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.

As Niki and I explain on the film’s Facebook page, “‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ tells the story of the destruction of council estates, the social cleansing of those who live there — and the inspiring resistance of tenants, leaseholders and other committed to the ongoing existence and availability of social housing. The film focuses in particular on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, where the destruction is already underway, but is being challenged, and Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth, both threatened with destruction. In all three cases, residents are fighting back, and giving hope to others whose homes are threatened — both in London and across the UK.”

An inspiring example of successful resistance is Macintosh Court, in Streatham, where residents of a small sheltered housing estate successfully fought back against the proposed destruction of their homes by Lambeth Council, with the help of the architect Kate Macintosh, who rallied support from other architects and heritage bodies.

A main purpose of the film is to give people hope, and that spirit of resistance in the face of adversity was clearly present at the premiere, which was a fundraiser for the leaseholders of the Aylesbury Estate, who won an astounding victory last September, when communities secretary Sajid Javid accepted the findings of a report that concluded that the derisory amounts offered to leaseholders breached their human rights. Unfortunately, the leaseholders now face another uphill struggle at a second Compulsory Purchase Order hearing that is taking place in January over a period of 13 days.

The panel at the world premiere of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11 on Friday December 8, 2017. Standing at the back are director Nikita Woolfe, who spent three years making the documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and the people resisting the destruction of their homes, and narrator Andy Worthington, who chaired the post-screening Q&A. Seated, from L to R: panellists Jerry Flynn of the 35 Percent Campaign in Southwark, Tania Charman, director of The Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, barrister Jamie Burton and Sian Berry, Green Party London Assembly member.One of the panellists in the Q&A session after the screening, which I moderated, was Jerry Flynn of the 35% Campaign, which, along with Southwark Notes, has spent years conducting extensive research and fighting back against the disgraceful social cleansing perpetrated by Southwark Council, a Labour council at the forefront of the destruction of estates to profit private developers rather than refurbishing existing estates and paying for that through infilling with new properties for sale. Refurbishment and infilling is the position taken by the pressure group Architects for Social Housing (ASH), and it is thoroughly endorsed in the film.

Incidentally, ASH are also the main body responsible for revealing that most of the planned destruction comes from Labour councils — something that was highlighted during the Q&A, and contrasted with the position taken by Jeremy Corbyn, who stated at the Labour Party conference that there should be no estate demolitions without residents’ ballots. History, sadly, shows that residents’ opinions are ignored when councils find them inconvenient (as happened on the Aylesbury Estate), and Corbyn’s statement is clearly not backed up with any mechanism for its own enforcement, but it also clearly has power as a demand, is being used as such across London (see this report on a recent Cressingham Gardens protest), and should continue to have a prominent role in 2018.

Jerry Flynn’s involvement in campaigning on housing issues began with resistance to the destruction of the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle, a campaign that ultimately failed, despite campaigners’ valiant efforts, and that led to the destruction of over 1,000 council homes, and their replacement with a new private development, Elephant Park, which contains almost no socially rented homes. Nevertheless, the lessons from that campaign have fed into the campaign to save the nearby Aylesbury Estate, one of the largest estates in Europe, and as Jerry pointed out, the assistance of lawyers is extremely helpful, although the process is not cheap. If you can help the leaseholders in their imminent battle, please donate here.

Merchandise - posters and T-shirts, based on designs by artist Artful Dodger - for the documentary film ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, which had its world premiere at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London SE11 on Friday December 8, 2017. Other speakers were Tania Charman, director of the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, who brought an  inspiring message of alternative arrangements for ordinary people to take charge of their homes, barrister Jamie Burton, who has experience of housing issues, and Sian Berry, Green Party London Assembly member, who delivered a critical analysis of Sadiq Khan’s plans for London’s housing crisis, whilst also pointing out that he is clearly cowed by criticism, as he has failed to produce a document outlining his proposals for estate regenerations, despite promising to do so.

Hovering over the evening was the triumph of campaigners in Haringey, who seem to be close to seeing off the most outrageous proposals so far put forward by a council (and again, like Southwark, a Labour council); namely, the proposal to transfer all of the borough’s social housing into the control of a £2bn development vehicle, the Haringey Development Vehicle, half-owned by the council and half-owned by Lendlease, the aggressive Australian-based international property developer behind the destruction of the Heygate Estate — a catastrophically one-sided deal that would have given Lendlease (the partner in the deal with all the money) the power to demolish council estates and replace them with new, private developments on an unprecedented scale.

In Haringey, campaigners have been working assiduously to de-select Labour councillors who support the HDV, and to replace them with new candidates who oppose it, and their efforts over the last month of selections have been enormously successful. As the Stop HDV website states, “At the start of this process there were 29 Labour Councillors for the HDV and 21 against — that has shifted dramatically to only 12 for and 45 against. As the Liberal Democrats also oppose the HDV, the incoming Council after May 2018 will almost certainly no longer support the Joint Venture with Lendlease. Now we have to be prepared to stop the current Cabinet from signing the scheme before May. If they did it would be an outrage as they clearly have no mandate to do so.”

Thanks to everyone who came to the launch, everyone who has helped with the film, and everyone with the tenacity for the fight ahead. If I don’t see you in Deptford on Monday, I hope to see you in 2018.

Note: The Cinema Museum also has its own ongoing struggle, which I invite you to address. The most amazing collection of UK cinema memorabilia, housed in the former workhouse that was once home to Charlie Chaplin, it is to be sold by the NHS, which owns it, and which is ignoring a bid by the museum itself, favouring a sale on the open market. A petition is here, and I urge you to sign it — and to visit the museum if you haven’t already. It’s magical.

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).

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, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my report on the world premiere, last Friday, of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the new documentary film by Nikita Woolfe, which I narrate. The film looks at council estates under threat of demolition and cynical redevelopment by private developers – the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, and Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill in Lambeth – and, crucially, the resistance of residents to the planned destruction of their homes. There was a packed house at the premiere, at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, and a great Q&A session afterwards. If you’re in London next Monday (Dec. 18), come and see the film at Deptford Cinema, where I’m doing the Q&A with local campaigners, and do get in touch if you’re from a housing campaign or a cinema, and you want to show the film in the new year.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Any French speakers in the house? Check out this 30-minute Arte TV programme (in French) about London’s housing crisis, which features Nikita Woolfe, the director of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

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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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