Party in the Park, New Cross and Deptford 2018: Sun, Solidarity and the Struggle Against Social Cleansing

4.9.18

The arrival of a carnival procession of campaigners from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford to Party in the Park, a community festival in New Cross on September 1, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Welcome to Party in the Park 2018, in Fordham Park, New Cross. No fences, no huge metal walls, no entrance fee, no security checks — and no trouble. This was the community in solidarity, proving triumphantly that an open festival is infinitely preferable to the securitised fortresses that play such a divisive role in so many of London’s parks these days (see the big money festivals that, behind their soaring metal walls, take over much of London’s parkland every summer, and the debacle of the recent Lambeth Country Show, for example).

This was the fourth Party in the Park, after events in 2013, 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t just the brilliant sunshine that made it such a great day, or the music from dozens of great performers (and with my band The Four Fathers honoured to take part). It was that thing I mentioned above. Solidarity.

The theme of the festival was housing, and housing is at the heart of the problems we face on all fronts in the never-ending “age of austerity” imposed by the Tories since 2010, with ongoing cuts to all the services that are essential for a civil society to flourish, and with a relentless onslaught of greed on a key essential of life — housing.

No offence to home-owners, but this was primarily a day for the half of the population that either faces exorbitant, unchecked private rents, or, for those living in social housing, the destruction of their homes and their replacement with more expensive rents — Sadiq Khan’s London Affordable Rent, in particular, which is £3,000 a year more expensive then social rent, an extra £60 a week that many hard-working families simply don’t have — or shared ownership scams, in which tenants buy a share of the house (say 25%), paying rent on the rest, but don’t realistically own anything until they own 100% of the property, and lose everything if they run into any kind of financial trouble.

At the heart of Party in the Park was the joyous carnival procession that came from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, a wonderful community space that was occupied just three days before the festival to prevent Lewisham Council from boarding it up prior to its destruction as part of plans to re-develop the site of the old Tidemill primary school. The plans also involve the destruction of 16 council flats in Reginald House, a block next to the garden. 80% of the residents don’t want their homes to be knocked down, but the council has never asked them what they want.

The garden used to be part of the school. It was designed by teachers, parents and the schoolchildren in the early 90s, and was leased to the community when the school moved into new premises. For six years, it has been a safe and magical playground for kids, a community space for reflection — or for gardening — and, increasingly since last September, when the council decided to proceed with their long-cherished plans to destroy it, a place for the community to come together in musical events, film screenings, political debates, a Jamaican Independence party, arts and crafts workshops, and much more.

Campaigners have spent years urging the council to go back to the drawing board, and to come up with new plans for the old school site that spare the garden and Reginald House. It’s perfectly possible, but the council aren’t interested.

Instead, the community received notification that the lease was coming to an end on August 29. The timing was unfortunate for the council. The day before, campaigners had submitted evidence for a judicial review that was made possible through a crowdfunding campaign. So, with the very legality of the council’s proposals up in the air, campaigners decided to occupy the garden, notifying the council that it was legally squatted.

Since then, there’s been coverage on the BBC, and other media outlets, and the struggle is all over social media, so when the procession arrived at the park it brought the struggle to the party, and found a huge and loving response.

A key feature of the day was Tent City, featuring panel discussions about the struggles against social cleansing, including residents from Reginald House and Achilles Street, right by Fordham Park, which Lewisham Council also wants to destroy, and speakers from Cressingham Gardens, which Lambeth Council wants to destroy, and the Northwold Estate in Clapton, where campaigners recently forced Guinness, a housing association, to back down from plans to demolish the estate. There were also other housing activists from the parts of London affected by the social cleansing that is a plague in the political system — Southwark, for example, and Haringey.

Northwold residents’ struggle against Guinness was a reminder that housing associations are also a big part of the problem. Just as councils, strapped for cash by the Tory government, have been getting into bed with developers and then forgetting what their obligations to their communities are supposed to be, so housing associations, which largely took on the housing role of councils after Margaret Thatcher began selling off council homes in 1980, have been responding to government cuts by becoming private developers first, and social housing providers second. Like councils, and like the whole building establishment, they have accepted that selling private housing must subsidise rented properties, but are also embracing higher rents, and are deeply implicated in the shared ownership scam.

The developer at Tidemill is Peabody. It was Family Mosaic, but they were swallowed up by Peabody in an orgy of mergers amongst the big housing associations, which are getting ever more bloated and corporate and unaccountable. Peabody likes to recall its philanthropic origins, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to see that role fulfilled at all in its myriad projects across London, not least of which is their proposed destruction and rebranding of the Thamesmead Estate in south east London. Peabody have not, to date, been targeted by campaigners for their role in the Tidemill debacle, but they should be. 

At Tent City, there was another panel discussion about housing futures, including Community Land Trusts, and there were also several workshops on the housing theme, but everywhere you went on Saturday, whenever people were talking politics, housing was never far away, at the centre of our collective precarity, the grim truth never far away that far too many people are struggling to make ends meet, that private rents are out of control, that unaffordable towers with their ghost owners and other housing developments, some for the more affluent wage-earners, are still rising up everywhere, that the enthusiasm for estate destruction is an epidemic, and that everyone in social housing is at risk.

Something is happening in Deptford and New Cross. It’s echoed across London, because everywhere people are being screwed for the roof over their heads, and green spaces are sacrificed for the crazed pollution of housing developments. 

At the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth I watched for months as the first of the estate’s huge Brutalist blocks was demolished. It took so long because it was so well made. Its destruction was wanton vandalism — for profit. And estate demolition is not just a mechanism for social cleansing, it’s also environmentally insane, but it’s happening everywhere. In Tower Hamlets, half of the architecturally acclaimed Robin Hood Gardens estate has just been demolished. Its replacement, Blackwall Reach, doesn’t look like it will last 25 years.

However, resistance is happening everywhere. 

In north Kensington, where the skeleton of Grenfell Tower still stands as a horrific statement about how those in social housing were abandoned to their deaths by those responsible for their safety. 

In Haringey, where a £2bn partnership with rapacious international property developers Lendlease was recently overturned. 

And across the capital, in Lambeth, in Southwark, in Westminster, in borough after borough, residents and their supporters are resisting an epidemic of social cleansing. In ‘The Death of the Council Home?’, a powerful and moving BBC Inside Out feature on the destruction of council estates, broadcast last night, rapper and spoken word artist George the Poet, who grew up on a council estate and emphatically has empathy with those living in social housing, laid bare the scale of the crisis, discovering, from councils themselves, that 118 estates across London are undergoing or facing regeneration, and that over 30,000 residents will be affected — most likely forced to move out of the area, as they are priced out of the new developments replacing their homes. 

Right now, the most urgent struggle is in Deptford, where Lewisham Council and Peabody are itching to destroy the Old Tidemill Garden — and the flats of Reginald House next door. Please join us in saving them! As George the Poet says in his inspiring closing words, “Redevelopment doesn’t have to end this way, with former tenants displaced, neighbourhoods gentrified. Redevelopment could actually empower communities, but for that to happen we need to ensure this beautiful city doesn’t lock out the very people who make it what it is. These council properties are our homes, and we have to fight for them, before the day comes when we wake up, and there’s none left.”

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 2017 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.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, reflecting on the success of Party in the Park, the free community festival in Fordham Park, New Cross that took place on Saturday. The sun shone relentlessly, and dozens of bands (including my band The Four Fathers) played on three stages, but most of all there was a palpable sense of solidarity in the face of the ever more oppressive greed of those who claim to be in charge of our lives.
    The festival’s theme, appropriately, was housing, with panel discussions and workshops, and with the clear sense that half the population of the country – those who are not homeowners – are now living in a time of savage exploitation, with private renters fleeced by unscrupulous landlords, and critical uncertainty for those living in social housing, as council estates are demolished to make way for new and unaffordable housing, and those in charge conspire to consign social rents and secure tenancies to the history books.
    Housing struggles had a particular poignancy on Saturday, because, just three days earlier, campaigners – myself included – had occupied the old Tidemill Garden, a beautiful and environmentally important community space in Deptford, to prevent the council from destroying it, and a block of 16 council flats next door, to build new housing, and on Saturday a vibrant carnival procession made its way from the garden to the festival, and was very well received.
    There’s a palpable sense of injustice in the air, and I speak for many when I say that I hope that this struggle in Deptford can become a focal point for all the barely-suppressed anger about the housing crisis, rip-off rents, estate destruction and social cleansing that is taking place all across the capital.
    Please get involved!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Adrienne Murphy wrote:
    👌❤ well done Andy

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Adrienne. I’m glad you appreciate the effort of the people of Deptford, and supporters from across the capital and elsewhere (today I met someone visiting from Portsmouth), to resist the epidemic of social cleansing that’s being cynically imposed on those in social housing by all the major parties – Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    It really is time to say enough is enough, Adrienne, and to agitate for political change from the people, for the people – without waiting to see if Jeremy Corbyn is some sort of saviour. Already it’s clear that, despite being elected by a population desperate for a solution to the housing crisis of greed and estate demolition, Sadiq Khan is actually a profound disappointment, and whatever Conrbyn’s own views might be, he heads party that, at every level of power (though not in the party’s membership) is committed to the destruction of social housing.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Adrienne Murphy wrote:

    Absolutely. We hear a lot of talk and box ticking but the reality is they have all sold out to the big corporations. In Manchester a lot of luxury apartment building is going on, all for sale to the rich buy to let brigade. And like London the locals are being forced out.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I hear things are bad in Manchester, Adrienne – unaffordable new developments, rising rents, and an epidemic of homelessness.

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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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