‘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.

The current threats in Lewisham that prompted me to put on the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ event are the destruction of Old Tidemill Garden, a community garden, and a block of council flats on Reginald Road in Deptford, to be replaced by a new private development, which the council approved in September, and the proposed destruction of an estate in New Cross, Achilles Street, where there are 87 homes, and also around 20 shops. The Achilles Street area has the misfortune to stand next to Fordham Park, because private developers seeking to oust existing tenants and leaseholders particularly love parks, hills and waterside locations. There is also a need for concerted action to save the boating community on Deptford Creek, by the Birds Nest, and to prevent inappropriate development of former industrial sites on Creekside, also by the pub.

On the evening itself, Deptford and New Cross campaigners were joined by local squatters, by private renters, sick of paying so much of their income on rent, by people seeking to get on the housing ladder but unable to even contemplate doing so given the insanity of London’s housing bubble, by concerned people, whether renters or not, who are disturbed at the scale of social cleansing in the capital, and, I noticed, by some veterans of the powerful road protest movement of the 1990s, with which I was tangentially involved, and which I wrote about in my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.

Spoken word artist Potent Whisper performing at 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest pub in Deptford on November 12, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).My feeling is that we may be at the dawning stages of some sort of mass movement. We certainly need to be, as the proposed scale of destruction is astonishing, the greed of those driving the process is almost beyond comprehension, and the need for a massive not-for-profit social housebuilding programme is greater than ever. Everywhere you look in London, if you start to pay attention, plans for the destruction of council housing and of socially rented homes through housing associations are increasing. Lambeth, for example, has plans to destroy two perfectly sound estates for profit, dispossessing those who live there — the architecturally-renowned Central Hill in Crystal Palace, with a commanding view over the city, and Cressingham Gardens, which overlooks Brockwell Park.

Greenwich Council, meanwhile, has destroyed the first of three estates to be bulldozed in Woolwich, to be replaced by new developments largely for sale, and things are no better north of the river. Haringey Council is currently trying to enter into a £2bn partnership with Lendlease, which will see its entire housing stock transferred to the management of a new company, the Haringey Development Vehicle, with the intention being to destroy a number of estates, and in Clapton, on the Northwold Estate, Guinness Partnership tenants are resisting the destruction of their estate, while in Brixton Guinness is engaged in a disastrous new build project after demolishing existing housing in Loughborough Park.

Other prominent victims of social cleansing include the residents of West Hendon Estate, Woodberry Down in Hackney, the Balfron Tower and Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, and, if developers get their way, the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates in west London, whose homes are coveted by the developers redeveloping the Earls Court, who have already knocked down the iconic art deco Earls Court Exhibition Centre.

The list goes on and on, as this article by the exemplary Architects for Social Housing (ASH) explains, and everywhere local movements need support, and could do with a capital-wide campaign to mobilise resistance, and to wake up not only all social tenants, but also all decent owner-occupiers to the scale of the planned destruction, which, if it is not stopped, will led to tens of thousands of people — and, more realistically, hundreds of thousands of people — being removed from London over the next ten to 15 years, to be replaced either by young people and families struggling to keep up with the costs of having bought into a hideously overpriced new development, or by empty properties, bought by foreign investors, which house no one. And all of this, it should noted, is unnecessary, because refurbishing estates is much cheaper than demolishing them, and, as ASH has also demonstrated, infilling on existing estates can provide the necessary money for refurbishment.

I’m planning to roll out the template of the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ gig over the months to come, as well as hopefully staging another event in Lewisham itself, so if you can get involved in any way, do get in touch — that means venues, organisers, housing campaigners, bands, performers, rappers, spoken word artists, sound engineers, photographer and filmmakers!

Many of the acts listed above, who played at the Birds Nest, will be on board, but I’d also love to hear from musicians and performers tackling political themes elsewhere in the capital. We’re persistently told that politics has no place in music, or that politics is boring, or that you mustn’t frighten audiences away by dealing with politics, but life is political, choosing to shy away from politics is political, and, as Sunday night showed, most of the reasons for the widely-touted anti-political stance of what passes for our culture nowadays originate from, and plays into the hands of those who seek to keep people essentially tranquillised. So if you’re awake and want to make some noise about it, get in touch!

Note: If you’re interested in issues relating to social cleansing, please also see the website of ‘Concrete Soldiers‘, a new documentary directed by Nikita Woolfe, which I’m narrating, and which has its world premiere at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11 on Friday December 8.

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 the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for 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).

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3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’, the packed-out gig I organised at the Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday, featuring seven acts in total, including spoken word artist Potent Whisper and my band The Four Fathers, to raise awareness of the threats to social housing and community spaces in the borough of Lewisham, particularly at Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald Road in Deptford, and the Achilles Street estate in New Cross.
    The housing crisis is so severe on so many fronts – not just the demolition of council estates and their replacement with private housing for wealthy and/or foreign investors across the capital, from Haringey to Southwark, and from Lambeth to Lewisham, but also the unaffordability of private rents, and the general unaffordability of mortgages for all but the rich – that it’s not suprising to find a growing appetite for resistance.
    In the coming months, I hope to stage another Lewisham gig, and also to take the model for a night of music and resistance and solidarity to other boroughs. As I mention in the article, “if you can get involved in any way, do get in touch — that means venues, organisers, housing campaigners, bands, performers, rappers, spoken word artists, sound engineers, photographer and filmmakers!”

  2. Michael Cosgrove says...

    hi Andy
    I am setting up a free door-2-doors newspaper in Lewisham in 5 months. I am currently looking for some writers for when we start in January. Would you be interested in talking with us regarding local news and investigations etc?

    Kind Regards

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    That sounds interesting, Michael. I’ll drop you an email.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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