In the Shadow of the Shard – watch the full documentary

I started making this film around a year ago, with a shoot walking around the Canada Estate with the brilliant Barry Ducket. Straight away I knew we had a film right there. The aim was to make a documentary celebrating the work of Tenants and Residents Associations in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. We wanted to tell a positive story about the communities based on the area’s council estates. This is a community with a proud working class heritage, borne of its relationship to the docks, the tanneries, and other industries that flourished along this section of the Thames. But it’s an area, like the rest of London, that is experiencing enormous change, most obviously symbolised by the building of the Shard. However, perhaps an even more potent symbol is the construction of a block of 100% council flats by Leathermarket CBS on the Kipling Estate, right in the shadow of the Shard. And that story of hope sits at the heart of this film. If they can build council flats there, we can build genuinely affordable socially owned council homes anywhere.

 

New Council Homes for Waltham Forest

Great to see new Council Homes being built in Waltham Forest. The Council recently posted an update on a scheme in Wood Street, Walthamstow where a semi-derelict Victorian building is being replaced with 17 Council flats due for completion by the end of the year. It’s part of a plan to build a 1000 new council homes in the borough by 2022. The scheme is a partnership with Engie and NPS architects, who are also working on the regeneraton of the Marlowe Road Estate.

Marlowe Road Estate regeneration

The Marlowe Road Estate scheme will deliver 430 new homes for social rent and private sale, although the BBC reported that it will see an overall reduction of Council homes on the site where only 30% of the total new units will be for social rent. Waltham Forest Council has set itself a target of 50% ‘affordable’ housing on new schemes, which at up to 80% of market rates, ‘afforable’ homes are far more expensive than socially rented homes and not to be confused.

We’ve seen ‘estate regeneration’ used across London as a means to privatise public land and forcibly move residents out of the city. Waltham Forest Council state that all Marlow Road Estate Council tenants “affected by the regeneration have been given right to return. They will be given ‘decant status’ meaning they’ll get priority bidding if they want to move out of the estate. Leaseholders can now negotiate with the council to sell their properties back at the current market value.”

The Architects’ Journal has recently written about the move away from the developer-led model of estate regeneration previously favoured by some London boroughs which has seen enormous community backlash. The move by Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils to call for a community-led approach to the hugely controversial Earls Court scheme, along with the pressure on Haringey Council to review its HDV project, and the Mayor’s initiatives to give residents a ballot on regeneration schemes, they say, “have the potential to fundamentally change how London’s housing estates are redeveloped.” It’s worth noting though that Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, reported that Sadiq Khan quietly signed off 34 new estate regeneration schemes to avoid them being caught by the new rules. “At Mayor’s Question Time this week, the Mayor gave me a firm promise not to sign off any new funding for estate demolition while his new policy to require a ballot of residents was out for consultation. But he was concealing the fact he has recently rushed through funding for dozens of controversial schemes, allowing councils and housing associations to dodge his new policy.”

walthamstow town square development

So there are some positive moves in London on the housing front, but also many many challenges still to face. Waltham Forest’s plan to build more council houses is welcome news, while their inability to enforce the 50% ‘affordable’ housing target on new developments is lamentable – as evidenced recently with the council’s support for the Walthamstow Town Square development which contains a mere 20% ‘affordable’ housing and no socially rented homes.

Exploring Somers Town (and Drummond Street) around Euston and St. Pancras

Comments on my YouTube channel had pointed out that sections of the area around Euston Station were endangered by the coming of HS2 – so back at the end of October I decided to take a stroll with my camera. Euston Street looks to be worst hit with the magnificient Bree Louise, said to be one of London’s finest pubs, a victim. I feel a duty to log the buildings due to be cleared away, aware of how changes to the built environment erase memory.

Euston Street HS2 demolition

Euston Street

Round into Drummond Street, previously hit by renovations to Euston Station in the 1960’s – it once led to the Euston Arch – smashed up and tossed into River Lea/Prescott Channel. Drummond Street will again be chopped up. I stop for lunch at one of the Indian restaurants that give the street its fame, unwittingly choosing the establishment, Diwani, that claims to be the first South Indian restaurant in Britain – opening in 1970.

Diwani Indian buffet

Through Somers Town, with its Georgian Coffee House and on to The Brill behind the British Library where the great antiquarian William Stukeley interpretted a series of mounds and undulations in the fields beside the River Fleet as the remains of Caesar’s Camp. This has been revised more recently as the possible location of an abandoned medieval settlement.

Ossulston Estate

Just around the corner is the beautifully designed modernist Ossulston Estate, built between 1927-31 by the London County Council and inspired by Vienna’s Karl Marx-Hoff. The rain now is starting to harden and cameras don’t usually enjoy getting wet, so I quickly wrap up my filming before taking refuge in the British Library.

Focus E15 go to Bow County Court and win

Some images from the court hearing of the Focus E15 Mums who were occupying a house on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford in protest over social housing in Newham – and their statement following the verdict below.

Focus E15 Mums protest

Focus E15 Mums protest

Statement from the Focus E15 Mums:

“We are overwhelmed and grateful for the support and solidarity from both the local and the wider community. Also thank you to Anthony Gold, ITN solicitors and our barrister Lyndsey Johnson. We have decided to leave 80-86 Doran Walk on our own terms by 7th October, as planned. Newham have agreed to this, with no other conditions and have dropped their Interim Possession Order. We have celebrated a year of the E15 campaign, during which we have tried to engage with Newham Council on a number of occasions and they have refused to listen. As a result, our political occupation was the only option to escalate our demands for social housing, not social cleansing. We have reached our goal of highlighting the issue of decent homes left empty on the state and we have built lasing link with the residents and the community. This has be broadcast to millions of people. Ultimately this occupation was never about staying indefinitely, but about our demands to Newham Council. These demands remain and they include: – Repopulating the Carpenter’s Estate with secure council tenancies now – An immediate end to decanting and evictions of existing residents – No demolition of the estate – The management of Carpenters estate by residents and for residents, with no third party or private management involvement We will continue fighting to save council housing and to ensure decent housing for all. This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis.”

IMG_8675 IMG_8673 Focus E15 Mums protest

Here is the day brilliantly covered by Russell Brand in his Trews youtube series (I pop up at Carpenters highlighting the recent thwarted attempt by UCL to take over the site and the imminent arrival of the Smithsonian and V&A to the Olympic Zone)

Brandon Estate Cine Club

Diving into the goldmine of the London Screen Archives Youtube channel the other day turned up this precious nugget – the archives of the Brandon Estate Cine Club.

The Brandon Estate was built in the late 50’s in Kennington, South London. The Club made Super 8 films of events on the estate organised by the social club – using a camera bought by 17-year old Brian Waterman with his first pay-packet from his job on the Underground. There’s more about the Cine Club on the Film London website and how the members of the club were recently reunited for a special screening of the films.

The first thing that struck me when I watched the footage of the estate in 1961 with the concrete still fresh was the opening credits of Sean Lock’s classic sitcom 15 Storeys High which used the Brandon Estate for the exterior locations.

Screen shot 2014-02-07 at 13.06.41

The episode where Vince has to return a plough that he drunkenly stole from a pub is a great example of how the estate was used in the series. The Brandon Estate Cine Club footage and 15 Storeys High complement each other beautifully, positive views of life on a south London estate – summer fetes, kids Christmas parties, day trips to Canvey Island, trying to get a sofa up in the lift. I can imagine Vince going along to the screening that was organised on the estate and getting into some sort of light-hearted bother.

 

A life goes in the skip

They were emptying a flat up on one of the top floors. I was sat on the step on a hot morning watching the men bring out black bin-liners full of personal possessions. A bag full of magazines spilled out onto the ground and had to be scraped up into the skip by hand. A wood framed mirror went in. Some cushions. A mottled red rug. Someone’s life chucked into black bags and tossed into a skip in the middle of the estate. The guys doing the job make genial conversation as they go. The stillness of the forecourt is fractured by bursts of walkie-talkie chatter, “Can you get the lift guy over here, he fixed it but it’s not working again.” The skip is sat outside Bob’s front door. He was sat there with his son and someone else as he does everyday, he’s got something to watch today aside from the pigeons.
I tried to work out what was going on. An eviction? In which case it’s brutal – maybe the tenants did a runner leaving everything behind. Or a death? Lonely old person passed away and nobody to come round and sift their stuff and disperse keepsakes among the relatives.
A half-decent chair goes in the skip and some sacks the smash like crockery. I tried to remember who lived in the flat. Was it the Irish women who is always trying, and failing, to control her grandchildren? Her daughter stood out in the car park one night shouting, crying pleading to be allowed back in.
The guys smash up a chest of draws before adding to the pile in the skip.
I have a chat with Bob who tells me it’s the old fella on the top floor. Died just after Christmas and nobody found his body for 3 weeks. “Imagine the bluebottles,” Bob says. It’s taken six months for the place to be emptied. Have they been looking for relatives? Or is that how long it takes the bureaucracy to deal with things like this.

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