The Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden: Lewisham Councillors Make Sure They Will Never Be Welcome in Deptford Again

30.10.18

A photo taken during the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Harriet Vickers).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Yesterday was one of the most harrowing days of my life, as the jackboot of authority stamped with shocking violence on the occupiers of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a beautiful community garden and environmental asset in Deptford, evicting it prior to its intended destruction.

No one from Lewisham Council, which initiated the destruction, showed up yesterday; instead, their hired goons — 130 bailiffs from County, a Bexley-based company — arrived at dawn and sent their shock troops into the garden, wearing masks and screaming at the occupants who had stayed overnight to resist the invasion, and violently evicting them.

I missed the initial text to supporters, and was only alerted at 6.30am when Heather Gilmore, one of the most prominent campaigners, with whom I’ve been working closely since the occupation began two months ago, called and left the following message: “Please come down now. The eviction has started. It’s really nasty. It’s horrible.”

After gulping down a quick coffee, I cycled down to Deptford from my home in Brockley, arriving around 7am to find a wall of bailiffs all along the perimeter fence on Reginald Road, protected by a line of police, and numerous campaigners and local people on the other side of the road, many visibly shocked by the violence.

Almost immediately, I witnessed one of the occupiers, a young woman who has been involved with the garden for the last year, being brutally pulled down from the top of the main fence, leaving just one occupant inside — a brave young eco-warrior who had climbed high up in one of the garden’s tallest trees, just behind the main entrance, which had been fortified since the garden was first occupied on August 29, via a treehouse and a separate platform above it.

A tense stand-off followed for several hours, as the bailiffs climbed up the tree to try to bring her down, alarming the garden’s defenders because they were doing so without the kind of specialised equipment — a cherry picker, for example — that is needed when dealing with people high up in trees. When we tried to urge the police to act, they claimed that they were there merely to prevent a breach of the peace, and that the bailiffs had everything under control; a deranged position to take when so many of the bailiffs were so clearly dangerously aggressive. Eventually, I believe, our entreaties encouraged the bailiffs to back off, leaving the lone occupier alone until she finally decided, after at least eight hours in the tree, that she would come down voluntarily.

Throughout this time, the bailiffs continued to provoke the garden’s exiled defenders, using chainsaws to cut down the tree houses, and also to destroy some of the structures in the garden — a beautiful shed designed by one of the occupiers and built entirely from scavenged materials, which myself and others had enthusiastically identified as a template for providing homes for the homeless if any will to do so existed politically, and, most horribly, the garden’s original tree house, built between its two magnificent Indian bean trees, which, although it had recently been a home to occupiers, had, from the time of the garden’s creation 20 years ago when it was part of the Tidemill primary school, been the focal point for the activities of local children.

By late afternoon, when we drifted away to lick our wounds and to reassure each other that this was not the end of the resistance, but just the beginning, the bailiffs had turned our beautiful community garden into a wreck — with their vehicles parked up by the entrance and amongst the trees, with huge floodlights installed, and with the wreckage of the structures and of tents lying around like the detritus of conquest. They don’t care, of course, as all but one of the 74 trees in the garden is marked for destruction in the coming months.

As we left, however, we couldn’t help wondering quite how much money Lewisham Council is spending on its brutal and premature actions. We already knew that they have spent nearly £1,000,000 on a private security firm — with dogs — to guard the old Tidemill school site over the last two years, replacing the guardians who had previously been in the school and who first opened up the garden as a community asset after the school moved to a new site in 2012, but now we were obliged to reflect on how much money the council spent on the eviction, and the small fortune they are intending to spend guarding it in the coming months.

What’s particularly insulting about all of this is that they didn’t need to evict the garden yesterday, and they also looked contemptuous of the law for doing so, because the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign crowdfunded an application for a judicial review, and although that was turned down on October 17, we submitted an appeal just a week before the eviction, meaning that the council evicted us while a legal process was ongoing. They could have left us alone until that process was complete, but instead they wanted to prove a point, to establish how brutal they could be in taking back their land, and to stick two fingers up to the legal process of appealing decisions in the High Court while doing so.

For Lewisham Council, then, yesterday was a day when they showed their contempt for the local community in Deptford, for the importance of preserving a precious green space in an area woefully short of green spaces, for the garden’s crucial role as a shield against the horrendous pollution in nearby Deptford Church Street, and for the law, when all campaigners and residents of Reginald House next door (a block of 16 structurally sound council flats that the council also wants to destroy) have been asking for over the last ten years has been for them to go back to the drawing board, to spare the garden and Reginald House, and to work with the local community on alternative plans for homes at social rent at Tidemill, and, if necessary, to build some of the homes planned for Tidemill at other sites — Amersham Vale, for example, a site in New Cross that the council stealthily twinned with Tidemill, where 81 of the planned 120 homes will be for private sale, or Besson Street, a long-vacant site, also in New Cross, where they have plans to enter into a partnership with a private developer to build homes for market rent.

One of the pages from Paul Bell's briefing to Lewisham Council's Mayor and Cabinet in June 2018 regarding the Deptford Southern Sites (Tidemill and Amersham Vale). Annotations by the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign.The council could and should have taken a stand against Peabody, instead of caving in to the imperious demands of the social housing provider that has, in recent years, turned into an aggressive developer, largely indistinguishable from private developers who see London only as a place where profit trumps the real needs of real people every time, and poorer social housing tenants are an obstacle to their greed. At a briefing paper before a meeting of the council’s Mayor and Cabinet this June, Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, conceded that the council could withdraw from its Development Agreement with Peabody, but advised his colleagues that “it would be considered highly likely that Peabody and Sherrygreen Limited [a private developer whose role in the development has never been made clear] will still seek to claim back some sunk-costs against the Council. They have spent an estimated £3m and will understandably attempt to claw this back irrespective of what we consider to be a strong legal position.” Cllr. Bell also advised that, if the council were to pull out of the scheme, it would affect “[w]ider partnership relationships and goodwill, which we need on current and future strategic sites.”

I anticipate that my conclusion, which I shouted through a loudhailer on several occasions yesterday, will find considerable resonance throughout Deptford in the weeks and months to come: that those responsible for the shocking violence at Tidemill yesterday — Lewisham’s Mayor, Damien Egan, Paul Bell, and the three councillors in New Cross ward, where Tidemill stands (Joe Dromey, Brenda Dacres and Paul Maslin, each elected by only around 1 in 5 of those eligible to vote in May’s council elections) will no longer be welcome to set foot in Deptford again.

I’ve provided links to their Twitter accounts above, so if you want to let them know that Deptford is now a no go zone for them, please feel free to do so.

Note: The complete annotated text of Paul Bell’s briefing to Lewisham Council’s Mayor and Cabinet in June 2018 is available in the comments below the link to this article on Facebook.

* * * * *

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. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

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 report on Monday’s violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, occupied for two months by campaigners (myself included) with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign to prevent its destruction for an ill-conceived housing project.

    On Monday, at dawn, bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council broke into the garden and evicted the occupiers staying there to protect it with alarming violence. Like many other campaigners, I’m shocked by the council’s contempt for the law, because a legal challenge we initiated is still ongoing, lodged with the Court of Appeals just last week. I’m also shocked because, in the end, the council resorted to violence to stamp their authority on the garden, when, for ten years, all campaigners and residents of Reginald House, the structurally council flats next door (which the council also wants to destroy) have been asking for is for the council and the developer Peabody to go back to the drawing board, to spare the garden (a precious community space, a green oasis and a significant barrier to horrendous traffic pollution) and Reginald House, and to build new homes at genuine social rents on the old Tidemill school site. And if there isn’t enough space at Tidemill, then, if necessary, they should build on other sites in the borough – at Amersham Vale in New Cross, stealthily twinned with Tidemill, where Peabody’s proposals are for 120 homes, 80% of which will be for private sale, or at Besson Street, also in New Cross, where the council intends to enter into an unholy partnership with a private developer to build new homes for private rent.

    My conclusion is stark: that, as a result of yesterday’s violence, none of the councillors responsible – Mayor Damien Egan, Cabinet Member for Housing Paul Bell, and local councillors Joe Dromey, Brenda Dacres and Paul Maslin – will be welcome to set foot in Deptford again.

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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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