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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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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Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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Deptford’s Tidemill Campaign and the Dawning Environmental Rebellion Against the Dirty Housing ‘Regeneration’ Industry

Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners photographed in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford in November 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Yesterday, May 23, 2019, another phase in the ten-year struggle by the local community in Deptford to prevent environmental destruction, social cleansing, and the creation of new and inappropriate housing came to an end when campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign withdrew from a protest camp —  which had existed for the last seven months — on the green next to the contested site of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

However, while Lewisham Council and Peabody, the main proposed developer of the site, will be tempted to see this withdrawal as some sort of victory, they should pay attention to the fact that campaigners have also resolutely pledged to continue to resist the plans to build new homes on the site of the garden, and to demolish Reginald House, a block of 16 structurally sound council flats next door.

Moreover, the council and Peabody also need be aware that the contested Tidemill site is part of a much bigger picture — involving a critical awareness of  environmental destruction and of the need for major systemic change to mitigate the worst effects of an already unfolding global environmental crisis — that has generated considerable awareness and support both globally and locally in recent months via the direct action embraced by the campaigning group Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes inspired by the 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg

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Celebrating Seven Years of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

The most recent photos posted on the Facebook page ‘The State of London’ (All photos by Andy Worthington).

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Check out all the photos here!

Seven years ago yesterday, on May 11, 2012, I set out from my home in Brockley, in south east London, to take photos on a bike ride to Greenwich and back, passing through Deptford on the way. It wasn’t a long journey, but the conscious act of recording what I saw — what interested me — was the deliberate start of a photo-journalism project that I envisaged as a kind of cyclists’ version of ‘The Knowledge’, the legendary training whereby black cab drivers are “required to know every road and place of interest in the main London area; that is anywhere within a six mile radius of Charing Cross”, as a cabbie described it on his website.

That same cabbie explained how it took him four and a half years, which, he said, was about the average. Another website explained how cabbies need to “master no fewer than 320 basic routes, all of the 25,000 streets that are scattered within the basic routes and approximately 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest that are located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.”

I can’t claim to know London in this kind of detail, but I can truthfully state that, after my first journey on May 11, 2012, I gradually began to travel further afield, soon conceiving of a plan whereby I would visit and photograph the 120 postcodes — those beginning WC, EC, N, E, SE, SW, W and NW — that make up the London postal district (aka the London postal area), covering 241 square miles, with, when possible, additional photos from the 13 outer London postcode areas — those beginning BR, CM, CR, DA, EN, HA, IG, KT, RM, SM, TW, UB and WD — that make up Greater London, covering 607 square miles in total.

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Celebrating 2,500 Days Since I First Started Photographing London’s 120 Postcodes for ‘The State of London’

The most recent photos from 'The State of London' Facebook page.

Check out all the photos to date here.

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Today is the eighth anniversary of an event that triggered the creation of my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, and last Friday marked a milestone worth remarking on in the history of that project: 2,500 days since May 11, 2012, the first day I began cycling around London taking photos on a daily basis for the project that initially had no name, but that I soon called ‘The State of London.’

The eighth anniversary, today, is of when I was hospitalised following two months of serious agony as two of my toes turned black, but GPs and consultants failed to work out what was wrong with me for quite some time — only eventually working out that a blood clot had cut off the circulation to my toes — and also failed to prescribe me adequate painkillers. After I returned from a trip to Poland at the start of February 2011, for a short tour showing the film I co-directed, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ until I was hospitalised on March 18, I was rarely able to sleep for more than five minutes at a time; almost as soon as I fell asleep, I awoke in agony. There was, I thought, something ironic about someone who campaigned for the rights of people suffering all manner of torments in US custody — including sleep deprivation — also ending up suffering from sleep deprivation, although in my case it was caused by my own body waging war on me.

After two days in Lewisham Hospital, where I was finally given morphine to take me beyond the pain, my wife figured out that they didn’t really know what to do with me, and so pushed for me to be transferred somewhere that they might have a clue. That somewhere was St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, where I spent the next nine days, as consultants worked out that attaching me for five afternoons to a drip that pushed what felt like cement into my arteries might open up the blood supply to my toes, thereby saving them. 

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Violent and Unforgivable: The Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

The destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on February 27, 2019 (photo by David Aylward).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Today is my birthday, and I find myself in a reflective place, looking, at one side, on death and destruction, and, on the other, at life and love and solidarity.

Perhaps this is appropriate at the age of 56, when I am neither young nor truly old — and, believe me, I reflect on aging, and mortality, and what it means, with some regularity, as my restless brain refuses to settle, endlessly asking questions and seeking new perspectives and insights into the human condition. But that is not why I’m in this reflective place today.

Yesterday, in the hallucinatory light and heat of one of the hottest February days in London’s history, I stood on a small triangle of grass by the horrendously polluted Deptford Church Street in south east London, and watched as a small group of tree-killers, SDL Solutions, brought in from Gloucestershire, tore down almost all the trees in a beautiful community garden, the Old Tidemill Garden, whose tree canopy, which would imminently have returned as spring arrives, had, over 20 years, become an increasingly efficient absorber of that horrendous pollution. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Concrete Soldiers UK’: Screening of the Housing Documentary I Narrate at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, Tuesday February 26

Poster for the screening of 'Concrete Soldiers UK' at the Rio Cinema in Dalston on February 26, 2019.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Tuesday February 26, at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, will be the first screening of 2019 for ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the documentary film about the housing crisis, directed by Nikita Woolfe, which I narrate. I’m very pleased to note that, recently, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ was awarded ‘Best Documentary Film’ in the European Cinematography Awards for 2018. You can also now watch it via Amazon Prime.

The Facebook event page for the screening on February 26 is here, the listing on the Rio’s website is here, and if you’d like to attend for a reduced rate of £5, quote “£5 Tuesday Deal” when you get to the box office (it can’t be used to book online).

Focusing on the struggles against the cynical estate ‘regeneration’ industry, using examples in south London — the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark and Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth — the film demonstrates the scale of the problems faced by those living on estates, which councils want to knock down in deals with private developers and dubious housing associations. Crucially, however, the film also offers hope to campaigners, suggesting that people power can triumph. Read the rest of this entry »

Tidemill Solidarity Gig: Come and Celebrate the Resistance at the Birds Nest This Sunday, Dec. 9

The poster for the Tidemill Solidarity gig at the Birds Nest in Deptford on Sunday December 9, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

It’s now five weeks since the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, a wonderful community space and precious environmental asset that was violently evicted by bailiffs from the brutal County Enforcement company, who were hired by Lewisham Council. To show our continued resistance to the council’s plans to destroy the garden — and to celebrate our fighting spirit and our creativity — I’ve organised a gig this Sunday (Facebook page here) at the Birds Nest, the legendary live music pub just across the road, featuring musicians who played at events in the garden, or who were involved in the occupation. 

Three prominent campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign — Heather, Harriet and I — are represented by our bands Ukadelix, the Commie Faggots and the Four Fathers, and many other members of these bands were also involved in events in the garden. I remember one wonderful evening around the fire with Michelle and Angie from Ukadelix, Archie from the Commie Faggots and Richard from The Four Fathers, when, with Angie playing some wonderful basslines, we adopted ‘Love Train’ as the occupation’s anthem. Also present that night — and on many other occasions — was Flaky Jake, accordionist and troubadour, who, I hope, will also be able to make it on Sunday.

Also representing the occupation is Roll Rizz, who brought peace and love to the garden from north London, with his anarcho-tribal punk band Flak (or Flak Punks), and two singer-songwriters who have both written songs about Tidemill, which they’ll be performing — Gordon Robertson and Mark Sampson. And the evening will kick off with Brian Wilkes, visiting from Eastbourne, who played his first ever public set at a previous Tidemill benefit gig at the Birds Nest on September 16. Read the rest of this entry »

Lewisham Council’s Self-Inflicted Woes Increase: Chaos Over Tidemill Eviction Costs, and the Sacking of CEO Ian Thomas

Campaigners with the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign outside Lewisham Council's HQ in Catford on November 28, 2018 (Photo: Bridie Witton).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

What a disgrace Lewisham Council are. With Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners and numerous local people putting the council under ever-increasing pressure to explain how much money has been squandered on the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden a month ago, the subsequent cost of maintaining a security presence 24 hours a day (which we believe, on the advice of Corporate Watch, to be around £1m), and why they are still not interested in an alternative plan for the site that will spare the garden and Reginald House and do something to salvage their increasingly tattered credibility, they responded, as a FOI request revealed that £105,188 had been spent on the eviction alone, by using that as an opportunity to blame campaigners for it.

The council issued a press release (helpfully posted here by the Deptford Dame), in which Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, after complaining about campaigners and members of the Old Tidemill Garden Group occupying the garden, stated, with a cynical use of the Labour Party’s tagline under Jeremy Corbyn (“for the many, not the few”), “Our housebuilding programme is for the many, not the few, and we won’t let the actions of a small number of people stop us providing decent, secure, social housing for those who need it.”

At the same time as issuing the press release, the council also launched a video, ‘No Place Like Home’ (and a page on their website), dealing with homelessness and the council’s alleged dedication to providing new housing, with the tagline, ‘Why Lewisham Council is making social and truly affordable housing a priority.’ 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 (The State of London).
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