Modelling the impact of regeneration

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In the summer of 2018, me and Adam Ramejkis, a licenced Lego® Serious Play® workshop facilitator (www.aschoolofthought.uk), ran a Lego® workshop in Tidemill Garden with local residents, campaigners and supporters of the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! Campaign. Participants were asked to build models in response to questions regarding Deptford and the regeneration taking place, and then to explain their thoughts through their models. Lego® Serious Play® workshops are a useful and creative way of engaging with difficult issues, and talking through the built models can draw out views and perspectives that might otherwise remain hidden. The time spent on building also allows more thinking time before having to speak and it can sometimes help visual people articulate their ideas better. The discussions in this workshop really brought to light how the participants understand and experience the regeneration of Deptford, particularly how it impacts them emotionally. The first question asked how individuals see Deptford.

Ian, who lives right opposite the garden and who used to give a helping hand with whatever needed doing in the garden (fixing the path, the fence, preparing for events, etc.), explains that Deptford is a place of different communities that do not mix. He explains his model (see above) that clearly shows the separation of groups:

“We live here together but sort of bypass and not really see each other. This doesn’t apply to all of course but generally people do their own thing and even though we’re kind of doing the same thing – bringing our kids to school, to church and to the shops – we’re not recognising each other. We’re mixing but we’re not blending, we’re not bonding. I recognise my immediate neighbours but at the same time we are literally blind to one another, until something serious happens. The church helps to bring people together. Green space is another way to connect, like Tidemill Garden – it’s like a magnet for people to meet. When you come here, you’ve got more time to take in your surroundings, and that can lead to wonderful encounters. A common space, a green space is the magical ingredient when it comes to community.”

Luciana agrees, saying that the garden is an important meeting place. “The notion of a communal space to make culture, create community, and build up this relationship of unity, of togetherness, is really important. As Paulo Freire used to say, all culture is born from the wish to share time and space. Communal space is for people to meet and build up community and culture.”

DSC_0019Fred’s model of Tidemill garden and Joe Dromey on top of Reginald House waving destructive sticks

Jacquie’s model is a representation of streets and buildings of historic times and the 60s and 70s, and how well they all fit together. “The lay-out is very higgledy-piggledy, it’s not clinical, it’s not shiny, but it’s been built up over time. And the communities living within these buildings have also evolved over time. We know how to navigate these spaces and we move around them well, but at the moment my feelings are that the council want to get rid of anything that isn’t shiny or neat; they want to erase the higgledy-piggledy-ness, to cleanse existing communities so that the area will become a shiny and neat version, looking the same as everywhere else. Obviously, things can be improved, we need investment, but we don’t need erasing which is what I feel Lewisham Council want to do to working-class communities in Deptford.”

Harriet’s model also shows the higgledy-piggledy-ness of Deptford, with different colours and shapes representing the different community groups in Deptford. “This yellow bit in the middle could be The Bird’s Nest, which is quite cool and creative, and this here could be some of the market traders. There is lots going on, with different bits connected up; it’s all quite mixed, dynamic and compact.  But then this is the new Deptford, which is quite uniform and blue, cos it’s a Tory colour and the council think that this is so much better than the other Deptford because it’s more uniform. It feels very disconnected from the rest of Deptford. Although there is more mixing and intercrossing going on in Deptford generally than in a lot of other places, this happens more between individuals. The Deptford Market Yard does some things for the community but it’s not doing very much, they seem to just want to do their own thing.”

Finally, Heather and Matt’s model represent the river, as both feel that the connection to the river is being lost for most of Deptford’s working-class residents. Heather says: “I don’t think there is a policy to get rid of all the poor people, it’s just the chasing of the dollar that is getting rid of working-class people and all the things that are valuable to them. And I know not all of it was good in the past but that’s how I see Deptford changing from a class perspective.”

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The next model was about how participants see regeneration, either how they see regeneration as it’s happening in Deptford and across London or how they think it should be done. For Luciana, regeneration should be about remaking something by including the old. “Regeneration is not destroying the old and creating something new. Like here in Reginald Road, destroying existing housing and green space is not regeneration. It is really important to see how a community develops, and regeneration should allow communities to have this old and familiar together with the new.”

Ian agrees, saying these new blocks are all funky and nice, “but they seem to forget to mix the old and the new, they seem to just put the new in there and we, the people already living here, are left to our own devices. It’s up to us to mix and blend with the new. It’s all just about funkiness and being cool, but there’s a lot of things missing. Regeneration today doesn’t actually solve the problem of the community, of being together and of social housing.” When Ian thinks of regeneration, he thinks of cranes, or ‘concrete trees’ as he calls them, being erected everywhere to build ‘cool’ buildings. Matt explains this process as disregarding certain realities, and he thinks developers should see an area as a patchwork of land and communities that should grow together.

Heather and Harriet feel that fortresses are being erected with gentrified areas being built inside walls that keep the working-classes out. “It’s obvious”, Heather says, “some of these developments are just private and have walls and gates around them so we don’t feel welcome. It’s not just literal walls but also financial walls – we cannot afford living in these fortresses, even if we wanted to… not that we do.”

Fred’s model is a reference to the Pepys Estate, that “for all its faults represents to me that you can have high-density buildings and still have a sense of space around them. This sense of space is missing from all the new developments, they are all blocks up against one another. So, good regeneration is that a sense of space remains; developments should feel more open rather than somewhere like Lewisham Gateway for example.”

Jacquie’s model represents regeneration as violence. “It’s like developers, councillors and regeneration officers coming in pretending to be like cute rabbits but they’re not; the majority come in and squash people down. It’s not about a community’s voice, it’s about the council being dominant, coming and squashing us. It feels claustrophobic, we’ve got no say in this process.”

When asked to take the elements of individual models to build a shared model of regeneration, the group agree on having all the new fortresses surrounding Deptford communities and Tidemill Garden, with Ian’s cranes hanging over the green space and local communities, putting a shadow over the existing, historical parts of Deptford. When I ask Luciana to explain the model she replies with:

“Regeneration is the gentrification of people without a voice. Ideally, there should be a space between the blocks, green spaces where people could mix. However, this is being overshadowed by the construction industries, by power, by the system, the Babylon system. Gentrification separates communities into fortresses; the new communities live in fortresses, which are surrounded by walls and which have no real social mix, no integration; the local, existing communities are forgotten, they have no voice. It’s so sad”.

Harriet adds that all the communities on the older estates are interconnected. “These estates all have lots of green space around them and are nice places to live. Then we’ve got the council who’s basically this monster hiding behind the fluffy bunny and imposing on the community. They are directly oppressing and squishing the community into THEIR idea of regeneration, which is just this big flat grey thing which is propped up by private developers and is looming over the garden and all these other bits of Deptford. If they get their way, we’ll just get these fortress developments, those big boring towers which don’t want any of us to come in.”

The next task was to build a model of the personal impact the regeneration/gentrification of Deptford is having on local people. Matt and Epo, who joined later, explain their model as a rising mountain, signifying the potential impact it might have on an ever-increasing number of people. “It’s like gears, like one thing affecting another, one gear inputting on another, leading to more and more harm. But this harm is hidden from others, people are being crushed but others don’t see this, they are too busy with their own problems. Everybody is struggling so you don’t have time to take care of others.”

Luciana says that people who have no voice and no choice become invisible because they have no space left for them to be heard. “What the council is doing here is not giving people a choice, a ballot for example for Reginald House, and so it is putting these people in the situation of invisibility. There is all that talk about equal opportunity but really it’s not about equality but about QUALITY. If you are wealthy you are seen to have a good quality of life, and if the people living in Reginald House were wealthy people, their voices would be heard, they would be visible, but since they are not wealthy and their lives are seen to be lacking in quality, they do not get equal opportunity.”

Jacquie elaborates on the notion of violence that regeneration brings when your home is under threat, and her model is perhaps the most harrowing example of impact (see below). The green leaves in the middle represent Jacquie’s heart and the black slabs represent the various regeneration schemes in the area that pierce her heart. “This violence of regeneration has an impact on your whole being, your health, family, your neighbours, the community, your friends…it’s oppressive and it affects all the things you hold dear – your memories, your home…It’s massive! And the councillors and developers just don’t understand this, for them it’s just housing, not homes. If they understood, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

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Harriet also refers to gentrification as incredibly violent, symbolised in her model by a hairbrush and an axe, with the former demonstrating how local artists, especially musicians, are linked up and the latter signifying the attempts to break up these connections. “The hair brush was the closest thing I could find to link music and singing and the arts, and the axe here demonstrates that there have already been victims of music communities being broken up. This gentrification is violent and does kill people through lack of housing, stress, segregation, and higher pollution levels.”

Ian looks into the future and sees more and more separation that will have a psychological effect on people. “Suddenly a new block is being built and a green space which everybody could use becomes a lot smaller. At the same time, with the new blocks there is green space gated off as if to say “For the tenants only”. And psychologically, this separates the community, causing a them-and-us mindset whereas before we were together.”

Heather also comments on the benefits of open green space: “Tidemill Garden for example has a big heart and welcomes everybody in and this makes me feel I want to be the same – loving, welcoming and wanting to share it with everyone. And all around are all these towers – they take away all my light, they create wind tunnels which feel uncomfortable because suddenly you hit a road or a pathway between two buildings and whuff, you’re being blown away. But this gentrification has made me into a bit of a warrior, and these people also suffering from gentrification are not alone because there is all of us that are trying to protect what we have.”

Fred also feels that the high-density and bad design of the new tower blocks all around impact on his well-being as it feels to him like a conveyor belt with more and more towers coming into the area. “We are a nation of designers and we are surrounded by all this bad design, particularly with what’s around the buildings. Even the brick cladding, they want to make the buildings look like they’re made out of brick but it’s just fake!”

Once again, participants are asked to put all their models together into a shared model of impact, and Jacquie explains the model: “We’ve got the positive symbols in the middle which is the garden and the library at Pepys, which represent the resistance going on. Here, around the middle, we’ve got all the new buildings which are not well-built, not well-designed, look ugly and the building of them represents a sort of conveyor belt, and over there we’ve got the personal impacts, how the constant construction of these blocks affect communities. What will happen is that all the spaces where we can come together are getting smaller and segregated, so there’s borders being built up in between communities, so the new private builds are becoming dominant.”

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What I find interesting is that at the centre of this model there is still hope, hope for resistance and change. So, I ask the participants: “In terms of thinking about the campaigns we’re involved in and the spark of hope in the middle, how can we resist and how can we make this impact on our lives visible?”

Luciana is clear that there needs to be a dialogue between the council and communities, one that acknowledges the council’s constraints but also the wishes and needs of the community. “The council is acting like they don’t see us; they don’t give us a voice, they don’t hear what we say. They are ignorant of their own faults in their mission to work with developers and Housing Associations rather than with communities. There is no dialogue about what we want! What we wish as members of the community and as campaigners is to make our voices heard and tell them that it’s time for us to sit at a round table and discuss, have a dialogue and find compromises on both sides.”

Jacquie agrees: “If we didn’t scrutinise all their plans and schemes, the council would just do what they want. At least our resistance has had some impact with the amount of social housing slightly improved but that wouldn’t have happened without campaigners. We’re supposed to accept everything while they just push through what they want. We have less and less control over our own lives because the council just don’t listen!”

To conclude, Heather sums up what is really needed in the area and London as a whole: “We need the maintenance of existing council homes and green spaces, and for new-builds to be social housing rather than private because that’s where the crisis lies. The council need to be more community-minded when they are building those places and build truly affordable homes. And they need to tackle pollution, but a glorified walkway that no-one will care about and private gardens are not the solution.”

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Culture and gentrification in Deptford

This text was written by Franck Magennis, co-founder of Deptford Cinema, Deptford Debates, HAGL – Housing Action Greenwich & Lewisham, the London Learning Co-operative and board member of the Deptford People Project. All photographs of Deptford Cinema are copyright of Deptford Cinema/Adriana Kytkova. All other photographs by Anita Strasser.

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I remember once visiting a squat with a wonderful, if slightly bourgeois, friend of mine. The new occupants were busy transforming the place into what would become the short-lived “Elephant & Castle Social Centre.” My friend seemed only to notice the dirt and the chaos.  But it was the chaos that captivated me.

Deptford shares some of that chaos. You don’t know what to expect on Deptford High Street. You don’t know who you will run into. Beyond the Tesco, the Asda, and the other odd representative of multinational corporate brands, the shops are mostly a mix of surprising and eclectic small businesses. Deptford is unique.

More than anything else, gentrification is about rents and house prices. Some people oppose it by focussing on the emergence of expensive coffee shops and hipster hairdressers. The brick thrown through the window of the Cereal Killer café in Shoreditch is a case in point. But a bit of diversity on the high street – of tastes and of prices – wouldn’t pose such a problem if only local people who’ve lived here for years could still afford their rent.

Real estate capital is globalised and unaccountable. It is an incredibly powerful force that hovers over communities, sometimes without us fully realising it. It controls a massive amount of land, labour and capital. It is plutocratic, not democratic, concerned not with people themselves but with profiting from our houses.

Local Authorities are supposed to act as the people’s check on the private power of those property development companies. Like a dam holding back the flood of unaccountable real estate capital. Many, including Lewisham’s Labour Council, do a very poor job. They are systematically failing to push back against the profit margins of the development companies. The dam is leaking.

Five years ago I moved to Deptford and helped to found Deptford Cinema. I feel both proud and conflicted about its impact on the local neighbourhood. Being involved with setting up a cultural institution has given me a lot of ideas about culture and its relationship to gentrification.

 

The Cinema is run entirely by volunteers. Public meetings happen every Sunday at 11am. In theory anyone can get involved, and even start organising their own events. The building that houses the Cinema we renovated from a derelict shop. In many ways, it is an incredible example of a crumbling asset revived by community-led regeneration.

 

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And yet I feel uneasy. Cultural institutions are often seen as a thermometer measuring the temperature of gentrification and its associated conflicts. What kind of films are being shown? Are they attracting diverse crowds that reflect Deptford’s multiracial and working class households? Is the price of a ticket, or a beer, too high for some people? These are important questions, the answers to which shape an institution over time.

Gentrification causes conflicts over resources. There is no permanent solution to this tension. To create a community institution is to create the possibility that it will be lost to higher prices and middle class tastes. All that we can do is to keep asking the right questions, and try to act on the answers. The Cinema, the Council, the developers – are they here to serve the local community, or to gentrify and displace them? Are ticket prices, rents, profits too high? Who belongs in Deptford, and who feels unwelcome?

 

For six years before moving to Deptford I lived in Camberwell. There most of my friends were from geographically dispersed communities from across London. But it was moving to Deptford and founding the Cinema that first helped me get to know many of the people and community institutions with whom I now organise. For the first time I felt a sense of belonging to the place where I lived.

In many ways the Cinema simply gave me a pretext to reach out to people. It started conversations. I headed the outreach working group, and we would flyer the local housing estates. Sometimes we would run a stall in Deptford Market selling second hand books and telling people about what films we were showing that month.

I made one such overture to the Deptford People Project after hearing about their community kitchen on Facebook. They explained that they had started as an attempt to create a space where Deptford’s new, middle class residents could integrate with the existing community. But it quickly became clear that there was a large homeless community who desperately needed the support DPP were providing.

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I felt very strongly that DPP should feel welcome in Deptford Cinema. We co-hosted a fundraiser in the Cinema that proved very successful. The crowd that night looked and sounded like Deptford in a way I hadn’t seen in the Cinema before. Rowdiness and energy and warmth. A Cinema volunteer later complained the guests had been too rowdy. The complaint got back to the organisers of the event, and relations between DPP and the Cinema grew distant.

The event that night, and how different people perceived it, neatly encapsulated the tensions at work in Deptford. Different communities living in the same place, sharing the same venues, trying to learn to live together and forge a sense of society despite their differences. All this against the pressing question of who can and can’t afford to continue living there.

Of all the local groups and struggles in which I have participated, the campaign to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden stands out. Some years ago I came into contact with Owen and Andy and the other organisers after I attended a meeting in the Dog and Bell pub. They were trying to ensure the Garden was preserved as a community asset, and so we co-organised a film screening in Deptford Cinema to raise awareness. From there I became more and more involved with the campaign, and until the recent eviction found myself in the garden several times a month.

 

Lewisham Council’s decision to pursue that eviction was, I think, a big mistake. At a time when environmental degradation is reaching crisis proportions, the local Labour Party have decided to defy community concerns and demolish a cherished community space. Councillors’ claim to care about homes rings hollow in a borough so marked by evidence of the housing crisis over which they have presided. They seem not to understand the genuine grief and pain they are causing.

Communities change. We must not fear that process. I understand that Lewisham Council is caught between the local community and the overwhelming power of international real estate finance. But we must fight to preserve people’s right to stay in the communities they created. To date, Lewisham Labour’s role in that fight has been utterly shameful.

It can be difficult to analyse what is causing gentrification in our neighbourhoods. Emotional thinking is a natural response to being forced out of our homes. But in our struggle to halt the flood of money rushing in to displace people in Deptford, we must remain clear-sighted. More than anything, gentrification is about people not being able to continue living in their communities. If together we can fix housing, the rest is sure to follow.

Whose Garden? Tidemill and the Hierarchy of Violence

Today’s post was written by Ruby Radburn, resident of Reginald Road and member of the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! campaign. Witnessing the violent eviction of Tidemill Garden from her front door and concerned about what is happening in the area, Ruby joined the campaign the same day. Since then she has become a key figure in documenting the violence exercised on the local community. Photographs by Ruby Radburn unless indicated otherwise.

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“Premise Four: Civilisation is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror and the fetishization of the victims.”                                                            Derrick Jensen, Endgame

 

Ever since the eviction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on 29th October 2018, I’ve been forced to darkly contemplate this hierarchy of violence. For ten weeks now, private security guards from County Enforcement have been standing directly opposite my flat at all times, and there are dogs inside the garden that bark intermittently throughout the day. The garden is floodlit at night and shines through my bedroom blind, and the generator that powers these lights rumbles away continuously. The guards are the last thing I hear, laughing and talking, before I go to sleep, and the first thing I become aware of when I wake up. Even though their numbers have been reduced in recent weeks, any noise they make, or any time I see them from my windows (which must be hundreds of times a day), or when I leave the house and a guard’s eyes follow me down the street, I am reminded of my place in this hierarchy.

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The Council, of course, justifies their presence (and the huge cost of the operation, estimated now to be well over £1million) by saying that they are “securing the site”. So far, so well rationalised. On social media and in the many emails I’ve exchanged with Councillors over this ongoing occupation, I’ve repeatedly heard that their presence is necessary. Sometimes, this necessity is described as unfortunate, and limp apologies are offered for the “disturbance” or “upset” caused to local residents such as myself. Similarly, the eviction itself, in which Lewisham Council sent in 130 bailiffs and security to drag a handful of peaceful protestors from their beds just before dawn, is also presented as an unfortunate necessity. The inherent force and violence in this action is not mentioned by Councillors, but instead they focus on the actions of the protestors. If they had just left when they were asked, none of this would have happened. Which is another way of saying, they made us do it.

In order to accept and internalise this logic, which is of course the logic of the abuser, you first have to accept that the garden (sometimes euphemistically referred to as “public land”) belongs to the Council. On what do we base the assertion that the Council owns the land? Well, there is probably a piece of paper or an electronic document somewhere in the Council’s archives that says they do, and in the supposedly consensual social system we live in, this document would prove that legally the council do indeed own the land.

But the garden is not just an empty parcel of land. It is home to many living things: trees, plants, flowers, algae and newts in the pond, birds who feed and roost and nest there, hedgehogs who hibernate in the undergrowth, butterflies, bees, caterpillars, worms in the ground, and an uncountable number of other living things. Apparently, these living things cannot claim ownership of the land that sustains them and that they give back to, in an intricately connected ecosystem. Not legally, anyway.

Nor do the children and teachers who planted the garden many years ago own it. The community groups and individuals who have used the garden, who knew it intimately, who connected to it and found beauty and peace and friendship in it, who nurtured it, played and learned and laughed within it – they do not own it. The campaigners who have given considerable amounts of their time and passion in the last three years to try and convince the Council to change the plans and save the garden, while still building the same number of homes (which anyone with half a brain should be able to understand is possible, and always has been, when you consider that the new so-called “green spaces” that are part of the development comprise 83% of the area of the current garden) – they do not own it, either. The protestors who occupied the garden last summer to protect it and all the living things inside it, who ate and sang and slept there, and one of whom climbed to the very top of a tree when the bailiffs came, valiantly clinging on for 8 hours while the crowd in the street cheered her – no, none of these people can claim ownership (or even custodianship) of the garden.

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When it comes to land, it doesn’t matter if it is your home (especially if you are not human, but the same applies to humans – just ask the residents of Reginald House or read any history book). It doesn’t matter whether you helped create it, nurtured it, or fought to protect it. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you have a piece of paper that says you own it, either. The only thing that matters is who has the means to enforce their claim of ownership, through violence and the threat of violence.

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This is where the idea that we live in a consensual social system cracks apart, and the psychological tricks of the abuser begin to show through. The Council’s rationale that County Enforcement are there to “secure the site” deliberately obscures the truth of the power hierarchy and renders invisible the violence that maintains it. It suggests that the protestors are the aggressors, that the garden must be guarded from attack, that County Enforcement are the ones “defending” the Council’s land. But the only way the Council can enforce their claim of ownership when faced with resistance – with a refusal to consent – is through violence, and the threat of violence. This is sanctioned by the larger political and social system, and of course backed up by the police. In fact, it is the Council who are the aggressors. They are the ones who have attacked the garden, and who are intent on destroying it.

In the hierarchy of power, we are not supposed to notice the violence done to trees, or to newts. And if we do notice, we are supposed to accept the rationalisations of those in power that it is unfortunate but necessary to cut down 74 mature trees and destroy an entire habitat for many animals and insects, not to mention a vital community space and pollution barrier in a highly built-up urban environment. We are not supposed to resist this reckless destruction and when we do, we are to blame for the unfortunate but necessary violence done to us. And we need to be reminded that any further resistance will be met with violence, hence the guards standing outside my window 24/7.

Ever since the eviction, local Councillors have relished any opportunity to demonise and vilify protestors, while completely refusing to see the eviction, occupation of security and destruction of the garden as acts of violence perpetrated by Lewisham Council. Cllr Joe Dromey wrote on Twitter: “I condemn any unnecessary or excessive use of force, and any assault, whether it be by the security staff, or by masked protesters trying to provoke violence.” Notice the use of the words unnecessary and excessive, and the attempt to equate the assaults of these private security guards, who are paid and authorised by the Council and fully backed up by the police, with the actions of those who dare to resist. Furthermore, is it not a provocation to send a gang of private security (many of them masked) to drag people out of bed at 6am and forcibly seize a place the local community loves, in order to destroy it?

Cllr Paul Maslin’s contempt for protestors whose resistance and expression of anger continued outside the Bird’s Nest Pub on the evening of the eviction is another example of this demonisation: “shouty, masked people who live we know not where, who act with violence, block roads and jump on people’s cars after getting lagered up in the pub”. Shock, horror! How outrageous! But where is his outrage over the shouty masked people who live we know not where (i.e. County Enforcement), who act with violence against ordinary people, including women, and who block the gates to a community garden while they smash down a children’s treehouse in front of the people who built it? Where is his outrage for the animals and insects whose habitat the Council plans to destroy?

Photos by Anita Strasser, 2018

After a protest at the New Cross Assembly on 6th November 2018, Joe Dromey posted in the I Love Deptford Facebook group that there were “a group of around 40 protesters – most of them masked” and then said: “they attacked me and a council officer”. The implication that he had been attacked by 40 masked people was quickly challenged by members of the public, some of whom had been there, and he then clarified that he actually meant 3 or 4 people. But the original wording of the post was clearly a cynical attempt to exaggerate and distort the facts to demonise protestors, which is characteristic of Dromey’s approach. I wasn’t there after the Assembly and I haven’t seen any evidence to prove or disprove his claims of being physically attacked. A Council spokesperson said in the News Shopper that “police intervened to protect them…and ensure everyone got home safely”. Just one arrest was made, by the way, for a public order offence (not for assault).

In emotive language never used by Councillors to describe the violence of the eviction or the destruction of the garden, Cllr Brenda Dacres said in reply to Dromey’s Facebook post that it was a “shocking and disgraceful scene” while over on Twitter Cllr Paul Bell was “very saddened by the events”. Mayor Damien Egan’s response in the News Shopper went even further: “The Mayor condemns, in the strongest possible terms, any abuse, intimidation and violence directed at council staff, councillors and members of the public.” Wait, let’s just read that again: “The Mayor condemns…any abuse, intimidation and violence”, including towards “members of the public”. This is obviously a ridiculous statement. If he truly meant this, he would have to condemn the eviction he authorised, and condemn the private security firm he is paying to intimidate people, and condemn the police who pushed people and threw them to the ground in order to “ensure everyone got home safely”. As a friend of the young man who was arrested astutely commented, along with clear photo evidence (shown below) of a policeman kneeling on his back, gripping his neck and shoving his face into the concrete, “This is what being attacked looks like.”

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The abuse, intimidation and violence of those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is supposed to go unnoticed, and if it is noticed, it is rationalised as the natural order of things. But a read-through of the hundreds of angry comments on Dromey’s Facebook post shows that, thankfully, people are really not that stupid. As the popular local refrain goes, ‘Deptford ain’t ‘avin it.’

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From my kitchen window, I can see the guards slouching against the newly-painted white fence, now with corporate blue strips at the top and bottom. I can see the raw stumps of branches that were needlessly hacked from the overhanging trees and hedgerows in November. A couple of pigeons peck at the few remaining red berries, their usual winter store having been “fed” to a wood-chipper. The guard dogs are let out for one of their daily runs, and they race across the flattened mud, scaring the birds away, for now at least.

I think about the garden before the eviction, all that life inside it, now fenced, guarded, and earmarked for destruction. This is the state of things, not just in Deptford, but in the world. We are on the brink of a climate catastrophe and we all know it, even if we try not to think about it. Global warming, deforestation, rapid species extinction, the collapse of insect populations. Tidemill Garden is only a tiny, tiny speck in the much larger picture of relentless destruction of the earth by those in power. They claim ownership of the planet we all live on, and it is fenced, guarded and earmarked for destruction. They enforce their claim to ownership through violence, and we are supposed to just roll over and take it. But the world hasn’t been (completely) destroyed yet, and neither has the garden. The trees are still standing, and every day I think about what will happen when Lewisham Council come to cut them down, if and when the final legal route – an appeal for a Judicial Review – is exhausted. Already, the men in suits are coming to eye it up, walking around it with a proprietary air (see below). Watching from my window, at times I feel complete despair, occasionally hope, but mostly just rage, which fuels a healthy defiance.

Despite the fence and the guards and the dogs and the ever-present threat of violence, I refuse to accept that the garden belongs to the Council and I refuse to accept that they have the right to destroy it. The amazing campaigners and activists I have met since the eviction (and in case it isn’t already clear, I now proudly count myself as one of them), sum up that spirit of defiance in another popular refrain, chanted loudly at every protest and during every procession from Reginald Road, and down the High Street: “Whose garden?…Our garden! Whose garden?…Our garden!”

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When something belongs to you, in the real sense that you have helped to create it, nurture it and protect it, you have to keep trying to save it. It’s our garden, and this fight isn’t over yet.

 

“My world would fall apart”

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Rose is the proprietor of Rose’s Kitchen on 8 Clifton Rise, New Cross. I have often eaten food from Rose’s Kitchen. I’m in New Cross a lot and as I appreciate good and healthy food, Rose’s Kitchen is the best place to go. I remember the first time I walked in – I was glued to the food counter admiring the tasty-looking, home-made dishes, wanting to try it all. What a difference from all the chicken shops and other take-away food! The portions are huge, the price is good and the food tastes amazing. And each time you walk in, you are served by the same three people and it’s not long until they remember you. When I walk in, just after lunch time, Karlene (one employee) is serving three customers and Rose is in the back preparing for the next day.

Before Rose set up her shop 10 years ago, she had been cooking with someone else in a restaurant, and it was there that she fell in love with cooking. “I love cooking and I decided to follow my dream”, she says with a big smile on her face. In 2008, she set up Rose’s Kitchen and now she has 2 employees working for her.

DSC_1962Rose in Rose’s Kitchen

“When I first came here, there was not a lot going, there wasn’t a lot of business because people didn’t know me. But when they came and got to know me and the food, they started to enjoy my cooking. I now have customers not only in London but people who come a long way as well: from Kent, Croydon, Birmingham and even Kingston. Yes, people who come to London from Kingston come into my shop to get food. And people who used to live and eat here but have moved away, for example Birmingham, and come back to anywhere near here, they come back and buy large quantities to put in the fridge.” When I ask Rose how she got so many customers, especially from so far away, she says: “It’s all word-of-mouth; through good and healthy food, and good relationships with customers. I have never done any advertising.”

The food is a mix of English and Caribbean food and caters for different tastes. All the time I’m sitting in Rose’s Kitchen, talking to Rose and photographing, there is a constant coming and going of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. “We have all kinds of customers”, Rose states, “Chinese, White, everybody, and of course people of Caribbean heritage because it gives them authentic food from home.”

Rose’s Kitchen does the catering for Deptford Green School prom and the Black History Month. It also provides lunch time specials and offers £2 school meals during term time for pupils from Deptford Green and Childeric Primary. Also many Goldsmiths students come down for lunch time specials. Rose seems to have a very special relationship with the local kids, wanting to make sure they have the opportunity to get a fresh, healthy meal. “Sometimes parents don’t have the time to cook and give their children healthy meals; sometimes kids don’t even have lunch money but I give them food anyway. And parents often come in to thank me with presents.”

I ask Rose to tell me a memorable story and she told me that “there was a student from Goldsmiths who came in regularly and on the day of his graduation his mother came in with a bunch of flowers and said: ‘thank you for feeding my son your healthy food. I cannot cook very well and my son doesn’t like my food. I wish I could have provided him with the food you did but I couldn’t. My son speaks about you all the time and sometimes I even feel upset because he speaks of you as if you were his mum. I thought I have to meet this lady, I want to know who this Rose is and today I want to thank you for being so kind to him’”.

Talking to Rose it strikes me just how important her work is to her and to the local, and larger community. Rose’s Kitchen is not just a shop or a food joint with social interaction a mere exchange of food and capital; it is a social space, an intricate network of social contacts formed through food that reaches much wider than just the stomach or the local area. “We are like a family here. Even if people have moved away but come back to visit, they come in. People see me as a family member, like a mum or a gran and for me, my customers are like my children”, Rose explains.

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When I ask Rose about the planned demolition of the shops on Clifton Rise, her facial expression becomes more sombre. “I could never lose this place! I don’t want to lose my customers. I look forward to going to work every day. Sometimes I wake up tired in the morning but when I come here I don’t remember that I was tired. If you can have a laugh at work, it is so important. I would like the shop to remain the same.” The same can be said for her customers, most of whom have signed the petition to stop the demolition of Clifton Rise (the figure of signatures from just her shop is in the hundreds). “If the shop were to close, for my customers it would be like losing their mum or gran, and it would deprive many local kids of fresh and healthy food. It’s like taking candy away from a baby.”

Rose feels that the small businesses on Clifton Rise are not being treated well by the council. “We’ve had no information, nothing’s been offered, and we don’t get compensated for anything. When we try to call we just get passed on from person to person – you’re never able to speak to anyone. The regeneration here is terrible, it’s just about making more money. They are demolishing small businesses like us who have no chance, who can’t afford the prices they are charging. Everything is sold to private people with money. They are not going to want us here.” I ask Rose what message she would like to pass on to the council and she replies with: “If you break us up, it’s like you are destroying a home!”

As I sit there listening to this, I become incredibly sad. It is another story of somebody who has contributed to and built up strong relationships with the local community; somebody who has invested a lot of positive energy into creating a thriving business that serves the local area not only with affordable, fresh and healthy food but also with important personal connections that have developed into long-lasting friendships. For me, Rose is a real pillar of the community and her displacement would be a tragic loss to the area. It is another story of dispossession and displacement, of communities being destroyed to be replaced by luxury developments for private gain; a story of an uncertain future, of having to start all over again.

I ask Rose whether she has thought about what she is going to do if demolition goes ahead. She shakes her head, visibly upset by this prospect. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know any other job; I only know cooking.” But it isn’t just about the shop itself, or her love for cooking, it is about much more than that. “My whole world would fall apart”, Rose exclaims, “I don’t know anything else.”

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After our conversation, Rose goes back into the kitchen to carry on preparing for tomorrow. Karlene is busy cutting onions and serving the customers that keep coming in: kids, Goldsmiths students, a young local lad of Caribbean heritage, an elderly gentleman…

DSC_1978Karlene serving customers

Dealing with the effects of the Tidemill eviction

Text written in collaboration with Diann Gerson and Ruby Radburn

Tidemill Eviction 29 Oct 2018 Anita Strasser (16)

Life hasn’t been the same on Reginald Road since the violent eviction of Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on 29 October 2018. Not only has bearing witness to the heavy-handed eviction by over 100 bailiffs and security guards and the subsequent boarding up of the much-loved community garden left scars on this quiet street, the 24-hour presence of at times unpleasant security guards and the constant noise from nocturnal chatter, vans and chainsaws since then, as well as the incessant barking from security dogs on the site (in fact, as we sit here, the sound of barking can be heard constantly), apparently to deter campaigners from trying to access the garden, has left some residents unable to sleep, experiencing stress and anxiety attacks. One such resident is Diann Gerson, who has lived in Reginald House for 30 years and who has been prescribed sleeping pills to help her cope with the stress.

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Diann is the granny that was assaulted by a 7’ bailiff who pushed her to the ground when she was trying to go home on the day of the eviction. She’d already had her arm in a clearly visible sling due to a fractured shoulder, and after she landed on the hard asphalt, she had to go to A&E to check whether more damage was done to her shoulder. The police did not interfere on the day and Diann was instead assisted by Reginald/Tidemill campaigners. Diann tells me: ”I reported this to Cllr Joe Dromey who forwarded this to Kevin Sheehan on 1 Nov 2018. I received a quick response the same day or day after but haven’t heard back since. I’m not sure anything is being done about it. I have also reported the assault to the Police and they took my and witnesses’ statements, checked my hospital report and seem to be looking into it, but I’m not sure what’s going on.”

Diann also tells me how she feels living in Reginald Road after all that’s happened in the last month. “Seeing all that police and being manhandled at the time created an effect. The first day I went back to work after that horrid day of the eviction, I was having panic attacks all the way to the station, and it’s been like that every day since. I’m also having nightmares with people coming through my door without warning. I’m not sleeping, which makes me hear the dogs barking even more. I don’t know what kind of thugs they hired because proper security dogs don’t bark unless there’s an immediate threat. Basically, it got to a stage where I had to approach a doctor, and she said let’s deal with the biggest problem first – sleep. I was prescribed sleeping pills. I’m seeing the doctor again next week to deal with the panic attacks and the stress of this situation. Every time I go out the door, I feel stressed, it affects me. The panic attacks have become a bit less now, I’m okay when I go to work, but when I’m coming home and hit this road, I start feeling anxious.”

Ruby Radburn02Photo: Ruby Radburn

Diann has avoided going in the direction of the garden as she can’t face the security guards and the boarded-up garden. Recently though, she had to walk past it as she was coming from a different direction. She noticed that the pavement has been halved with the fence, forcing you to walk past the guards really closely. She finds this intimidating and uncomfortable. She also remembers the day the diggers came at the weekend of the 10th and 11th of November. When she and her granddaughter looked through the fence to see what was going on, “a guard came up right behind us and just stood there. I said ‘why are you so close, can you move from behind me and my granddaughter, I’m uncomfortable’, but he didn’t move.”

That weekend, which was Remembrance weekend, the diggers started at 8am Saturday and Sunday morning. What Diann observed through the fence was the dismantling of the treehouse and sheds in the garden and the crushing of all the wood from the shed. “They might as well have made toothpicks out of it all. The most annoying thing is that it feels like a lot of this is done on purpose: smashing everything in the garden, cutting off half the path, badly-trained dogs, cutting the tress – anything to inconvenience and annoy. To me it seems like it it’s all just to create a reaction, and all that while the Judicial Review is pending. Maybe they want to destroy everything so even if we win the case it’ll be too late. But complaining to the council is useless, because they just protect each other and blame it on something daft like miscommunication.”

DSC_0186View of the boarded-up garden from Diann’s flat

Diann and her neighbours have also noticed markings on the stairs of Reginald House, which have recently appeared. Residents can only explain these markings and the poor attempts to hide them by plastering over them as being to do with knocking down their block. “It seems like someone is sneakily taking measurements for one reason or another and then trying to hide this from the residents. They really think we’re stupid! And the worst thing is not knowing what is being done behind your back. There’s this constant feeling of threat and aggression in the air.”

 

What annoys Diann as well is the money that is suddenly being spent on repairs in Reginald House. “I know these repairs are for our comfort for the next two years but it’s such a waste if everything will be knocked down. If they had spent the money on repairs much earlier, rather than running the block to the ground, and money on redrawing the plans to save this block and the garden, they wouldn’t have to waste all this money now. They could also have saved the ridiculous amounts of money they are now spending on security. From day one, now 10 years ago, all the residents were involved with petitions against the demolitions of our block, but we were ignored. To think how much money and time could have been saved if they had listened. But they didn’t. It feels like we can’t win, no matter what we do.”

The hardest bit, and what causes much of the stress is, Diann says, that she feels permanently threatened. It’s often very subtle, but all the time there is something that reminds Diann of the threat the whole neighbourhood is under: the markings, strangers in the block, the dogs, chainsaws, and the rumour that the townhouses on the other side of the road are next.

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Another person who has suffered immensely is Ruby Radburn who lives right opposite the garden and was woken by the raid at 6am. She supported the campaign and had been friendly to protestors occupying the garden, so when she heard cries of, “Help, help!” and looked out of the window, she knew straight away what was happening. But she still could not believe the scale and force of the operation. “There were dozens of bailiffs already at the gate and loads more coming down the street. They were really hyped up, shouting, ‘Go, go, go.’” Over the course of that day, as the crowd in the street grew and a cordon of police surrounded the bailiffs, tensions rose, not helped by the aggressive and mocking behaviour of many of the bailiffs and private security. “They were laughing at people from behind police protection, it was really horrible,” she says. “And there were a few who were clearly spoiling for a fight, being really heavy-handed, enjoying the power trip. At one point they were getting out of control and police had to tell them to keep back. But the cops weren’t much better, throwing people to the ground and shoving them.”

 

Photo: Ruby Radburn

Seeing all this unfold, Ruby says, has made it even harder to have to live with security guards from the same company, County Enforcement, lined up opposite her house, round-the-clock for the last six weeks. “I recognise some of them from the eviction,” she says. “They recognise me too. They’re facing my house the whole time and see me come and go every day. The noise from guards talking and the dogs barking has really affected me. I went out once in the middle of the night to complain, and one of the guards filmed me on his personal phone. That felt really horrible and intimidating. The same guy always stares right at me as I go by. I hate it. Even when I’m inside, I can feel their presence all the time.” Ruby was shocked that the Council did not provide any information to residents about the ongoing security. “For the first month, there were at least 40 guards standing round the place, it was like some kind of military occupation.”

 

Photos: Ruby Radburn

About a week in, after another night of broken sleep, Ruby set up a Twitter account to document what was happening (@under_seige_SE8). She also started contacting Councillors to complain about what residents were going through and get answers as to when it was going to end. “Joe Dromey seemed to take it seriously at first and said he’d raise my complaints but then nothing changed. Paul Bell ignored me for weeks, and again, when he did finally reply, very little changed. I tried emailing Kevin Sheehan as well, he only replied when I’d chased him for weeks, and then was very dismissive. It’s been really frustrating, and exhausting.”

Security presence has now been reduced to around 10 guards around the perimeter, and on Friday 7th December, Paul Bell announced on Twitter that he would be removing County Enforcement from the garden and replacing them with another company. On 10th December the dogs were removed from the garden. “But when are the council going to take responsibility for what they’ve put people through?” Ruby asks. “It’s good they are getting rid of County because I’ve seen how aggressive they are. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Council made the decision to evict the garden in that really heavy-handed way in the first place. It seems they didn’t even think about how it would affect people, and they need to be held accountable for that.”

Ruby Radburn03Photo: Ruby Radburn

These are only the stories of two people. I know of many more that have been affected badly by this: residents on and around Reginald Road, and all the campaigners, local residents and friends of Tidemill Garden who used to meet in the garden and whose vital green and gathering space has been taken away from them by force. I don’t think the council will ever fully understand the pain that has been inflicted on this community.

Tidemill Garden: a creative tribute

This post is a collection of creative responses to the destruction of Tidemill Garden. It consists of comments and artworks created by local residents, artists and campaigners to express their feelings about the loss of this green oasis in the heart of Deptford.

Defend Green Spaces: painting made in and for Tidemill Garden by a campaign supporter

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OLD TIDEMILL GARDEN: a song written by Mark Sampson, a local resident who has spent happy times in the garden and is angered by its proposed destruction

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OLD TIDEMILL GARDEN

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

Elected to power and voted in
It turns out now that was a sin
As they sell off public land
Developers profit off our back
Community under attack
This gentrification planned

They say that there’s nowhere else they can
And that is why this is their plan
But that simply is not true
There’s other space they can build upon
Despite their vain attempts to con
And Labour red turns blue

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

So fine old trees will be coming down
There’s not enough in Deptford town
Apartments will take their place
A block of flats that’s structurally sound
Will soon be falling to the ground
And that will be a disgrace

Elected to power and voted in
It turns out now that was a sin
As they sell off public land
Developers profit off our back
Community under attack
This gentrification planned

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
The birds in the trees
The flowers and the bees
And the things that creep and crawl
The worst things that creep and crawl
Are the councillors in the town hall

Take me down to Old Tidemill Garden
A community space
A peaceful place
So quiet and so serene
Enclosed around
By the traffic sound
An oasis of green

Sculptures (and comment) by Glenn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick

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“As an artist/war veteran, I have spent many a time in Tidemill garden finding peace, airspace, calmness and tranquility. I found this calms me in difficult times as I suffer PTSD, it is the one place amongst trees I feel safe in. This place is divine, I love it. The trees cover your head and connect you to nature. It is amazing to sit in a pocket that allows you to experience a wood in a built-up area. By way of saying thank you to Tidemill and its people I have donated my sculptures which are repurposed nitrous oxide canisters which have been locally sourced. This place has inspired me and in return I hope others can turn up; see some art, nature and engage with its creative clarity. Long live Tidemill, it is more than a plot of land, it is a pocket of creative paradise which is there for us to love and share…. COMMUNITY. To take this away is to take away nature and freedom. This is heart breaking. Please share this as it is from the heart.”

Tidemill Mutterings: poem (and painting below) created by Michele Petit-Jean, a local artist, musician in the band Ukadelix, puppet-show performer at Magic Book Puppet Theatre and supporter of the Tidemill Campaign

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TIDEMILL MUTTERINGS

On market day the Stalwart sisters
hand out leaflets and get petitions signed.
Everybody wants to save the trees.
Tidemill garden. Love and Peace.
Behind their screens the journo teams
hound Lewisham with points of law.
Emails fly and Facebook draws more
cyber soldiers to the cause.
The fight to save this patch of green,
its Laurel groves and Indian bean,
this summers idyll, this music scene
this urban Eden.
So
The Cavalry move in.
Battle-hardened activists arrive
and occupy, prepared for confrontation.
Tents and cabins multiply and
tree-house look-out stations.
The sun shines on the righteous heads
gathered round the pumpkin beds,
planning more and more events
to halt the council’s bad intents.
The enemy shape-shifts and changes,
but still the threat remains.

The BBC have been and gone, democracy drowns in the pond.
The carnival is over, and Stalwarts bicker as drunks arrive and leave their litter.
The compost toilets both are full,
ready for the bailiffs’ call.

Michele Painting

Drawings (and comment) by Jacqueline Utley

“My connection with the garden is layered; my children went to Tidemill in the 90s. It really was a long collaborative process between pupils, parents/careers, staff, the landscape designer and the wider community to make the garden happen. Now over 20 years later it has matured into a beautiful, inclusive community garden just how everyone imagined. This year during the Summer 2018 as part of the campaigns programme of events in the garden we facilitated some open to all drawing workshops where we meandered round the garden to look at the garden and trees through drawing. Like many in our community, I am devastated by the brutality shown by Lewisham Council to the community and dismay at such short sighted, unimaginative Lewisham council unable to see the gardens benefits.”

Requiem for Tidemill Garden: poem by Sylvia Green

Photographs and comment by Fred Aylward, local resident, artist, volunteer and supporter of Tidemill campaign

FredFred21Photograph and comment by Jacquie and Rose – local residents who attend Meet Me at the Albany, an all day arts club for the over 60s

 

Ode To Tidemill Garden by Gordon Robertson, who was born in south east London and lives and works close to Tidemill. Gordon has been along to and participated in campaign events over the past few years, playing music in the processions through Deptford & New Cross. In the photo below he is seen playing the Mandolin next to Captain Rizz on his snare drum.

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Ode to Tidemill Garden

The children learnt of nature,
amid old Deptford’s grey,
though their own homes have no garden,
they had somewhere to play.

The elderly ones also,
surrounded by concrete and brick,
had a place for quiet contemplation,
a place where they could sit.

Where the community could come together,
to discuss the urban plans,
to offer an alternative
and try to make a stand.

Against nature’s destruction
and the polution of our air,
the locals came together
to show the council that they care.

But the authorities had other plans
and money to be made,
the trees that breathe the cleaner air
were not there to be saved.

Instead a richer clientele
had to be catered for,
so they hired a private security force
and declared war on the poor!