The Four Fathers Release New Song ‘Affordable’, Marking the Anniversary of the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden’s Trees

3.3.20

The cover of the Four Fathers’ new online single, ‘Affordable’, released on March 3, 2020.

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Last Thursday, February 27, marked a sad anniversary for environmental activists and housing campaigners, as it was the first anniversary of the destruction of the 74 mature and semi-mature trees that made up the magical tree cover of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, in south east London, which provided an autonomous green space in a built-up urban area, and also mitigated the worst effects of pollution generated by traffic on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been measured at six times the safety levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to save the trees, which had been ongoing since 2012, largely took place before environmental activism went mainstream, via the actions of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, although this was not just an environmental issue. The destruction of the garden was also part of a proposal by Lewisham Council and housing developers to build a new housing development on the site, one that desperate, dissembling councillors sought to sell to the public as providing much-needed new social homes, when the reality, as with almost all current housing developments, is that a significant number of the new homes are for private sale, existing council housing is to be destroyed, and its replacement will be homes that are described as “affordable”, when they are no such thing.

Instead, the allegedly “affordable” component of the development is a mixture of properties at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher for a two-bedroom flat than traditional social rents, and ‘shared ownership’, a notorious scam, whereby, in exchange for a hefty upfront payment, occupants are made to believe that they own a share of the property (typically 25%), whereas, in reality, they are only assured tenants unless they find a way to own the property outright, and, along the way, have to pay rent on the share of the property that they don’t, even nominally, own, and are also often subjected to massive — and unregulated — service charges.

At Tidemill, the council stealthily twinned its proposed development with Amersham Vale, in New Cross (the former site of Deptford Green secondary school), and over both sites, where 329 new properties are planned, 131 are for private sale, 54 for shared ownership, and 141 for rent. 13 of those are promised replacements for the tenants in Reginald House, with three leaseholders also promised some sort of exchange for the homes that they thought they owned.

On their website, Lewisham Council lie about the provision of new homes, falsely claiming that, of the 209 new homes planned for Tidemill, “158 (76%) will be affordable”, when in fact, that total is made up of 38 ‘shared ownership’ properties (which shouldn’t be described as “affordable”), and the three “leaseholder properties to be transferred”, as well as 117 properties for rent.

The council’s figures also exclude Amersham Vale, even though the two sites are twinned, because, at Amersham Vale — sickeningly marketed as ‘The Muse’ — two-thirds of the total number of properties (80 out of 120) are for private sale, with just 24 for rent and 16 for ‘shared ownership.’ Over both sites, therefore, the allegedly “affordable”  component is actually just 40%, and, as noted above, it remains debatable how affordable the so-called “affordable” rents actually are for those on a low income.

I have regularly described the word “affordable” as one of the most abused words in the English language right now, and in the summer of 2018, as the clock was ticking on Tidemill, I wrote a blistering, punky rock and roll song about it, for my band The Four Fathers, which we premiered, just three days after the Tidemill occupation began, at the Party in the Park community festival in Fordham Park in New Cross, and which has been a regular feature of our live sets ever since.

In December we finally got round to recording it, at Charlie Hart’s Equator Studios in Brockley, with overdubs added in January, and a final mix last month, and I’m delighted to be making it available, to mark this sad anniversary, via Bandcamp, where all our studio recordings can be found.

At the December recording session — the first with our new bassist, Paul Rooke — we also recorded two other new songs, ‘The Wheel of Life’, a slowish reggae reflection on mortality and transcendence, and ‘This Time We Win’, an anthem for the environmental movement, and we’ll be releasing both of those in the weeks to come, but for now I hope you enjoy ‘Affordable’, and will share it if you do.

The battle to save Tidemill

The Tidemill garden had been designed and laid out, in concentric circles, by pupils, teachers and parents from the old Tidemill primary school at the end of the 1990s, and its circular patterns — which were, to be honest, a bit trippy — contributed significantly to the perception of it as a kind of green Tardis, which definitely felt bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside!

When the school moved, in 2012, guardians installed in the old school — and then representatives of the local community — were given “meanwhile use” of the garden while Lewisham Council finalised plans to redevelop the site with the housing association Family Mosaic (who merged with the giant housing association Peabody in 2016) and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes, part of a group of companies that includes the building company Mulalley, Lewisham Council’s preferred building contractor.

Throughout that time, campaigners sought to prevent the council from destroying the garden — and also from destroying Reginald House, a block of structurally sound council flats next to the garden — as part of their redevelopment proposals. The first wave of campaigners, around 2008, when the plans were first mooted, had successfully removed two bigger blocks of council flats, on Giffen Street, from the plans, but, when it came to Reginald House and the garden, the council and the developers wouldn’t change their minds.

In September 2017, the council finally approved the Tidemill plans, but the news only drew many more campaigners to the garden, to step up the use of the space, and also, unbeknownst to the council and the developers, to hatch plans to occupy it to prevent its destruction. Those who loved the garden’s extraordinary tranquility — especially significant in such an urban area — continued to be drawn to it, as were gardeners, who tidied it up and showed it love, and, as a community-led autonomous space, the garden also hosted musical events, art and craft workshops — and a hustings for the council elections in May 2019.

At the end of August 2019, when the council terminated the “meanwhile use” lease, and asked for the keys back, campaigners occupied the garden instead, a bold move — combining environmental and housing activism — that secured supportive coverage from mainstream media including the BBC, and London-wide, national and global support from activists.

The occupation, which I was part of, was a genuinely extraordinary experience, as we grappled with the day to day running of an occupation site, with all the issues that involved — some involving solidarity in action; others involving, for example, vulnerable people drawn to the site (some homeless, some with mental health issues). We also dealt with numerous reporters and academics, had a supportive visit from Sian Berry of the Green Party (now the Party’s co-leader), had films made, fulfilled our pre-arranged inclusion in the international renewed Deptford X arts festival, and continued to campaign against the council and Peabody, over a two-month period, until we were violently evicted, by 130 bailiffs from a notoriously violent (and union-busting) company, County Enforcement, supported by the police.

For months, the bailiffs were paid to guard the garden 24 hours a day, with Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, admitting in March 2019 that the council had spent £1,372,890 on evicting and guarding the Tidemill site, a cost that has obviously increased since, and which also doesn’t take into account the £1m-plus that has been spent on guarding the old Tidemill school. A reasonable estimate, therefore, would be that around £3m has been pointlessly spent at Tidemill, where building work has still not even started.

Along the way, the most prominent aspect of the council’s post-eviction activities has been the destruction of the trees on February 27 last year, an act of premature vandalism that can only be regarded as a spiteful response to the development’s opponents, just as the eviction was a premature, and violent response to the occupation. In case anyone is in any doubt about this, it’s important to remember that a review of the legality of the development, launched and paid for by the garden’s defenders, was still before the courts as bailiffs tore into the garden at dawn on October 29, 2018, dressed in skull masks, screaming as though Deptford was the jungle in ‘Apocalypse Now’, and subsequently endangering the life of a young activist who had climbed to the top of a slender tree to try to delay the eviction.

Last Thursday, activists remembered the day of the trees’ destruction by putting up handmade posters, commemorating the trees and continuing to criticise the garden’s destruction, on the Peabody-blue hoardings surrounding it. Within 12 hours, the posters were removed, as Lewisham Council, Peabody and Sherrygreen Homes continue to try to pretend that they are engaged in important work for the community, and to stifle any notion of ongoing dissent. However, I’ve published photos of some of the posters below, to keep their message alive despite the clampdown, and, as with ‘Affordable’, I’d be delighted if you’d share them.

Note: Please also be aware that Lewisham Council’s dubious activities with regard to housing don’t stop at Tidemill and Amersham Vale. At Besson Street in New Cross, they are still engaged in plans to build new homes for market rent with a private developer, and at Achilles Street in New Cross they recently secured approval for the complete destruction of a housing estate and associated shops via a rigged ballot process.

* * * * *

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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven 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 the 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, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, 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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a three-in-one feature, launching The Four Fathers’ new song, ‘Affordable’, a slice of punky rock ‘n’ roll indignation about the housing crisis, released to mark the anniversary, on February 27, of the destruction of the trees in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford by contractors working on behalf of Lewisham Council and Peabody.

    My article also contains a review of the long campaign to save the garden – and the 16 flats of Reginald House next door – on two fronts: as an environmental asset, and as a challenge to the lies and distortions of the housing ‘regeneration’ industry, and also included are photos of protestors’ posters, which were put up on the hoardings around the garden last week to mark the anniversary.

    Within 12 hours, the posters were taken down, to enable the council and the developers, as I explain, to “continue to try to pretend that they are engaged in important work for the community, and to stifle any notion of ongoing dissent”, when what they’re really up to is highlighted in ‘Affordable’:

    “When they say affordable it doesn’t mean affordable
    Regeneration means they want to knock your house down”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    Solid and very punky. good work guys. x

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neil. I’m very glad you like it!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Good job, boss!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. Glad you like it!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Roll Rizz wrote:

    rock and roll

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    YEAH! Thanks, Rizz. Good to hear from you!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Heather Gilmore wrote:

    It rocks!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Heather!!!

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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 (The State of London).
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