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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LGBT History on Film: Despite Clause 28 – 1988

LGBT History on Film: Despite Clause 28 (1988) from Spectacle’s Archive.

Despite Clause 28 (1988) Trailer from Spectacle Media on Vimeo.

In the late 1980s and 90s, Despite TV, a collective of filmmakers founded by Mark Saunders (Spectacle Media) specialising in social and political issues, took an active interest in documenting and raising awareness of state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) persons in the UK.

In 1988 Despite TV produced a short campaign film, ‘Despite the Clause’, in response to the proposal of Section 28, a typically Thatcherite Local Government act proposed in 1986 and passed in 1988 which banned the “promotion of homosexuality”. The bill was proposed by the Conservative Party during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and purported to fear-mongering, homophobic tropes which portray LGBT people as deviant.

Section 28 was to have a damaging affect on LGBT individuals and, in particular, LGBT political and community groups, forcing them to limit their vital contributions to their communities, and in some cases shut down entirely for fear of legal backlash or censorship.

Despite the Clause features appearances from high profile activists including co-founder of Stonewall UK, Sir Ian Mckellen and Michael Cashman and M.P. Diane Abbott. In the film, Abbott, who was present at the proposal of the clause in the House of Commons, describes it as “A horrible, hysterical witch-hunting debate.” She also states that “The spirit behind Section 28 is a spirit of violence and intolerance to anybody that doesn’t conform, to anybody that’s different.”

Despite the best efforts of activists, Section 28 was ultimately passed and not repealed until 2003. Nonetheless, activists describe the resistance built against it as having a positive effect in establishing solidarity between LGBT people across the UK. Stonewall and other activists fought continuously for it’s repeal for over twenty five years. This campaign film subsequently remains a significant piece of LGBT history.

The full film is available for free here.

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Bread & Roses film festival screens Battle of Trafalgar – free event

Despite TV documentary Battle of Trafalgar will be screened  Monday 30th April at 7pm during Law & Disorder followed by a panel discussion at the new film festival at Bread & Roses in Clapham. The event  pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of the 1912 strike, led by female textile workers in Massachusetts. Marching for better pay and working conditions, the workers chanted the slogan “We want bread, but we want roses, too!”, a line borrowed from the James Oppenheim poem which became an emblematic catchphrase in the history of socialism.

Bread & Roses celebrates the centennial of this key moment with a selection of films questioning capitalism, and tackling workers rights, social activism and immigration. Family Unite, Unpaid Internships, the Arab Spring and Law & Disorder are some of the daily themes that have been chosen to structure the festival.

Channel 4 commissioned Battle of Trafalgar from Despite TV in 1990 during the poll tax riots; the film documents the mass protest held on Saturday 31 March in central London against Margaret Thatcher’s controversial measure. From the unfair aspect of the tax system to the partiality of mainstream media and the violent policing of the demonstration, the film’s topics specifically resonates in today’s socio-political context, and justify its screening to Bread & Roses’s committed programme.

Bread & Roses festival is organized by Natasha Caruana and Afshin Dehkordi, the two artists behind StudioSTRIKE: a creative space launched in 2010 on the top floor of the last union-owned pub in London, the Bread & Roses – the name inspired the idea for the festival.

The free festival, supported by the BFI and Film London, will run in various venues around Lambeth from April 27th to May 10th. Some of the films presented during these two weeks will include the classic The Grapes of Wrath, the Oscar-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls, and a recent project on the August riots titled My Child The Rioter. The festival will also encompass a live music event, Q&A sessions, and art installations.

To order a DVD of Battle of Trafalgar

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Reinvestigate 9/11 event archive now online.

To view Reinvestigate 9/11 click links below.

Reinvestigate 9/11 – Ian Henshall Talk
Reinvestigate 9/11, Cynthia McKinney Talk
Reinvestigate 911 – Dr. Nafeez Ahmed
Reinvestigate 9/11, Q&A – Part1
Reinvestigate 9/11, Q&A – Part2

Cynthia McKinney was a member of the US Congress for 12 years before being targeted for removal after challenging the official story of 9/11. Cynthia is a global campaigner for many human rights causes.

Ian Henshall is the author of ‘911 The New Evidence’ and a co-ordinator of Reinvestigate 911.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a UK based terrorism expert. He is the author of ‘The London Bombings’ and ‘The War on Truth.’

The event covered the FBI Counterintelligence Programme (COINTELPRO), CIA, White House, Bush and Obama Administrations, foreign policy and ‘neutralization’ of internal threats, Chilcot enquiry, 9/11 commission, Israel, Lobbists, Dacajeweiah Splitting the Sky (John Boncore) case, civil rights, racial equality and social activism.

This was a non-funded shoot incorporating work placement participatory filming and editing

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