liz and Michelle, but I speak mainly to Peter and Charlie). Peter tells me a bit about the history and the workings of the different sections.

“Scouting started in 1907 and already in 1909 we had 2nd Deptford St Luke’s (now St Nicholas’ & St Luke’s) and we’ve been here since then. Ron Hoskin, a local business man and Scout leader, did all the fund-raising at that time to have the scouts hall built, which is why it’s called Ron Hoskin Hall. It stands on Lewisham land, but the building is owned by the Scouts.  There are three different sections: the Beavers on a Monday, age group 6 – 8, the Cubs on a Wednesday, age group 8 – 10, and the Scouts on a Tuesday; they’re age group 10 – 14. There’s also a group called the Explorers (aged 14 – 25) but we don’t have any of them here – it’s harder to get older kids into the uniform. The uniform is good, it means that we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter if you come from a millionaire family or a poorer background, we’re all the same. We have 7 laws and a promise to which we adhere. Each child pays £3 per night and £1 if they’re not present to pay for the insurance.”

Charlie then continues to tell me about their work, especially the issue with funding. “We constantly need to fund-raise, and the kids do a lot of the fund-raising from families or people they know. It’s difficult sometimes as we need funds for the activities and to maintain the building. For example, the roof has been leaking for 5 years – we really need to do the roof and also paint the outside as the walls are chipping off. But we also need the time to do it…time is always an issue. It’s really difficult to find volunteers. Many young people come for a bit and then disappear again, so we’re desperate to find committed volunteers as this is eating into our family life. I won’t get home till about 9 o’clock again tonight – it really affects your family life. There’s a lot of work to do that no-one sees, all the organising and planning, and we could really do with some help with grant writing. We’re also working on getting a new kitchen, the old one is too small and not well-equipped, and you can’t really teach kids how to cook in here. We’ve got money to do the electrics, and then we need to do more fund-raising for the rest. We have to do it slowly, bit by bit. Conway, who are doing a lot of work in the area, have promised to give us disabled access because we’re not being inclusive without an entrance suitable for disabled people, but they haven’t come back. We’ve been chasing them but there’s been no response.”

Charlie joined the Scouts because having 3 boys and 2 girls growing up in London “scares the hell out of me, and this keeps them off the streets!” Charlie first started helping out, then she became Secretary and now she is Group Scout Leader. “There’s still a lot of stigma attached to Scouts, people say it’s only for boys but it’s not and the kids are proud to wear their uniform. And when they wear the uniform on the way here from home, they’re insured as well, which is good.” Charlie says that about half or 60% of the kids come from deprived backgrounds and from single parent families. If families can’t afford to buy the uniform, the group helps them with that. Charlie says there are clear benefits to being a Scout: “We have a couple of kids who came here angry – they’ve obviously been through some really difficult situations in life…it makes you wonder what they’ve been through and also what kids that are not here are going through. Then they came here and they have become the kindest children. They still have their moments of course, but overall they’re very kind now. One has also become a Sixer, this means that he looks after 3 others here.”

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I can see why the kids really enjoy coming here and why it is so beneficial. Charlie explains what they do: “We start off with the basic skills in life such as cooking, sewing and doing maths before we go on to sailing and other things. But we do lots of other stuff such as woodwork, working with hand-powered tools, first-aid, particularly CPR, bike maintenance, building a grotto for Christmas with stuff from the garden, we go bowling, they’re given compasses and a map to find things, team-building, we have a cinema night with popcorn – that’s always a fun night, they love camping, and they can also earn badges. The Beavers do a bit more art and craft.”

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During the first evening I observe with the Cubs, they do team-building exercises. The second time, Peter shows them how to make a fire and how to grill Marshmallows without burning them or their hands. It’s a fun evening and the roasted Marshmallows taste lovely. I can see how important this place is to the kids and leaders alike.

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Banners in Deptford

 

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Banners appeared in Deptford over the weekend, accusing Lewisham Council of social cleansing and gentrifying Deptford, and calling on the public to fight against these practices. The banners went up near sites under threat of demolition and redevelopment: Creekside and the boating community on Deptford Creek, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House, where planning permission has already been granted to build on the garden and to demolish Reginald House to make way for more luxury flats. One banner appeared on Deptford Bridge DLR station, and two more banners were hung on either side of the underpass between New Cross and Deptford, leading to Achilles Street and New Cross Road, where plans have been announced to literally rip out the heart of New Cross to make way for luxury developments. Most redevelopment in Deptford has so far taken place on brownfield sites, post-industrial wasteland, which has not necessarily meant the direct displacement (evictions) of local residents (although the effects of indirect displacement such as rising rents, difficulties with making ends meet, feeling unwelcome in a place they have called home for years, and living in a constant state of anxiety and insecurity about what might happen should not be underestimated). However, with current plans to demolish whole council blocks, blatantly and radically reducing truly affordable homes including boats, and to build on important community spaces and green spaces, the imminent displacement, direct and indirect, of the local population is threatening to break up whole communities in the process. The messages written on the banners are a stark reminder of the grim reality faced by many residents, and the dark passage from Deptford to New Cross, particularly at night time, and the dimly lit haunting messages above the underpass reminded me of the inscription above the gate to hell in Dante’s Inferno: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

There is still hope of course; otherwise the banners wouldn’t have appeared, housing campaigners wouldn’t be collecting signatures on Deptford market on Saturdays and sending Freedom-of-Information requests (FOIs) to find support for alternative solutions, and people wouldn’t be having meetings to discuss how forces could be joined to stop some of the proposed plans. I say some because what I have generally found is that people are not against regeneration per se, not at all. They are against the kind of regeneration that caters only for the desires of the few and not the many, only for the privileged and not the ordinary, for newcomers and not the existing, for the wealthy and not for the less well-off. It’s about striking a balance so that people can co-exist and work together, and if local people were consulted and considered in the plans, there would be much less resistance and more co-operation. “Deptford has always welcomed all people from all walks of life, this is what makes the area special”, a local resident tells me, “but now we, the uneducated, the disabled, the working class, are not welcome anymore and are being pushed out.” There are academic debates around the term ‘social cleansing’, whether it is apt and appropriate or too leftist and aggressive. For many local people the term symbolises exactly what is happening: the pushing out of people who have not reached a certain income level that would enable them to pay the extortionate rents and house prices and to live the trendy urban lifestyles advertised on all the hoardings. And even if you can just about pay the rent, the daily reminders that redevelopment is not intended for you creates this us-and-them segregation, making you feel out of place.

There is still hope to be able to make decision-makers, authorities and developers, see sense in this senseless pursuit for greed, profit and private gain. It is a case of changing the political will to consider alternatives. There is hope to succeed in the fight for more humane development plans that do not result in losing essential green spaces that enable local children to have essential contact with wildlife and nature, do not result in people losing their homes where they have lived and loved for decades, and do not result in depriving people of the right to stay in the area they call home or to feel welcome and valued. There is no shortage of solutions: campaigns have put forward viable alternative solutions that would prevent the aforementioned impact of current plans, and data received from FOI requests shows that managed decline, the deliberate neglect of council property in order to make it ripe for development, is a political choice rather than a financial necessity. The data also indicates that refurbishment and maintenance would be cheaper and a better investment for the council and the community than demolition and redevelopment. Many schemes frequently deploy the term community, luring people into the area selling them the romantic dream of quaint and authentic urban living but also to appear as considerate firms that have Deptford people at heart. This ubiquitous use of the term in their brochures has emptied the concept of any real meaning, being mere rhetoric to sell luxury flats. But for the locals, community is at the heart of Deptford, indicating a feeling of belonging, membership and home in a place (places) where friendships have formed over years through proximity, collective action and shared experience. As one resident told me: “If you’re taking the people out of Deptford, they will take the community and everything Deptford is with them, leaving behind an empty sterile shell.”

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Pauline, a resident at Reginald House since 1995, who will be losing her home in the planned Reginald Road redevelopment scheme, tells me about the importance of her community who have been living together on Reginald Road for years, saying that if she were to lose this community, it would be like taking her family away from her. She tells me of how people have looked after each other’s kids and how she could leave her daughter with the lady upstairs without any worry. She also tells me about the surprise birthday party for her daughter, where many neighbours hid in Pauline’s flat to surprise the unsuspecting daughter for her special day. Pauline is upset about losing her much loved home and is angry and frustrated at the same time. She shows me the confusing correspondence and mixed messages received from the council over the last couple of years. One letter from the Regeneration Project Officer in November 2017 is particularly worrying, not least because of the language being used. After introducing herself, the officer writes that she ‘will be working with residents to assist in the decant of 2-30A Reginald Road’ saying that ‘there are still a number of residents that need to be visited to discuss the decant’. The upset this letter caused is understandable.

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Pauline is intent on fighting the plans together with local housing campaigners. “This is my home”, she says, “I brought up my daughter here and my grandson was born here.” They now live elsewhere but come most weekends to stay with Pauline. She has been promising her grandson a new bedroom for some time now, but with the knowledge that her home might be bulldozed, there seems little point in investing the money. “How do you explain to your grandson why he is not getting the promised bedroom?”, she asks. If the plans go ahead, Pauline’s grandson will never see the new bedroom, and as Pauline will probably be moved into a one-bedroom flat, it will be impossible for her daughter and grandson to come and stay at weekends. “What are we supposed to do? Sleep in one bed? The three of us?”

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There is still hope. An appeal was sent by Deptford Neighbourhood Action to Sadiq Khan to re-examine the planning application and to support a new community plan for the site. And the banners put up in Deptford over the weekend are an indication that people will keep fighting. We keep hoping.

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For more information, please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham/

https://www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden/?ref=br_rs

https://achillesstreetstopandlisten.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/fact-sheet/

http://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk/2017/12/lewisham-residents-fighting-save-homes-demolition-accuse-council-social-cleansing/

“I have stopped making plans”

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The businesses and maisonettes along New Cross Road, between Clifton Rise and Pagnell Street (except The Venue and the old bank building) are currently under threat of demolition (as well as all the homes in Achilles Street). The plan is to build high-rise, high-density housing in partnership with private developers. Whilst nothing has been finalised  yet, the impact of the proposed plans is already felt.

Teyfik Taghan is the manager of Delicious Café on 365 New Cross Road. The current owner and team have been here for more than 2 years (coming up to three years soon), and they are not happy about the plans. Teyfik explains:

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‘The team here have worked hard to build up the business which is going really well. We all have families to look after and bills to pay, and running this business has enabled us to do that. When we came here, nobody said anything about the redevelopment plans. We have never received a letter from the council about the demolition. Some time ago, the developers sent a letter announcing the plans. When I called them, they said they have plans but need time to work on them. How long, we don’t know.’

Teyfik and the team are not happy about the plans as it would mean losing their business and having to start all over again. Over the years, the team have built up very good relationships with their customers, which they see as very important. Some of the regular customers are teachers and pupils from Deptford Green School and Goldsmiths students. Teyfik recognises most faces and some contacts have even developed into friendships. Sitting in the café for some time, you can tell Teyfik has a very good relationship with his customers by the way he talks to them.

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Losing the business would have devastating consequences for him and his team, but even without the plans having come into fruition yet, the impact is already felt. ‘I have a family to worry about. I have 4 kids and I feel really settled here. I had lots of plans for my life: we wanted to go on holiday, send the kids to a good school to provide them with a better future. But now, I have stopped making plans because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know whether we’ll be here another year, 2 years, 5 years. It’s like with Brexit: people don’t know whether to stay or leave, whether to invest or not, buy a house or not. We’re in limbo, unsure of what to do. Anyway, if we lose the business, we will have to start all over again.’

Teyfik also says it’s not just about him. The rest of the team are in the same situation, they all have families and feel the same about being here. Finally, he concludes: ‘I’m very happy here. I love this place, I love the people here. I really want to stay.’

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For more information about the redevelopment plans and the campaigns to try and stop the plans, please visit the following sites:

https://achillesstreetstopandlisten.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham/

 

“Locals are priced out”

I recently met Paul and Jerry, two elderly gentlemen, in Rough & Ready, the café on Evelyn Street run by DAGE (Deptford Action Group for the Elderly). Paul and Jerry have been friends for a long time and regularly meet up for a coffee and a sandwich in different cafes. While I was waiting to speak to Sharon, the business owner, I asked Paul and Jerry if they would tell me about their experience of Deptford and their views on what is currently happening in the area.

Jerry has lived in Deptford since 1980; he lives in a council flat near Abinger Grove, near Childers Street. He got decanted from Limberg House on Longshore on the Pepys Estate (next to where Aragon Tower now stands) in 2002 and was moved into the 2-bedroom council flat where he is now. “Although as an old age pensioner you don’t have to pay for a spare bedroom, when the bedroom tax came in, I was told I’d be moved to a one-bedroom flat”, he says, “but they soon realised that there are none available, so I was able to stay.” But Jerry might have to move again. As his place is very near the Anthology Deptford Foundry development, he worries that he might be evicted and moved on again to make way for more luxury flats.

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Childers Street before development started

Paul is the leaseholder of a former council flat nearby, and wonders where the council tax goes. “Being a leaseholder”, he says, “I pay a fortune for a caretaker and maintenance services, but nothing gets done.” Paul has been to a couple of meetings with the council and he doesn’t understand where this money goes. “The council seems to have enough money to put towards private developments, but the old stock gets neglected. I’ve complained to the council many times, but you never hear back from them and nothing gets done. The council just blames the government but they have more money than they say I can tell you, I know.”

Both Paul and Jerry say that there is a serious lack of facilities. “With large numbers of people coming into the area and no new facilities such as doctor’s surgeries, the local population is not serviced. You wait for ages to see a doctor now.” However, in terms of existing services, Paul has nothing but good things to say about Lewisham hospital for example. He had his cancer treatment there and whilst he had private cover from his firm he chose to stay on the NHS as it was so good. “There is no better hospital”, he says, “but it’s the only one in this growing area and they are threatening to close it! We’re just numbers on a piece of paper, it’s just about money.”

Both agree that changes have got to happen in Deptford but that what is happening “is not for the likes of us”. “Let them build new flats if they have to, but don’t have them all for sale! Locals are priced out.”

Paul and Jerry like trying out the new cafes part of the new developments, but often they find that they cannot afford them. “There’s a new café not far from where I [Jerry] live, we went in to try it. It’s huge and really posh. We asked if they do toasted sandwiches, they said no; then we saw giant sausage rolls there and asked if they can heat them up, they said no. So we ordered two coffees, which were tiny with not much in them, and 2 of those sausage rolls and it came to £14! We can’t afford that! We’re old age pensioners!  I [Jerry] wanted to pay with cash but they said card only. I don’t have a card! Luckily Paul had his card with him. What would we have done otherwise? We couldn’t have paid. These places are only for people in those flats, they’re not for us.” Paul and Jerry had a similar experience when going to one of the new cafes under the railway arches. “2 coffees, a sandwich and a muffin cost us £12.50 – it’s too much, we can’t afford that!”

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They used to go to the train café: “It had a wheelchair accessible ramp and toilet, it was reasonably priced, it was lovely. It cost a fortune to bring it here with the tracks and everything else. They said they would bring it back after it was taken away, but it’s not coming back.* Same with the anchor, it was ours and then it was taken away. We are given promises but nothing ever happens, and Deptford’s history is being erased and ignored. The anchor is just a little example of what goes on, but it’s little things like that that are being taken away. The local population is simply not consulted or considered.”

Finally, Paul and Jerry talk about the new cycling route through Deptford. “This proposal for the new cycling route we got through the door the other day – they’re planning to move bus stops and make changes to where you can turn with your car. Evelyn Street is one of the busiest roads in the area and is one of the major routes to the centre, and there is already too much traffic and with these changes the roads will be even more congested. Why don’t they consider locals? Moving a pedestrian crossing or a bus stop further away from the shop where you can top up your Oyster can have a huge impact on the elderly and people with walking difficulties.”

After an hour or so, Paul and Jerry had to leave. I thanked them for their insightful comments and I hope I’ll meet them again some time soon.

*it has since emerged that the anchor is coming back. For more information please see: http://deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-anchor-cometh.html

Join the campaign – Saturday 16 Dec 2017 12-2pm Deptford High Street (anchor end)

For the last two Saturdays, housing campaigners have set up stall on Deptford High Street to raise awareness of the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ campaign. This campaign aims to raise awareness of, and fight against, the destruction of council estates, the loss of green spaces, the breaking up of communities, and the construction of  unaffordable housing. The current focus is campaigning against the destruction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and a block of flats on Reginald Road in Deptford, the planned redevelopment of Creekside and Deptford Creek, and the proposed destruction of the Achilles Street estate and surrounding shops in New Cross.

Heather Gilmoreb   Jacquie Utelyb

Photos: Heather Gilmore and Jacquie Utley

Join campaigners Heather and Jacquie this Saturday, 16 Dec 2017, 12:00 – 14:00 on Deptford High Street (anchor end). Or join others in Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden for Banner & Placard Making 12:00 – 15:00.

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Deptford & New Cross Debate: Housing & Campaigning

Monday, 11 Dec 2017 at Goldsmiths

Chaired by: Franck Magennis, Deptford Debates
Hosted by: Dr Roger Green, Director of the Centre for Community Engagement Research, Goldsmiths

This was the first of a series of events that aim to provide a space for sharing ideas about the various housing campaigns happening across Deptford and New Cross in order to join forces in the fight against the demolition of local communities. As it said on the event’s page “The number of building developments being passed across Deptford and New Cross are multiplying at a frightening rate, with little thought about the effects on the existing community and the areas’ needs or history…This is not an attempt to amalgamate the different campaigns into one, but to see where we can work together to harness the power we have in our communities, to ensure that our voices are not ignored by our elected officials and the developers they serve”. The various campaigns aim to fight against the destruction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald Road, the planned redevelopment of Creekside and Deptford Creek (also affecting the boating community), the proposed Convoys Wharf development, and the demolition of homes and shops on and around Achilles Street in New Cross.

The questions discussed revolved around how a more joined-up approach to the housing campaigns in Lewisham can be created and how existing communities can be preserved. The most pressing question, however, was what can actually be done to solve the current housing problems. The meeting was very well attended with representatives from all the above-mentioned campaigns and local residents, some of whom are due to lose their homes in the planned redevelopments. Also Cllr Joe Dromey attended, and had he just listened and taken note of residents’ situations, their fears and anxieties, and the very reality of losing one’s home, rather than coming to defend the council’s decision to vote in favour of demolition, his presence might have left attendees less upset. His argument is that residents will be able to remain, get a new home, that many more new social housing units will be built, and that leaseholders have the option of investing their equity in a property in the new development. He emphasises that there will be no costs involved for residents whatsoever, and that residents are being offered an excellent deal. What he does not seem to understand is the concept of emotional cost and what it means to lose your home, where people have lived and loved for many years and where the memory of important moments lingers in every corner, and that a new place to live, as nice as it might sound to him, is not necessarily what people want. As the saying goes: ‘A House is not [necessarily] a Home’, and whilst decision-makers may find people’s current homes ugly, out-of-date and uninviting – a result of managed decline, the deliberate disinvestment in areas to make them ripe for redevelopment – for the inhabitants it is a home, a safe space, a place where their lives have unfolded over the years. Taking this away from them comes at the highest cost of all – the emotional cost and physical impact of losing your home: living in a constant state of anxiety, depression, migraines caused by stress, feeling less safe in their much-loved home, afraid to collect the post and open a letter from the council, unable to make plans for the future, having to explain to the children why they still haven’t got a new bedroom, living in limbo.

Another thing many decision-makers don’t seem to understand is the importance of community networks and how they work. Community is about sharing experiences, territory and daily practices, resulting in mutuality and the visceral nature of community such as a sense of belonging, trust and solidarity. Just being moved down the road can change the very fabric and dynamic of a community, uprooting routine practices that help to form connections.  Although the complexity of social bonds in everyday banalities is invisible, community is the art of coexisting with neighbours connected by proximity. Despite the promise of the right to remain and of a new place to live, these community networks will disappear like they have in so many other areas that have been regenerated. No wonder loneliness has recently become one of the top social epidemics for older people in this country. Now for many people, the concept of community is an outdated or even oppressive concept that enforces commitment of their private time. The idea of having cups of tea together, looking out for each other and each other’s kids, or a chat in the stairwell would seem like an infringement on one’s time that could be better spent on individual pursuits. Today’s mobile lifestyles also often result in people living somewhere for 2 or 3 years before they move on to another place. And of course everybody has a different understanding of the good life and has the right to live in whichever way they want. But here’s the problem: the decision-makers of these proposed redevelopments make judgements about, and impose their ideas of a good life onto, the existing communities and force them out of their way of life. The ubiquitous billboard selling us the urban lifestyle of the wealthier, implying that this city is not for you if you don’t live like that, are physical manifestations of the imposition of another lifestyle, devaluing existing residents’ idea of a good life and needs to community. Ironically, many of these developments lure people into Deptford by selling its multi-cultural close-knit community (as if there was only one) as this makes the area sound quaint and authentic, an aesthetic that fits with the current idea of trendy urban living. As long as the notion of community and diversity is in the air, it sounds good, but actively participating in local communities is another matter. However, with communities being literally bulldozed, Deptford, like so many other areas, will become more and more homogeneous, thus erasing the initial attraction for people moving in. Many will then move on to the next up-and-coming authentic area which will have suffered years of managed decline so that the rent-gap, the gap between existing property prices and potential prices, is so big that it makes the area attractive for investors.

And finally, how many promises of social housing stated in planning applications have actually been fulfilled in the construction of these developments? It is hard to say what goes on in the viability assessment negotiations between councils and developers as they happen behind closed doors, but plenty of reports have shown that the actual figure is often much lower than the initially promised one. One just needs to look at the Elephant Park development to get a good idea of who the new flats are for. One also needs to be careful with terms: social housing is not necessarily the same as council housing, and with the loss of council housing comes the loss of the Right-to-Buy and the right to a secure tenancy. And how many of the leaseholders who bought their homes under the Right-to-Buy scheme, the fake dream of  being a home owner sold by Thatcher and successive governments, have the equity to invest in a property in the new developments that cost an absolute fortune? By getting peanuts for a home they owned outright, they might only be able to own 30% afterwards, hardly a like-for-like arrangement. Yes, residents are promised the rest will be rent-free but for how long? And how high will the service charges be? And who exactly owns the 70%, and what rights to they have? Dromey keeps banging on about the fair and great deal no-one can argue with: the right to remain, the like-for-like replacements, and the extra amount of social housing units being built to help house the thousands of people currently in temporary accommodation. Oh really? With a handful of extra social housing units (because it will only be a handful in the end) and the majority being for private gain, stop pretending to be solving the housing crisis!

Luckily, local campaigners are incredibly clued-up to not fall for the all-positive rhetoric of urban regeneration in council-speak; there have been too many examples already of this rhetoric to be nothing else but rhetoric: meaningless but persuasive speak lacking in sincerity. Key is to keep residents informed about these processes; knowledge is everything. This is what the campaigns are doing – keeping residents informed and supporting them all the way. And the impact of this was shown when Pauline, a Reginald Road resident whose home is on the cards, stood up, pointed at Joe Dromey and said in an uncompromising manner: ‘I don’t trust you!’ Did he listen? Yes, he did. Did he understand and take it on board? I doubt it. We know one councillor is not the sole decision-maker. We know that some councillors really think it’s all in the public’s interest. We also know that in many ways local councils’ hands are tied by central government. But if you come to a meeting that aims to be a platform for people that don’t have a say in these processes and who want to fight against decisions made about their lives by others, then come to listen, to support and to show understanding. Dromey asked to attend and he was kindly permitted to do so in the hope that he would be supportive. Afterwards, he complained in his Twitter feed that his side was not listened to. Correct. It was not meant to be his platform. Especially not for defending the council.

For more information on these campaigns, please see the following webpages:

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham – www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham

Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign – achillesstreetstopandlisten.wordpress.com

Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden (and Reginald Road) – www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden

Convoys Wharf (Voice4Deptford) – www.facebook.com/voice4Deptford

Deptford Neighbourhood Action – deptfordaction.org.uk

Friends of Deptford Creek – friends.deptfordcreek.net