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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating One Year of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’; Now For An Exhibition and a Book!

Images from the last 16 days of the first year of my photo project 'The State of London.'Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist.

 

Exactly one year ago, I began posting a photo a day on a Facebook page I had just established — ‘The State of London’ —  from my archive of tens of thousands of photos taken of London, in all 120 of the capital’s postcodes, as well as some of the outlying boroughs, that I had built up over the previous five years.

I haven’t advertised ‘The State of London’ via Facebook, which some people suggest is a good way of getting supporters, but I’ve steadily built up a following over the last year of people who like my photo-journalistic take on the capital — photos, often accompanied by short essays, of the good, the bad and the ugly of London in the second decade of this tumultuous century. Someone more objective than me can probably analyse my taste, but I know that I’m bewitched by the light and the changing seasons, that I love catching photos on those outings when I get caught in storms or showers or torrential rain, that I love the river and its tributaries, and London’s canals, that I love the capital’s hills, its park, its trees, and that I also see almost everything with a political eye.

On my endless, restless journeys, I see everything that is happening with the built environment, but when I started in 2012, in the year of the Olympic hype, in which big money was savagely reshaping the Lea valley, I was appalled by the jingoism and empty patriotism, but I didn’t fully comprehend how, in the years that followed, the broken capitalist model that had almost killed itself through 2008’s self-inflicted global economic crash would end up working out that the only way left to guarantee huge and unjustifiable profits for the lazy rich was for the UK establishment, and those who aspire to it, to cannibalistically feed off its own people, through housing. Read the rest of this entry »

A Defence of Social Housing in a Resolutely Hostile Political Environment

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate, in Poplar, east London, photographed on December 12, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Tomorrow, Londoners will go to the polls to vote in council elections in the capital’s 32 boroughs,and across the UK there will also be elections in 34 metropolitan boroughs, 67 district and borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.

Voting ought to be a simple matter. The Tories, under Theresa May, are spectacularly useless and, wherever possible, cruel. Engaged in an effort to implement Brexit that seems to be destroying them, they are also gasping from one scandal to another — the latest being the Windrush fiasco, initiated by Theresa May, who is, to be blunt, a racist, and this whole racist disaster demonstrates quite how unpleasant they are.

And yet, if you care about fairness and social justice — in the specific context of housing, the biggest issue facing Londoners today, as well as many, many other people around the country — then voting for the Labour Party is not, in general, to be recommended, leaving a giant hole where participation in the democratic process ought to be. Read the rest of this entry »

The 34 Estates Approved for Destruction By Sadiq Khan Despite Promising No More Demolitions Without Residents’ Ballots

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, March 13, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Anyone paying any attention to the sordid story of council estate demolitions in London will know how hard it is to take politicians seriously — and especially Labour politicians — when it comes to telling the truth about their actions and their intentions.

Perfectly sound estates are deliberately run down, so that councils can then claim that it’s too expensive to refurbish them, and that the only option is to knock them down and build new ones — with their developer friends who are conveniently waiting in the wings.

In addition, a collection of further lies are also disseminated, which divert attention from the fundamental injustice of the alleged justification for demolitions — false claims that the new housing will be “affordable”, when it isn’t; that part-ownership deals are worthwhile, when they are not; and that building new properties with private developers will reduce council waiting lists, when it won’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Launching A Crowdfunder to Support a UK Tour of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the New Documentary Film About the Threat to Social Housing, Which I Narrate

A promotional poster for 'Concrete Soldiers UK', designed by the Artful Dodger. The film, directed by Nikita Woolfe, was released in December 2017, and a crowdfunded was launched in March 2018 to take the film on the road.Please support the crowdfunding campaign here!

Dear friends and supporters,

I’m writing to ask if you can help with a crowdfunding campaign I’ve just helped to launch, for a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, which I narrate. Directed by Nikita Woolfe, the film looks at council estates threatened with destruction in the UK, and the inspiring resistance of residents to the proposed destruction of their homes, and we’re hoping to raise the money required to take it around the country, and to produce a booklet compiling information about how to successfully resist estate destruction — and which pitfalls to avoid. If you can help out at all, it will be very greatly appreciated.

The crowdfunding page is embedded below:


My involvement with the film came about after I met Niki at an open meeting last June, called by ASH (Architects for Social Housing) to discuss the Grenfell Tower fire — and specifically, to examine what caused the fire, and what lessons can and must be learned from it. Niki was filming that meeting, which was later made available as a video, and afterwards she asked me to narrate ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, which she had been working on for three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Two New London Screenings of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, Documentary Opposing the Destruction of Council Estates, in Hackney Wick and Walthamstow on February 20 and 24

Concrete Soldiers UK: an image by street artists the Artful Dodger, who has created the imagery and logos for the film.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In December, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a new documentary film about Britain’s housing crisis, was released, for which I was delighted to have been asked by the director, Nikita Woolfe, to be the narrator. As we explain on the film’s website:

“‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ is a new documentary film by Nikita Woolfe, looking at an under-reported scandal in London and across the country — the social cleansing of council estates. Starved of funds by central government, councils and housing associations are entering into deals with private developers in which, instead of renovating estates, they are being demolished and rebuilt. The developers make huge profits, but existing tenants, and leaseholders are squeezed out, socially cleansed from their homes, and often from the boroughs in which they have lived for years, for decades, or for their whole lives.”

The film looks in particular at three struggles currently taking place — on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, and Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth — and is particularly concerned to provide a voice for those resisting the destruction of their homes. As we put it, “The film encourages viewers to have hope, and a belief that a fairer future is out there.” And with good news of late — Haringey residents seemingly victorious over their council, which sought to put all the borough’s social housing into a development vehicle with the rapacious Australian-based international property developer Lendlease, and with both Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan backing residents’ ballots before any demolitions can take place — it is to be hoped that 2018 will be the year that the tide finally turns on the social cleansing that has threatened to become an epidemic in recent years. Read the rest of this entry »

Following the Successful World Premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ at the Cinema Museum, the Next Screening is at Deptford Cinema on Dec. 18

A poster for the launch of 'Concrete Soldiers UK', at the Cinema Museum in Kennington on December 8, 2017.Last Friday a new and timely documentary film that I narrated, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, had its world premiere at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11, showing to a full house of over 150 people, with pre-screening performances from beatboxer Bellatrix and spoke word artist Potent Whisper. The film was directed by Nikita Woolfe, and is the result of three years’ work. As she says, “Three years ago I was looking at all the new developments in London and was surprised to see how much of the construction happened on old council estate land. I started wondering why the councils wanted to sell off their valuable assets and whether there were alternatives. That’s how ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ began. Three years later and ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ is not only answering my questions but it has also become a film about the fighting spirit that I encountered on the way.”

The next screening is at Deptford Cinema on Monday December 18, at 7.30pm, followed by a Q&A with me and with representatives of estates and community spaces threatened with destruction in the borough of Lewisham — Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald Road in Deptford, and Achilles Street in New Cross — under the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ umbrella term that I came up with in October, and which has so far spawned a benefit gig and a Facebook page.

Niki and I are planning to take the film on the road next year — primarily around estates threatened with destruction in London, but also beyond, if we can secure funding for our time and our travel. We also hope it will be shown in cinemas, and if you can help at all with any of these proposals, do get in touch. You can email me here, or you can email Niki here or call her on 07413 138909. We’re currently setting up a fundraising page, so if you want to help with that, do let Niki know. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Two Days Until the World Premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, About Community Resistance to the Destruction of Council Estates, Which I Narrate

A promotional poster for 'Concrete Soldiers UK', designed by the Artful Dodger. The film, directed by Nikita Woolfe, is released in December 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

This Friday, December 8, it’s the world premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ at the Cinema Museum, in Kennington, London SE11, and if you’re in London and care about social housing, I do urge you to come and watch it.

I’m the narrator of the film, but I came to it after all the hard work had been done — by the director, Nikita Woolfe, who spent three years working on it between other projects. It focuses on the destruction of council estates, and their replacement with new projects built by private developers, from which, crucially, existing tenants and leaseholders tend to be excluded, a form of social cleansing that is on the verge of becoming an epidemic in London.

Starved of funding by central government, councils have been working with private developers, who have no interest in renovating existing estates, as they know that there are huge profits to be made by demolishing estates instead and building new housing for private sale. To try to avoid claims of social cleansing, some of these new properties are marketed as “affordable”, but because “affordable” rents were set at 80% of market rents under Boris Johnson during his lamentable eight-year tenure as the Mayor of London, they are not actually affordable for most Londoners. Another scam is shared ownership, whereby, for many times more than they were paying previously in social rent, tenants get to nominally own a share of their property (say, 25%), but on what can only objectively be construed as a nominal basis, as it’s not something that can ever actually be sold unless the occupier can eventually afford to buy the entire property, which many can’t. In the meantime, as solicitor Giles Peaker explained in an article in 2013 looking at the case of a woman who had lost her part-owned home through rent arrears, “In practice … shared ownership is just a tenancy, with an expensive downpayment for an option to buy the whole property at a later date.” Read the rest of this entry »

‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’: After Success of Gig in Deptford on Nov. 12, Campaigners Plan to Stage Events in Other Boroughs

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! A logo for the campaign made by Lilah Francis of the Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

It was hard to move in the legendary music pub The Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday night. I’d arranged a benefit gig there — also intended as a consciousness-raising event, and an opportunity for all kinds of different campaigners to meet — under the umbrella heading, ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’, and it had proved to be so popular that the place was rammed, with sets from the acclaimed spoken word artist Potent Whisper, my band The Four Fathers, playing punky political rock and roots reggae, the theatrical singalong politics of the Commie Faggots, the talented Southwark-based rapper Asher Baker, Deptford spoken word artist Agman Gora passionately tackling current crises, the massed voices of the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, and the ukulele-wielding women of Ukadelix, with their wonderful vocal harmonies. Check out all my photos here.

I organised the event because I’d become aware that the plague of modern London — social cleansing by, predominantly, Labour boroughs — was starting to make its baleful presence felt in the borough of Lewisham, where I live, in south east London. This is not to say that Lewisham had previously been impervious to this greedy, class-based curse. The monstrous Lewisham Gateway development in the heart of the borough had begun with the destruction of a council estate, the Sundermead Estate, and the council is also currently involved in the long-running destruction of two estates on the border with Greenwich, Heathside and the wonderfully Brutalist Lethbridge Estate (which I’ll need to write about soon, as I can find absolutely no criticism of the estate’s destruction online, and very few photos), as well as demolishing the extraordinary Excalibur Estate of post-war prefabs high in the back streets of Catford.

The Four Fathers playing at 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest pub in Deptford on November 12, 2017.However, compared to its rapacious neighbour, Southwark, Lewisham is not yet a fully paid-up member of the Premier League of social cleansers. Lewisham’s biggest imminent project is the redevelopment of Convoys Wharf, a historically significant wharf on Deptford’s shoreline. This insulting effort to recreate Dubai at the end of Deptford High Street on the site of Henry VIII’s great dockyard is profoundly disappointing, but it doesn’t involve the destruction of people’s homes, whereas Southwark Council, at the Heygate Estate, working with the Australian-based international property developer Lendlease, has destroyed an estate of 1,034 socially rented homes, replacing them with 2,704 new homes, but with only 82 for social rent, and is currently undertaking similar destruction on the Aylesbury Estate, one of Europe’s biggest council estates, with Notting Hill Homes, a former social housing provider that has eagerly responded to government cuts by becoming an enthusiastic private developer. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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