Five Years Since the Violent Tidemill Eviction, Its Ghosts Still Haunt Peabody’s New ‘Frankham Walk’ Development

Frankham Walk, Peabody’s housing development on the site of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, October 4, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Five years ago today, on October 29, 2018, the brave two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, came to a violent end when bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council, from the union-busting company County Enforcement, raided the garden at dawn, evicting the handful of campaigners staying there overnight in what they subsequently characterised as a terrifying quasi-military operation.

The bailiffs subsequently began tearing down trees, including the garden’s prized Indian bean trees, and demolishing all of the structures that had contributed to its community focus — the colourful tree house by the bean trees, which had entertained children throughout the garden’s 25-year history, and a number of sheds that had, most recently, been used as exhibition spaces.

Throughout the rest of the day, there was a tense stand-off between campaigners and hundreds of local people who had turned up to offer support, and the bailiffs, protected by a row of police. As campaigners conducted interviews with a number of broadcasters, including the BBC, and campaigners railed against the bailiffs and the police via a loudhailer, occasional skirmishes broke out, in which a number of people were injured, but by the end of the day the garden was ‘secured.’

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‘Frankham Walk’: Peabody’s Cynical Rebranding of the Destroyed Old Tidemill Garden Site in Deptford

A hoarding advertising the launch of Peabody’s ‘Frankham Walk’ development in Deptford (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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So finally, Peabody, the charitable housing association turned private developer, has rebranded the destroyed Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden site in Deptford, and the ‘regenerated’ old Tidemill primary school next door, as ‘Frankham Walk’, featuring, as its advertising hoardings show, “Your dream home” — if your dream home consists of a 1, 2, 3 or 4-bedroom apartment, a duplex or a townhouse for private sale or shared ownership, with private sales for 1 to 3-bedroom flats ranging in price from £337,500 to £690,000, and with shared ownership deals ranging from £84,375 to £172,500 for a 25% share, plus monthly rent and service charges.

There are, or will be 144 properties in total in ’Frankham Walk’ — 51 for private sale, 14 for shared ownership, and 79 that, we are told, will be “affordable rent homes for local people on Lewisham Council’s waiting list.” A further 65 properties — 27 for shared ownership, and 38 “affordable rent homes for local people on Lewisham Council’s waiting list” — will, we are also told, follow when 2-30a Reginald Road, an existing block of 16 structurally sound council flats, is demolished and replaced with new housing.

A billboard advertising the launch of Peabody’s ‘Frankham Walk’ development on Deptford High Street (Photo: Andy Worthington).

The name ‘Frankham Walk’ was probably arrived at after the longest deliberations in the history of 21st century ‘regeneration’ projects, because of the contentious nature of the development, which involved the two-month occupation of the garden by campaigners, to try to prevent its destruction, its violent eviction by bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council, and millions of pounds spent by the council guarding the empty school and the destroyed garden.

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Save Reginald House: Demolition Plans For Flats Next to Former Tidemill Garden Reveal the Broken State of Social Housing Provision in London

2-30a Reginald Road (aka Reginald House), in Deptford, south east London, photographed on June 27, 2022. Despite being structurally sound, the block is being demolished as part of a housing development on the former school grounds next door, and residents are unhappy with how they are being treated by Lewisham Council regarding being moved out and being rehoused (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In Deptford, in south east London, residents of 2-30a Reginald Road (also known as Reginald House), a block of council flats built in the 1960s by Lewisham Council, have lived with the threat of demolition hanging over them for the last 14 years.

Now, the council is trying to evict them all, in preparation for the block’s intended demolition in January 2023, but those living there — a mixture of long-term tenants, leaseholders and temporary tenants relocated there over the last five years — accuse the council of poor communication, intimidation and a failure to provide them with suitable new homes or alternative accommodation.

The block, consisting of 16 maisonettes, is structurally sound, but has been earmarked for demolition since 2008 as part of a ‘regeneration’ project, with the housing association Peabody, that also involves the old Tidemill primary school and its former grounds, including the much-loved, but now destroyed Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, which was occupied for two months in 2018 to try to prevent its destruction, as well as the destruction of Reginald House. See the Facebook page of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign for more information, as well as my archive of articles, and please also watch Hat Vickers’ recently released documentary film ’The Battle for Deptford’ if you haven’t seen it.

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Now on YouTube: Tidemill Documentary ‘The Battle for Deptford’ Celebrates Community Solidarity and Resistance

The opening shot of Hat Vickers’ documentary film ‘The Battle for Deptford.’

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It’s now a month since filmmaker Hat Vickers’ documentary film ‘The Battle for Deptford’ had its world premiere at St. Nicholas’ Church, in Deptford Green, as part of the Deptford and New Cross Free Film Festival, and three weeks since it had its online premiere, and I thought it was time to do my bit to promote it, in case anyone out there who’s interested in resistance to environmental destruction and the baleful housing ‘regeneration’ market hasn’t seen it yet.

The launch was an inspiring event that brought together over 200 people, many of whom had been involved in the focal point of the film, the long struggle to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a magical community garden, and Reginald House, a structurally sound block of council flats next door, from destruction as part of a fundamentally flawed and destructive housing project. Afterwards there was a lively Q&A, at which I was one of a number of panellists, and another lively Q&A followed the online premiere a week later, revealing an appetite for the resumption of the struggle for housing justice, and against environmental destruction, that has not been dimmed by two years in which the Covid lockdowns largely prevented large-scale protests from taking place.

The struggle to save the garden and Reginald House began in 2012, when the old Tidemill primary school closed and moved to a new location in nearby Giffin Square, and Lewisham Council first proposed to redevelop the site of the school as housing, with the Victorian school buildings converted into ‘luxury’ housing, and with new residential blocks built on its former playground, and on the garden, which, with its beguiling concentric circles, its Indian bean trees, and its extensive tree cover that mitigated the worst effects of traffic pollution from nearby Deptford Church Street, had been designed by pupils, their parents and their teachers in the late 1990s. Also included in the plans was the demolition of three blocks of council flats — two on Giffin Street, and another on Reginald Road.

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WORLD PREMIERE: ‘The Battle for Deptford’ – New Documentary Film Tells the Story of the Struggle to Save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden

A shot from the new documentary film ‘The Battle for Deptford’, directed by Hat Vickers.

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This Thursday, April 28, sees the world premiere of ‘The Battle for Deptford’, a new documentary film, directed by Hat Vickers, about the long struggle to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, and Reginald House, a block of council flats next door, from destruction for a new housing development.

The struggle, which involved campaigners fighting for years to get the council and the developers (Peabody and Sherrygreen Homes) to change the plans, sparing the garden and Reginald House from destruction, culminated in the occupation of the garden for two months, from August to October 2018, until its violent eviction by bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council.

After many months in which the council, at exorbitant cost, paid bailiffs to guard the empty garden, the last of the trees were torn down in February 2019, but building work didn’t begin until October 2020. 18 months on, it’s an ugly building site, with dense blocks of housing rising up, and little sign of any significant green space materialising, let alone anything to rival the beautiful lost garden.

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Two Years Since the Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, Lewisham Council’s Housing Policy Still Puts Profits Before People

A photo taken after the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Hat Vickers).

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Two years ago yesterday, a bold experiment in people power — the two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, to prevent its destruction and inappropriate development as part of a profit-led housing project — came to a violent end when union-busting bailiffs from County Enforcement, hired by Lewisham Council, stormed the garden at dawn, terrorising the handful of campaigners camping overnight.

Throughout the day, as locals gathered to show their disgust at the heavy-handed tactics, a line of bailiffs, protected by a line of police, prevented anyone returning to the garden as the hired thugs began tearing down the garden’s structures and trees.

Like an invading army, they tore down the garden’s beautiful Indian bean trees, the brightly-painted tree house that stood next to it, and a beautiful shed made by campaigners from found materials, which had been used just weeks before as an exhibition space when the garden featured in the annual Deptford X arts festival. (For my article about the eviction, see The Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden: Lewisham Councillors Make Sure They Will Never Be Welcome in Deptford Again, and also check out my archive of articles about Tidemill here, and this Corporate Watch report).

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The Four Fathers Release New Song ‘Affordable’, Marking the Anniversary of the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden’s Trees

The cover of the Four Fathers’ new online single, ‘Affordable’, released on March 3, 2020.

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Last Thursday, February 27, marked a sad anniversary for environmental activists and housing campaigners, as it was the first anniversary of the destruction of the 74 mature and semi-mature trees that made up the magical tree cover of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, in south east London, which provided an autonomous green space in a built-up urban area, and also mitigated the worst effects of pollution generated by traffic on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been measured at six times the safety levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to save the trees, which had been ongoing since 2012, largely took place before environmental activism went mainstream, via the actions of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, although this was not just an environmental issue. The destruction of the garden was also part of a proposal by Lewisham Council and housing developers to build a new housing development on the site, one that desperate, dissembling councillors sought to sell to the public as providing much-needed new social homes, when the reality, as with almost all current housing developments, is that a significant number of the new homes are for private sale, existing council housing is to be destroyed, and its replacement will be homes that are described as “affordable”, when they are no such thing.

Instead, the allegedly “affordable” component of the development is a mixture of properties at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher for a two-bedroom flat than traditional social rents, and ‘shared ownership’, a notorious scam, whereby, in exchange for a hefty upfront payment, occupants are made to believe that they own a share of the property (typically 25%), whereas, in reality, they are only assured tenants unless they find a way to own the property outright, and, along the way, have to pay rent on the share of the property that they don’t, even nominally, own, and are also often subjected to massive — and unregulated — service charges.

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Photos of the Two-Month Occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden Prior to its Violent Eviction

The Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on the eve of its occupation, August 28, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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One year ago yesterday, the two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, came to a violent end when bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council evicted the occupiers in a dawn raid.

It was a disturbing end to a long-running effort on the part of the local community to save the garden — and Reginald House, a block of structurally sound council flats next door — from destruction as part of a plan to re-develop the site of the old Tidemill primary school. The garden — a magical design of concentric circles — had been created by pupils, teachers and parents 20 years before, and the community had been given use of it after the school moved to a new site in 2012, while efforts to finalise the plans proceeded, with the housing association Family Mosaic (which later merged with Peabody) and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes.

The garden was not only a magical green space; it also helped to mitigate the worst effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, but the council weren’t interested in considering alternative plans that would have spared the garden and Reginald House, and terminated the lease on the garden on August 28 last year. However, instead of giving the keys back, the community occupied the garden instead, embarking on a two-month experiment in community resistance that resonated around the world.

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Beyond Irony: Peabody Launches ‘The Muse’ at Amersham Vale in New Cross, Profiting from the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden

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In the London Borough of Lewisham, ground works have started on a long-empty site at Amersham Vale in New Cross, which was formerly occupied by Deptford Green secondary school. What most people don’t know — because Lewisham Council and the developers, the aggressively huge housing association Peabody and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes, worked assiduously to hide the information — is that the Amersham Vale site was stealthily twinned at the planning stage with another, highly-contested site in Deptford, containing the old Tidemill primary school, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and the 16 structurally sound council flats of Reginald House, with the two sites blandly identified as ‘Deptford Southern Housing.’ 

At Tidemill, campaigners — myself included — spent many years trying to persuade the council and the developers to drop the Tidemill garden from their plans, because it is — or was — a magical, autonomous green space in a heavily urban environment, and also because it mitigated the worst effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been recorded that are six times the recommended limits set by the World Health Organisation. We were also fighting to save Reginald House from cynical destruction as part of the plans, but although we secured significant media attention by occupying the garden for two months last year, we ended up being violently evicted, and the garden was destroyed in February, although building works have not yet begun.

Instead, at Amersham Vale, the arrival of the ground works team has coincided with Peabody launching a page on their ‘Peabody Sales’ website advertising homes for sale on the site, which they are calling, without any apparent trace of irony, ‘The Muse’ — the muse in question being, presumably, that of gentrification and the lure of filthy lucre.

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One Year Since the Tidemill Occupation Began, Is the Tide Turning Against the ‘Regeneration’ Industry?

The Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the day before its occupation, to prevent its destruction, officially began (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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One year ago, local residents and activists in Deptford, in south east London — myself included — occupied a community garden, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, to try to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing project. Strenuous efforts had been made by members of the local community for many years to persuade the council that their plans for the garden — originally part of the Tidemill primary school, which moved out of its premises in 2012 — were environmentally deranged, because the garden miligated the worst effects of the horrendous pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, but they had refused to listen.

The plans involved not just the garden — a magical space created by pupils, parents and teachers 20 years before — but also Reginald House, a block of 16 structurally sound flats next door, which, cynically, were to be destroyed to make way for the new development, and the old school itself. Campaigners had no fundamental objections to the former school buildings being converted into housing, but the plans for the garden and for Reginald House were so profoundly unacceptable that, when the council approved the development in September 2017, campaigners began to hatch plans for the occupation.

The garden had been kept open by guardians who had been installed in the old school buildings after it closed in 2012, and when that contract was terminated, the local community were given “meanwhile use” of the garden instead. A handful of volunteers had opened it at weekends, but as time went on the numbers of people drawn to it increased, and after Lewisham Council made its decision, ironically, interest in the garden mushroomed. Numerous musical and artistic events took place throughout spring and summer 2018, and when the council called for campaigners to hand the keys back on August 29, the long-mooted plan to occupy the garden instead went into effect.

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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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