“We want to open Deptford Town Hall to local people”

In May 2019 me and Jacquie from the Achilles Street Campaign visited the people involved in the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action group – mostly Goldsmiths students who are currently occupying Deptford Town Hall. Today marks their 100th day of action to tackle institutional racism in academia and highlight Goldsmith’s role in the gentrification of New Cross. A statement by the group can be found at the bottom of this blog post. For further information please see their Twitter and Facebook pages and the Guardian article published today.

The students were keen to know about the planned regeneration proposals for Achilles Street and the surrounding streets, and we were keen to know how young people, aged 18 – 26, experience and respond to gentrification, so we organised a joint workshop.

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We started off with Jacquie providing information about the Achilles Street Campaign, followed by me talking about the work I’ve been doing, recording the stories of the residents and shopkeepers affected by the proposed redevelopment scheme. The students expressed many concerns regarding the exact difference between social and council housing and whether local residents understand this, the oft-broken promises of social housing figures, and the impact gentrification is having on local communities. Despite all the promises of community involvement and community consultation, the students can’t see how the gentrification of areas is including and benefitting local communities at all. Above all, the students have huge concerns about the involvement of Goldsmiths in all of this and the role of universities in gentrification processes in general.

One student commented: “Goldsmiths, like other universities, got rid of the of student numbers cap, meaning that in order to break even they have to let more and more students into the area but that also means they need to take up more space. So although they are definitely culpable in some ways, it’s a systemic problem of higher education in the UK. And with Goldsmiths being an arts college, it finds itself swallowed up in culture-led regeneration, using the arts to gentrify a place. That wasn’t always the case but it’s hard to break away from that today because all these notions of culture and creativity are so swept up in these processes.”

Students already find it difficult to be able to afford the very expensive student accommodation and with Dean House (which has lower rents as it belongs to Goldsmiths) under threat of demolition, they are worried they won’t be able to afford the more expensive student dorms. At the same time, they are worried about playing a part in the ‘studentification’ of New Cross – redeveloping an area (housing, eateries, clubs, etc.) for the increasing student population, alienating existing communities. An interesting report about this process can be read here: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/dec/06/down-with-studentification-how-cities-fought-for-their-right-not-to-party

The students also feel that gentrification is not only social cleansing but also ethnic cleansing. Although unfortunately this wasn’t discussed during the workshop, it is clearly highlighted on the mapping exercise (image on left below). But it is really quite simple: with a large proportion of London’s BME population living in social housing located in working-class areas to be regenerated, such as New Cross, gentrification is a class and a race issue (Lewisham has one of the highest percentages of residents of black and minority ethnic heritage and ranks as one of the most deprived areas in London and England)[1]. For further reading, please see Jessica Perera’s recent report on the interconnectedness of race and housing (and policing) and how multi-cultural working-class areas are being eroded (Perera, 2019).[2] Another issue students are really concerned about is pollution. Again, no surprises there considering the frequent reports about the high pollution levels in the area and the world in general. And Lewisham is one of the worst-faring boroughs with regards to pollution levels. Read more here.

What really emerged from the discussions was how anxious these students feel about their presence in New Cross, anxious about being complicit in gentrification by simply being a student. Because of their transience, which often comes with being a student in an area, they are feeling the local resentment towards them. At the same time, their transience isn’t always a choice and looks to continue as most areas are becoming unaffordable for them to live in. This is exemplified by one girl who cannot afford to live in the area where she grew up – King’s Cross – and who won’t be able to continue living in New Cross after graduating. Her parents were involved in a housing campaign in King’s Cross and she has experienced the processes and impact of gentrification on local communities first hand. “Community and gentrification don’t seem compatible, with gentrification pushing local communities out of areas”, the student says. At the same time, the students feel powerless to do anything about it. Them moving out would certainly not solve the problem as others would just replace them. But as the group concludes: “We can be active though. We can try to actively resist being complicit in it. And other students need to become aware as well how their presence and actions are affecting local communities because they are not always aware of the gentrification taking place!” And indeed, this group requested this workshop in order to learn about the proposed Achilles Street redevelopment scheme and to see how they could get involved in the campaign.

Photo on the right by Simana Gurung, 2019.

What is interesting is that the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action group are occupying Deptford Town Hall, which, as far as we know, was restored with regeneration money (Deptford City Challenge) to keep it open to the local community but which was handed to Goldsmiths in 1998. “We want to open the town hall to local people. We’ve had birthday parties, baby showers and all sorts of events here, so please let local residents know that if they want to use it for anything to get in touch with us!” They can be contacted on their Twitter and Facebook pages. At the same time, the students are concerned about what the town hall represents – close associations with Britain’s slave trade reflected in the figures celebrated on the front of this building. To the group, this is a physical manifestation of the racism that exists in the college. An interesting article about the history of the town hall and what its ornaments represent was written by the late Paul Hendrich and can be read here.

The students are aware that occupying a university is one thing but that fighting against unjust gentrification processes is another. They feel there needs to be a change in ideology, in political thinking to bring about real change. Whether that’s going to happen remains to be seen. Their positive energy and determination to effect change is a good start.

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[1] https://www.valewisham.org.uk/lewisham-facts-and-figures

[2] Perera, J. (2019) The London Clearances: Race, Housing and Policing. London: Institute of Race Relations

Statement by the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action Group:

We, concerned students of Goldsmiths, have occupied Deptford Town Hall, a campus building, following innumerable instances of interpersonal and institutional racism and a lacklustre response by the institution. This movement was sparked when a student who was running for a position in the Students’ Union Election campaign was subject to racist abuse and harassment. This incident not only represents the bleak reality of racism that people of colour face even in supposedly liberal and tolerant academic spaces, but also the university’s own disappointing response reflects the fact that this institution does not take racism seriously and that this occupation is a last resort to address that. Our goal for Goldsmiths is to follow through with an institution-wide strategic plan on how the university will tackle racism and the realities of life as a BME student at Goldsmiths. We will stay in occupation until all the demands are met, which include concrete plans to address the gentrification that Goldsmiths as an institution is complicit in and exacerbates towards the local, diverse and majority-Black community. The building we have occupied, Deptford Town Hall, holds huge poignancy as itself carries with it the grotesque legacy of slavery and colonialism with statues of slave owners and imperial masters looking down onto an ethnically diverse locality. New Cross itself jostles between beloved ethnic food shops steadily being priced out by another coffee shop, Goldsmiths property or unaffordable housing. The council chamber we hold most of our living and events in, an ostentatiously decorated room, is ironically enough, where the trials of conscientious objectors of war were held. Now it has been radically transformed into a space for learning, collective care and nurturing a truly anti-racist community. We have hosted a number of teach-ins, screenings and workshops on a multitude of topics including prison abolitionism, zine-making for Apartheid Week, Kashmir, colonial imagery and decolonisation. The response from the university has been an ordeal in and of itself, from locking students in with fire exits bolted shut and unmanned, turning heating and WiFi off and sending threatening letters all the while ignoring the clear manifesto of demands. Nevertheless, we have persisted and will continue to do so for as long as needed. What fuels us is the support and solidarity we get from those who share our concerns and vision, from international students who have been silenced and isolated for so long to groups sharing our aims of racial justice and liberation working to create the same future.

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How do 11-year-olds understand the regeneration of Deptford?

In summer 2018 I did workshops with year 6 pupils from Sir Francis Drake Primary School and Grinling Gibbons Primary School. Both workshops were held at and organised with the help of the wonderful team at Deptford Lounge. Pupils had already discussed the idea of regeneration with their teachers in school and were therefore prepared for this workshop that would go into more detail.

The first workshop involved 12 pupils from Sir Francis Drake Primary School, and the first question I asked them was what they could tell me about the regeneration of Deptford. Their responses were that Deptford is changing with more and more blocks of flats being built and with more and more people coming to Deptford. I then asked pupils to draw the building they are living in, place the drawings on a giant map of Deptford and talk about what they liked and disliked about living there. It emerged that most pupils from that group live in flats and that they appreciate having space, a park or green space nearby and living close to friends. What reduces their sense of well-being were not having space for themselves, all kinds of noise they can’t escape, particularly at night, rubbish lying around and strangers hanging around near their homes. There was one child in particular, whose housing situation was so bad with terrible overcrowding, leaks, noise, ill health and crime, that they could not think of anything positive to say. Another child, who was in temporary accommodation outside of Deptford, commented that the long commute to school with 2-3 buses made them feel exhausted and that they would love to be able to live nearer the school.

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The second task was to build a Lego model that reflects the changing face of Deptford. I deliberately gave them a vague brief to see what they would come up with. Some may have built predictable models (e.g. police station) or models of things they’d like to have for personal reasons (e.g. skatepark), but the after-discussions showed some interesting insights into how the pupils perceive what is happening. Here are some of the things they came up with.

Play areas and green spaces: they commented that there aren’t enough green spaces in Deptford where children can get away from the noise of the streets. They also thought that Deptford needs more trees to absorb the pollution, which they say is a problem. One child also commented that more “animal play areas” are needed. “There are more people now and they might want more pets, but lots of parks have ‘no dogs allowed’ unless they’re guide dogs so there are not enough places where dogs can run around and get fresh air.”

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A bank, an IKEA and a hospital: this is to address the amount of new people coming into the area who need to put their money somewhere, need to buy furniture to furnish their new homes, and will also need a hospital some time. I found these comments interesting as children were basically saying that there aren’t enough facilities in the area to cater for all the people moving in. Flats are being built, people are lured into the area but there isn’t enough infrastructure and amenities to cope with the increase in population.

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Finally, one child wanted a corner shop on Grove Street as there was nowhere in that area to get any sweets. I then asked them what they’d learnt from this workshop, and here are some of their comments:

The second workshop involved 9 pupils from Grinling Gibbons Primary School, and I also asked them first what they could tell me about Deptford’s regeneration. They responded with similar things such as Deptford’s growing population, more traffic and pollution, the modernisation of old buildings and the construction of a lot of new buildings, the loss of green spaces, posher and bigger shops. However, an interesting discussion ensued.  Whereas one girl felt that Deptford was becoming safer with fewer crimes committed, another child, who’d recently had to witness a stabbing outside his house, said that too many young people have knives and commit crimes, and that he feels scared when coming home from school. It saddened me to hear a young child talking about this; it was clear that he won’t be forgetting this experience.

I asked the children to mark on the map where they live and it turned out that most live near their school. I asked them whether they thought a lot has changed in the area. One child commented: “Convoy’s Wharf is going to bring a lot of change. They are building new flats everywhere and they are increasing the population, but they end up killing the trees because I heard from my friend that they were gonna build flats near this park [Sayes Court Gardens].”

I then asked them to build models that reflect the changing face of Deptford and place them on the map. Interestingly, most models were placed by the river and close to the Pepys Estate. Here are some of the models they built and their explanations:

“I built a park inside Fordham Park to say ‘don’t build on it anymore’.”

“I put the police and a group of people on the Pepys Estate to try and reduce the amount of stabbings and killings.”

“I put a car and a truck on Evelyn Street, close to the Pepys Estate. This was to show that there is too much traffic and too much noise from all the cars and trucks in that area.”

Because of their negative responses, I asked them to build another model of something that would make Deptford a better place. Once again, the models expressed continued concern about crime, safety and pollution, with more models representing police and green spaces. The most sophisticated model, in terms of physical and metaphorical parts, was the joint model made by two girls who explained it like this: “We think there should be more police around to put everything harmful down, so here is the police and in this part, the people put their weapons down and become friends right there. And here, there is a person who is friendly to a person who doesn’t look like them. And over here, this is to show there should be more green spaces.” They called their model ‘the harmony model’ (images below).

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I was very moved by that model and explanation by two young local girls who demonstrated acute awareness of the issues facing society. Their model was very much about the need for peace and harmony, and looking after the environment.

“It literally was a case of ‘Save The Waiting Room’ as we had been on the verge of closing for good.”

This post was written with Alec Snelling & Kevin Greenham from the Waiting Room, a vegan café on 134 Deptford High Street.

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When the Waiting Room announced its relocation in spring 2018, they did it with a Kickstarter campaign to raise £12,500 to help them cover the relocation costs. They’d been in the tiny premises of 142 Deptford High Street for 7 years, experiencing difficult working conditions (mainly heat and lack of space), leaks and structural issues, and difficulties with the landlord. They had seriously considered packing it in but when Nightingale Pharmacy moved to the former HSBC building and offered the premises at 134 Deptford High Street for a reasonable price, the guys at the Waiting Room saw an opportunity to move to bigger and better premises, only 3 doors down from their former shop. This was important as the Waiting Room isn’t just a coffee shop but is part of the community on this bit of the High Street with close connections to Kids Love Ink, Rag ‘n Bone and SWAG CITY. However, they could not afford the move without financial help which is why they started the Kickstarter campaign. The link to the campaign was shared all over social media and their plight even made it into Time Out Magazine, and within no time, they raised more than they had asked for. Information about the campaign spread like wildfire, with locals very keen to save the much-loved Waiting Room. Interestingly, when the link to the campaign was shared on Facebook, I noticed one comment: “Why don’t they just take out a bank loan?” one woman asked. Little did she know about the Waiting Room, its origins and the people who run it. Alec and Kevin were aware that the history of the Waiting Room wasn’t commonly known when they wrote on top of the campaign page: “Many of our hardcore regulars don’t even know the history of how the Waiting Room came to be in existence.” They tell the story of what happened:

“Back in November 2010 we found ourselves with the keys to a fully stocked Off Licence. We had been looking for someone to take over the lease of what had been Kids Love Ink Tattoo Studio, which moved to bigger premises next door. The Newsagent, which used to be located at the old station building, was happy to take over the lease but shortly after they had set up and stocked the place, they decided at the final hour before signing that they didn’t want to commit. The guy handed us back the keys and waved goodbye. The shop was fully kitted out with racks on the walls full of sweets and household stuff and fridges full of beers. They took the cigarettes and high-end liquor but left all the other booze behind. It was crazy.

First a Tattoo Studio, then a fully stocked Off Licence, and finally the cafe. Photos: Courtesy of the Waiting Room

We had a choice. We either had to try and find someone else to take over the lease or do something ourselves with the space. After much deliberating and looking at what the High Street was lacking, we realised it desperately needed a place that served good coffee and a veggie/vegan menu so we decided to set up just that. Vegan food was not really in the public conscience then as it is now and after some research, we’re pretty sure we were one of the first vegan place in south-east London.”

Neither of them had ever served coffee or food before – Kevin was working as an assistant in operating theatres handing surgical instruments to surgeons, and Alec was the piercer in Kids Love Ink next door. But something had to be done – they couldn’t afford to pay the rent and as leaving the shop empty and not paying rent would have meant going to court, they decided to give a coffee shop a go. Both left their previous jobs and got lots of advice and training on how to make good coffee. They simply took the plunge. But first, they had to get rid of all the booze and make the shop fit for purpose. They explain how they did this:

“We had no money at all! Doing everything by ourselves was the only way to go. So we set about selling everything in the shop… and I mean EVERYTHING! Local hero Terry took the home goods, chocolates, crisps and what else he could sell. At Kids Love Ink we hosted an exhibition by Fos, founder of Heroin Skateboards and New Cross skating legend, where we offloaded most of the booze; the remainder of which went to a local punk venue in Battersea. Even the long gone Shital’s Off Licence took all the racking from the walls. The only money we had was the money we gained from selling the stuff.

Photos: Courtesy of the Waiting Room

After many long, tiresome days but few short weeks of renovations, the Waiting Room began to shape. Using near entire back catalogues of Scorpions, Rush, Iron Maiden and AC/DC as our musical motivation we got pallets from Resolution Way, stripped them down and used them for the counter, found paint and all sorts from Freecycle, and travelled to Southend for a sofa. At one point we had 2 sofas in the coffee shop but we soon ran out of space and replaced them with tables and chairs. For next to nothing we were lucky to get our hands on our first grinder and Espresso machine, our trusty old Rancillio Epoca. Much like your first car, it was terrible but you loved it unconditionally. We still can’t express enough thanks for the help that Camilla from Union Hand Roasted gave us from way before day 1; the training and support, helping us through choosing coffees and giving a serious MOT to the Rancillio. Splinters, blood, sweat and many beers, on April 1st 2011 we opened the doors, where we held a benefit for those who suffered and lost their lives in the 2011 Tsunami.”

Photos: Courtesy of the Waiting Room

The Waiting Room was well received from the outset, with many locals happy it wasn’t another bookie, but it was very quiet to start with. Alec recently found old till receipts, a reminder that on some days they made approximately £25. Some days it was so quiet, Kevin and Alec would watch a whole film at the back before another customer came in. The first time they made around £100 on a Saturday they felt ecstatic – they couldn’t believe it. Humble beginnings indeed. Actually, it could have all gone terribly wrong and it took some time to build up a customer base, but local artists, mainly from Utrophia, local squatters and property guardians soon became their regular customers. Kevin and Alec were working non-stop, 8am starts, 7pm finishes, 6 days a week then falling asleep over pints at the Birds Nest. Although friends came in to help out every now and then, in the end they needed a third person just to give them a day off. As time went on and it got busier, they started to take on more staff. “The list is long but for a coffee shop in London, the staff turnover is small and all members have been awesome (and mostly from Laban). It was these people who truly made the Waiting Room what it was and what it still is today.”

According to Kevin and Alec, Deptford has changed a lot since they set up in 2011. “Anyone who knows Deptford now no doubt heard about how much it’s changed from its shady past, but even back in 2011, it was a completely different place to what it is now. This is not to say that we don’t like the new changes – no-one wants to walk around a place that’s falling apart. We like the mix of the old and the new and there is still enough of the old that we still want to be here. We still love Deptford, it’s a great place to be and as long as this is the case, we’re happy to be here. But there is no denying that some things have changed. When we set up in 2011, there were lots of places with cheap rent, artist studios or buildings with property guardians, so there were a lot of skint artists and musicians around because it was still a very cheap place to live. A lot of them have gone now and there’s definitely a different clientele with all the new developments around – people with a bit more money and less time, and some people with that kind of busy lifestyle, who come in with a level of arrogance and expect a certain service they have grown accustomed to elsewhere. But we also get a lot of locals now who’ve lived here ages and probably wouldn’t have come into a place like this, people from housing estates, the Bird’s Nest or like the Millwall supporter who came in today and said: ‘It took me a while to take to your place and you guys but now I love it!’ A coffee shop with vegan food and bar staff tattooed all over is just not part of their lives, but over time, people starting coming in.”

How much local people have grown to love the Waiting Room became clear during the Kickstarter Campaign. Over the last 7 years, the people working at the Waiting Room have become an integral part of the community. As Alec says: “Deptford is our home, especially the High Street, and we were desperate to stay. It really would be a shame and break our hearts if the Waiting Room were to close. We really care about our community and there’s also a wonderful community among shopkeepers here.” Being a business owner, Alec is clear that he likes to see change in Deptford, that he is keen to see new people coming into the area as it’s good for his own business too but he’s also clear that it’s important to care for the area and the local community and that it’s important for businesses to integrate and communicate with others. “It’s important to show respect to each other and respect the local character of an area!” He is especially critical of big developers with big money who show little respect for the character of an area. An example of this is when Deptford Market Yard painted over the Lipton Ice Tea sign that had been there for decades. “At what point would anyone look at that and think ‘that’s a really annoying sign that’s been here for over a hundred years, we’re gonna put a massive thing over it to advertise our shops’? How they got planning permission for that I don’t know. It was just treated with no respect at all.”

DSC_0295Small individual businesses clearly have to save long and hard just to be able to do any renovation work and it is hard to keep up with big corporations that can pay huge rent prices. An all too common occurrence these days, the landlord of 142 Deptford High Street was not looking to renew the lease so he could develop the property and probably charge much higher rent in the future, Alec and Kevin tell me. Issues began when recurring leaks, unfixed damage and an uncooperative landlord, were making it difficult to run the coffee shop, causing frustration for the staff and customers. By 2017, they had been working without a new lease agreement for a year, risking the danger of being kicked out any time. The Airbnb run upstairs called Greenwich Park Apartments (the irony!), which was full of mould, some mice and dodgy plumbing that couldn’t deal with the constant stream of people, added to the frustrations. The lack of space also made it difficult for the staff to do their work – when more than 2 staff members were on, they were in each other’s way, the heat in the summer was unbearable, food and cups had to be stored in the tattoo shop for lack of storage space, and any time work needed to be done, the shop had to be shut, losing business. They had wanted to move for a while but couldn’t find suitable or affordable premises until 134 Deptford High Street suddenly came up. Kevin jokingly says that at some point they considered, not seriously, the empty flower shop next to the Funeral Parlour, calling the place ‘Coffee Mourning’. “I don’t think that would have gone down too well”, he laughs. “Then the people from the pharmacy just came in one day and said: ‘We’re moving, do you want to take over our premises?’ We went there, had a look and just grabbed the opportunity straight away. The fact that it’s just 3 doors down was a huge bonus as we didn’t feel we’d have to start all over again. Being anywhere else on the High Street wouldn’t feel the same. The imminent move took us by surprise though. We have had no way of saving up for this eventuality! Financially, we weren’t doing great – we managed to pay all bills and wages but that was it, so it literally was a case of ‘Save The Waiting Room’ as we had been on the verge of closing for good.”

After raising more than £15,500 and doing lots of work on the new coffee shop, they moved in autumn 2018. “The new landlords are incredibly helpful and kind – they seem to understand what we’re about – and the move was smooth.” The idea is to keep the original ‘image’ of the Waiting Room just in a larger form, and as in the premises before, the look and wall decoration will change all the time for a while, until they are settled in properly. They were excited at the prospect of having more space – more space for staff to move about, more space for cooking and preparing drinks and more space for customers. “Customers will hopefully be able to stay rather than having to go somewhere else because there is no space”, Kevin said when I interviewed them in summer 2018. In the meantime, with the Waiting Room being so popular, it has become difficult again to get a seat but having recently created a seating area in the back garden, this ‘problem’ should be solved.

Pepys Resource Centre: an inclusive community space open to all

 

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I remember walking past Pepys Resource Centre many times, always standing in front of the locked doors wondering why this interesting-looking library was closed. And then, in October 2017, it suddenly came to life with regular opening times and people coming in and out. Today, the library is open every day (Mo – Fri) with activities throughout the week: English lessons for Syrian refugees twice a week, arts and crafts, reading, cinema and popcorn and outdoor activities for children, free Pilates classes on Tuesdays, a befriending club for the elderly on Wednesdays with quizzes, singing and other activities, and WE Women Circle on Fridays, where women share their talents and skills such as cooking, arts and crafts, dancing and other activities. WE Women – Women Empowering Women is the group that runs the library that volunteer every day of the week to keep the library open, to organise activities and to cook lunch every day, lunch that is eaten in the library space together with people that happen to be there (images below and above).

The building that houses the library is owned by Hyde (Housing Association) and is leased by Eco communities. Before the library was re-opened, it was used mostly as storage space, open to the public just 16 hours a week. Then members of WE Women, which was set up in March 2017, approached the leaseholder saying that they wanted to transform the space into a community space. Since October 2017, WE Women have been working hard to provide an inclusive community space open to all. Not long after opening, I met Luciana Duailibe and Joyce Jacca, the two women who volunteer at the library every day, running the day-to-day activities, cooking lunch and helping people to access the library. We have had many stimulating conversations over the months, in the library and at events in other places. In summer 2018, I had a long conversation with Luciana, about the library, her vision of the world and the work that she is engaged in. This is what she told me:

“I moved to Deptford 14 years ago and have stayed ever since. What I love most about Deptford is its diversity. When an area is diverse it is so rich because diversity creates opportunities, opportunities to learn and flourish. Some people are scared of diversity because they fear difference, they are so wrapped up inside of themselves that they forget about others, but for me, it’s the opposite. I love difference because it’s not me so I see it as an opportunity to expand myself, to learn and to transcend my own self. Deptford is a place where the world meets and so it has a lot of opportunities. My daughter for example, she always used to play with a Chinese boy and I used to ask him: ‘How do you say Good Morning in Chinese? How do you say How are you?’ And then my daughter started learning Mandarin when she was in Secondary School. Deptford for me means opportunities to learn, to become more sociable, and to be more tolerant. Many people are not even aware of all the opportunities out there because generally, our society is so rooted in prejudice; people don’t share, don’t collaborate, don’t cooperate. I think we are ONE in this whole world, we are ONE people, ONE human race, we are humans living in this world and we should get together and make the most of it. This is why I’m involved in lots of community projects; this is why I’m here all the time, opening the library, sharing this community space and helping people to get involved. The library is open for meetings, we exchange books, time, and talent. For example, there is a lady, a Flamenco dancer, and she rehearses here on Tuesdays, using the space for free. As an exchange she gives free Pilates classes. So it’s this kind of exchange!”

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Luciana’s nickname is Tinhanha. It’s a nickname she’s had since the age of 13 and was given to her by her cousin, who instead of calling her auntie Luciana, came out with Tinhanha. This nickname was to define Luciana’s future path as Tinhanha in Tupi-Guarani, the primitive Brazilian language, means exchange. “My whole life has been based on exchange, on giving and receiving, on sharing. I have a lot to give and a lot to learn, which is why I’m involved with so many activities to make our community a better place.” Indeed, Luciana not only volunteers at the library every day where she helps run the centre, she is also treasurer of Deptford Neighbourhood Action Group (DNA), a member of Voice4Deptford, treasurer of Kender Primary School where she raises money for school events and equipment, helps out at school events and acts as playmate for the children to help teachers. As well as this, she is Chair of Co-oPepys Community Arts Project, a charity that focuses on arts for mental health and well-being and where artists can access truly affordable studios. Luciana has been involved with Co-oPepys for more than 11 years and tells me of her remarkable journey: “When I first came here, I couldn’t speak any English but I didn’t want to go to English classes doing boring grammar exercises. Instead, I made handmade toys for local children and took them to places like Sure Start and 2000 Community Centre. Word got out about ‘the lovely things I was making’ and eventually I met Joyce, who was organising a carnival here on the estate. She loved what I was doing and introduced me to a friend so that we could do workshops together for children during the carnival. And that’s how I met Dalva, who was involved in Co-oPepys and in the carnival preparations we did there. I became a member and together with Dalva, who sadly passed away four years ago, we managed to clear the debt Co-oPepys had accumulated, got funding and got the place back on track. This encounter between Dalva and me changed both our lives as we both got heavily involved with communities in our local area.”

Sadly, Co-oPepys is under threat and Luciana is trying very hard to keep it open. Unsurprisingly, the council want to transform the space into flats. They had already received a one-month’s eviction notice on the pretence that the space lacked fire safety, but Luciana managed to fight against this. “They used fire risk – basically the tragedy of Grenfell – to get us out. They told me that if a fire happened, as manager of the space, it would be my responsibility. This made me really angry because over all those years, I had reported leaks, dodgy electrics, a dangerous roof and many other things – all of which got ignored. How was it that they were suddenly concerned about fire when they left leaks and the dangers of electricity and water getting together for years? So I said that we weren’t going to move until we’ve found another similar space and that we need to work together on this. I proposed the ground floor of Aragon Tower, the promised part of Section 106 money (money for the community) that never materialised, but with no luck. We’re now in the process of negotiating and I hope we can find another space.”

Despite all the things Luciana is involved in and the fact that she has a family with 2 children, she is at Pepys library most days, always helping people with what they need. I have been to the Resource Centre on a few occasions and have shared many beautiful moments with Luciana, Joyce and others. The loving energy that is put into this community space and which comes off the group and the people they work with is heart-warming and contagious. Luciana is an educator, but not the kind of educator that likes to put fixed ideas into people’s heads. She’s not the kind that views education as indoctrination. For her, education is an exchange of ideas, where she learns with her pupils more than she teaches them. “I’m not the one that has all the answers. Everyone has a talent, a skill, something they are good at. If you give people a chance to share their skill, they can flourish. I’m trying to build on this idea that community is based on exchanging, on giving and receiving, on respecting, trusting and tolerating. At the same time, I’m learning how not to do things or how to do things differently. It’s hard to explain. Imagine we live in communities without money, where we all exchange our talents and skills, where we share and teach each other. This is the basis of this library.”

Luciana has a very simple vision for the world – for people to be happy. “People, communities, are what really matter in this world. It is not about the individual but about living together – there has to be balance between individual needs and the needs of the commune, and when this balance is right, we can feel happy. It’s about humanity and whilst humanity is inherently good, there is a shadow. I once did a performance about this dichotomy of good and bad, which I wrote about the Cherokee myth of the two wolves. In this piece, the granddad said to his children: ‘There are two wolves inside all of us. One is full of greed, anger and vanity and other negative emotions; the other is full of compassion, kindness, empathy – all the good emotions. The two wolves are fighting a battle and the one that will win is the one we feed’. So, if we feed ourselves with negative things, we will be full of bad energy but if we feed ourselves with kindness, compassion and all the things that are good for our soul, then we’ll be happy and others around us will be happy too. Therefore, we need to promote peace and love”.

I ask Luciana how her vision of the world relates to what is happening in Deptford. She thinks that the council and the government in general are feeding their bad wolves with greed, money and profit, creating very bad energy in the area. “For them, many people, particularly those on the bottom of the social ladder, are simply invisible in their drive for profit. Those people are invisible to them – these people have no voice, no choice, no rights, no opportunities to be listened to and to be seen. I think that if Tidemill Garden or Reginald House were in Telegraph Hill, Blackheath or in Brockley, where many wealthy people reside, the demolition of the garden and the house would never happen because people with money are also the people with power, and the council would listen to them. But poor people have no voice, they are nobodies in the eyes of the council. Instead of equality it is all about quality, meaning those with more money and power are seen to be higher quality beings and so their wishes and desires are given priority. There is a huge lack of empathy in this world, a huge lack of love for others who have less. We are not important for the government, we are nothing, we are disposable to them, and we don’t have the same rights. We don’t have the right to keep our green spaces, our community spaces, the right to the river, even the right to our homes or the choice to take part in decisions about our homes. Instead of socially cleansing areas, people should be given a voice in what happens here, opportunities to share their talent, to improve their skills, and to make them a valued part of the community. We should work with the idea of becoming one, that we are one in this world, and not enforce segregation. I think the Age of Aquarius will come but before we enter an era of love, I fear there’s going to be a really painful moment, a really hard time where the big bad wolf, the devil of the government, will win the battle. That’s why we started WE Women – not because we don’t care about men or think they have no sensibilities, or that we want all the power for women, but because we need to find a balance between masculine and feminine energy. At present, the power of men is still oppressive. A lot is about money, control and power and less about caring and sharing. This energy needs balancing out with the female energy of love. We don’t want to turn the table, but we want feminine energy to surface more so we can eat together on the same table; where we both prepare the table and eat together.”

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“Deptford’s poverty is not really visible on the surface”

With the recent news that the Evelyn 190 Centre will close its doors on 31st July 2019 as Lewisham Council will no longer be funding the centre, it is a timely moment to publish the story of the centre: how it came into being, how it operates and what it does, and above all, how essential its services are. If you want the centre to continue operating, please sign the petition.

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I recently spoke to Maureen Vitler, a local contemporary artist, member of the ministry group at St Nicholas Church in Deptford and member of the Management Committee for the Evelyn 190 Advice Centre – a community-based advice centre that offers assistance and advocacy to people who have difficulties with debt, housing, employment and welfare benefits. Maureen came to Deptford in 1967, when she trained as a teacher at the Rachel MacMillan School. Ever since then, she has been involved in looking after people in need and has become an invaluable member of the local community.  Through her involvement with the parish of St Nicholas and St Luke’s, Maureen and others such as Reverend Fr. Jack Lucas played an important role in setting up the Evelyn 190 Centre in 1979.

“It was set up as a community centre with just one community worker at the time”, Maureen tells me. “Initially, there were a boxing club and various other community groups, and we as a church supported them by giving them a building for use at much lower rent than they would have got anywhere else. This was part of our tithing – our giving to the community because we as a church wanted to help. Eventually, as more people were coming in asking for help, the community centre changed its role to an advice centre with more staff available to meet demand. There are so many people, even from our own congregation, that have needed the centre’s support because they can’t cope with the things that are put before them such as the difficulties when losing your job for example. So, this centre is really needed in the area and we have been growing all those years.”

When the community centre came into being in 1979, St Luke’s church (on 190 Evelyn Street) was divided into three sections: the front section as the worship area, the middle section for church halls and the back as the community centre. When the community centre was changed to the advice centre, an extra floor and stairs were put in to make more rooms for individual counselling or other similar situations. Sadly, due to the building now crumbling and having become too dangerous to occupy (and too expensive for the church to repair), the centre has been planning to move and is looking for premises.

Over the years, the management committee have managed to get funding from different bodies, and they also got a kitemark – a trusted symbol for safe and reliable services. Today, apart from small funds here and there, their main funder is Lewisham Council and over the last years, with councils suffering governmental budget cuts, the funding for the 190 Centre has been reduced at each round of funding (every 3 years), with a reduction of 25% in 2016. With fewer funds available and more demand as more and more people find themselves in difficulties, the centre and its staff find it harder and harder to do what they want to do: help people in need.

I ask Maureen about the sorts of things that people come for help and how the centre assists them. “Recently, there have been a lot of people on disability benefits that needed help. With the new regime and the introduction of Universal Credit, disabled people have had to go through a whole lot of new medicals and exams to see if they were still eligible for their benefits. Some of them were told they weren’t even though their disability hadn’t changed, and their benefits were stopped. As our centre has also offered advocacy and representation in court – not many do this as it’s very time-consuming – we went to court with them to challenge these decisions of not being eligible and some have won their court case. Or the staff might be seeing someone who’s in arrears with their rent and needs help to sort this out and also the debt they have accumulated. They get advice on how to pay their debt, how to get through to the council to get a reduction in council tax or rent and other things. There are a lot of hidden processes that a lot of people don’t know about and can’t sort out themselves.”

When I ask whether demand has increased in the last decade, Maureen agrees without hesitation. The last couple of years and the implementation of Universal Credit have put a particular strain on the centre, firstly because people don’t really understand how Universal Credit works, secondly because people’s benefits have been reduced, leaving less money to pay higher rents, and thirdly because a lot of people haven’t (yet) got the wherewithal to budget for a whole month due to having been paid weekly for years, resulting in people running out of money half way through the month and building up rent arrears and debt. As such, there have been more evictions and cases of homelessness. Another reason for the extra strain is the changes to the way the 190 Centre now delivers its services, dictated by Lewisham Council who introduced a centralised telephone hub with clients having to call first before they can speak to somebody face-to-face. The idea behind the hub was to make the system fairer by providing access for more people, but in actual fact it has put extra strain on staff and extra distress on service users, most of whom are already very vulnerable. Where in the past people could come straight into the centre getting immediate face-to-face attention – some immediate advice and an appointment, something which can provide immediate comfort in distressing situations – they now have to phone the Central Advice Line to make an appointment with either the Evelyn 190 Centre of other centres that offer similar services and are funded by Lewisham Council. This means they often have to wait 3 to 4 weeks before they actually get to speak to somebody face-to-face. Maureen explains:

“The staff now cannot give appointments at the 190 Centre as they used to – they have to send clients away and refer them to the Advice Line. They are also not allowed to give advice on the phone – they can only take clients’ details, assess their needs and make an appointment. This is an issue because we are dealing with very vulnerable people, some of whom are elderly, have mental health issues or have English as a second language. For them, having to make a phone call is really scary and they would really benefit from face-to-face contact. Our staff now have to spend at least 2 days a week just answering phone calls – time they used to be able to spend on actually helping people. Casework (e.g. going to court, preparing the materials for court, etc.) is extremely time-consuming and with the changing regulations and the number of cases on the increase, the staff are overwhelmed with the workload. On top of that, due to the funding cuts, we’ve had to cut a 5-day week to a 4-day week as we can’t afford to pay our staff for 5 days a week (and one member of staff had to go), leaving only 2 days a week to deal with casework. But this is exactly what clients need the most as they are unable to represent themselves; these are poorer people that haven’t got the wherewithal to do it themselves. And all the pending cuts to our centres and welfare benefits – it’s all interlinked. Life for poor people is becoming really difficult and if getting help is difficult too, then you can imagine the distress this is causing. Our staff, who really want to help the people calling up with an urgent issue, can only take their information, pass it on and make an appointment, which may not even take place with the same person they have dealt with before. And then there is all the online stuff which is another no-go area for a lot of older people, and those who do know how have to go to the library because they don’t have their own computers. All this is adding more stress to people who are already in difficult situations and our staff are under a lot of pressure; it’s difficult for them to not be able to help as much as they would like!”

Maureen thinks that the implementation of Universal Credit is also linked with increased demand for food banks, saying that a lot more people who could have managed themselves in the past are now using food banks. It’s endless with the poverty we have in the area and it all links up: poverty, education, food banks, housing…” I ask Maureen what she thinks the biggest problem is in Deptford. She says that Deptford’s poverty is not really visible on the surface. “We have all the new dapper buildings bought by foreign investors, who leave them empty or charge really high rents, so you don’t see the poverty. It’s only when someone tells you or you are in contact with people on the ground, when you get down to the nitty-gritty underneath that you see the poverty amongst some of the people. I think a big problem is that poor people lose any self-worth when they see all that wealth around them that isn’t for them and because they’ve got no self-worth they’ve got nothing to live for in a sense. In the past, even though people were poor money-wise when I first came here, they had a sense of ‘this is our place’ and a ‘we can do it’ attitude; that’s gone now amongst a lot of the people.  At the time, there weren’t any what you would call rich people – some had more than others and others were more poverty-stricken but on the whole, there weren’t any outrageously rich people. Now, even with the so-called affordable housing – where they’ve had to build it, it’s right on the edge, separated from the others, creating a visible class divide between those who can afford nice places and those that can’t. Sometimes it reminds me of India where the rich and the poor live side by side.”

DSC_0307Maureen standing in the labyrinth in St Nick’s churchyard. According to her, the meditative and spiritual nature of following the path in a labyrinth can help troubled souls see clarity.

Bringing the conversation back to the 190 Centre, I ask Maureen if she could tell me about a couple of cases that are paradigmatic of the kinds of issues that people approach the centre with. Maureen thinks for a moment before she tells me this: “I know a woman who has been on sickness benefits for a long time. She’s recently had an operation and now the DWP say she’s fit to work, so she’s been sent an e-mail asking her to fill in an online form to sign on and look for work. Now, she is reasonably computer-literate but it took her days to fill it in (as it would have taken me and I’m also reasonably literate) and then she had to go to Bellingham to sign on. We used to have a Job Centre in Deptford but that’s gone, then the one in Lewisham went as well and now people have to go to Bellingham. So, you’re out of work, you’ve got no money and yet you’re expected to get somewhere a long way away to sign on. It’s privileged people making decisions about what poorer people can and can’t do. For them it’s only a £3 return bus ticket but some people can’t afford that. We’re at a point in our society where we’re not taking people as whole human beings with individual circumstances; they’re just a number or a name. Another case was a young woman with her 4-year old child who had been evicted from their rented flat. She had been paying rent to a landlord who was subletting and not paying his rent, and so she was evicted in the end. The council couldn’t help her, at least not immediately, and so she was left on the streets with a child and nowhere to go. Our vicar housed them for a while until she found a place for the mother and child to rent.”

With demand constantly increasing, services provided by places like St Nicholas Church and the 190 Evelyn Centre are essential, providing a much-needed safety net from potential homelessness. However, with funding constantly decreasing, resulting in heightened anxiety levels every 3 years when a new funding bid is due that decides whether the centre can continue to exist, the poor will find it increasingly harder to get the help they need and deserve. For more information on the Evelyn 190 Centre, please visit: http://www.evelyn190centre.org.uk/ For more information on St Nicholas Church, please visit: https://www.stnicholaschurchdeptford.org/.

St Nicholas Church Yard, tended to by Maureen and others. 

 

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

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Last month I spoke with Ali, the business owner of Mez Mangal, a Turkish restaurant on 379 New Cross Road. When I came in, he was behind the counter preparing for lunch business. The food there is lovely and freshly prepared to order in the restaurant (For more information on the restaurant, please visit mezmangal.com or facebook.com/Mezmangal).  I’d met Ali a year earlier just after opening this new restaurant. At the time, he was full of hope, energy and enthusiasm. Last month I met a changed man: stressed, suffering from depression and without hope.

Ali once owned a café in Covent Garden and after a few years of doing jobs here and there, he wanted to own his own business again. He wanted to have a secure future for his wife and children and was happy to invest in this. He took over a 7-year lease on this council property just over a year ago, costing him £100,000. He then spent a fortune on refurbishing and decorating the beautiful and large restaurant, and as it takes time to create a customer base, he has also been without a wage for the past year. Sadly, business isn’t going well yet for Mez Mangal – Ali isn’t getting the number of customers he needs to earn a wage and he has recently had to take out a loan to pay some of the bills. He shows me his bank balance – he’s massively in debt. One might think this is a simple story of a new business not having taken off yet. However, there is more to it than that.

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Just over a year ago, when Ali was planning his hopeful future, other residents and shopkeepers already knew that there are plans to demolish 379 New Cross Road along with the other buildings on New Cross Parade and the shops on Clifton Rise, as well as the 4 council blocks on Achilles Street to redevelop the area. The Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign had already been launched to stop the redevelopment plans with information posted on their blog: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com. Please see planning proposal from 2016 here: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/05-11-16-achilles-street-consultation-boards-small-file-size.pdf

According to Ali, he wasn’t given any information about these plans when signing the lease. He even paid a solicitor to check whether the council had plans for demolition and redevelopment. Ali tells me he was told he could safely invest in 379 New Cross Road. He has since been made aware of the redevelopment plans by the Campaign group and is very worried about his future: “If I lose this business, I will lose everything! I have put my life into this business, I’m in huge debt and I have no idea what’s happening in the future!” Ali feels cheated: “Since I’ve been here, there has been no information from the council whatsoever. The only information I have is from the campaign group. This is wrong! I have put my children’s future into this business! In total, with the lease, the refurbishment and the loss of wages I have spent about £300,000, and that for a business that might be demolished some time I don’t know when. If the council want to give me £300,000 okay, I’ll go and start again. But who is going to compensate me for my stress? If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business!”

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Since Ali has found out about the uncertainty of his future, he has suffered badly from stress, depression and at times suicidal thoughts. He can’t concentrate on his work and has been unable to sleep because he is so worried about what’s going to happen. On top of that, his worry and stress over the last year have ended in divorce after 18 years of marriage. “I am losing everything. I have lost money, I have lost hope and now I have lost my family because they can’t cope with me being stressed all the time! What am I supposed to do – go and kill myself? I am not joking, I have thought about it. Who’s going to compensate me for all this? I feel cheated, without hope and without a future. I think I should take the council to court.”

Ali needs to know what’s going to happen so that he can move on with his life. He needs to know whether 379 New Cross Road will be demolished and, if so, when; he needs to know whether the council will compensate him financially and, if so, how much; he needs to know whether there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel so that he might have hope again. In the planning proposal (link above), the council has said that in previous consultations, business owners requested more information and time scales. The council also said that feedback is extremely important to them. So why, then, hasn’t Ali had any information from the council in the last year and a half about the plans to demolish his business? The council also promises to “provide financial and practical assistance to all affected businesses” (in planning proposal 2016, link above) but will they pay off the debt Ali has accumulated due to not being told about these plans? And as he says, how can he ever be compensated for the stress and personal upheaval he has suffered? And the final question that needs answering, if all this information was already available in November 2016, why wasn’t Ali informed about this when signing the lease in 2017, when investing his whole life into this business?

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“It scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London”

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Charlie Baxter has lived in Deptford for the past 10 years and in that time, she has got so involved in the local community that it is now difficult to imagine Deptford without her. Charlie volunteers as a Scout Leader at 2nd Deptford, the local Scouts Hall, she volunteers and is trustee at the Sir John Evelyn Trust, a charity which looks after the elderly, and she volunteers at Tidemill School, reading with the children and acting as a parent governor. Charlie also has two jobs: she is Fun and Wellbeing Leader at Tidemill School and runs her own business – Baxter Party Services – organising family events in the local area such as the annual Summer Festival at the Armada Hall, Halloween Party at the Scouts Hall and more recently a Christmas and New Year’s Eve party in the same place, the Stay & Play Group, a toddlers’ play group once a week at the Armada and privately booked parties (see images below). Charlie also has a family with 5 children, some of whom are Scouts and attend local schools. Although Charlie does so much for local families, she doesn’t think of herself as doing anything special. “Being in touch with local families and having my fingers in all those pies is also good for my own benefit as it gives me links for my own business. Also, my kids are the next generation living in Deptford and I want them to grow up in a safe area so if there’s anything I can do to improve it I will. So, my voluntary work is not just out of the greatness of my heart, it is for a purpose as well!”

Charlie used to be a community worker and tells me a bit about the kind of work she used to do: “I used to work for Lady, so, for example, if a family came to the Children centre or the Nursery and said ‘I need help with housing, I’ve got damp up my walls’, we would speak to a housing officer, get medical reports and try to get the problem fixed. Another common issue we would deal with were women in abusive relationships that had run away from home and needed help with rebuilding their lives. There used to be this phenomenal course on offer, a Discover-Me-Course that was funded by the Children’s Centre and cost £6,000 and you would witness the transformation of these broken women who couldn’t cope with the most basic things in life into confident, independent women. The course was all about knowing yourself again, learning how to get out of bed in the morning and back to bed at night without fear; basically, how to have a normal life again, how to go back to work, how to get their shopping and whatever else they needed. It was amazing to see the journey they went through. All this has stopped now, the funding is gone, advice centres have closed due to funding cuts and women and families are left to fend for themselves, meaning women can’t escape abusive relationships and many families live in unhealthy conditions for years.”

Despite Charlie being incredibly well connected, she wouldn’t know where to send women now if they came to her saying, ‘I’m being beaten up by my husband, I don’t know what to do’. According to Charlie, there is no more community worker at the Children’s Centre at McMillan nursery, there is no-one anymore Charlie could ask for advice on this, and as far as she knows, there is no-one doing home visits anymore to try and help these women. The only nursery with a community worker Charlie is aware of in Greenwich is Quaggy, but as Charlie comments, “if you’re suffering from domestic violence, you’re not going to go far from your house. The fact that you’ve come out of your house is a miracle in itself, so having to go somewhere else is out of the question for many. I just don’t understand why they’ve taken away community workers: you’ve got a nursery full of families, you got a Children’s centre, why not have a community worker that can help with common problems? It’s a real shame!”

Charlie tells the story of a lady who recently went to a family liaison officer at a school, asking for help with being rehoused. “Her house is covered in damp from top to bottom so that it almost looks like it’s the wallpaper. Her baby, who is sleeping in the living room as the damp in the bedroom is worse, has asthma, coughs all the time and has chronic throat infection because of the damp, and yet no-one is able to help her. She’s been to the doctor several times, spoke to housing, spoke to the family liaison officer but no-one is behind her saying “No, this is not acceptable!” She’s been fighting this for 2 years and it looks like she’s not getting anywhere. It’s shocking!”

On top of all that, Charlie says there is another problem – the stigma of being poor particularly for single mothers, who are often perceived and represented as being dumb and as benefit scroungers. Charlie argues that jobs for mums, jobs that happen at a time when the child is in school and that offer 16 hours a week such as a dinner lady or cleaner, are scarce and childcare is too expensive to take on a job during school hours. “If you’re a single parent with young children and need to pay for childcare because you’re working, you need to earn £30,000 a year, if not £40,000 now, to be able to afford that. Childcare is expensive and there is no way on earth some of the women in this area would be able to afford it. And even if they were to work full-time, with housing benefit, income support and council tax taken off, they would never be able to support themselves with the little they get paid!” Charlie herself knows what it’s like not being able to afford to work as once she had to turn down a job at a school, a job she really wanted, because it would have left her worse off than on income support, a cut she couldn’t afford. Now, with her children being older, she has two jobs to support herself and her family.

When I ask Charlie about Deptford, how she perceives the area and what she thinks of the changes happening, she expresses concern about crime in the area, particularly on her road where a centre for young ex-offenders is located and where incidents and patrols are frequent. She is particularly worried about knife crime and the safety of her children, particularly her boys. “The amount of times I’ve turned on the news in the morning and a lad down the road has been stabbed and killed, or there’s been a fight and someone’s in hospital, and all my friends on Facebook go ‘Oh my God that’s So and So’s boy’. I really don’t want to be that mum who receives that phone call. I’ve got 2 girls and 3 boys, and it scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London. So, if I can influence the area in any way, I’ll do that. My children are the next generation and I don’t want them on the streets in gangs and with knives, that’s why I try to get young kids involved in the Scouts group, to get them off the streets. We really need an evening club for 16 – 20-year-olds, a safe place for them to go and hang out, but there is nothing!”

DSC_0721Charlie with some of her team at the local Scout Hall

In terms of the regeneration of Deptford itself, Charlie is all for bringing money and businesses into the area – but only if there is enough social housing and if it benefits the right people for the right reasons, something which clearly isn’t happening. “These new developments – they are supposed to give a percentage back into the community, but I don’t know where the money is gone in all those builds around here because I can’t see anything done for the local community. We tried to get money for a desperately-needed new roof for the Scouts Hall, but we were told the Section 106 money had already been spent! Really? Where? The Scouting Association for example are known world-wide, so don’t tell me you don’t know anything about local community groups or where to put your money. Developers are making huge profits and local people are losing out. It’s shocking! With only £5,000, a drop in their ocean, they could do something really lovely for the community. I know parents or some elderly people that only come out once a week to a group. Without that group, they have nowhere to go. I see so many people that are isolated because there is nowhere for them to go where they can find support and information. There used to be a lot of local services and support groups – there was a Somalian mum’s group, a Polish group that started out for vulnerable mums that had come over and developed into a post-natal group that was run by health visitors, there was a breastfeeding group, baby massage, lots of things. There used to be so many funded groups and they have all disappeared because they can’t afford to rent the spaces anymore. There are now massive gaps here for people of all walks of life for all different reasons.”

Luckily, there are a lot of people like Charlie who are making up for some of these gaps, providing assistance for the most vulnerable on a voluntary basis. Even if the community work is also for her own benefit as Charlie says, the positive impact of her commitment to the area will be felt by a lot of people in need. Through this research I have met so many people who spend their own time helping others, and I have witnessed so much good work going on in the community, work that is not heard about, not known about, not praised enough and not funded, and that is a real shame.

Charlie is currently raising money for the local Scout Group. If you would like to donate, please click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/donate/418808578692143/10219087259031627/