Vivienne highlighted the fact that the government is currently planning to build over 200 high-rise luxury flats in the City; an action she deemed “an absolute scandal”, since, at the same time, “the housing list is growing while council houses are being pulled down and housing co-ops are being evicted. Where are people going to live?” Arriving in London almost 50 years ago as a school teacher, Vivienne said that even at that time it was very difficult to find a flat. With her then boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren, they found a place that had been squatted by “hippies” and painted entirely red on the inside – “it looked like the inside of a phonebox! It was great!”. This was the only way they were able to secure a home. “I don’t know how people manage today. It’s dreadful.”
Painter, sculptor and Clapham resident, Maggi Hambling, told Spectacle that ‘Lambeth Council, rather like Jack the Ripper, seems to be ripping its way through the whole feel and importance of this area’ through its short-termist policy of selling off cooperative housing, such as that of Rectory Gardens, just round the corner from Maggi’s sunlit studio.
‘What I think is most extraordinary is that Lambeth calls itself the ‘Cooperative Council‘ when it has destroyed and is still destroying every cooperative around me. It’s terrible, to put it mildly’, she says. In an interview for Spectacle’s documentary about the breaking up of Rectory Gardens Housing Co-op, Maggi describes Lambeth’s ‘money-grabbing, short-sighted, and morally criminal’ behaviour towards Co-ops in the borough. In nearby Lillieshall Road, only two of 15 houses remain, while residents of Rectory Gardens are currently in the process of being evicted.
‘The creative community, as I have known it over all these years, has changed from an enormous mix of different people living together and caring about each other into this gentrified place where money, money, money, rather than any kind of feel for the community, rules. Every bit of creative spirit is being exterminated with a very heavy hand. Nothing but destruction is coming from above.’
Maggi moved to the area in the 1960s and remembers the wide variety of people who once made this their home, including artists and craftspeople. The systematic eradication of co-ops, she fears, is the product of a policy of greed that will ultimately destroy what makes this place special to live in.
‘Clapham and places around here will just become dormitories for people in the city who can afford the extortionate amounts of money they’re paying for their little bit of castle. This area is trying to turn itself into Mayfair. Something that the totally un-cooperative Council is probably very happy about to the detriment of healthy communities and anything that breathes any life.’
‘Rectory Gardens is the last bastion of the cooperatives and is hanging on by its teeth. Whatever anyone can do to save it must be done now. I would ask the Council to look at their own greed and lack of foresight and vision. Otherwise, this sort of Jack the Ripper policy is going to amount to a London that is extremely boring, to say the least.’
Despite anger, Maggi optimistically concludes that ‘it is possible to win these battles. The so-called Cooperative Council should be emphatically made to see how blind they are being and how cruel.’
But, she wonders, as many might, ‘why does everything have to be a battle?’
What you can do:
Sign the petition at Change.org: http://www.change.org/p/lambeth-the-cooperative-sic-council-stop-the-co-op-housing-evictions
Visit Lambeth United Housing Co-operative’s website: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/
Write to the Council to support the ‘Super Co-op’ solution: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/?page_id=157
Tweet, Facebook, and disseminate this and related blogs and news articles to your contacts.
Spectacle has met several times with members of a housing co-operative based in Rectory Gardens, Clapham, to discuss making a film about the street and its community ahead of residents planned, impending eviction by Lambeth Council. We ran an extremely successful four day training course around the project. This served the dual purpose of giving participants the opportunity to experience working on a real commission and kick-starting filming.
We received excellent feedback from course attendees and an enthusiastic response from many Rectory Gardens residents. As a result, we have more training courses scheduled in for the Autumn and we hope to start production on the Rectory Gardens film for real in the near future. Eventually we aim to produce a short film that may help the campaign of residents who choose not to settle, and serve as a record of life on the street for those who have decided to reluctantly accept the Council’s offer of rehousing.
The Rectory Garden Housing Co-operative came into being in the 1970s, when houses on the street – an L-shaped mews attached to Rectory Grove – were compulsorily purchased by the Council and then left empty. People who moved into the empty buildings were allowed to stay on ‘short life’ tenancies – for almost 40 years in some cases. The residents made the houses habitable, tended the gardens and in many cases brought up families there. They also formed a housing co-operative, with a ‘self-help’ agenda – members exchanged skills and supported each other; they taught themselves and each other to maintain the houses – in (at least) one case learning to plaster ‘on the job’. The result is a vibrant and eclectic street, with an old bombsite for a garden and a small pack of cats to keep out the mice. In contrast to a sterile and ugly gated-community redevelopment in the mews next door the street is idyllic, a hub of community that contrasts the bleakness of many residential parts of London.
However some residents say they have been unable to fully enjoy their homes, instead living with constant anxiety as Lambeth Council – which ironically self-describes as a ‘co-operative council’ – has sporadically put pressure on them to leave. This came to a head in 2011, when the Labour party began systematically targeting all ‘short life’ properties in the borough. Under immense pressure and facing dubious, underhand tactics – including the employment of property guardian company Camelot to help prise tenants out and stop new ones moving in – many residents have now settled and been rehoused, or are awaiting to be rehoused within the borough. Lambeth Council have offered Rectory Gardens residents priority in selectively applying for available council houses.
Many residents, however, persist in fighting to keep their homes, despite the risk of having to pay enormous legal fees if they lose.