Podcast with Professor Les Back on Street Signs

I’m so pleased to announce the publication of my podcast interview with Professor Les Back. To hear the podcast, click here! Les has been working on an ongoing and super-interesting podcast series and Deptford is Changing is the latest in the series. Les has been incredibly supportive of my work and my activities as a PhD student at Goldsmiths and I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to work with him.

Screenshot from the Street Signs blog

The podcast starts with David Aylward’s drumming – a live recording from how David opened the book launch in January 2020. Following this, Les reads a short extract from David’s incredible statement during the launch. You can read the full version here. After that we chat for about 20 Minutes. I hope you enjoy it!

Deptford is Changing is with Sian Berry, Green Party member of the London Assembly

In March 2022, representatives of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign and me met with Green Party member of the London Assembly Sian Berry and her Research and Support Officer Dr Faith Taylor for a walkabout in the Achilles Street area in New Cross. Sian Berry is doing important research on the effectiveness and fairness of estate ballots across London and has found many issues with regards to how estate ballots are being conducted. The research included residents from the Achilles Street Estate in New Cross, south-east London.

Detail of the Achilles Street estate

For those unaware of the regeneration plans in the heart of New Cross, the Achilles Street development involves the demolition of 87 homes (the council blocks on Achilles Street, the row of shops on New Cross Parade (by the Marquis of Granby bus stop) and the flats above the shops referred to as the 363s). The plans propose about 450 new flats, most of which will be private. Although tenants, leaseholders and shopkeepers are offered the right to return, we know from other developments (e.g. Heygate, Aylesbury, Pepys) that it is not a straightforward process. For some tenants, new and existing, the new home will be a huge and much-needed improvement to their quality of life. For other, existing tenants, leaseholders and shopkeepers, redevelopment is a time of upheaval, trauma and displacement. Rents and service charges in new developments are usually higher than before and unaffordable to some. Even if costs start off on the same level as before, they tend to increase very quickly. We need to remember that for some people, even an increase of £10-20 a week may mean having to skip meals, not heat the flat in winter or go into debt. Tenancies are also less secure, meaning these homes are not necessarily homes for life. For leaseholders, chances of moving to the new development are even lower as replacement properties are much more expensive than what they are being offered for their old flats. Many leaseholders purchased their flats through the Right to Buy scheme or many years ago, meaning homes cost a lot less than they do now. Some may even be forced to become renters again or enter the dubious Shared Ownership scheme. We also know that proposals and promises change over time and that in the end, far more residents are displaced from their homes, community networks and neighbourhoods than originally estimated, not to mention the long period of upheaval, insecurity and uncertainty, as well as the emotional trauma of displacement. It is yet unknown how these processes will play out on the Achilles Street development but facts and figures from other sites do not paint a pretty future. For further information about the Achilles Street campaign, please visit the campaign blog, and for stories of residents and shopkeepers experiencing displacement and not agreeing to the demolition of their homes and shops, please see lists of links at the end of this article.

Screenshot of Berry’s report front page

Sian Berry’s research concentrates on how estate ballots are being conducted. In 2018, the Mayor introduced a new policy, enabling estate residents to have a vote when it comes to the demolition of their homes. Although the introduction of the estate ballots was a significant step to give people a say over the future of their homes, Berry’s research has found that the balloting process is an undemocratic affair with local authorities deploying persuasive tactics and spending large sums on securing a ‘yes’ vote (see Guardian article on this research). It has also found that the process silences critical voices and treats those against the demolition of their homes as adversaries, unwilling to listen to other views. This was also experienced by representatives of the Achilles Street campaign and other resident and campaign groups across London and the report draws on their experiences (see right screenshot below). It also draws on my research on how residents in Deptford/New Cross are experiencing estate regeneration and displacement, citing from my book Deptford is Changing (see right screenshot from Berry’s report below).

It is an insightful report that reveals the undemocratic process of estate ballots which needs to change. It is telling that out of 21 estate ballots only one resulted in a ‘no’ vote. While there are people who are in favour of demolition, considering the issues raised in Berry’s report, these results need revisiting. The full report ‘Estate Residents Ballots: Are they working well?’ can be read here and here.

Berry has sent this report together with proposed changes to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development Tom Copley. Her letter can be read here: https://www.london.gov.uk//press-releases/assembly/sin-berry/londons-estate-ballot-policy-needs-urgent-refresh

Detail of the Achilles Street area

Below are the links to the personal stories of Achilles Street residents and New Cross Road shopkeepers.

Shopkeepers:

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

I have stopped making plans

New Cross was one of the last areas without being out in the suburbs

The council has not fulfilled their part of the deal

Most laundrettes are surviving because they rent from council premises and have reasonable rent

People here don’t want demolition

If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business

Residents:

Memories of an ex-stevedor

How can you call this flat uninhabitable and ready for demolition?

We tenants, we’re not going to win

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

I want to stay here and die here

I like living in Austin House

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

The Battle for Deptford – film premiere

It’s been a while since I last posted on this site. But today I have exciting news: Hat Vickers, fellow Deptford campaigner, is releasing her feature-length documentary film about the fight to save Tidemill Garden and Reginald House in Deptford. Hat writes:

I’m really pleased to invite you to the premiere of The Battle for Deptford, a feature length documentary about community, gentrification and resistance in south east London. Click the image to watch the trailer.

Watch the trailer here.

Whose city is it?

A beloved community garden and block of council homes in Deptford, south east London, are under threat from redevelopment. Lewisham Council want to push through demolition, but local people fight back, to try to influence the plans and have a say in how their communities are changing.

This documentary delves into how by changing our city we change ourselves, and the forces which can take this collective right away from us. It explores gentrification, air pollution, the importance of green spaces, and what it means to be part of a community.

There will be a IRL premiere at St Nicholas Church, Deptford, on Thursday 28 April.

And an online premiere on Thursday 5 May.

Tickets are free but please register in advance to book your place.

I hope to see you there.

Links for further information:

The Battle for Deptford trailer

Screenings booking page

Documentary facebook page

Photos by Hat Vickers

Another new development in Deptford

DSC_0254

This image shows a summer festival taking place in the children’s playground in Charlotte Turner Gardens in 2018. There are now plans by developer Aurora Apartments to construct a three-storey block of flats at the top end (where the trees are – mid-centre of the image), which would completely overshadow this playground. The building would be a tight squeeze between an already narrow road (McMillan Street) where cars get stuck constantly due to lack of space and end up on the pavement endangering pedestrians, and the playground. It would block out light from flats in the opposite block only constructed a few years ago, it would block out the light from, and overlook from close proximity, the outdoor space of Armada Community Hall, which is often used by playgroups, it would block out the light from the playground, and it would allow the new residents to watch children playing at extremely close distance. During construction, neither the playground nor the Armada Hall yard could be used. Just for these reasons it seems crazy to squeeze in a block of flats in this small piece of land. I’m very pleased to hear that Greenwich Council have rejected the proposal for these reasons. But there are also other reasons, which are clearly outlined in the latest newsletter from Deptford Folk, a constituted park user group representing Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens. Rather than me repeating their detailed newsletter, you can click on this link to their newsletter, where you can find all the information and also click to object.  You can also sign a petition here if you click on this link. 

I’ve signed the petition and objected to the plans for the reasons above but also because Deptford is so desperate for safe, green and open spaces, as well as playgrounds (and this one is on grass rather than the usual rubber flooring). This park has become particularly important since lockdown, with many families using Charlotte Turner Gardens as their only accessible green space. I have never seen the park and playground so busy as this summer and it’s really helped local residents trying to cope with the current situation. I myself have come to use this park much more and its open feel has really helped me through lockdown. The sunsets have been especially lovely, with the last rays still reaching the park due to its open design. The new building would overshadow this open feel by significantly narrowing the currently wide and open entrance, and park users and residents would feel much more closed in. Another reason why I object is that the proposed building does not meet any of the criteria for affordable housing or social housing, and as we all know, Deptford needs more of that and less homes for sale.

Below is a screenshot of part of Deptford Folk’s newsletter (the links on here don’t work as it’s an image. To object or read more, please click on the link above).

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 14.04.55

 

Deptford is Changing in the Lewisham Ledger

After the book Deptford is Changing was published, I was contacted by Lewisham Ledger journalist Anviksha Patel for an interview about my motivations for the book. The interview took place in February but was only published this week due to lockdown and the Coronavirus situation in general. See article below:

Screenshot 2021-07-07 at 12.00.59

This August/September 2020 issue of the Lewisham Ledger is stocked in many places in south-east London, including these local places: The Moonshot Centre, Isla Ray, Deptford Does Art, The Greenhouse, The Royal Albert, The Bird’s Nest, Art Hub Studios, Hop Burns & Black, Little Nan’s, Taproom, Job Centre and The Word Bookshop (the book is available there for £20). For a full list of stockists, click here. Look out for this front cover:

Lewisham Ledger Blog photo 2

Deptford is Changing is with Deptford Cinema

Before Lockdown I was in conversation with Deptford Cinema Film and Book Club to organise a film screening followed by a discussion of the book Deptford is Changing. We had arranged to combine the book with the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco as the story of the main character fits very well with some of the personal stories in the book. For those who don’t know the film, it is a moving portrait of a young black man who is living with a friend and longs to move back into his childhood home. The film speaks a lot about the connection we have with home and how important rootedness and a sense of belonging are. With Covid-19 making film and book nights in the cinema impossible, Deptford Cinema decided to launch a podcast series and I was invited to discuss the book and the film via Zoom with Caroline Jupp, one of the volunteers at the Cinema. This was followed by a discussion about the film by Tashi and Ben, also volunteers at Deptford Cinema. The whole podcast can be listened to here: http://deptfordcinema.org/podcast-episodes/ep4

186A5070Photo: Deptford Cinema / Adriana Kytkova

“I think it’s going to be turned into a block of flats”

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[1], 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.”

P7040003

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.”

“Apartments”

“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.

[1] Deptford Folk: the park user group for Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens in Deptford SE8

 

 

Deptford is Changing at Lewisham Libraries

Lewisham Libraries are making reading material available in different and creative ways for their library users during lockdown, including the reading of stories and texts in books stocked in their libraries. Last week, they chose a story from Deptford is Changing and made this wonderful video of it (see below). It’s Garry Lengthorn’s Story. 

I was also very happy to read the text they’d written on their Facebook page. See screenshot below:

Screenshot 2020-05-12 at 20.48.08

For more information, please check out their Facebook page:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/LewishamLibraries/

Featured

Deptford is Changing book

_T1A7076Photo: Petra Rainer

Deptford is Changing: a creative exploration of the impact of gentrification is available in book form.

Through the financial support of CHASE – the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England – which part-funded the printing of this book, each participant received a free copy. I was also able to distribute the book for free to local community groups and spaces, libraries, some residents on low income, and campaign groups.

The book can be read (and sometimes borrowed) in the following local places: New Cross Learning, Pepys Resource Centre, Deptford Lounge,  Lewisham Library, West Greenwich Library, Evelyn Community CentreArmada Community Hall, 2nd Deptford Scouts Hall, El Cheapou (77A Deptford High Street). The book is also stocked at the libraries of Goldsmiths, London College of Communication at Elephant & Castle, Central St Martin at King’s Cross and Chelsea Art College.

The book can also be read online for free: tinyurl.com/deptfordischanging

The book is for sale for £20 at The Word Bookshop on 314 New Cross Road. There is also a reduced price of £15 for project participants (after receiving their free copy), people on lower incomes and campaigners. To receive a discounted copy, please contact me directly. I’m happy to deliver personally within Deptford/New Cross/Greenwich or send copies for £4 each within the UK. In order to be able to offer discounted copies, the price for organisations and institutions is £25. Proceeds from book sales are donated to local initiatives which are supporting local residents impacted by current housing policy and austerity measures, and are contributing to the costs of a planned reprint.

If you have any questions, please contact me directly: Anita.Strasser@gold.ac.uk

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.