Resistance to Social Cleansing: Screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ in Bristol, August 9, 2018

24.7.18

Poster for the screening of 'Concrete Soldiers UK' in Bristol on August 9, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

It’s over a year since the defining event of 2017 in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire, in west London, in which 72 people died because everyone responsible for their safety — central government, local government, the management company that had taken over the management of their homes, and the various contractors involved in a refurbishment of the tower that ended up being lethal — put cost-cutting and profiteering before safety.

The Grenfell survivors, and the wider community in north Kensington, are still awaiting anything resembling justice. The official inquiry is crawling along at a snail’s pace, many of the survivors are still in temporary housing (even though the Independent revealed, just yesterday, that over a hundred council homes in Kensington and Chelsea are lying empty), and up and down the country people are still living in tower blocks (470 at the latest count) that are enveloped in the same dangerously flammable cladding that turned Grenfell Tower into an inferno.

The Grenfell disaster showed, fundamentally, how in modern Britain those who live in social housing — even those who bought their council homes under Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy — are perceived as second-class citizens, whose very lives are disposable. Those in power argue that this is not the case, but Grenfell reveals this to be the case, and elsewhere politicians’ and housing professionals’ actions reveal their fundamental dishonesty.

Across the country, under Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat councils, those living on council estates are having their homes demolished, without their consent, so that property developers can make huge profits by building new housing that is generally unaffordable, and, to a large extent, is being bought up and left empty, or rented out at exorbitant rents, by foreign investors and the greedy homegrown ‘buy-to-let’ market. Those councils who pretend to have anything resembling a conscience, and a sense of responsibility for their tenants, make feeble noises about how this is all the fault of central government and the strangling cuts imposed since 2010 in a cynical “age of austerity”, but while there is certainly a considerable amount of truth in this, almost all local government officials have failed to complain loudly about it, or, in London, for example, where two-thirds of councils are Labour-controlled, to stand together and to demand an end to this climate of destruction.

Often this is because those very councillors fundamentally despise the poorer members of society, and are only interested in promoting aspirational notions of their boroughs, in which everyone miraculously earns the average income or above (£39,476 a year in London at the last count), forgetting that the average is skewed upwards by the incomes of those earning considerably more, and that the mean income — that which 50% of people earn more than, and 50% earn less than — is actually somewhere around £22,400 (the same amount, funnily enough, that the establishment thinks is an acceptable annual rent). In other cases, corruption is at work, with councillors moving on to lucrative jobs with developers in exchange for services rendered.

Shortly after the Grenfell disaster, I attended a public meeting, ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’, called by ASH (Architects for Social Housing), where I met Nikita Woolfe, who was filming that event, and who subsequently asked me to narrate ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, her documentary about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the proposed destruction of their homes, which focuses in particular on two estates facing destruction — the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, and Central Hill in Lambeth, both Labour-controlled boroughs. The film also looks at the history of the Heygate Estate in Southwark, whose destruction set the unfortunate template for the current epidemic of social cleansing, and the struggle to save Cressingham Gardens, another estate in Lambeth.

‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ was released in December, launched at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, and since then Niki and I have been making it available to housing groups and other interested parties, attending post-screening Q&As from Hastings to Glasgow, and across London.

We are already making plans for screenings in autumn, and invite you to get in touch if you’d like to show the film — and also to check out our fundraising page, where we explain what we’re doing, and why we could do with your financial help — but for now the only screening over the summer is in Bristol on Thursday August 9, so if you’re in Bristol, do come down and watch the film. I’ll be attending the screening and the post-screening Q&A, and would love to meet whoever is around.

The Facebook page is here, and it’s showing at the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC), at 17-35 Jamaica Street, Bristol BS2 8JP. The screening starts at 7pm, and it’s accompanied by an exhibition on the London housing crisis from photographer Lisa Furness. Entry is £4. The day before I’ll be recording a radio interview with Tony Gosling, and I’m looking forward to spending a few days in one of my favourite cities in the UK.

Below is the trailer for ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’:

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article – a summary of the current situation in the UK for those living in social housing, featuring my reflections on the enormous significance of the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died because they lived in a council-owned tower block, and their lives were regarded as less significant than the desire to cut costs and increase profits, and how that relates to the perceived disposability of anyone living in social housing, as Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councils continue to destroy council estates for the benefit of private developers. I also promote the next screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the proposed destruction of their homes, which is directed by Nikita Woolfe, and which I narrate. It’s showing in Bristol on Thursday August 9, so if you’re in Bristol or nearby I very much hope to see you there!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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