Trailing the Pymmes Brook

The Pymmes Brook has been on my itinerary for a while – usually noted down as I walk north up the Lea Valley striking for territory beyond the M25. A fine day in August following a torrential downpour the day before that scuppered an expedition along the River Pinn, provided the perfect opportunity.

Tottenham Marsh
Although the Pymmes Brook makes it confluence with the Lea at Tottenham Hale, the official Pymmes Brook Trail starts slightly further north at Pickett’s Lock and then follows the Salmon Brook part of the way. I decided to stick to what I saw as the full course of the river starting early afternoon near where the Pymmes Brook makes its confluence with the River Lea at Ferry Lane.

Tottenham Marshes are a great oasis with views across to pylons and the highlands of Epping Forest. A smattering of cyclists and joggers. The Pymmes Brook slides along a deep-sided concrete culvert passing by Stonebridge Lock. Men emerge from the undergrowth onto the footpath that curves through Wild Marsh West. The information boards include a mention of the Tottenham Outrage that reached its bloody conclusion not far away on 23rd January 1909.

Pymmes Brook
The river splits in the middle of an industrial estate containing an Electricity Substation and the Tottenham Gas Holder just before Angel Road and the North Circular with the Salmon Brook snaking northwards. It’s a heavily gated area and I’m forced down Leeside Road past a burnt out car. This is classic North Circular industrial edgeland – large warehouse units down dusty roads, blackberry fronds reaching out through the spiked metal fencing, warnings of the danger of death and “multiple hazards”, reminders that every step is being recorded by CCTV cameras. And yet nobody is around. The angry buzz of a remote controlled car scooting round the vast empty IKEA car park fills the air.  Looking at my mid-1950’s Georgraphia Atlas IKEA occupies the site of a ‘Gothic Works’ which appears to have been a type of elaborate metalwork rather than anything to do with the Sisters of Mercy.

Leeside Road

The Pymmes Brook briefly re-emerges snug within its culvert where the North Circular passes high overhead before disappearing beneath the ground. The walk now hugs the North Circular till the old Roman Fore Street where the Pymmes Brook is released from the underworld in Angel Place and moves on around the edge of Pymmes Park. The Park formed part of the grounds of Pymmes House originally built by William Pymme in 1327. The Elizabethan manor house, once the home of William Cecil, was destroyed by fire in 1940. The old walled garden remains.

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It flows through an 1980’s-looking council estate before finally escaping the concrete prison of the culvert near Silver Street and running free through a small grove along smooth muddy banks with trees drooping boughs into the water. A cat hunts in the undergrowth along the riverbank. Here my walk meets the official Pymmes Brook trail in the grounds of Millfield Arts Centre before crossing back under the North Circular and leading me round the edge of Tile Kiln Lane Open Space and a network of picture-postcard north London suburban streets in Bounds Green.
Pymmes Brook Trail
Now late afternoon, the weather warm, I start to hanker after a cup of tea. I’d had doubts about this walk but so far it’d been a revelation – opening up a previously unexplored corner of north London. I still wondered whether I would make it to the source before dark though.

Pymmes Brook Trail
5.45pm and I find myself tucking into a bacon and cheese roll at the Grand Café on Clock House Parade, Palmers Green. Despite the quality of the crusty roll and comfortable seating the café is a tad generously named but does occupy a good spot on the curve of the roundabout at the intersection of the A10 and North Circular. It’s been a hot and humid day and I’m tired with a few miles to go to the source at Hadley Common and only a couple of hours daylight.

With the bacon and tea working into my system it’s time to find the energy for the final push uphill. The Pymmes Brook is back encased in a deep open concrete sleeve for this passage through classic north London bow-fronted suburbia. The New River crosses paths on its journey between Amwell Street, Islington and Amwell Springs Hertfordshire, one of the many journeys I keep promising to do.

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At Arnos Park the Brook is once again liberated, the waters within touching distance for the first time today as they meander beneath a series of quaint wooden bridges around the perimeter of the park. This is the part of the walk I’ve been most looking forward – deep Nick Papadimitriou territory, my old walking comrade who I haven’t stepped out with for over 18 months. The Brook flows alongside a spectacular viaduct that carries the Piccadilly Line across the park. We filmed here in February 2008 doing the first walk and shoot for what became The London Perambulator. I send Nick a text to tell him where I am – he never replied.

Pymmes Brook
As the brook works its way through a wooded gully I catch a whiff of sewage and hope it’s merely my imagination. Sadly London’s waterways are prone to becoming polluted from industrial waste and drainage overflow. Just the other day the London Waterkeeper posted a photo on Twitter of chemicals pouring into the Pymmes Brook.

Oakhill Park
Moving now into a summer sunset across Oak Hill Park full of evening football training, joggers, group workout sessions, tennis matches. A man sits sucking down a can of strong lager behind the concrete pavilion and hurriedly moves on as I approach. A large tree lays prone across the Brook.
Pymmes Brook

By the time I’m through East Barnet Village the light has almost entirely ebbed away. A fox and cub mooch around some undergrowth on the verge of a housing estate as the Brook nears its source. The final climb from Barnet the first real sense of gaining altitude through foothills of peak suburbia.

Hadley Common Lake

I reach the lake on Hadley Common where the Pymmes Brook gurgles up beneath the still surface at 9pm – stumbling through pitch-black woods guided by the chatter of fishermen. I linger for a while and shoot a time-lapse before heading off back into the housing estate for a bag of chips and the road to Cockfosters Station.

Bohemia in the London Borough of Barnet

There seems to be a problem in the Rotten Borough of Barnet – the vanguard rogue state of rapacious property development. This time last year I met the residents being turfed out of their homes on the West Hendon Estate as the Council gifted the land to Barratt Homes, Mrs Thatcher’s favourite builders. Then there were the murky goings on at Sweets Way that I still don’t fully understand but it seems that a large ex-military housing estate that had been leased to a housing association was then sold to a private developer for about 99p with a 1000-year lease.

The latest call I heard from the gallant Barnet Bohemians revolved around a Care Home in Church Walk, Child’s Hill bought by a charity for £1 to run as a care home and homeless women’s refuge but two years later sold on by the charity to a private developer for £12 million to demolish and replace with luxury flats.

What the hell is going on in Barnet – why does premium building land command no more than a solitary pound when sold by the local authority or charitable bodies but then miraculously increase by the millions once in private hands?

The positivity of the Bohemians and rainbow people recently crash landed from the Camden Mothership shines a beacon of hope through the gloom. They occupied the building seeking a Meanwhile Lease so they could provide shelter for the cold winter months and food for the hungry both in belly and spirit. They would also use the space for workshops, discussions, artworks. Utilise it as a base to explore an alternative to the rat race consumerism gnawing away at the soul of modern life.

Turns out the charity that still own the building aren’t as keen on actual charity as the sound of 12 million pound coins rattling in the till. They promptly took legal action, even seeking punitive custodial sentences to which the police thankfully gave short shrift. Even so, 3 days after I shot this video the occupants of Church Walk House were evicted by bailiffs.

All is not lost though – they have since landed once again in Barnet, in an abandoned nightclub on Whetstone High Road.

Viva Sweetstopia! London’s newest microstate

The other week I returned to the Sweets Way Estate in the London Borough of Barnet to visit Sweetstopia – a newly declared microstate.

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I was greeted by Daniel, who I’d first met at the Sweets Way Sleepover back in March, and it seems that Daniel has been busy since, helping to establish Sweetstopia with a collective of permaculture practitioners, bohemians, artists, squatters and activists. And two dogs – one of which is President of Sweetstopia.

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The idealism of Sweetstopia in the face of the barbarism of the destruction of the estate by Annington Homes is seductive. They continue to pursue their mission of creative resistance and promoting sustainability and autonomy while being aggressively intimidated by the private security guards who patrol the estate and stalk the Sweetstopia residents. One Sweetstopian was violently assaulted by a security guard last week and required medical treatment. The authorities are clearly rattled by such a bold display of utopianism.

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There are echoes of the microstates of Leytonstonia and Wanstonia that grew out of the M11 Link Road protests in the early 90’s. Then it was anti-road protests – today the housing struggle and estate regeneration is the new battlefront.

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Link Road veteran Ian Bourn recounted how there was a vote to use carrots as currency in Leytonstonia – because they could be sliced into coin like discs and also the militant vegans were pushing the idea. A similar air of playful eccentricity infuses Sweetstopia – you are invited to make your own passport which is then validated with an official potato stamp.

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The only rules in Sweetstopia are – NO KNITTING AFTER DARK and DON’T FEED THE UNICORNS – I saw neither knitting needles nor Unicorns so it seems to be working. Daniel told me there would be no laws only traditions.

Long may Sweetstopia prosper and grow.

 

Community regeneration at Sweets Way

On Tuesday I returned to Sweets Way in the London Borough of Barnet. I first visited the estate back in March when a combination of residents and activists hosted a sleepover in protest at the eviction of around 140 families by Annington Homes who planned to demolish the estate to make way for luxury apartments.

Now the families have gone, dispersed throughout the borough and further afield. But that night in March an occupation of some of the empty homes started and is still going strong.

I went to witness the make-over of one of the houses that Barnet Homes and Annington had deemed unfit and scheduled for demolition. A community-led team have now completed a beautiful renovation using donated and recycled materials. It’s hoped that it will prove a riposte the lie that sits at the heart of so-called estate regeneration, the process that sees communities broken up and public housing stock transferred to the private sector on the basis that it is financially unviable to renovate the estates.

What is being done at Sweets Way could spread across London – communities working together to save their homes.

 

Read more about the Sweets Way Show Home here

Russell Brand and the Sweets Way Revolution

I was back in the Rotten Borough of Barnet on Tuesday night as my old pal Russell Brand staged a sleepover at the Sweets Way Estate in protest at the planned demolition of the houses by Barnet Council and Annington Homes to make way for … yes you guessed it … luxury flats.

The brutality of the eviction process, which has been going on for weeks, has been shocking as families have literally been thrown out onto the streets. Residents who have been Council tenants for years have had their homes taken from them and offered emergency accommodation elsewhere out of the Borough. Barnet are clearly embarking on a large scale privatisation of their housing stock and a thorough, psychopathic social cleansing project.

The Sleepover was a way of using Russell’s profile to draw large scale attention to the cause which has oddly had little attention in the mainstream press. And it seems to have worked gauging by the number of camera crews and dictaphone toting journos that followed him around like a cluster of ducklings everywhere he went.

And he turned up with an ice cream van dispensing free ice cream of course.

The atmosphere was fun, jocular, playful. They were loads of excited kids running around. One fella had come all the way from Plymouth, others came from Bristol, and Coventry … and there I was thinking about the long journey back to Leytonstone from Totteridge and Whetstone.

Now the fun night has finished we have to keep the pressure on Annington Homes and Barnet Council to end their social cleansing plans for the Sweets Way estate and let the families return to their homes.

Sign the Petition here

More info:

https://sweetswayresists.wordpress.com/

There is something rotten in the London Borough of Barnet

My latest Trews Report is on a situation at West Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet that is so scandalous it is difficult to comprehend. There appears to be a confiscation of public assets that are then gifted to private companies on such a scale that it felt like the train I’d taken from Farringdon had transported me to Pinochet’s Chile rather than North-west London.

The Council estate on the edge of the Welsh Harp Reservoir is being demolished to make way for a series of private apartment blocks currently being punted to investors as buy-to-let opportunities. The Council residents are being shunted off to a purpose built block away from the Waterside to the carpark. Leaseholders who purchased their homes under Right-To-Buy are being given less than half their value and offered a 50% stake in one of the new homes. And non-secure tenants are either being moved to another regeneration estate or discharged into the private sector. The SSSI rating of the Reservoir is being removed to allow for more construction around the lakeside.

It is a theft of public assets on an epic scale that would even make Berlusconi blush.

There is clearly something rotten in the Borough of Barnet – where the Mayor is a private landlord who receives large amounts of housing benefit from his own authority

Where at least half the councilors are private landlords.

Where the Tory Councillor responsible for housing, Tom Davey, refers to “benefit claiming scum”

Sign the petition to help Save West Hendon