Stay Home? They wanted to…

As England enters a third lockdown where all people are ordered to “stay at home,” at Spectacle we are reminded of a community in Clapham Old Town, Lambeth SW4 that was told to “get out” of their homes.

In Rectory Gardens, there lived a group of creative and industrious people. As young artists and divergent thinkers they turned a derelict bombed out row of uninhabitable houses into a flourishing artistic community. For forty years they lived in a housing backwater largely unaffected by social housing policies, despite sporadic attempts by the council to “formalise” the street. They created a housing cooperative, until Lambeth, the ‘cooperative Council’ began taking their “million pound” houses from under their feet. The community that now included the vulnerable, elderly, and unwell, was broken up and dispersed. 

A Tragedy in the Commons 

The street circa 1980

Rectory Gardens (RG) is a L shaped Victorian pedestrian street in Clapham Old Town SW4 that was badly damaged by bombing during WW2. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the decimated houses attracted a group of squatters who saw the opportunity to create a utopia. This motley crew of characters with their own ideologies, housing needs, and reasons for living outside of the norm, formed a collective community which lived in relative harmony for four decades.  

Rectory Gardens circa 1980

By the 1980s these squatters had revitalized the houses, and formed a housing cooperative. Rectory Gardens offered a home for all kinds of artists, free-thinkers, draft dodgers, and other socially liminal characters. Through the 80 and 90s, it remained a diverse community at the epicentre of a flourishing arts scene.

Squatters clear rubble, circa 1960

The street was host to an industrious community of artists, musicians, poets and unconventional ‘free thinkers’ who found a cheap way of living while developing their creative endeavors. It became a hub of cultural activities initiating art studios and cafes that brought life to the area. Spectacle interviewed both Vivienne Westwood and Maggi Hambling about the value of Rectory Gardens’s cultural contributions.

Bombed out windows, circa 1960

Residents of this dynamic community were the initiators of much that made the area distinct and attractive, the skate park and cafe on clapham common, Cafe des Artistes, Fungus Mungus, Voltaire Studios, bric-a-brac shops, rehearsal studios, artisan crafts and pool of skilled creative labour. The street itself had a public garden that served as a safe play area in the day and a performance and social space in the evening.

As with any tragedy, their success was key to their end as well. The artistic growth contributed to the popularity of the neighborhood and ultimately its subsequent gentrification. The council had its eyes on the properties, and though the residents tried to work with the council to legalize their living arrangement the deal fell through. The residents were recently evicted by Lambeth Council, who sold the houses to a developer on the private market.

Evicting the community was devistating for the mental health and well-being of many of these elderly and vulnerable residents. They lost not only their homes but their community and support networks. Many struggled to live away from their home of forty years, some died or were sectioned. Housing is integral to well-being, a point overlooked by this profit driven housing department.

Spectacle at Rectory Gardens

In the spring of 2014 Spectacle was contacted by the residents of Rectory Gardens. They wanted to record the final months of their squat-turned housing-cooperative. Rectory Gardens had been a lively arts community for over forty years, but growing conflict with the local council left the residents desperately fighting to avoid eviction, something that perhaps some media advocacy and intervention could assist them with, they believed.

Spectacle begins filming at Rectory Gardens in 2014

During our preliminary engagement with Rectory Gardens, Spectacle offered training to any residents who were interested in filming techniques. Spectacle conducted workshops where participants learned camera techniques, collected peers’ stories, and collectively discussed the footage and ways to continue the production process. The production process was dictated by the participants themselves, and they shaped the narrative scope by inviting ex-residents to contribute with their memories. This work developed into an archive of oral histories of the street. 

Peers interview eachother and collect an oral history of the street

The production has continued for over six years, far longer than the initial few months originally envisioned. Together, Spectacle and Rectory Gardens residents have collected over 150 hours of footage including: long interviews with residents; key events on the street; residents resisting evictions; historic footage filmed by residents during the 90s; and residents in their new flats, reflecting on living away from their community where they lived for decades.

Post evictions, the street is home to wealthier residents

During Spectacle’s engagement, RG has been dismantled through evictions and relocations, and the residents have been scattered to various and disparate areas of the borough. The street, on the other hand, has been transformed to make way for the arrival of new wealthy tenants. 

Framing the Street 

Spectacle’s video archive of Rectory Gardens brings out many topical themes and offers inspiration for the post-Covid City through an examination of the past. Rectory Gardens is a portrait of forty years of resistance to the government housing policies. 

The houses themselves were initially built as philanthropic poor-quality Victorian housing for low-income workers. After
Rectory Gardens was bombed and left derelict post WW2, it provided a solution for postwar homelessness through squatting. It offered fertile ground for experimenting with alternative ways of living, resisted the “slum clearance” in the 1970s, Thatcherism, and the sale of social housing in the ‘80s. Their methods and ideologies represent a range of approaches including anarcho individualism, anarcho-syndicalism, socialism, capitalism of small artisanal businesses looking for cheap space, and the daily necessity of the socially excluded and the legally marginalised. 

The beautiful rennovation by one of the co-operative residents, taken just before eviction

By the 2000s, the constant push to turn London’s affordable housing into profit, was nibbling at the edges of Rectory Gardens as well. The insidious forces of “regeneration” and contemporary privatised gentrification have been endemic in London where, even by global standards, the commodification of real estate is extreme. Through eviction and rehousing the community was broken up, and the squatters were replaced with live-in guardians, the modern sanitised, privatised version of squatting.

It’s important to note that not all parts of London have been equally gentrified, and Lambeth Council, where Rectory Gardens is located, was famous for its tolerance of alternative housing organisations and leftist leanings. They referred to themselves as ‘the cooperative council’ and ‘Red Ted’ Knight and his ‘Socialist Republic of Lambeth’ were the bete-noir anti hero of the tabloids. There were many houses like Rectory Gardens which were uninhabitable after the war, and Lambeth had few resources to deal with them. Squatters quickly took advantage of the council’s disinterest and moved into these spaces. Lambeth greatly benefited from the labour of these groups, and many cooperatives were able to legalise their situation, but RG was not.

The Project Now

The filming part of this project has come to a close, and we are looking for partners in the next phase – telling the story of what has disappeared. 

We are searching for funding and partners to assist in bringing the dispersed community together again for an online participatory editing process. The process will let the former residents of Rectory Gardens tell their story, by sifting through the 150 hours of footage and drawing out narratives and themes to share with a wider audience.

Searching for Partners for Rectory Gardens Online Participatory Video Project

If you are interested in exploring collaborations or can suggest potential funding streams please get in contact. We welcome academic researchers, activists, social historians, and all others. 

Read more about our model and past projects.

Please get in touch with projects@spectacle.co.uk or subscribe for more information.

For updates check our other blogs.

This project is relevant to: well-being, health, housing, social housing, urbanism, urban planning, human geography, sociology, participatory methods, co-creatation, co-authorship, knowlege sharing, community filmmaking, and participatory film.

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Memories of Battersea – Screening Event

We are pleased to announce that after a few months of filming and collecting stories from Battersea residents, we are ready to screen our project to the public!

Memories of Battersea is a video oral history project run by Spectacle and part funded by the Wandsworth Grant Fund. The project gave young adults from Battersea the opportunity to be trained in film-making while producing short films about their neighbourhood, collecting memories from elder Battersea residents, bridging intergenerational gaps and engaging with the history of their borough.

The screening will take place on Monday, 15th October at
Senior Citizen Club
234 Carey Gardens
London SW8 4HW.

  • 4.30pm – 5.30pm – walking tour of the Carey Gardens Estate with Mark Saunders – filmmaker, Brian Barnes – mural artist and Nick Wood – architect
  • 5.30pm – 7.30pm – screening and discussion with contributors and filmmakers

You can find trailers to “Memories of Battersea” in our previous posts or on Spectacle’s Youtube channel: bit.ly/MBATTtrailers

More info about the event can be also found here

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Memories of Battersea: Jean

Memories of Battersea is an oral history video project run by Spectacle and part funded by the Wandsworth Grant Fund. The project gives young adults from Battersea the opportunity to be trained in film-making while producing short films about their neighbourhood, collecting memories from elder Battersea residents, bridging intergenerational gaps and engaging with the history of their borough.

In Memories of Battersea we start with Jean, a Wandsworth born survivor of the Second World War. Jean recounts for us what life was like living through the German bombardment of V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, her evacuation spent in Oxfordshire as a child, what has become of her first home in Savona Street as well how she feels about new development in the Battersea area.

Jean grew up in Wandsworth Borough as a child during the Second World War. Losing family members and friends, Jean tells us about the bombardment on London by V-1 flying bombs. Although only a small child, such terrible times have remained with Jean for her entire life.

After life became too dangerous for people in Battersea as a result of the bombing, she was evacuated to the village Grendon Underwood in Oxfordshire. There she was cared for by a couple in a large rectory with many others from London. Jean’s safety was short-lived however when upon her return to Battersea, the German V-2 rockets began, knocking a Church down nearby.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 12.39.15

A still of Jean from her interview

Although Jean and her mother survived the war at home, the same could sadly not be said for her father whom was called up to fight. As many families celebrated in the streets of London, marking the end of WWII at by holding street parties called ‘Peace Teas’, Jean’s family alongside many others would never see their loved ones return from the field.

Now living in Carey Gardens near The Patmore Estate, Jean has witnessed a dramatic change in the area. No longer Savona Street, Jean’s old home has become part of what is now known as Savona Estate. More worrying for Jean however, there are now plans to build a large number of flats on the estate, a building much taller than those surrounding it including Carey Gardens.

Jean worries that these new flats may attract a different demographic of people, which wouldn’t suit the friendly nature of her beloved estate. This film was shot by participants on Spectacle’s 4 day training course.

Watch the full film here

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Cllr. Matthew Bennett’s Rectory Gardens slurs and errors

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth during an interview with Spectacle.

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth.

“We’d all like to live for free in million pound homes in Clapham”, Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth, told Spectacle in a recent interview for our documentary about the eviction of residents from Rectory Gardens housing co-op. Yet, Spectacle’s film reveals that this statement, and numerous others Bennett made, is based on gross inaccuracies, calling into question the evidential basis for Lambeth’s decision to sell off the houses, a decision that Lambeth Labour MP Kate Hoey has told us “will go down in history as one of the worst the borough has made”.

Million pound homes?

In the mid-1970s, Lambeth Council Compulsory Purchase Ordered the L-shaped street of 28 Victorian terraced houses in the heart of Clapham Old Town for as little as £2000 – £4000 each under ‘slum clearance’. Along with numerous other ‘shortlife’ homes CPOd in the borough, the properties were effectively abandoned due to lack of funds to do them up. The only work ever to be carried out by the council since was to deliberately damage many of the interiors in order to prevent occupation. But a few years on, as was common at the time, squatters found a way to move into what had become derelict houses. Realising that this was a way to help them maintain the properties, the council then decided to welcome them as ‘short-life tenants’. Similar events took place across the city. “The Council were even handing out keys. They didn’t seem to care at all that we were there; in fact they seemed happy about it”, said one resident. Forty years later, and Lambeth are one of the last London boroughs to deal with their shortlife portfolio, having dithered about for decades, during which time a whole community and way of life has flourished. But in 2011, in the context an over-inflated London property market and government cuts, the Council decided to sell off what have become people’s long-standing homes at auction to raise cash. Evictions are currently in process.

Yet, if Lambeth are hoping to make one million pounds each on these houses, they must be dreaming. So far they have made £56 million on the sale of around 120 ‘shortlife’ houses. That’s around £466,000 for each one. There are now only around 50 shortlife properties remaining in the borough, and the Council aims to sell off the last remaining homes by the end of 2015. Rectory Gardens represents most of this tail-end stock. But rather than one million, the average sale price for a co-op property at auction is half that. Both houses already sold on Rectory Gardens went for under £500,000. It is unclear how much Lambeth anticipate making on the sale of the remaining houses; Spectacle have requested a figure.

How is this money to be spent? In our interview, Bennett said decisively that the money would be used to “build 1000 new council homes”, yet, a few moments later, he made more general statements about money going into a “pot” to pay for “road refurbishments, new primary school places” and seemingly other unspecified public services. His predecessor, Pete Robbins, said that the money raised from sales of co-op homes would plug a gap in the funding the council received for housing repairs. The money raised seems to be covering a lot of bases that it cannot possibly stretch to. Freedom of Information requests submitted by Lambeth United Housing Co-op (LUHC), (a campaigning group set up to protest similar borough-wide evictions), to find out exactly how the money will be spent have been unanswered. Spectacle has requested information regarding exactly where the new houses will be built, by when, and how much the total build is expected to cost.

Not only are these funds not being ring-fenced for housing, but the current £56 million windfall does not take into account the £1.8m spent so far on staffing and legal costs of eviction, nor the unknown additional sums spent on surveyors, auctioneers, vacant property managers, for which information Lambeth Council recently blocked another freedom of information request by LUHC. Neither does it factor in the added costs of re-housing people, which LUHC have estimated to be between £6 – £13m, nor the unknown long-term social welfare bill of caring for now isolated elderly and disabled residents, who had found support and care within the co-op community on the street, something the council seems keen to support in theory through its health and wellbeing policies and ‘Connected Communities’ project, but clearly not in practice when the community is already in situ.

Living for free?

Furthermore, the Council seems to refuse to acknowledge that it is thanks to the hard work, resources and energy of residents alone that houses that they once abandoned are now lucrative cash cows. Rather than living “for free”, in 1982, the majority of residents who came to settle in the houses formed a self-supporting co-op. Members paid into a pot, from which money was used to purchase materials or support substantial renovation works. These were carried out through a process of skill and labour sharing. Indeed, Labour Councillors Nigel Haselden, Christopher Wellbelove and Helen O’Malley in 2007 campaigning leaflets said: “Some of these homes would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.” Two of these Councillors, Wellbelove and Haselden, once elected did a complete U-turn on their promise to ‘fight for the rights of residents to stay in their homes’, now supporting the current eviction policy (O’Malley was deselected). Cllr. Bennett claimed no knowledge of this.

Correcting Bennett further on the matter of paying rent, he asked Spectacle to whom and how much were people paying. He then said “I heard it was no more than £1 a week. That’s almost nothing”, adding, as a different tack, “they’ve paid nothing to the Council”. First, the council never actually allowed any rent to be paid (more of which later), second, the actual membership fee was set at £5 a week (though rates varied across all co-ops), to reflect the low-income of those in the homes, all of whom were already on the council housing waiting list. This small fee was also designed to encourage residents to work on their own properties, which, contrary to Bennett’s claim that “people have not shown any willingness to spend the money necessary to bring [the houses] up to a decent condition”, they did, adding their own energy and labour. This included re-roofing, plastering, re-wiring, building new chimneys, installing windows and doors where there were none, putting new boilers into every house, building staircases, installing gas, and much more. Yet Bennett claims that “at least five properties are completely derelict” and that others have “fallen into disrepair” and “not been maintained”. He is clearly unaware, as he himself admitted during the interview, of the condition of the properties when they were initially purchased in the 1970s. Spectacle has sent him the below photographs to demonstrate the actual situation.

RGDNs

“Million pound” homes? The derelict condition of CPOd houses on Rectory Gardens in the 1970s before the co-op took over renovations.

In addition, Spectacle pointed out that since the residents have been paying council tax for years, according to the Valuation Office for England and Wales this legally qualifies them as ‘dwellings’ suitable for habitation, hence they could not possibly be “derelict”. A spate of recent articles concerning one property on the street said to have a tree growing through an illegal extension with dangerous electric wiring, rented out to sub-letters, is not a house that is part of the co-operative, yet it is being used to tarnish the community. Filming in a number of co-op homes, Spectacle found them to be comfortable, homely and safe. Having referred to a couple of other incidents with some houses in the street during his interview, Spectacle made the point to Bennett that crime is a social problem, not the fault of one set of people, neither should the actions of one mar the whole community, be that Rectory Gardens or ‘shortlife’ co-ops in Lambeth generally. He was unable to comment further.

Moreover, the idea that we should measure people’s contribution to society based on ‘how much they pay’ in monetary terms – (to the Council, in this case) – implied by Bennett’s statement, demonstrates an indefensible attitude of income-based prejudice. Looked at in entirely different way, the residents of Rectory Gardens have collectively done as much, if not more, to contribute to their community as many other rent-paying citizens do to theirs, and have a stable community that is not reflected by some of the highly transient ‘neighbourhoods’ that surround the street where occupants regularly move on and private rentals stay empty for long periods. The self-proclaimed ‘cooperative council’ should be falling over itself to recognise and reward those who voluntarily invest into making their ‘patch’ a positive place. Residents of Rectory Gardens have been behind numerous artistic and community-based initiatives in the area over the years, such as Cafe on the Common, the Tea Rooms, Studio Voltaire, and even the skate park on Clapham Common, activities which no doubt contributed hugely to making the area a now-desirable postcode, propping up the very market prices that Lambeth seek to capitalise on today.

There Is No Alternative?

Adding further insult to injury, despite the accusation of ‘living for free’, paying rent to the council was never given as an option. At no point since the establishment of the housing co-op have Lambeth Council sought any financial arrangements with residents. Bennett’s version of history is that “Other co-operatives took the opportunity to charge social rents and take a regularised position… Rectory Gardens did not go down the route [of] becoming a proper cooperative… We’ve spoken with the housing co-op on many, many occasions about ways in which they might want to finance taking their over as a co-op on their own, they haven’t been able to work with the money.” In fact, Rectory Gardens was not allowed to go down this route of ‘rationalisation’ and the council has never seemed to want to make them tenants – something that Tulse Hill Labour Councillor Mary Atkins said should have happened years ago. The Council has had opportunities of resolving the situation numerous times over the years, but has stopped deals going through, deciding not to come to a resolution and consistently using the threat of legal action as a first port of call. For example, the community embarked on years of without-prejudice negotiations with housing association Metropolitan Housing Trust and the Council, involving a lot of time, effort and money for the deal to evaporate because the council revalued the site.

On three occasions between 2012 and 2013, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative proposed to the council that residents begin to pay rent and become social housing tenants as a solution. They also came up with the idea of the ‘Super Co-op’, a proposal backed by housing experts that would see ex-council stock being recycled and refurbished by a borough-wide umbrella co-op while simultaneously skilling up local people. These solutions were rejected without being fully discussed. The Council even refused payment of their own legal charge, developed in-house; a so-called ‘use and occupation’ back fee seemingly designed to coerce people from the properties. A judge suggested a defendant pay in installments but Lambeth promptly declined this, presumably worrying that accepting payment could mean a case for tenancy rights in court.

As part of the eviction process, residents have been offered priority re-housing via the council’s Choice-Based Lettings system. Yet some of those that have accepted and found re-housing have reported damp, mould and asbestos, among other problems, not to mention the psychological difficulty of being forcibly displaced away from their community. Residents wish to remain in their homes, where they have raised families and built a robust community, and would be happy to pay council rents rather than needlessly displacing others on an already overburdened council housing waiting list. Yet Bennett argues that selling off this rare social housing stock will help the “21,000 people on our housing waiting list, the 1800 families in temporary accommodation and the 1300 living in severely overcrowded homes” because it is “not affordable” to spend money refurbishing them, money that could go towards new homes, or road refurbs, or primary school places… New council homes are of course welcomed, but should this be at the expense of existing council stock?

To top this off, at no point have residents asked the Council to spend money on the homes; rather they have proposed that they would take this on themselves via the Super Co-op. Bennett adds “It costs five times as much (£60 – £70,000) to refurbish a house on Rectory Gardens as it does to refurbish an existing council home.” Uncertain where these figures have come from, Spectacle have asked for the data used to make this claim. We have also written to Bennett to suggest that there are other options. The Super Co-op was one, but housing expert, and Director of Self-Help Housing, Jon Fitzmaurice has also told us he “continually comes up against large organisations who say it is uneconomic to do up houses but it is erroneous to take that view, as communities and small charities can make things happen for much less.” In Liverpool, a recent case he came across, saw a commercial builder estimate that a property would cost £30,000 to refurbish. It was finally done by a community group for £6,000, with the labour provided by co-op members and the only costs those of materials, a surveyor and building supervisor. Surely, as a ‘co-operative council’, Lambeth is aware that the co-operative way is often one of the most affordable and socially productive around. A bit more imagination, a bit less short-termism, might work wonders.

Pursuing the eviction policy, one of the worst outcomes would be, as housing expert Jon Fitzmaurice told us, that properties are ‘flipped’ and the council end up renting the properties back off a private landlord for social housing, which would be expensive, wasteful and self-destructive, as the eviction policy is already proving to be. Over in Southwark, campaigners have found that similar council promises to build ‘new’ ‘council’ homes, on closer inspection, have resulted in the selling off of public assets to purchase private land and build houses that are only partially available for social rents, the remainder being offered for private sale or shared ownership. Without a firm and open statement from the Council on exactly where the money is going, it is difficult to hold such promises to account.

Meanwhile, residents of Rectory Gardens are on the move, or in court, with some spending maybe one last Christmas in their self-created homes.

To read more of our blogs about Rectory Gardens, click here.

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Vivienne Westwood speaks out about destruction of Rectory Gardens housing co-op

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood speaks to Spectacle from her south London studio

Vivienne Westwood is known for her outspoken attitude, both in her fashion and activism. Sticking to trend, today she spoke out about the destruction of long-standing housing co-ops in her home borough of Lambeth, lending her support to the documentary Spectacle are making about the fate of Rectory Gardens and its residents who currently face eviction by the council.
 
This sort of short-termist policy is “incredibly stupid, shocking and horrible. It’s terrible to put people through that distress” and will simply add to the “growing list of people waiting for housing”, said Vivienne. In 2011, Lambeth recalled the properties it previously handed over to the self-forming housing co-op back in the 1970s as a response to cuts, spurred on by the now-booming London market. Vivienne spoke with warmth and enthusiasm about Rectory Gardens: “There is no traffic, so children can actually play together and knock on each others’ doors. People are all working together, it’s absolutely great.” The enforced break-up of such a community is “disgusting”, she added.
 
Vivienne moved to Clapham in the 1960s, when she recalls that London was a “dilapidated” yet “creative” and “living” city. Echoing the words of artist Maggi Hambling, who Spectacle interviewed two weeks ago, “There was always something to discover. It was full of craftspeople and artists”. Now, she says, London has been “cleaned up” and priced out through short-sighted government policy that is “killing the actual reason why people want to live here in the first place.”
 
With a deep love of London’s theatres and cultural centres, such as the National Gallery, Barbican, and particularly the Battersea Arts Centre, Vivienne argued that these sorts of enterprises tend to emerge from the ground up, through artistic communities that are allowed to grow organically, like Rectory Gardens itself. “These sorts of communities are so important to what makes London such a buzzing, active, cultural place”. But in a world dominated by concern for “profit” alone, in which “people are just treated as commodities”, she fears that all such creativity is “being obliterated and swamped”.
 

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.”

Referring to the soaring prices of London property, Vivienne spoke of the case of Maritza Tschepp who is being threatened by eviction from her ‘short-life’ house in Stockwell to the potential tune of around £700,000 for the Council at auction. Not a penny of that would go the former resident, despite the fact that it is her invested energy and money alone that has maintained and increased the property’s market value over the 33 years she has lived in it. At those prices, suggested Vivienne, who earlier this year attended a demonstration outside another boarded-up co-op house on Lillieshall Rd to protest its sale, it’s likely only to be speculators or those after second homes that can afford to move in.
 
“The government is doing only what’s good for business and profit – they’re not thinking about people. This is bad economics and is storing up trouble for the future”, argued Vivienne fervently. A long-standing Lambeth resident, she understood that the council was facing enormous pressure from its budget being slashed in half by government austerity measures. But argued that they should be resisting and raising the alarm about the scale of cuts, rather than backing the Government in “trying to work a system that is a short-term disaster for people and a longer-term, unimaginable disaster for the planet”. She urged that people should “stick together” to protest against the “false economy” of austerity.
 
Reflecting her broad activist perspective, Vivienne was keen to stress that the story of Rectory Gardens should be seen as part of a bigger systemic problem of greedy capitalist profiteering resulting in the destruction of communities and the environment, “happening everywhere”. “We need a green economy based on collaboration, respect for people, fair distribution of money, community. A green economy is a people’s economy – it is urgent and necessary. If you protest against the acquisition of these co-op houses, you are protesting against everything that is ruining the planet.” In her own true-to-form, outspoken words, that is: “a world in which politicians’ only care is to syphon off all profit for the super rich”. 
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Local artist Maggi Hambling condemns Lambeth Council’s ‘Jack the Ripper policy’ towards urban development

Maggi Hambling deplores Lambeth’s destruction of housing co-ops in an interview from her Clapham studio

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.

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Spectacle will make a film about Rectory Gardens housing co-operative

image1

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.

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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.

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‘Gateway’: Corporate Language of Control

Preferred Plan by Network RailThe area surrounding Peckham Rye Station, set for redevelopment by Network Rail and Southwark Council, has been dubbed the ‘Gateway‘. Their intention to cash in on Peckham’s recent prosperities endangers the independent, artisan businesses within the arches and the 1930’s building surrounding the station. In January, the plans were revealed detailing commercial and retail units, and seven-story’s worth of luxury accommodation. While community efforts to halt the construction are bubbling, with council meetings being called and the local distribution of flyers, it is still important to note the strategic use of limiting language by various bodies of power and not to adopt such terms ourselves, or face being pigeonholed.

gatewaydefinitionA simple Google search produces interesting definitions for the term ‘Gateway’ – “a place regarded as giving access to another place” and “a device used to connect two different networks”. In the context of the station, the overground links and rail services certainly do give immediate access to central Peckham and all of the available industries around Rye Lane. However, by defining the area as such, limits it to being perceived only as a port of access and undermines it as an attraction in itself.

The Gateway AreaPeckham Vision illustrates (above) the locations of various creative and cultural businesses on the station redevelopment plan. Similarly, our previous blogs have tried to highlight how the Peckham ‘Gateway Area’ is in fact a place full of creative enterprises, long-standing businesses and new, independent initiatives such as bars and breweries, galleries and studios. All of which are contributing to a gradual increase in footfall and popularity of Peckham, which is attracting people from all over town. Yet the plans have chosen to ignore Blenheim Court, Blenheim Road, Dovedale Court, Holly Grove and the Station Arcade as an area of increasing enterprise and local economic advantage. Instead, the whole area has been reduced to an entry and exit point for central London commuters who will take up the unaffordable housing, and the gentrified twenty-somethings flocking to Frank’s of a summer’s eve. All of the connotations point away from existing residents, business owners and the local community who actually use, live and breathe the space every day.

The use of the term, as can be seen in the statistics above, began to peak around the 1980’s – a stark correlation with the Thatcher era and large-scale, government-funded programmes for urban redevelopment. The Thames Gateway project, of the same name, is a perfect example.

thames_gateway_470x168This was a Thatcher regeneration investment to turn brownfield land into 160,000 new homes, rejuvenate towns and create 180,000 new jobs along the Thames estuary, from east London, through Kent and as far as Southend-on-Sea and the Isle of Sheppey in Essex. The sheer size of the development meant that the entire region was looked upon not as individual, bottom-up improvements spanning three counties and 16 local government districts, but as a singular overhaul of general degradation. It was former conservative deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine who defined the area as a ‘Gateway’ during a helicopter tour of east London in 1979, and in doing so reduced the home of over 3 million people to “a place regarded as giving access to another place“.

Similarly, last year’s Tower Hamlets Whitechapel Vision Masterplan aimed at the regeneration of the area to transform it “into a key destination for London“, uses the the word again. From page 8 of the ‘vision’:

The creation of “entrance gateways” will help to improve first impressions, create a sense of arrival and define Whitechapel as a place and destination in its own right. This can be achieved through high quality buildings and public realm improvements at these gateway junctions.

Despite the complete disregard that Whitechapel is a already a place of interest for many Londoners, the onus on developing the area alongside new Crossrail networks for the enjoyment of newcomer’s “first impressions”, without recognition for the people that already live and work there, just stands to show where the loyalties of our councils lie. The grandiose over-expenditure on the part of Network Rail for amenities already available in Peckham, such as bars, galleries and artisan studios, reeks of this outmoded, 80’s planning.

The same generalisations can be said for things like the Gateway Drug Theory, which suggests that drugs such as alcohol and cannabis create a pathway into harder drugs, addiction and crime. Various sporadic experiments have supported and refuted the hypothesis, but all-in-all, the term used is limiting and sees populations as a generalised whole, detracting credit from the rational, decision-making individual.

this is not a gateway

Organisation, This Is Not A Gateway, was formed to create a platform for people who care about the future of our streets to discuss, debate and critique the ever-changing urban policy of cities and towns. They argue that all too often, decisions regarding vast redevelopment of urban areas are isolated to a small population of upper-middle class, white men that will likely never step foot on the soil they homogenise. In describing the choice of name for the organisation, they put it perfectly:

There is no beginning or end of a city, there is no place of entry and exit, there is no entrance that can be opened, there are no gateway texts, no gateway knowledges. In choosing to recognise ‘gateways’ we give others the ability to create boundaries, borders and limitations to our lives.

The historical use of ‘Gateway’ has always been about management. It reduces and simplifies places and people so that they can be effectively herded and categorised, which establishes control.

EileenClaridgeNetworkRailEileen Claridge, the sarcastic Network Rail representative instructed to attend the January 18th ‘public consultation’ meeting, who kindly stated that corporation was “not a charity”, is the terrifying example of this control tactic. In Network Rail’s 2012 winter newsletter, Eileen was interviewed about her new position as one of eight “asset development surveyors who look after enhancement projects for Network Rail Commercial Estate”:

What does your job entail?

We identify and develop potential new income for commercial estates.

 

What are the challenges?

We’re tasked with raising the company’s income
by finding brand new opportunities.

 

What would you be doing if it weren’t this job?

I’d quite like to be a mounted policeman!

I can only draw comparisons to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 at Eileen’s closing statement.

 

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Get in touch if you would like to contribute to our film about the Peckham Rye Station and Gateway Area Redevelopment Project. Just email: production@spectacle.co.uk

See Peckham for more blogs and information.
Or visit PlanA, our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

Spectacle homepage
Like Spectacle Documentaries on Facebook
Follow SpectacleMedia on Twitter

 

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A small triumph for Peckham at the Community Council Meeting

Ruth Kennedy discusses the deputationThe Peckham and Nunhead Community Council Meeting at Harris Academy Peckham on Wednesday 12th February saw Peckham residents and local business owners gather to discuss, directly with Southwark councilors, the plans for Peckham Rye Station.

A crowd beginning to gather for the Community Council Meeting, Wed 11 Feb

The chair announced the deputation that had been devised by local Peckham people, including Eileen Conn of Peckham Vision.

Chair of Peckham & Nunhead Community Council Meeting

Ruth Kennedy, a Peckham resident for over 20 years, read the Deptuation Statement to the room. It outlined the lack of communication between Southwark Council, the GLA and Network Rail, and the subsequent lack of consultation with local people regarding the developing plans. It emphasised the threat the plans pose for the local economy, in particular the cultural quarter, and disputed the size and scale of the primarily residential block developments surrounding the station. The lack of basic priorities that the public had asked for, specifically public toilets and the open square, were also brought to Southwark’s attention.

Ruth Kennedy delivers the deputation to Southwark CouncilRuth concluded by asking two questions:

Please can we meet to co-construct a process of meaningful ongoing collaboration, that will see this development through to a fantastic transformation for Peckham?

Can we begin the next phase with the curation of a robust, creative workshop, involving all three partners and the community, so everyone is hearing the same messages, and is engaged in collaborative problem-solving together?

A long applause for the deputation!…which received tumultuous applause.

Cllr Fiona Colley agrees with the issues raised in the deputation

Councillor Fiona Colley (pictured) thanked those involved for devising the deputation and enthusiastically agreed to both points. She announced that a meeting between Southwark Council and Network Rail would be taking place next week in order to discuss the plans and that the speed of the development was controlled by a deadline for the Spring 2016 GLA fund of £5million, which in order to be completed, a planning application would need to be submitted by next week. Therefore, Colley has arranged to meet with the GLA to seek an extension of the deadline.

Local Peckham resident BarryShe agreed that the issue of public toilets needed to be addressed and apologised for the way the subject was handled at the January 18th Public Consultation meeting. With regards to the threat to industry as a result of the redevelopment, Colley was wholeheartedly behind protection of these businesses and incorporation of them into new plans so they are not priced out. As such, she announced that Southwark Council would not be using compulsory purchase orders for this project and that betting shops and payday lenders would be excluded from the area. She also said that the plans for Dovedale Court demonstrated a real “lack of vision” and clarity, and that Network Rail did indeed only give generic answers to question of potential rent prices at the last meeting.

Peckham residents and business owners deliver the deputation

However, the issue of the seven-storey, residential buildings proposed around the station were keenly glossed over. Colley agreed that she saw little reason for the 30’s building to be torn down and that the height and density of the residential blocks should be discussed further with Network Rail, but she did not oppose their existence.

Peckham & Nunhead Community Council Meeting

Among the victories that Peckham has won here, we are in danger of compromising on other aspects of the redevelopment that also pose a real threat to the carefully balanced ecosystem of Peckham Rye. It certainly suits Southwark Council to shift blame to Network Rail, yet we must remember that all parties were aware of the scale of the redevelopment plans.

Nick Dolezal agrees with deputation

Please feel free to leave your comments below in answer to these questions or any other statements throughout the blog.

Get in touch if you would like to contribute to our film about the Peckham Rye Station and Gateway Area Redevelopment Project. Just email production@spectacle.co.uk

See Peckham for more blogs and information.
Or visit PlanA, our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

Spectacle homepage
Like Spectacle Documentaries on Facebook
Follow SpectacleMedia on Twitter

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Community meets the Council – Wed 12th Feb to discuss the future of Peckham

If you are concerned about the plans for Peckham Rye Station and how they affect the arches, surrounding areas and businesses (see our earlier blogs for information), please attend the

Peckham and Nunhead Community Council Meeting
on Wednesday 12th February,
at 7:00pm,
Harris Academy Peckham, 112 Peckham Road, SE15 5DZ
with Southwark councilors.

Peckham Rye Station and the surrounding area is under threat of total redevelopment by Southwark Coucil, the GLA and most of all, Network Rail.

The local and popular initiative to open up the square has lead to a monstrous scheme that is now only set to see private profit and greatly increased rents. It is so important that as many people as possible attend to show the council that Peckham community is unhappy with the plans. Please forward the downloadable flyer onto others that may be interested.

Station-Flyer-A4-Revised-05Feb14-2Station-Flyer-A4-Revised-05Feb14-1

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