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 »

‘Concrete Soldiers UK’: New Documentary Film About Social Cleansing and Council Estate Destruction in London Features Andy Worthington as Narrator

A promotional image for 'Concrete Soldiers', a new documentary film about the threat to social housing in London, directed by Nikita Woolfe, featuring narration by Andy Worthington.

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

I’m delighted to announce the launch of the website for ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a new documentary film directed by Nikita Woolfe, for which I’m doing the voiceover. I met Niki at ‘The Truth About Grenfell’, a powerful event the week after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in June, organised by ASH (Architects for Social Housing), which Niki was filming (and which also features in ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’). The completed film of the event, which has had nearly 15,000 views to date, is here.

Please note that there is also now a Facebook page and a Twitter page. Please like and follow us!

A few months later, Niki asked me if I’d like to narrate the film, and I was honoured to say yes. I live in social housing (which, for foreign readers, is rented housing that is, essentially, run on a not-for-profit basis), and am a passionate defender of it, and it has been thoroughly depressing watching as it has been denigrated by those who seek to destroy it so they can make a profit from its privatisation or its destruction and replacement by new private developments.

Those who want to get rid of social housing have a number of ploys: one is claiming that it should only be for those who are especially poor and desperate, and not, as I think it should be, for anyone who wants to rent rather than own a property, but who wants to do so cheaply, and sees that as a fair trade, as those who rent never end up owning the properties they live in, unlike those who take out mortgages. Read the rest of this entry »

The Crime of Destroying Social Housing in London – and the Significance (Or Not) of Jeremy Corbyn’s Response

A photo of the first stage of demolition on the Heygate Estate in Southwark, south east London, in April 2011 (Photo: Lotte Sheedy for the Architects Journal).This is my 2900th article since I began writing here on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you like what I do, please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

A great crime is taking place in London — the destruction of social housing estates by councils, who, squeezed of cash by central government, and, for decades, prevented from spending money on social housing, have entered into deals with private developers, in which housing — primarily estates — that the councils claim they have no money to refurbish are demolished, and replaced by new developments that offer huge profits for the developers, but that provide no social housing, or a risibly small amount.

In recent years, the purely private developers have been joined by housing associations, the preferred choice of governments, since the time of Margaret Thatcher, for managing social housing. However, with their central funding completely cut by the Tories since 2010, they have also been obliged to embark upon more and more developments featuring a large component of private housing to subsidise their properties for rent.

A further complication is that, in one of the most cynically breathtaking acts of spin in modern British history, the social housing provided is generally what is officially termed “affordable,” but which, in reality, is not affordable at all for most Londoners. Boris Johnson, during his eight destructive years as London’s Mayor, set “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, and in most of London — if not all — market rents are so out of control that those on the median income in London (the level at which 50% of workers earn more, and 50% earn less) are paying up to 70% of their wages on rent, when the acceptable model — in pre-Thatcher days — used to be that no one should pay more than a third of their income, just as, before the insane bubble that has more or less existed since New Labour took office in 1997, the acceptable cost of a house was no more than three and a half times a worker’s income. Read the rest of this entry »

Social Cleansing and the Destruction of Council Estates Exposed at Screening of ‘Dispossession’ by Endangered New Cross Residents

The Achilles fanzine, put together by resident Lilah Francis, from the area threatened with demolition by Lewisham Council, and some campaign badges (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

On Saturday, I went to the New Cross Learning Centre — a community-run former library in New Cross — for a screening of ‘Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle’, a new documentary about Britain’s housing crisis directed by Paul Sng, who is from New Cross (and is the director of ‘Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain’). The screening was organised by the residents of the Achilles Street area, whose homes are threatened by Lewisham Council, which wants to knock them all down, and build shiny new replacements. The area affected runs between New Cross Road and Fordham Park (from south to north), and between Clifton Rise and Pagnell Street (from west to east), and there are 87 homes (with 33 leaseholders), and around 20 businesses (along New Cross Road and down Clifton Rise).

Lewisham Council claims, in its most recent consultation document, from February this year, that “[a]ll current council tenants who wish to stay in the new development will be able to do so with the same rent levels and tenancy conditions that they have today,” and that “[a]ny resident leaseholder who wishes to will be able to remain in home ownership on the new development.”

This sounds reassuring, but the recent history of regeneration projects — both in London and elsewhere in the country — is that councils and developers lie to tenants and leaseholders, to get them to agree to regeneration under terms that are not then honoured. Instead, tenants are evicted and their homes demolished, and they never get to return, and leaseholders are offered derisory amounts for the homes that, ironically, they bought under Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, which is insufficient for them to buy a replacement property in the area, leading to their exodus in addition to that of the former tenants. 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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