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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Celebrating 1700 Days of my Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

The latest photos from Andy Worthington’s ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Today marks 1,700 days since I first began posting a photo a day — plus accompanying essays — on ‘The State of London’ Facebook page; photos that were either taken on the day, or were drawn from the photos I’d started taking on bike rides throughout London’s 120 postcodes five years earlier. For anyone keeping count, that means that it’s now 3,526 days since I first set out on my bike to capture the changing face of London.

In the last 1,700 days, my ability to take photos has, I think, improved in general (largely because of the upgrade to my current camera, a Canon PowerShot G7 X Mk. II, in February 2019), and I have also, increasingly, devoted much more time to the essays that accompany each photo. I’m gratified to see that the project has steadily been gaining support, so that I recently welcomed my 5,000th follower.

As I have delved deeper into London’s history on my journeys, and in the research for the photos, I have come to recognize how resilient London is as a city, despite having lost so much in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and in the German bombing raids in World War II. Nevertheless, as I realized as soon as I began the project in May 2012, it has also recently been invaded, not by fire, or by a wartime enemy, but by predatory transnational capital, building huge new towers of offices in the City of London, and high-rise residential towers in Canary Wharf and in numerous former industrial sites across the capital (the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area, for example), all eagerly facilitated by conniving politicians and generally supine architects.

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Four Years After the Grenfell Tower Fire, It’s All About Profit and No Accountability As Millions Still Live in Buildings With Similarly Flammable Cladding

Grenfell Tower illuminated on the morning of June 14, 2021, the fourth anniversary of the fire that engulfed it, leading to the loss of 72 lives (Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard).

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Four years ago, when Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in west London was engulfed in an inferno, leading to the deaths of 72 people, it became apparent that everyone with responsibility for the safety of the block’s residents had failed to fulfil their obligations.

Those with blood on their hands included the Tory government, obsessed with cutting “red tape”, and failing to implement the lessons learned from previous tower block fires, and the local council, Kensington and Chelsea, which, in common with councils across the capital and the country as a whole, have largely neglected the maintenance of their social housing, content to subject it to “managed decline”, despite receiving millions of pounds in rent, in a manner that resembles nothing less than the behaviour of slum landlords.

The process of “managed decline” eventually enables councils to claim that estates need to be demolished, even though they are responsible for their dilapidation in the first place, at which point developers magically appear with proposals to ”regenerate” the estates with a mix of private properties for sale (generally at least half of the new housing), along with other forms of housing described as “social housing” or “affordable housing”, even though, in reality, they tend to be dubious “shared ownership” deals, or rented properties that are much more expensive than those that have been demolished.

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Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis and Covid’s Impact on Business Rents with Andy Bungay, Plus Three Four Fathers Songs

A deserted Piccadilly Circus on Christmas Day, 2020, an unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Recently I spoke to Andy Bungay of Riverside Radio, a community radio station in Wandsworth, for his show ‘The Chiminea’, which was broadcast on Boxing Day, and is available here on Mixcloud.

Andy and I have been speaking for several years, and it’s always great to talk to him.  Our 50-minute segment of the two and a half hour show began just under 21 minutes in, when Andy played ‘Fighting Injustice’, the first of three songs by my band The Four Fathers, which has long been a live favourite, and whose chorus is something of a mantra of mine — “If you ain’t fighting injustice / You’re living on the dark side.”

We then began our discussion by taking about my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which I began in 2012, and which involves me cycling and taking photos on a daily basis throughout London’s 120 postcodes, and, since 2017, posting a photo a day, with an accompanying story, on Facebook.

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Celebrating 1,300 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

Recent photos from The State of London photo-journalism project by Andy Worthington.

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Sunday marked 1,300 days — over three and a half years — since I first began posting a photo a day (plus an accompanying essay) on my Facebook page ‘The State of London.’

The Facebook project began on May 11, 2017, the fifth anniversary of the day I first consciously began cycling around the 120 postcodes of the London Postal District (the postcodes beginning  E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC), intending to capture, in photos, the changing face of the city, and its different manifestations based on the weather and the seasons.

My thanks to everyone taking an interest in the project, which has just reached 3,800 followers — plus many more who follow the photos on my own Facebook page, and also those who follow ‘The State of London’ on Twitter.

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No Justice, No Peace on the Third Anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Silent Walk on December 14, 2017, commemorating those who died in the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London six months earlier, on June 14, 2017. The Silent Walks took place every month until the coronavirus lockdown hit.

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Since the very public murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis three weeks ago, there has been a welcome and understandable resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that first surfaced back in 2014, after a spate of police murders of unarmed black men and boys in the US.

Today, as we remember the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which occurred exactly three years ago, the resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement seems entirely appropriate. 

72 people died in an inferno that engulfed the 1970s tower block they lived in in North Kensington, an inferno that was caused, primarily, because the structural integrity of the building had been lethally compromised by a re-cladding operation designed to make the tower look more “attractive” — not only had existing windows not been repaired or replaced to make sure that they were fireproof, but the re-cladding involved holes being drilled all over the tower that, on the night that the fire broke out, allowed it to consume the entire tower is an alarmingly short amount of time.  

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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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Celebrating 900 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project, ‘The State of London’

The most recent photos posted on the Facebook page for Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London.’

Check out all the photos to date here!

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Yesterday marked 900 days since I began posting a photo a day on Facebook — with accompanying essays — taken from the daily photographic journeys by bike around London’s 120 postcodes that I started five years before — on May 11, 2012, an ongoing photo-journalistic project that I call ‘The State of London.’ For anyone obsessed with stats, I think this means that I’ve been out in all weathers photographing the capital for 2,726 days; or seven years, five months and 16 days. 

Before I create the inadvertent illusion that I’m the Bear Grylls of urban cycling, I should point out that, nine days out of ten, I haven’t strayed far beyond the radius of postcodes emanating from my home, in Brockley, London SE4; that is to say, Deptford (SE8), Greenwich (SE10), Lewisham (SE13), New Cross (SE14), Peckham and Nunhead (SE15), Rotherhithe and South Bermondsey (SE16), and the whole of the sprawling SE1 postcode.

However, I have been to each of the 120 postcodes that make up the ‘London postal area’ at least once (a milestone I reached in September 2014), and I have also got to know, extremely well, almost the whole of south east London, most of east London (which I generally access via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the Regent’s Canal and the Limehouse Cut), much of south west London, the whole of the City and the West End, and the central components of the N, NW and W postcodes, and I feel that I now “know” the city — and, intellectually, “own” it — in a way that was unimaginable to me seven years ago, and that its streets and its shape and much of its history is now embedded in me like an organic GPS system.

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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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