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.”

Instead of the rosy picture painted by councils and developers, the reality of these new developments is that tenants get squeezed out, as there is no provision — or very little provision — for social rents (generally regarded as being 30% of market rents), and leaseholders get squeezed out too, offered derisory amounts for the homes they bought, after being encouraged to do so by none other than Margaret Thatcher, the pioneer of the ‘Right to Buy’ programme that started the decimation of council housing, as she also refused to allow councils to replace the stock they sold.

The film looks in detail at the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, and Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth, all with Labour councils (who, sadly, are at the forefront of social cleansing) and all threatened with unnecessary destruction, as independent housing experts like Architects for Social Housing (ASH) have demonstrated that refurbishment is preferable to destruction, and that, by adding stories to existing buildings, and through the careful infilling of unused space, estates can be saved from destruction, and the costs of refurbishment borne through the private sales of these new and additional properties.

The film celebrates the resistance of those whose homes are threatened, and funds for one group — the leaseholders of the Aylesbury Estate — are being raised through the takings on the night at the premiere, as the Aylesbury leaseholders secured a hugely important victory last September, when communities secretary Sajid Javid accepted the conclusion of a report into the estate that declared that the human rights of leaseholders were being breached by the derisory amounts offered in the council’s compulsory purchase orders. Javid then backed down when the council promised to amend its offer, but that has not happened yet, and the new CPO hearings will begin in the new year.

The film also features a wonderful victory — by the residents of sheltered housing in Streatham, who stopped Lambeth Council from cynically destroying their homes, as reported by ASH here — and this is an important part of the story, and one which Niki wanted to stress: that victory is possible.

Niki and I actually met at ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’, an event called by ASH the week after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in June, which Niki filmed, and Grenfell is, of course, featured in the film, as it is not possible to discuss social housing and social cleansing without taking some time to consider how and why those who died in the fire lost their lives — because of the deliberate cutting of “red tape”, and because of decisions, taken at many levels, to make profit-making and cost-cutting more significant than residents’ safety.

The darkness of the Grenfell disaster must not be allowed to fade, but it remains important to recognise that we can overcome the hostility and indifference of those making decisions about our lives, and as the premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ approaches, we should all take heart from what is happening up in Haringey.

In the north London borough — with all eyes particularly focused on Tottenham —  the council’s outrageous proposal to enter into a £2bn partnership with the rapacious international property developers Lendlease that would see the transfer of all Haringey’s council housing to a new entity, the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), to be followed by a programme of estate demolition, is being defeated by local campaigners, who have been working assiduously to get pro-HDV councillors de-selected and replaced with new candidates for the elections next May who oppose the plans. The campaign has been so successful that a pro-HDV majority has now been turned into a tiny minority, almost certainly destroying the HDV plans and sending Lendlease packing.

So it really is true: we can defeat any injustice if we put our minds to it, because we are many, and they are few.

NOTE: If you’re interested in screening ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ in 2018 — if you’re part of a housing campaign, or you’re involved with a cinema — please email Nikita Woolfe or call her on 07413 138909, or email me.

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, urging London readers with an interest in social housing to come along to the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11 this Friday, December 8, at 7pm, for the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a new documentary film examining the destruction of council estates, and, crucially, the resistance of residents to the proposed destruction of their homes, which is directed by my friend Nikita Woolfe, and for which I’m the narrator. I’m delighted to confirm that both Niki and I will be involved in a post-screening Q&A with other housing campaigners and experts, and with performances from spoken word artist Potent Whisper and beatboxer Bellatrix. All money raised from the screening will go to support the Aylesbury Estate leaseholders who are fighting Southwark Council regarding the value of their homes. See you there!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    The Facebook page for the premiere is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/692314494226308/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The director Nikita Woolfe says, “Speakers for this Friday’s premiere and fundraiser so far are: Sian Berry (Green Party), Jamie Burton (barrister), Jerry Flynn (35% Campaign, Southwark), Andy Worthington and Tania Charman (Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust). We want to talk about positive action. If you have a positive action story please contact me or come and join in the discussion on Friday 8 Dec at the Cinema Museum.” You can email Niki here: info@concretesoldiers.uk or call 07413 138909.

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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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