A Tribute to Tidemill Garden


On Monday, 29th October 2018, the occupiers of Tidemill Garden were evicted by heavy-handed bailiffs and security guards ordered by Lewisham Council. At 6am, a total of 120 bailiffs and security guards with balaclavas, as well as 3 local police officers to ‘prevent a breach of the peace’, arrived and without any warning or attempts at dialogue the handful of occupiers in the garden were forcefully evicted. Save Reginald Save Tidemill activist Damien Hughes, one of the 4 occupiers left in the garden at that time, narrates:

“It all happened so quickly. They came like a swat team, and in huge numbers. It was shocking to see so many uniformed security personnel in a wildlife park in London at that hour of the morning and acting with such aggression. There were about 50 pretty evenly spaced security guards lined up around the outer circle of the garden in yellow vests, plus some bailiffs in blue vests dotted here and there. Others were moving and standing in different formations in the back car park and the basketball court. The perimeter path outside of the garden also had a line of security men and women. Lights were flashing everywhere throughout the garden and the whole site, plus a bugle was sounding constantly by one of us, intermingled with the sounds of people shouting for help clearly being roughed up by the security/police. The sheer ferocity of the invading forces was quite violent and brutal, which managed to clear the garden quite quickly. So those 50 security guards in the Garden alone at 6.10am were for us four folks.”

Shortly after, one young woman who managed to climb the garden gates was dragged down by 6 men, putting her at risk of serious injury. Another young woman managed to climb to the top of a large tree and remained there for at least 7 hours despite attempts to get her down too. As the day unfolded, more police arrived, surrounding the garden with a solid line of police officers, security guards and bailiffs to keep protesters out, allowing the bailiffs in the garden to aggressively destroy all the lovingly-built structures such as sheds, tree houses, a memory board and other things without disturbance. A few youngsters who were brave enough to try and get into the garden to stop its destruction were pushed to the floor. The nail in the coffin came when a 7’ bailiff pushed Diann Gerson, a grandmother with a fractured shoulder and an arm in a visible sling, to the floor. Diann is a resident of Reginald House and wanted to go home when she was pushed to the ground. Bruised and in pain, she ended up in A&E to check whether her already fractured shoulder had been damaged more in the assault. She has since been advised to report the assault to the police. The police where there! They did nothing! Although many police officers seemed uneasy about their role in this whole fiasco (many didn’t actually seem to know what it was all about, and when protesters told them the whole story, many officers seemed sympathetic to the protesters’ cause and intentions), the police’s failure to interfere with these assaults, justified by ‘I’m just doing what we’ve been told to do’, is not going to help in restoring faith in the idea that the police is there to protect citizens in need.

As usually happens after such events that inconvenience the authorities, the narrative that is cooked up afterwards is that of vilifying protesters and campaigners, portraying them as the aggressors and those breaching the peace. Media reports are usually guilty of this too, but all the media reports that have covered the eviction (whether in support of the campaign or not), that I have seen, have expressed shock and surprise at such a heavy and aggressive presence of bailiffs, security and police to deal with people who are simply trying to save a much-loved community wildlife garden. Despite the many available videos and images online that evidence the reports, members of the local authority are denying the heavy-handedness of the bailiffs and attempt to shift the focus on a handful of people whose appearance helps to reinforce common stereotypes they already have. Comments such as “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” (Paul Maslin on Twitter) are typical when speaking of protesters and activists, but the irony is that this description is actually much more fitting of the bailiffs on that day, who were masked (and in much larger numbers than masked protesters), shouted at anybody coming near them, do not live locally, acted with violence, blocked entry to a community garden and might have also had a beer in a pub at the end of the day. The comment on drinking is very telling though; the fact that a couple of people had a can of Lager in their hand is an easy excuse. I suppose somebody in smart-casual wear drinking a £6-pint in a bar in the middle of the day is okay, but a protester trying to keep themselves warm with a drink when spending a whole day in the cold to fight for social justice is despicable! I also found other comments from local residents on social media very surprising, such as “jackals from fringe parties and outside the area who have sniffed a chance to get some publicity”. To clarify things: the woman attempting to climb the fence lives locally and has been a vital part of the campaign for a long time. The woman in the tree and the other three masked protesters also live locally and have been vital for the success of the campaign. The idea that they were out for some publicity for themselves is just ridiculous considering that they are masked, thus hiding their identity. In fact, they have been supporting the campaign without the need to congratulate themselves publicly. And anyway, does it matter whether they are local? Surely what matters is a common belief in a fairer society and more sustainable future. As another person on social media commented: I don’t need to live in the Brazilian rain forest to fight against its destruction!

Did some campaigners shout out their emotions? Of course they did! Who wouldn’t when faced with angry and shouty security guards and cruel injustice! But this focus on a handful of masked people and describing them as violent because they attempted to climb trees and fences, as opposed to focusing on a whole army of bailiffs, security and police, many of whom were masked and violent, is laughable. Whilst some campaigners acknowledge the presence of police officers who were sympathetic and understanding, the opposition to the campaign totally denies the presence of over 100 unmasked protesters who congregated with the 5 masked protesters to campaign peacefully to save a wildlife garden. There are no reports of the amazing community spirit so typical of Deptford on that day, with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds coming together to save this beautiful space, of the people dancing, singing, playing music, cheering and providing support for each other. There is no mention of the two elderly ladies standing there for 8 hours crying their eyes out having to watch their much-loved green space being closed down in front of their eyes; there is no mention of residents of the townhouses opposite the garden allowing campaigners to use their front porches and toilets; there is no mention of the fiddle-player and the drummer who kept the girl in the tree motivated to stay in the tree for so long; there is no mention of locals who were detained from joining the protest due to work-commitments but who popped by to bring food and drink; there is no mention of Captain Rizz’s moving speech to police officers about what the garden means to him; there is no mention of former strangers joining up to fight for common beliefs; there is no mention of the hugs and support people have provided for each other; there is no mention of the fact that this day was only the culmination of a 4-year peaceful and considered campaign NOT against the building of social housing but merely FOR sparing a small community garden and existing council block in the process of building social homes. Joe Dromey says the eviction needn’t have happened if occupiers had left the garden when instructed to do so. However, the occupation needn’t have happened had the local council listened to and worked with the campaigners. To repeat: campaigners have never opposed the building of social homes or the development of the site, hence the engagement with a local architect who drew up alternative plans that spare the garden and Reginald House. They have only ever opposed the destruction of these valuable community assets that mean so much to them. If this had been taken into consideration in the planning application, neither the occupation nor the eviction would have needed to happen. But if councillors think green spaces only have value if they look like Kew Gardens or the hanging gardens of Babylon (as expressed by Paul Bell on BBC News), how can one even begin a dialogue about the value of community.

What I witnessed on the day of the eviction is what I have witnessed throughout the campaign and among campaigners: love, compassion, creativity, hope, friendship and a belief in a fairer society; community spirit like I have never witnessed anywhere else. At the beginning of this year, I created a Memory board (see image below) whose contents were thankfully saved the night before the eviction (the structure it was attached to was unnecessarily destroyed by bailiffs during the eviction). It showed images taken of the garden since the 1990s and invited comments by garden users, who have noted down some memorable stories and their feelings for the garden. I am including these here to pay tribute to what Tidemill Wildlife Garden means to people.





“Tidemill Garden is part of the cohesiveness of Deptford”



Performer, musician, community development worker, local activist, volunteer and campaigner Heather Gilmore has lived in Deptford for 24 years. Together with other campaigners she is resisting the demolition of the currently occupied Tidemill Wildlife Garden and the 16 council flats of Reginald House on Reginald Road in Deptford, which are to be replaced with 209 flats. The campaign group have worked tirelessly to save these invaluable community assets by using their artistic skills and local knowledge to organise events, create promotional materials, demonstrate, protest, draw up alternative plans and raise London-wide awareness. Their campaign activities were also incorporated into this year’s Deptford X, London’s longest running contemporary visual arts festival, featuring David Aylward’s (RUR) silent procession Hands Off, Sue Lawes 74 Trees (Tree Demolition Schedule), Caroline Jupp’s Buddleia Bulletin in the Reading Room that was entirely made with recycled materials by campaigners, and Sophia Kosmaoglou’s Art and Gentrification Walk and Debate (as well as an impromptu sound/walk performance by APT Gallery).

Deptford Aint Avinnit: Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! as part of Deptford X 2018

Since 29 August, the day the council wanted to lock the gates, campaigners and activists have occupied the garden and managed to defer an eviction order until 24 October 2018. In the two days before the bailiffs come, they are holding a two-day celebratory peace camp and a candle-lit vigil (Tuesday, 23 October 7pm) to ‘show some people power in the resistance to the seizure of our land’ (Campaign Facebook page). Due to persistent campaigning and awareness raising, there has been great media coverage of the campaign, with Heather having become the public face of it (see links at the bottom for media reports and videos). I want to write about the positive creativity, dedication and determination campaigners have displayed, all based on the fundamental belief that we should all be living in a fairer society that caters for all. I have huge admiration for those that are ‘sacrificing’ their whole free time to serve the community and fight for a more sustainable future. Despite what campaigners are up against, there has always been a sense of calm hope in the air and the use of any artistic talent, be it photography, drawing, music, performance art or theatre has contributed to keeping up motivation and keeping the campaign fun. I wanted to speak to Heather about her personal motivations for being a local activist and what living in Deptford means to her. Here is what she told me.

“I moved to Deptford in 1994. When the opportunity came up, I grabbed the chance because I’d grown to love Deptford when I lived here in the 80s. At that time, I was working on arts projects at the Albany and I’d never lived in such a cohesive community before. It was very artistic, very underground – very community focussed. It housed predominantly working class people with and without further education experiences who worked together using their artistic talent for the benefit of the community.  I have always felt a pull towards community work combined with the arts, and Deptford inspired me.

In 2006, when my daughter was older and I had more time available for community engagement, I became part of Deptford Stories, a play about the history of the Albany.  It was the first theatre piece I had been involved in for years.  Just after that a group of us locals helped the Albany with a Community Event and as a result of that established A Madcap Coalition, a community arts project for the people of Deptford to bring people together on their estates and engender respect for each other’s cultures through the arts. We secured premises on the Pepys Estate and managed to fund-raise for tents, materials and paid artists for the events. We travelled from estate to estate, set up tents, made various fair-ground games, and in 7 years we’d organised about 50 events! The response was so positive, with one young woman studying Community Cohesion as part of an A level course, saying: “This is it!” and a local resident commenting: “This is exactly what we need!”

Unfortunately, after 7 years I burnt out. We had no paid staff to manage the project and I wanted to balance my life with some creative expression. I’m an actress and musician and as organising all these events took up all my time, I didn’t have space for my creative aspirations and felt trapped in a managerial position.  The final straw for me was when we failed to secure a funding bid to Deptford Challenge Trust, which was for projects needing to take the next step in their development. We had done so much including becoming a registered charity.  I was so devastated that a local trust which supports local projects would not fund us, I simply burnt out and couldn’t carry on. Before I left in 2013, we were asked to do an event in Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and I fell in love with it the moment I walked in. The garden was beautifully designed by a landscape architect and planted 20 years ago by the teachers, parents and pupils of Tidemill school. This garden is magical and has become incredibly important to me. I’m registered blind – I have a degenerative condition and my eyesight has got worse over the years. I now have 5% of blurred vision and I may go completely blind one day. But when I come in here, my eyes are bathed in green light and it helps me relax and imagine I am in the country. I have to rely on others to help me get out of London, but the garden is close to my flat, and the bird song and the over 100 trees thrill me and I feel at peace when I’m here.­

I got involved in the campaign to save the garden and Reginald House flats in 2014 – as soon as I heard they were under threat. When we found out that Reginald House tenants had been campaigning against the demolition of Reginald House for 6 years, we linked up and concentrated on developing planning objections to the proposals together. The numbers for social housing were appalling at the time and formed part of our objections. We presented alternative outline plans drawn up by an architect member of the group, but they were dismissed out of hand. They were meant to be used as an example of what could be done – not submitted as a planning application.  That would cost around £50k – unaffordable to a community group.  The Council’s line is that they are unworkable as they stand because they are not detailed drawings.  We purely tried to show that the council could get the same amount of units with bedroom numbers equivalent to the council’s plans.  We also presented photographs, a list of events, and the fact that our group opened the garden up to the whole community (previously it was only open to the Tidemill School community). But the main argument was pollution. Data collected by Citizen Sense, a Goldsmiths University study has shown that the garden mitigates pollution by half in an area six times over WHO limits (https://datastories-deptford.citizensense.net/old-tidemill/) To our surprise, we won a deferment and made good use of this extra time to campaign for alternatives. We arranged meetings and worked tirelessly to persuade the council and developer to meaningfully engage with us, at every opportunity and in every way possible but no representative of the future social landlord ever came to our meetings. Ironically, in August 2017 the Garden featured as a Case Study for children at play for the Greener City Fund from the GLA (https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/greener_city_fund_prospectus.pdf). Only a month after that planning permission was granted to build on the garden.

GLA case for Tidemill croppedLewisham Council’s developers now have planning permission to build 209 flats here – 49% will be for new social tenants at ‘London Affordable Rent’ which is 63% higher than present Lewisham council rents. We want the social housing but not the destruction of current community assets. It will just take a bit of imagination.  To that end we have requested that the developer go back to the drawing board to come up with a community-led design that will spare the garden and Reginald House. Our request has been dismissed out of hand.  We have been treated contemptuously by our elected representatives and their back officer agents.  When we were instructed to leave the site by 29 August 2018, we decided to occupy it. A judge then ruled that the council’s recent possession order has to be deferred until seven days after our Judicial Review application was assessed, on 17th October, to decide whether to go to full hearing. Our application was refused and we are expecting the bailiffs on Wednesday 24th October. However, we are applying for an appeal at the High Court and will not give in until we have exhausted all possibilities to stop the council from taking possession of the garden.


Among us garden users are some amazing creative and resourceful activists who have used their ingenuity in the building of sheds, tree houses, a functioning kitchen area, a store room along with creating artworks, placards and banners. We have organised many events and through them and our campaigning, thousands of people have visited and local people have come together to enjoy the garden and resist its annihilation. I have developed beautiful friendships here and organising events for the campaign has made me feel valued, capable and confident that despite my disability I can still contribute to community life. This garden is part of the cohesiveness of Deptford. It has so much potential to provide working-class people, young and old, who may not want to or cannot fully participate in the culture of gentrification, with a creative, healthy and affordable space to be. It can offer motivation and hope too.

Campaigners in action
Some of the creativity and resourcefulness shown during this campaign

In Deptford it currently feels like we’re being assaulted by concrete, glass and metal, as well as noise and air pollution. With the constant hum of digging, the increased heavy vehicle traffic and all the monstrous luxury developments, this garden is becoming more and more necessary – it’s priceless. I live on the Crossfield’s Estate which faces another 4 developments (No 1, 2 and 3 Creekside and Sun Wharf), and this together with the Tideway Tunnel and all the development on the Greenwich side of the Creek is causing more and more pollution. As I said, the garden mitigates air pollution from a road 30 metres away by half and there are clear links between green spaces and people’s well-being – physical and mental. I’m concerned for my health and that of the community, and I feel stressed with all that is yet to come. Coming into the garden de-stresses me, and I know of others who come in here ‘to sort my head out’ – as one ex-vet neighbour suffering from PTSD said.

(For more information on planned developments in the area, including Tidemill, please visit this blog: crossfields.blogspot.com).


I fear that with all the development in this small area, the cohesiveness of Deptford will fall apart. These developments are not for people born and those already living in this local community and have devastating effects on working-class families. Most of the children of the people of Deptford will not be able to live here when they’re older, diminishing the good will of young people who would like to contribute to their area. Deptford will be full of high-rise developments (behind Laban they are building one 30-storey and one 27-storey block) owned by private investors often sitting on empty flats. And I am not convinced or confident that newcomers who can afford to pay £500,000/600,000 for a flat will understand the impact this will have on local working-class people or have the will to support them through their increasing vulnerability to being homeless.  There are an estimated three million people in this country who are one pay packet or benefit payment away from ending up on the streets. This is not to put all newcomers into the same box – I have spoken to many and they get where we’re coming from when I explain the reasons behind our campaign.  It is after all in their interest to live in a peaceful and healthy community. The problem is that many people are not aware of the impacts of gentrification as they are sold a con, a particular version of life that does not include us. It is the first time in 24 years that it occurred to me that I might want to get out of here…but then again, I have little choice and I couldn’t leave anyway because Deptford is my spiritual home. That’s why I will continue to resist its destruction.”


You are welcome to visit Tidemill Garden, Reginald Rd, Deptford SE8 4RS – Heather’s there most days. You can follow the campaign on Facebook: Save Reginald/Save Tidemill and help to raise funds for the legal campaign:   https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-reginald-save-tidemill

For further reading on the campaign and its press coverage, please click on the various links below:




















A conversation in Deptford library

In light of the recently proposed library cuts in Lewisham, it seems a timely moment to publish a conversation I recorded in Deptford Lounge a few months ago. For some time now, I’ve been meeting Marion, Michael, John and Peter to talk about their views on Deptford. They meet regularly at Deptford Lounge, their one and only social space where they feel welcome to spend their afternoons together and chat. Over the years, the group has grown and together they engage in lively discussions about history, Deptford and life in general. I spend most of the time talking to Marion and Michael, and John, a local chap with special needs who loves Deptford market and record shops, occasionally joins the conversation. Marion is a ‘true Deptfordite’, born and bred in the borough of Deptford and whose nan used to own a shop on Tanner’s Hill. Michael is a mixed-race Lewisham man with a degree in Sociology who comes to Deptford most days. Together they engage in a fascinating discussion about life in Deptford that spans across the whole of the 20th century up until now, covering everything from growing up here to being compulsory purchased, the racism of the 70s and 80s, feeling isolated and left behind and visions of the future. They provide an insightful analysis of how they view the changes happening in the area. Please note that the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect my own.


Marion: I grew up in Deptford in the 50s and I remember all the shops from that time. There was a pet shop and we used to have a shop called Peery’s just up the High Street where my mum would buy all the sheets, towels, pillow cases and other household goods. Then under the bridge used to be Fanto’s, which did the same thing but had more higher-class things to sell, and there used to be a tailor’s under the bridge who would make suits to measure. My nan opened up a second-hand shop on 19 Tanner’s Hill, where my mum was born, and she also bought the house next door for my aunt so as children we could walk through the two houses. Although there was already quite a few second-hand shops, my grandmother was noted for mending, washing and ironing the clothes, and she didn’t distinguish between the people from Carrington House and others, even if they didn’t have pennies to pay her, she would let them have it because they were poor. My grandmother always used to look out for the poor. She remembered all the poor people queuing up outside the Deptford Mission on Creek Road without shoes on and never forgot that the poor people were treated so badly. They were given one jug of soup and, depending on how many were in a family, between one and two loafs of bread. Even my father used to go to school without shoes because his mother couldn’t afford them, and he would get beaten by the school master because he got to school with dirty feet. How terrible when you think that they can do that to a child when it’s not even their fault. There was also a murder in a shop in Deptford High Street, the first case where they used fingerprints to capture the murderer. Well, my mother knew the people in the shop and the buggers that did it, and their mother, and it was only because they were so poor that they killed those people because they believed these people had money. They were cruel times.

Marion’s nan holding her auntie outside the shop on 19 Tanner’s Hill. Image kindly supplied by Marion

My grandmother always used to say ‘You don’t wanna live over the tramline’. Now the tramlines went all the way from New Cross to Blackheath and over the tramlines, the Tanner’s Hill end, that was the better class of people, working-class but they were a better class, who worked for what they wanted, they saved, didn’t let the children run wild, made sure that everything was in place, whereas it was perceived that if you lived across the other side of the tramline, you were not good, that people would steal and do terrible things. It was a class within a class because you could almost say where the person came from by looking at the way they were dressed. A lot of the women were very poorly dressed, whereas the women up Tanner’s Hill may have had a pinny over them and were much more affluent than these poor women on the other side. My grandmother always felt sorry for them and she often used to do up some clothes and send them to the Mission for them to give out.


The poor people of Deptford. Images kindly supplied by Marion.

In the top half of the High Street, the Tanner’s Hill side of the tramline, we had everything we needed within that area. There was Finchey’s which did everything from hair shampoo down to ice cream to children’s dummies, we also had a baker’s that baked its own bread, we had Clark’s Butchers with one shop on top and another on the bottom of Tanner’s Hill. Mr Clark’s daughter actually married Charlie Chaplin. We also had a fish shop, a greengrocer’s, two doors from my nan’s there was a cycle shop called Wickham’s, and next to my nan’s was a gentleman called Cupboards who repaired saddles, handbags, belts, and other things, and opposite my nan, where there’s now a record shop, there used to be a pickle factory.

John: There used to be a record shop on the High Street, but it’s gone now. I love music. And I like the market. I go there every day.

Marion: They did pickled onions and gherkins and the smell in the summer was horrendous. The smell of vinegar put me off for life, but it was a part of Deptford and you knew where to go if you wanted your pickles for Christmas. In the 60s, I remember, there was a fish stall that stood just on the corner of the High Street [where the Lounge stands] and he would have live eels and people would come up and ask him for the eels in a jar, and as children we could take a jam jar to him and he would pay us a penny. And then there was more pubs in Deptford than there was anything else, and we had 2 cinemas where my mum worked as an usherette and where she met my father. One of them was a significant building with all plushed seats and a chandelier. How they came to pull it down I’ll never know.

[John comes over with the book Lewisham & Deptford in Old Photographs by John Coulter to show us photographs of the cinemas of that time, particularly Deptford Broadway Theatre.]

But that’s all gone now. People no longer go to the corner shop and talk to each other like they used to. You used to go in the baker’s and you’d say ‘Have you seen So and So?’ and Joyce Bowley, who owned Bowley’s the baker’s would say ‘Oh I’ve seen her but she’s not too well’. Today you can go weeks without seeing somebody and you don’t know who to ask.

IMG_20180506_0008One of the shops on Deptford High Street. Image kindly supplied by Marion.

In the 70s you could see Deptford changing. My mother’s house was compulsory purchased and basically, they pulled down whole rows of houses that really didn’t need pulling down; they just needed doing up to the standard that people expected. They were firm houses, all quite large 3, 4, 5-bedroom houses, some Georgian, some Edwardian, some Victorian, but they pulled so many of them down and nobody asked what people thought about this. The council made all the decisions – they compulsory purchased you and only offered you the basic value of the property, regardless of the work you’d done inside, and you had to take it. They built an estate on the land, which is wonderful in one way but people are enclosed in their own area and don’t really talk to anybody outside of their estate. When my mother moved into Friendly Street, all the people were talking to each other but on the new estates people didn’t talk. They brought in people from other areas, some came from Dagenham, others from East London, and it was difficult to get to know them. This was all very upsetting because a lot of the people whose houses were pulled down didn’t stay in the area, they all moved. My mum and a few others were the only ones that stayed around, either in Strickland Street, Baildon Street, Lucas Street and Little Gloucester because them houses hadn’t been pulled down then. But the house that I’d been born in was pulled down, and I also get upset about my nan’s shop; it’s actually a listed building but the people that bought it have altered the front of it.


Marion’s nan’s old rent book. Image kindly supplied by Marion.

Michael: so, when you look back and then come forward, how do see yourself as a Deptford person, how do you see yourself currently then?

Marion: very isolated, it’s very isolating because the number of people I knew, all the older generation, the true Deptford people, they are all dying off now, and their children, like my children, can’t afford to live in Deptford so they’ve had to move out. One of my daughters is over in Orpington, my other daughter is over in East London; they would love to come back to Deptford but they can’t afford it, they just can’t afford the properties around here. My eldest daughter did try to get a property round here but it was so astronomical – there’s no way they could afford it. I understand they have regenerated the area, they want to make money from what they’ve laid out and they obviously want to make a profit on that, but they’re making so much of a profit at times that it’s absolutely astronomical. I mean they’ve made the place tidier but they’ve not made it a community because they put up flats which tend to be very isolating because people tend to go in, shut the door and don’t talk to anybody, and I know that from the flats that surround me. I never expected Deptford to change so vastly

John: there used to be buses down the High Street, the No1 used to go down here

Marion: yes, the No 1 and the 47 used to come down here

Michael: so, do you see yourself as the last bastion of what you would call a Deptford person?

Marion: oh yeah, I’m one of the last surviving ones. Years ago I could walk out of my mum’s front door, even in Friendly Street, and no sooner would I walk down the road and it was ‘Hello Mrs So and So, Hello Sir,…’ It’s quite strange that I remember being able to talk to so many people but now they’re all different faces, there’s nobody to whom you can say ‘Oh I remember you from like when I was a child’, there isn’t anybody anymore, and that is very upsetting. The new people that move in are always on the way to somewhere, drawn into Deptford because of all the transport links, and sure some of them talk to us but it’s not the same as seeing somebody that you know. My aunt never accepted the change in Deptford

Michael: but are you accepting the change in Deptford Marion?

Marion: I’ve had to because I can’t change Deptford back to the way it was; you would need the people that grew up in Deptford, knew Deptford, to be able to bring back all the community that was here. Now, it’s so vastly different, I accept it because I have to, but I don’t like it and it upsets me to see all the things I once knew gone

Michael: so, what’s your fear for the future…and your hopes?

Marion: my fear is that Deptford will be no longer Deptford, that it will be swallowed up and become Lewisham. I know it’s in Lewisham but to Deptford people it will always be Deptford. But I fear that mentality will pass because nobody today will grow up with the same feelings for Deptford. But I’m hoping that the council and developers will remember that people will need somewhere they can go. I mean we’re lucky we’ve got this library because where else would we go?

Michael: but what about the places under the railway arches? There’s lots of little shops that cater for local people, so that’s an aspect you haven’t particularly looked at in the wider sense

Marion: but them shops are for the affluent people, not for the proper Deptford people. I’m not being funny but a true Deptfordite would go ‘I’m not paying that price!’ The younger generation probably think it’s wonderful because they got all of them artisan shops and coffee and food places, but they will only serve a certain percentage of the community, basically people that get up the trains that live here or that are just passing through, but the actual Deptford people won’t go there

Michael: I don’t see that myself but that’s how you’re seeing it for yourself because this is how you’re perceiving your Deptford

Marion: yeah, that’s right. I do hope that people who move in will start to come together and be a community, learn Deptford’s history although they’ll never know the little nitty bits that shape the essence of Deptford. Deptford is my home, right from birth it’s always been my home. I’ve lived in other places but I’ve always come home to Deptford.  I’m happy here, I’ve had to accept Deptford as it is, it’s wrinkles and crinkles, but I’ve still got people around me

Anita: so would it make a difference if the people coming in would engage more with local people and places, would familiarise themselves with Deptford’s history, and if there were more social spaces for local people?

Marion: yeah, absolutely! I hope that the community will come together eventually and be much more open like years ago and not so transient


Michael: Deptford has created a problem for itself because how can we now address this divide and how can we grow so Deptford is for everybody? Deptford is its people, but in a capital society, where it’s all about money and always will be, how can we all exist together? The people who move, they don’t spend their money here, their money goes elsewhere, and we’re left with the council to provide for us. You have to use a pragmatic angle and be realistic: we can’t stop change. Deptford was for many years crying out for regeneration but it’s about the balance between keeping some of its old character and uniqueness, and progress, and this is very difficult.  The Lounge is the greatest input compared to any other borough. There were times where coming to Deptford wasn’t very conducive, in fact it was very dangerous. I know Deptford was very unique for working-class families like Marion’s, but I know more about the wider aspects and understand more about it from a more critical perspective. Being mixed-race and coming here from Catford with my mates many years ago – we also experienced the ‘you’re not from here attitude’.  I know history is important, but it’s also important to understand change and how things need to change. In the 1970s, change was perceived in a negative way, politically, such as how Marion described it. Deptford was a place whose history changed dramatically when you think of the National Front coming in at the time. It was when the white working-class people felt marginalised and stamped on with all the new people coming in – this is exactly where Marion’s perspective is coming from – they felt threatened and couldn’t adapt to the new situation. These feelings were very strong in Deptford.

1977 and the Battle of Lewisham was the turning point for the borough of Lewisham because of what was happening socially. Between 1970 and 1977 Lewisham was not at ease with itself, its people, but I can only tell you the narrative of my older siblings as I was too young to experience this, I know this from what they told me – they would have been between 17 and 22, they were young, evolving and looking at aspects of how society was shaping. The institutional racism at that time…you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time…lots of pubs used to be full of racists and you could be subject to racism just by walking past. My siblings faced a lot of verbal abuse. The National Front had walks here, they thought they could take over Lewisham, believed they had lots of in-road in Lewisham. They wanted a seat in the government in the 70s and set up stalls to sell their paraphernalia. Up until that point, people weren’t addressing what was going on which is why the NF was so successful. But after 1977 and the Battle of Lewisham, black people for the first time felt they had a voice, “this is where we live, we live here too”. We experienced a tremendous hope for tomorrow and that we can be perceived as having a perspective and a voice without fear. It made the government look at all aspects. I was growing up then – you could go out, you didn’t feel threatened, that’s why I feel passionate about my borough which is very different from my siblings. We could be expressive, there was hope, I was allowed to come to Deptford. Where would we be without the Battle of Lewisham? That’s why I went to the unveiling of the plaque in the summer 2017.

Deptford is the area of the true working-class of the borough, working-class in every sense of the word: socially, economically, their habits, they are unlike in any area in the borough. Deptford’s always been viby and edgy due to the working-class. In the 90s, it was not at ease with itself, it was searching for a new soul, the old was gone and there was a clash with the new. This was at the start at how I saw Deptford, but again I’m coming from a perspective from outside looking in. In my view, it couldn’t remain as it was, it had to grow, but how do you grow from within? Whatever designs the council had – ways of creating finances – were close to how East London was seen financially, how it could make money and how this could be done in Deptford. But it’s about trying something without losing its identity; there will always be winners and losers but how do you merge the history of the real Deptfordites, people born and bred here, with the younger generation? We can’t keep it romanticised like Marion’s version of Deptford, we have to change this kind of mindset to incorporate all people, it’s about trying to find a balance so that we can be part of something and are proud to be from Deptford at the same time.

It’s very important that Deptford keeps its working-class roots, but I believe working-class people are going to be squeezed to such an extent that I don’t know how the working-class view Deptford’s legacy. I can see why developers have chosen Deptford – it’s got the river and there are lots of opportunities to generate money, and it has an investment agenda, but investment for whom? It will not incorporate everyone. I see the enterprise, the very nice, well-planned financial investment in certain areas, like the railway arches. Are they technically saying this is for everyone? That type of business, in a brutal and psychological way, keeps people in a financial war because people are asking: “Where are places for me? Does this investment include me? Am I comfortable here?”

It’s not good to have this us and them mentality but the new shops in the area create this because they are, I hate to say it but it’s true, not for us. I can’t think of anyone who’d go there. It’s perhaps not people’s intentions but these kinds of establishments like the ones under the railway bridge create a divide, psychologically and mentally. This is a working-class area and I’m wondering what is tomorrow’s Deptford? How is it there for everyone? I cannot say what Deptford is going to be like in the future. Why don’t they [developers, councils] liaise with people and allow them to express their views rather than decide what’s right for them – let them live here too. I mean, we need to ask ‘what do you really want for Deptford?’ Things are now so far removed from the working man, I’m surprised people haven’t gone out into the streets again. People don’t want that much, just something that is theirs and something they can identify with. Identification is really important, and they can’t identify with what’s out there. If you’re pushed out because of your class, and Deptford is now more middle-class, then it’s about cleaning away the past, and the past wasn’t always romantic. These are testing times for Deptford, and we don’t know what’s gonna happen, we don’t even know what Lewisham is up to and it leaves ordinary people wondering where they fit into the picture, what their place is in this place and society. They will have to address certain aspects.

Yes, Deptford has to adapt. How can Deptford people survive if they can’t adapt but at this point in time, I don’t see regeneration for local people, what I see is investment for a financial bracket of people. We need everyone’s view of how the Deptford of tomorrow has to be reconstructed as it will affect everybody. I can see a segregation mindset developing if they’re not careful, and this is happening with the help of the borough and they need to start taking responsibility. We have seen this in other parts of London with a Labour council, Lewisham is also a Labour council. I’m a Socialist and I don’t like what this Labour council is doing. They are adding to this dilemma of no place for the working-classes, the poor, and I find it hard to accept because I want to believe in a Labour council, but I find it increasingly harder to understand what the Labour councils are doing. I’m feeling more and more disillusioned! Deptford is the most important part of Lewisham, no other area has what Deptford has but this kind of regeneration creates individual problems: mental health issues, housing issues, the welfare system, all these aspects need looking at with these changes. Or alcohol, drugs, those who are marginalised. There has to be a focus on the white working-class aspects because how do you address issues of the white working-class? In itself, Deptford has a wonderful social mix, but we need to think about how we can address the issues that are fundamental to the white working-class in this agenda? From a Socialist point of view, the Labour council’s agenda is not for everyone even if they say it’s for everyone. And we need to think about the importance of family life. If the children of local people can’t afford to live here, it fragments family life, as in Marion’s example. Where do local people go? Are young people going to be pushed out completely? I see more and more young people living with their parents and this can lead to mental health problems. There clearly is a shortage of houses, we know that, but if people see all this new housing developed for other people, it will lead to mental health problems. We have to think about all these important components that would make up a Deptford that works for everyone. We have to reach out to everyone so that everybody has opportunity, because otherwise we have a society that’s mentally and psychologically dead, with no hope. There has to be hope.


I can’t stipulate enough how important the Lounge is, it has basically become a vocal point for people, it’s a community, our social space.  The staff here are very aware of that and have become open to that aspect of how the library is being used. They allow all kinds of people in – drinkers, the homeless, people with mental health issues, and some come from way beyond to socialise here – like us. Where else would we go? You can drink your tea, coffee or hot chocolate, you’re not harassed and sent away, there are comfortable chairs. Where else can local people spend their money if there’s nothing there? Many are unemployed or earn just a little, and the funding has changed – many people can’t access help anymore. Where do you get comfort from if you can’t see anyone for your weekly routine? Where you can have a cup of tea and an outlet to talk about issues. So this space has wider implications; take it away and you will have more social problems and mental health issues. And we also need to find links between the generations to allow parties to engage. These engagements I believe will be even more important in the future because the facilities won’t be there anymore. There are all these cut-backs for all of us and at the same time all this new stuff for new people.


Goddard’s Pie & Mash shop is closed



Today was the last day A.J. Goddard’s Pie & Mash shop opened its doors to the public. Customers had vowed to give Goddard’s a proper send-off and what a send-off it was! As Simon had predicted, the queue was hanging out the door for most of the day (and yesterday) with whole families – babies, teenage kids, parents, grand-parents and dogs – coming to eat at Goddard’s for the last time. People had travelled from Gravesend, Charlton, Catford and many other places just to be here today. Simon was assisted by Karen and other family members and friends, trying to keep up with the constant flow of large orders. People waited patiently, taking photographs, sharing memories and expressing sadness and disbelief that Goddard’s is closing. Customers ordered the lot: pie, mash, peas and liquor (or gravy), some added chilli vinegar, a cup of tea, followed by pudding and more tea. Some young lads asked for 3 or 4 pies on their plate, and one lady ordered just one pie and gravy, then helped out in the kitchen, chatted to customers before ordering another pie and gravy. The atmosphere was a mix of sadness, anger, celebration and hope – sadness and anger to see this place go but a celebration of memories, good times and long-standing friendships. And hope that Simon will open another Pie & Mash shop in Sidcup. It seems there is a good chance he will.


As I was waiting in the queue to place my order, I spoke to many people. Almost everybody who was there has been coming to Goddard’s for more than 30 years, some for more than 50. They remember their parents taking them here when they were children and they have been coming here ever since. They would never go to another pie & mash shop as Goddard’s in Deptford makes the best pies. Some remember eating their first pie and then taking their children to Goddard’s for the first time. Many don’t even live in Deptford but have been coming to Goddard’s once a month to eat their favourite pie. One lady told me that once Goddard’s is closed, she does not have a reason to come to Deptford so saying good-bye to Goddard’s today was saying good-bye to Deptford.


Simon and Karen were incredibly busy. Simon was at the back making the food and Karen was serving customers. They were assisted by a team of helpers as customers kept pouring in. Despite being worked off their feet, there was always time for a smile and a quick chat, and Simon was constantly ‘interrupted’ by customers wanting to say good-bye and wish him luck. As I was waiting for my pie, Clive, the business owner came in. There were cheers, people taking photos, chatting and shaking hands with him on the way out. It felt like a celebrity had arrived. I asked him how he felt and he said: “It’s the end of an era. It’s as simple as that.”

DSC_0572Clive and Karen


There was a constant coming and going and although many different people came to sit next to me the conversation was always the same. Eyes were filling up when narrating the memories and family traditions of coming to Goddard’s (and Deptford) and how much this place means to them. In the end I met Maria and her 16-year old boys Andrew and Andre, who have been coming here ever since they were little. Finally, Maria tells me: ” I have been coming here for 55 years, since the day I was born. Today is a very sad day.” I left with a heavy heart but glad to have witnessed such a coming together of people with a passion for Goddard’s pie and mash.


If  you’re interested in reading the whole story about Goddard’s, click on the link below:


Goddard’s Pie & Mash Shop is closing


Goddard's iThe shop front in 2010

I have recently found out that Goddard’s Pie & Mash Shop is closing its doors this autumn. I immediately went down to the shop on 203 Deptford High Street to find out whether it was true or not. As soon as I walked in I knew it was true; everyone in the shop was talking about it.  Apparently, Lewisham Council is not renewing Goddard’s lease. Rumour has it, it will become a Foxton’s Estate Agents.

I went in on a Tuesday late morning. There were three mums with their babies having pie and mash, Keith from the Evelyn Tenants & Residents Association and his son Simon were there, and Simon, the person running Goddard’s, was serving a customer who was ordering a whole load of pies, mash & liquor to take away. Not long after that, a couple came in to place a large order and had a cup of tea while waiting for Simon to get the fresh pies out of the oven. Then Tony came in, ordered his meal and sat peacefully in the corner, eating and reading the newspaper. All the conversations that took place revolved around the closing of Goddard’s. Disbelief, sadness and anger were in the air. How could Lewisham Council allow this? How could they shut one of the last remaining Pie & Mash shops in London whose history in Deptford goes back 128 years? All customers asked how much longer Goddard’s will be open, how much longer they can come for their pie and mash. Goddard’s will have its last trading day on October 7th 2018, and will vacate the building in mid-November 2018. There is a slight possibility that Goddard’s will set up again somewhere in the borough of Greenwich, but nothing is definite. In all their frustration they joke about giving Goddard’s a proper send-off, something like a funeral procession calling it ‘The Death of Deptford’. But joking aside, for Simon and Goddard’s customers the news is heart-breaking.

DSC_2538Tony enjoying his lunch in his usual place

Simon has been working at Goddard’s for over 20 years. “I only came down here one day to help clear the tables and I’ve been here ever since”, he tells me. Up until a few years ago, Clive, the business owner, was still working here and still does all the book-keeping from home (I photographed him in 2010 and the photographs are still hanging on the wall). Clive’s daughter Karen, Simon’s other half, was here until a few years ago, but like her dad, her ill health is stopping her from being able to come to the shop. Because of this, Simon has been running the shop by himself for a couple of years now. “It’s hard work all on your own! I get up at 5 o’clock every morning to get here for about half 6 to prepare everything (I live in Bromley). I actually make and bake everything here by myself. I make the dough, I sort the meat, I make the liquor gravy. I have a spuds machine that peels the potatoes but we use proper spuds here, none of that powder crap, and I make and bake as I go through the day. That’s why sometimes when customers come in and I’m busy, they might have to wait 10 minutes for the pies to come out of the oven.” In the past, when Goddard’s was really busy, the pies were all baked and left on the rack and heated up when customers ordered them, but now, with fewer customers, Simon makes and bakes as he goes through the day so the pies are always fresh. If he has any left over at the end of the day, he freezes them and sells them as frozen cooked pies.

DSC_2520Simon in Goddard’s

“When I first started here, the area was thriving – there was your florist’s, your baker’s, the queue in here was hanging out the door, we had 4 people just serving, that’s how busy we were. And now I’m doing it all by myself because the clientele ain’t here no more.” Simon’s mate Simon, Keith’s son, thinks there are still enough people who like a pie & mash but says the problem is that these people don’t live here anymore. “I mean, think about it, we had people from America come here, then we had three German guys, they were unsure about the pies at first but then really liked it. And all the customers that used to live here and come back once or twice a year to take back whole loads of pies. So there is clientele but not from round here no more. If you look at Deptford Market, I mean it’s nothing like it used to be! When I was a kid, it was packed right from where St Paul’s is all the way to the top!”

Simon (the shopkeeper) agrees. “You walk around the market now and you’re done in 5 Minutes. When I first started here it took 1.5 hrs, easy. Deptford’s changed so much! They say up-and-coming, I’d say it’s going straight down the toilet to be honest. Last Tuesday you could have heard a pin drop outside that shop, it was that quiet. Even George across the road in Manze’s – we were both standing outside the shop going ‘Where is everyone?’ The clientele is not here no more because all the Deptford Boys, they’ve all moved out. Most of the people that are moving in now, they prefer deep-fried chicken or bistro or somewhere where they can get a burger for £11. They don’t want old-school pie and mash, they want a Flat White from Costa for £3.50. And I understand not everybody likes pie and mash, you either love it or hate it, but people come in here and have a home-cooked meal for £3.50! I’ll even throw in a cup of tea, know what I mean! We had Professor Green come in here recently, even he said, ‘the people out there, they haven’t got money to pay £3.50 for a Flat White’.”

DSC_2514Keith enjoying his pie

Goddard’s is in a council property and it seems Lewisham Council has decided not to renew the lease. Goddard’s have experienced this scenario before when they had to vacate their shop on Evelyn Street, their original location, for the same reason in the early 60s (there is a picture of the original shop hanging on the wall). Goddard’s moved to 203 Deptford High Street in 1964, but all in all, Goddard’s have been in Deptford for 128 years. “We should have bought the building all them years ago but it all boils down to money, doesn’t it? We don’t have that sort of money. All I make in here, I put back in, just to keep it running…it’s fucking hard work!”, Simon tells me. “The terms of the lease were: pay a certain amount each quarter and manage the upkeep and maintenance of the building. The building is so old now, there are leaks here and there and I would fix it all myself but I haven’t got the money. And rent and rates have gone up in the air, I can’t afford it. I don’t know what’s the matter with the council – it’s all about money now. Money talks. But even if I had the money, they want the building back, no matter what I do, they don’t care about us little fish. They want something fancy now. I’ve heard it’s going to be an estate agent’s called Foxton.  It’s such a shame, 128 years we’ve been down here and it’s all disappearing. It’s heart wrenching! I’ve had people come down here saying, ‘Si, if you’re closing this shop I won’t come down to Deptford no more’.”

Photos I took of Goddard’s and Clive, the business owner, in 2010.


Simon (Keith’s son) has been coming to Goddard’s for years. “I was practically born in here”, he jokes. He is really good mates with Simon and helps out in the shop when things get really busy. He loves Goddard’s and what it stands for and seeing Goddard’s go is like losing a family member for him. “I’ve been coming here for over 30 years and I bring my kids in here as well. My son wasn’t too keen at first but one day he ate 5 pies at once! My record is 9 pies, one after another! I hate processed food and here everything is homemade – you can really trust the food.” Like everybody else in the shop, Simon feels emotional about the fact Goddard’s is closing down. “It’s part of our heritage, you won’t get any better heritage than this. The whole thing is ridiculous!” Simon the shopkeeper says he would be happy if the council offered him other premises in the area, something along the lines of ‘Unfortunately, the rents are going up but as you’ve been here so long, we’ll give you other premises’, but he says that the council aren’t interested in people like him. “And all that talk about heritage, it’s all just talk, all mouth and no trousers that’s what I call it; all the talk but nothing to back it up with.

DSC_2535The three Musketeers: Simon, Simon and George

The irony is that Simon was expecting a film crew the day I came in. They’d called as they were looking for a traditional pie & mash shop to use as a location for their film, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another pie and mash shop that is more traditional than Goddard’s. It contains all the original features from when it was set up, and furniture from Victorian times (the benches used to be in a Methodist Church). So while heritage and tradition live on in films and photographs, the actual object of historical significance is being devalued. As such, heritage becomes mere representation while it is being erased from real life. Simon then remembers when the Great British Bake Off asked Clive to recreate an eel pie. “We had Great British Bake Off come in here many years ago. Mel (from Mel and Sue) came in, and Clive had to create an eel pie, because that’s what they used to do probably when they first started. After that – obviously it went on TV – we had all these Chinese people come in here wanting an eel pie and we said ‘sorry, we don’t do them no more’! And they’d say, ‘but I’ve just seen it on TV!’, and we had to explain that we had to recreate it and that we don’t do them no more. I don’t bloody like ‘em anyway – slippery little things!”, he jokes. “And the irony is, when I have my St George’s flag hanging in the shop, people don’t like it and tell me to take it down! But that’s also part of my culture and heritage like pie and mash is and I’m not taking it down!”


Simon is currently trying to fill the freezers with frozen cooked pies. He’s not sure but he expects that on the last days before final closure, people will be queuing out the door to order whole loads of frozen cooked pies. He remembers one fellow who used to come once a year to buy 12 bags of frozen and 2 trays of cooked pies and take them up north. There are still lots of customers who have moved away but come down occasionally and take back lots of pies with them. Simon has a really good relationship with his customers, and it is because of his customers that Simon wants to come to work every day. “Sometimes I wake up and think I can’t be bothered but the thing that keeps me going, that makes me want to come in, is my customers, they and the banter with them make my day, really. They really can’t believe that we’re closing. They say to me, ‘Si, you’ve been here how long?’” Customers are also asking Simon for the original recipe but that will remain a secret. “I don’t care how much money you got, you ain’t having the recipe”, he laughs. But according to him, it’s not that simple anyway. “It’s not like you’ve got the recipe and know what you’re doing! I still get things wrong sometimes!”


When I ask Simon about his own future, and whether he has had any thoughts on what he’s going to do, his face turns sad. “I’m 49 this year and I haven’t got a clue what I’m gonna do. Back in the day I was a bit of a bad boy, you know, and I ain’t going back down that road, and I don’t really want to go and sign on. I might sell pies out the back of my car (he laughs), mobile pie & mash! I was thinking about it but it’s down to money again, innit? And that’s one thing I haven’t got. And Clive has had enough too, he can’t continue putting his hand in his pocket; he must have done this for about 40 years and now he needs to look after himself. He’s not well. But he’s really sad to see it go. It’s gonna be sad, really really sad. I’ll have a tear in my eye and I don’t cry over nothing!”

At least Simon hasn’t lost his sense of humour yet. The fact that the film crew is coming in today will provide him with a bit of extra cash, so he says: “Oh well, this might pay for my holiday. I haven’t had a holiday in 4 years! I used to go every year, used to take my kids down to Camber (Cambersands) – I might open a pie & mash shop down there!”


Last day of trading: Sunday Oct 7th 2018. Let’s all go down there and give them a proper send-off!!

“The end of this shop would be the beginning of the end of my life in London”

DSC_1771Stefan (right) and Adrian (left) in Green Onions

Stefan Finnis owns Green Onions Healthfood & Records on 6 Clifton Rise, New Cross, together with his business partner Adrian Ovari. Green Onions specialises in organic food, including a range of vegan and gluten-free foods, vinyl records, houseplants and garden essentials. The design of the shop has been carefully and lovingly thought through by Stefan and Adrian with the help of friends and family. For our conversation we sit in the corner of the shop by the window from where you can see across to the new development on the other side of the road. At first, Stefan and Adrian were planning to serve tea and coffee here but realised it would be too much work on top of everything else. Instead, they made this cosy corner for work meetings and chats like this one. As we chat and sip tea, I ask Stefan how he feels about the redevelopment plans in New Cross, and it is immediately clear from the response how strongly he feels about this:


“The regeneration of this area has an impact on all aspects of people’s lives, which is something the new communities that are coming in are less aware of. They just move into an area, wanting everything completely new, as though everybody can start anew at a whim. It ends up damaging for existing communities. We need a more gradual process of change! Change itself is not the issue, but how it happens and how it is being forced upon us, the way it is dictated and not negotiated, that is the issue. It feels very aggressive and it is designed by people who have little or no connection to the place they are changing. Money is the prime motivator now and decisions are influenced only by how much money can be made. The perverse idea that an area can be left to decline and suddenly go from degeneration to regeneration in a very short space of time doesn’t work. Good change can only happen over a long period of time and it can only work if people who are already in the area can stay to develop it rather than being moved on, because these people take with them everything an area such as New Cross is, leaving behind a shell.”

Stefan has experience with such processes and is very aware of the gap between the decision-makers and those on the ground. He used to be part of a bee-keeping project in Kennington Park, which needed to make way for a ventilation shaft in relation to the extension of the Northern Line. “It became very clear that, despite the consultations where developers and councillors acted as if they cared, decision-makers would always get what they wanted”, Stefan remembers. Stefan came to New Cross with this background, seeing history repeat itself in the early consultations about the redevelopment of Clifton Rise. “Three councillors attended one of the earlier meetings of the Achilles Residents Group, and the way they twisted and turned everything to their own advantage…the way they put down their arguments, it’s very clever. It felt so pre-planned and you could feel the mechanism to advance their own political careers. And basically, you’re up against people who are able to come into a room full of people without answering a single question. They appear to have an interest but they only come to get an idea of the opposition they’re facing. And you really get a sense of what you’re up against; there’s never going to be a fair outcome with people like that in the room. You do also feel that they are the ones sent from above to carry the message, but they’re also there for themselves, as this is how to establish their credentials as politicians. You feel there’s an agenda they know about, that there is a real plan that only they are privy to, and which they can’t let people know about, at any cost; they have to maintain a smokescreen. You’re dealing with people who are meant to represent the community, but you never feel this is what they’re doing. It’s a new generation of politicians being born in front of your eyes.”

We change the conversation to talk about the shop. Stefan explains how he and Adrian ended up in Clifton Rise, as this is a very important element of their business. “Adrian and I used to be involved in a shop called Dig this Nursery, situated between the former Hobgoblin pub (now The Rose pub) and the railway bridge, opposite New Cross Gate Station. The shop was a hybrid of healthfoods, plants and records, and we had a casual arrangement with the owner, who provided Adrian with a space to sell his records and offered me a workshop space in which to develop hand-made paper products, which I sold in the shop. The place became very important to the local community over a number of years, so when the Hobgoblin was sold on to new owners, the owner of Dig this Nursery was forced to move on. He relocated his shop to the site of Green Onions on Clifton Rise but moved out a few months later, leaving an empty space. We saw this as an opportunity to establish ourselves in our own business but we also wanted to keep something going that had been started: a place important to the local community. It takes time to establish something like a community space and it takes people time to get used to something new in their area, so we wanted continuity.”

As we chat, Ismail comes in and starts talking to Stefan. The two appear to know one another well, and they talk about the products Ismail is buying. Ismail comes in several times a week to buy herbs and other ingredients that are hard to find in the area. I introduce myself to him and ask him whether I can photograph him with Stefan. He immediately agrees and smiles at the camera. After I tell him where I was born, he recommends kombucha, a drink made of fermented tea which has similar health benefits to kefir, a drink he knows to be commonly consumed in Austria. He is clearly very knowledgeable about health foods.  As I spend more time in the shop, I notice that many customers are regulars.

DSC_1468Stefan and Ismail

Stefan and Adrian rebuilt everything themselves, and for them Green Onions is more than just a shop. It is a space where people can meet and a space that can involve others such as the local artists and makers whose work is sold in the shop. “We wanted to make sure there was somewhere in the area that provides healthfoods, and one of the reasons we saw this as a good opportunity was that this particular location suits itself to our type of business”, Stefan explains. “Clifton Rise has a special energy; New Cross in itself has its own energy, but Clifton Rise is special. If New Cross has a centre, you could say it’s somewhere round here. It has something to do with how people move through the area, it’s a meeting of worlds, of historically richer and poorer communities; Clifton Rise is somewhere in the middle of those two.”

Stefan is aware that for some others their shop is a symptom of the gentrification in place, but he’s very clear that it’s necessary to keep in mind the processes involved in setting up such a business, particularly considering its history next to the Hobgoblin. “We were always very careful about the way we present a shop like this to people: we debated a lot about what to name it and it was important to avoid using words that would immediately exclude people.” Stefan and Adrian are well aware that their shop would be the first move of regeneration in this area but they did not anticipate the kind of regeneration that is happening now. “It’s a dilemma, because as a business we have to develop and with other businesses coming into the area we’ve had new customers too, but we did not see this kind of development coming. But in a sense our shop is also the antithesis of what is happening in the area. When we set up, there was this active intention, our philosophy if you will, that the shop would demonstrate a healthy community, a sense of continuity and of how you can do something on a budget through the use of existing materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Most units in the shop are from recycled wood, prepared and installed by friends: the counter top is from an old night club, and the unit from a brand-new kitchen discarded in its original wrapping due to excessive overspending during the new development across the road.”

Ever since they found out about the plans to demolish all the shops on Clifton Rise, Stefan feels to be living in limbo. “It happened so soon after starting in 2015, although I guess we should have seen it coming.” Stefan has experienced something similar before, when he lived in Brixton, which he moved on from once it became more expensive. He now wonders whether he should stay with what they’ve built up in New Cross or whether to go somewhere where life feels more ‘normal’, having to take the risk of starting afresh. Many of his friends have already left London but he tries to keep positive: “I try to come back to my primary motivation which was an opportunity to take things to another level – to be self-sufficient…and deal with continual financial pressures. I do not want to see the energy that has been put into the shop go to waste. It also gave me purpose as I had found it difficult to put down roots in New Cross at first but now I feel more at home here. I live in one of the local housing communities and I have invested quite a lot into the life of that community as well.”

When I ask him what other motivations he has for keeping the shop going, he replies with: “People appreciate a shop like this in the area, it brings people together. I am proud because we employ three local people, and most of the artists and makers we work with live in the local area. If I want to measure the success of our business I can say that we have created jobs for ourselves and jobs for local people, and we are also giving local people the opportunity to put their work out there. One or two of the people whose work we sell have even gone on to bigger things since we opened the shop. The shop has provided them with a platform to establish themselves in the same way that we were given the opportunity in Dig this Nursery. That was a tradition Adrian and I agreed we should keep going, and this gives us a real sense of what you can do when working together; it’s a microcosm of how we see a healthy community functioning. If you take this away, you immediately feel the impact on other areas of life.”

This impact becomes clear when Stefan talks about the profound, life-changing impact closing the shop would have on his life, and listening to this gives me the goosebumps. “This will be a huge loss of something, of something I have invested a lot of energy in. It can’t be recreated. The end of this shop would be the beginning of the end of my life in London, it would be the final straw. It would be the end of a person living in London who has wanted to contribute and get actively involved in his local area and community. This loss of people who want to contribute is brain drain; it is a loss to London as a city and to the communities living in areas such as New Cross that make up the city. This process is threatening an organism, the diversity of the city, and people leaving is doing serious damage to areas.”

At this point, Stefan needed to get back to work, and as I was leaving, the shop was packed with customers from all different backgrounds in terms of age, gender, class and ethnicity. A woman expressed interest in the bags hanging at the front of the shop, bags I had been admiring when waiting for Stefan. She bought two bags and Stefan explained that the maker is a local artist who makes the bags herself at home. I buy the one that had caught my eye earlier and Stefan tells me that he met the artist, an elderly Jamaican lady, at an art fair and invited her to sell her bags in his shop. He sometimes visits her to have tea and a chat. Having witnessed the kind relationship Stefan has with his customers, I leave with a very warm feeling in my heart.


“The planned demolition of your home has so many repercussions”

DSC_2373Diann Gerson has lived in Reginald House for over 30 years. She moved in when her daughter Kerry was just a baby, and a few years after she had her son Brian. Now, Diann is a triple grandmother with two more grandkids on the way, and in 2009, Diann won first prize of the glam gran award. She is in full-time employment.

Diann grew up in the countryside of Bedfordshire and first came to London when she was 17. She lived in various boroughs, lived in Hazelwood House in Deptford for a while, and when she was expecting Kerry, friends living on the Pepys Estate (Lanyard House) put her up as she was waiting to be housed. “This was the time when people with babies were given council properties”, Diann remembers, so when Kerry was born, Diann was offered this flat in Reginald House where she has lived ever since. “When I came to Deptford I knew this was my place to live. Everybody gave it such a bad name, but everybody was so friendly. I immediately became a customer at Johnny Price’s and I still shop there today. It was him and his family who first got displaced from Reginald Road after the war. I actually went into labour in Johnny Price’s shop – I’d just done some shopping. I absolutely love Deptford, it’s so multicultural, everyone mingles, it’s one place and we’re all in it together.”

IMG_20180712_0001Kerry with their dog on the balcony of Reginald House in the early 90s (Diann in the background)

Diann was very poor when she came to Deptford and remembers sleeping on a mattress in the living room when she first moved into Reginald House. There was no heating at that time and as the only gas fire was in the living room it was convenient to sleep there. “During the first nights in winter, me and my daughter had to go to bed in full gear – fully clothed from top to bottom it was so cold. There was inch-thick ice inside the windows. But the attitude at the time was to just get on with it!” But what has always been special about living at Reginald House for Diann is the relationship with neighbours and the strong community they have built up. The community here has experienced good days and bad days, births and deaths, celebrations and conflicts – all of which have made the community stronger over the years. Diann narrates her memories:

“Everybody here was so friendly when we moved in. In No 18, there was was a lady called Dolly, and next door were Jim and Sue, and we all got along. Dolly was a very old lady and struggled up the stairs. Although she could have lived on the coast with her daughters, she refused as she didn’t want to leave Reginald House. We all looked out for her. Jim’s son often knocked asking whether she needed something from the shop, but all she seemed to be living on was eggs and a Mars Bar. When we hadn’t seen her for a while, we knew she wasn’t okay so we knocked a few times but she always said “I’m alright” and didn’t want anything. She was one of the old-fashioned ones who don’t want to admit they need help. We knew she wasn’t alright so we kicked down the door and found her lying on the floor. We called the ambulance… she never came home again. Dolly was the first one to go. Then there was Stephanie, and we’re still in two minds whether she was murdered or not. The police did investigate it because things didn’t really add up, but at the time we were all in denial. She was diabetic and was said to just have died, but when you thought about it years later and the things that were said, it all seemed a bit dodgy. The funeral was weird too – the husband refused to do anything for it and me and Sonia organised the wake in Reginald House. It was very strange. Then there was Mummy Comfort – that’s what we used to call her as she was the oldest in the block. She was an elderly lady from Africa and couldn’t read so she used to bring me letters to read out to her; she trusted me. One particular summer, Marcel came and knocked on my door telling me Mummy Comfort’s old cousin was here saying he was concerned. He brought the guy in here and we told him that she hadn’t gone away (she used to go away a lot) but that we hadn’t seen her for a while, so we went to her flat and knocked and knocked and knocked. Sonia has skinny arms and tried putting her arm through the gap between the door and the wall to open the door but it was locked. I then stupidly opened the letterbox to see what’s going on, and the smell coming from there knocked me sick, I threw up straight away! We rang the police and had to wait for special police to kick open the door. Two officers rushed back out to vomit – obviously she had passed. I was in touch with Mummy Comfort’s daughter in Canada and we retrieved everything worth saving to send to Canada before the council would throw everything away. We were invited to the funeral as special guests and had to wear all the tribal gear. The funeral was conducted in a different language but when they were talking about us all we heard was ‘good neighbour’, ‘good neighbour’.”

Diann comments on the fact that through these experiences of death it can be seen just how much the community here support each other. “We all look out for each other, we are like family here!”, she says, and remembers when Jim from No 20 saved her ex-husband’s life. He had cut a main artery on his arm after punching a window, and Jim put his fingers on the cut to stop the bleeding until the ambulance came. And of course, there are a lot of happy memories of living in Reginald House. Diann remembers the good old days when they all used to sit outside, had a glass of wine, kids playing outside, celebrating all the kids’ birthdays together and sharing food and drink. “They were also the days when you washed down your balcony and took pride in your place, scrubbing down your side”, Diann reminisces.

Despite some people having died or moved out, the remaining community is still very strong, also with people that moved in years after Diann arrived. Diann and Sonia have become very close friends and been through a lot together. “People always used to call us Bench an Batty because we were always together”. They are friends with each other’s families, their kids are the same age and so are their grandkids. “Recently, me and Sonia decided to have a BBQ because she’s got a little griller. So we went shopping, got the BBQ going on the balcony, were getting the food ready, and the intercom went. Sonia just hung up because she thought it was her grandkids’ father mucking about. But the intercom rang again, so she picked up and her face just turned! It was the fire brigade! They told her off because you’re not allowed to hang up on emergency services. They then said: “There’s a fire on your balcony.” Sonia said: “No, we’re just having a BBQ” to which the fire brigade replied: “You’re not allowed to have a BBQ on the balcony”. So, the fire brigade came and put out the fire. It was a Saturday and there were two fire engines blocking the whole road to sort out our BBQ; so we caused quite a bit of a commotion round here”, Diann laughs. Another story Diann remembers involves her neighbour Marcel, who’s really chilled and always as cool as a cucumber. “So, I’m sitting in my house, minding my own business, kids were still here so this is quite a few years ago, and somebody frantically knocking on my door. It’s Marcel and he tells me in the coolest manner: “Diann, your kitchen is on fire!” He came in, grabbed a wet towel and put in on top of the chip pan. I had clearly forgotten about it and the fact that the children needed feeding – there was probably a good soap on the telly (hahaha). I would have been screaming but he told me in such a calm manner, I never did. He saved me.”


Diann loves the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden too and has often taken her grandkids to spend time there. For people living in the area, especially those living in flats, Diann says, the garden is perfect, as it gets the kids out of the house. Recently, she had a BBQ in the garden with family and friends (after the event on the balcony), and as there were some extra people around, she fed them too. Diann’s kids went to that original Tidemill School, and Diann shows me a picture of her son Brian wearing the school T-shirt at that time (ca. 2000). “Brian recently went to the garden to have his bike fixed and he became all nostalgic; he’ll be sorry to see it go.” For Diann, going into the garden is like stepping off the madness; it’s a little oasis for people living in flats. It is her extended community. “If you need space, take the basketball court, but leave the garden for people to sit in and reminisce.” Beginning of August this year, Diann, with friends and garden volunteers, organised an amazing Jamaican Independence Party, which was a huge success with people asking whether Diann would repeat it next year. But with the imminent closure of the garden and without any spaces left where locals can organize their own cultural activities, this won’t be possible. To help save the garden, please donate here.


Bottom image: Diann’s granddaughter at the Jamaican Independence Party in Tidemill Garden

When I ask Diann how she would define community, she associates it with one word only: family. “My community is my neighbours, and my extended community is with people in the garden. My immediate community are people I can depend and rely on at all costs, no matter what it is, what time of the day it is. If someone doesn’t have money or food, they are always welcome to come and eat with me, I always have food to share. There is a sense of trust in each other, that we’ve got each other’s backs. It is this underlying thing that you can’t put your finger on. For example, I haven’t seen Marcel for ages because he’s busy but if I ring him today to say that I need help, he’ll find time to help me straight away. Marcel has been an absolute star over the years – he’s fixed this and that – electrics, plumbing and things like that. He also put in the cooker in my daughter’s flat in Forest Hill – he’s seen them grow up so we’re like family. Community is someone to talk to if you want to get things off your chest; it’s like having lots of best friends. I can go and ask anything of anyone. It’s like family.”

And there is Sonia, of course. “We’ve done a lot of growing up together. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Her living here and being here has made my life much better, otherwise I might have felt lonely and cut off. Especially with this indecision about the demolition – this has been going on for 10 years! It’s emotionally very difficult and we understand each other because we are going through the same. Other people might not understand what we are going through with these development plans. If it weren’t for her, I would have fallen into a depression. I actually developed agoraphobia – I’m so tense because we don’t know, is it another 6 months, 9 months, a few years? The planned demolition of your home has so many repercussions. For instance, I have accumulated so much stuff over the years and I know it’s sentimental but I’ll have to make decisions of what I can keep or not. Losing my home will turn my life and kids’ life upside down; this is my and their family home. I do try my hardest not to think about it because I just want to go to the council and shout at them. What you see on the outside is not what is going on on the inside. They don’t understand how it tears you up! What we’ve had to go through! Do I decorate? No, it’s not worth it. Do I get this? No, I’d better wait, you don’t know what’s going to happen. The council keep changing ideas and making false promises they shouldn’t be making in something called ‘consultation’. They want this and that from us – at one point they wanted our birth certificates – and we just don’t know what’s going on. You feel like giving up – you don’t know what to do.”

At first, Diann was offered a like-for-like arrangement which in her case would mean a 2-bedroom flat. “Then they came round to assess my housing needs, which in my case would probably mean a 1-bedroom flat, considering my children are grown up.” But where would that leave her? Her son often needs a place to sleep as he’s currently between places and her 3, soon to be 5, grandkids often visit and stay over. Where would they sleep? Now it seems residents are being offered like-for-like again, but will that really be the case? Same size? Same rates? Same conditions? Nobody really knows. Also, Diann has recently spent nearly £1,000 on the walk-in wardrobe she has dreamed of for years. Is that going to go to waste? And Diann really doesn’t like open-plan flats. She cooks a lot and everything would become greasy if the living room and kitchen were one place. Finally, the dream of having a ground-floor flat with a garden seems off the cards as it appears they will be reserved for those who can afford to pay to have a garden!

DSC_2377Diann in front of her walk-in wardrobe

Diann is an active campaigner in the Save Reginald! Save Tidemill! campaign and has spoken publicly about the impact losing her home would have on her. She started campaigning to save Reginald House and Tidemill Garden when she first heard about the demolition plans 10 years ago. “At first, the plans included 2 blocks on Giffin Street and we sent petition after petition which the council never responded to. When it was decided that Giffin Street would remain, we again sent petitions with recorded delivery. We also wanted to get a solicitor involved as we didn’t know how to go about saving our homes, but we couldn’t afford it. We put a lot of effort into it the first few years…and then we hit a brick wall, we hit despondency because you start asking yourself what am I doing this for? It was like sitting down and waiting for the inevitable.” This was the time when Diann developed agoraphobia, insomnia and nearly hit depression. She would just sit on the sofa on her days off and dwell on it, toss and turn every night, unable to sleep. “I might not show it outwardly, but inwardly, I was a mess. It does take its toll on you.” Then Pauline, another Reginald House resident, came to see Diann in June 2018, when the final decision to demolish Reginald House and Tidemill Garden was made and objections rejected by the GLA. Pauline informed Diann of this and persuaded her to come down to the garden and join the campaign again. Diann hasn’t looked back since. “I’ve gone from one extreme to the next. It’s given me purpose – I doubt we’ll win but I will try my best and at least I won’t have left it untried. It’s given me hope. It’s rejuvenated me because I’m not resigned now waiting for them to knock. I feel stronger because there are so many other people fighting with us.”

DSC_2394Banner on Reginald House

But other neighbours are not so full of hope, Diann tells me. “Some are so beaten down, they are resigned to it. It’s so sad. One neighbour recently told me that there is probably a dead mouse behind their fridge (due to the bad smell), but that it’s ok, it’s only one and the first after a long time. We are forced to have this attitude, to simply accept this, because repairs aren’t being done. We have been totally neglected here for a long time. I used to have to clean the oven each time before cooking for my kids in case there was mouse poo somewhere. I also used to have a lot of books and a few years back there was a really bad smell coming from the bookshelf. I found a dead mouse that had started decomposing behind my books, and there was mouse poo and urine all over. I had to throw away my whole collection, a life-time collection of old books. You’d notice a bad smell and you’d have to turn everything around to search for the dead mouse – it was disgusting. The council did nothing about it – we shouldn’t have to live like this! My house has now been mouse-proofed, but if I had been on my own with all this, without the community we have here, I wouldn’t have been able to cope, it was horrific.”

Diann does not want to lose her family home. The building and the flats are in need of repair, but there is no need to demolish Reginald House. Diann loves the building and her flat; it is the place where her life and her kids’ and grandkids’ lives have unfolded; it is the place where their memories live, where everything reminds them of the events that have occurred in their lives.

DSC_2389Diann’s Fairy collection

Diann is now standing by the window, one of her favourite places in the flat. She tells me about things she has witnessed from here, she tells me about the people who live across the road and the things they get up to. “You see the world go by from here”, she says, “you see people who you recognize.” Another sanctuary of her flat is her balcony where she grows herbs such as chives, rosemary, mint and her favourite: horseradish. She can’t bear to think about losing it all.