Posts Tagged ‘Aylesbury Estate’

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers
Saturday 13th April 2019 in London, three years ago seems very distant to me now.


Love the Elephant, Elephant & Castle, London

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The main event I covered on the day was at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London, where local people and supporters were calling on Southwark Council and developers Delancey to improve the plans for the redevelopment of the area.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The campaigners main banner had the message ‘LOVE THE ELEPHANT – HATE GENTRIFICATION’ and this is an area that epitomises the changes that have been taking place in many of London’s poorer areas for many years now. Traditionally working class South London, this area has been at the centre of major demolitions of large council estates and their replacement largely by expensive high rise blocks at market rents with a nominal amount of so-called ‘affordable’ and miniscule amounts of truly social housing.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Immediately to the east of the shopping centre had been the award-winning Heygate Estate, completed in 1974, once popular for its light and spacious flats, but long subjected to a process of managed decline by Southwark Council who even employed PR consultants to emphasise a negative view of the estate, together putting together what the estate’s architect Tim Tinker described in 2013 as a “farrago of half-truths and lies put together by people who should have known better.” The council deliberately used parts of it in the latter years to house people with mental health and other problems, and as temporary accommodation. I photographed the estate on several occasions, most recently on a tour by residents opposed to the redevelopment of both the Heygate and the neighbouring Aylesbury Esate in 2012, Walking the Rip-Off.

The Heygate estate had a mixture of properties with large blocks of flats on its edges and contained 1,214 homes, all initially social housing, though many were later purchased by residents who became leaseholders. It’s replacement, Elephant Park is far less well planned but according to Wikipedia will “provide 2,704 new homes, of which 82 will be social rented. The demolition cost approximately £15 million, with an additional £44m spent on emptying the estate and a further £21.5 million spent on progressing its redevelopment.” The council sold the estate to the developers at a huge loss for £50m.

Many of the flats on Elephant Park were sold overseas as investment properties, the continuing increases in London property prices making these a very attractive holding. The new estate will also provide housing for those on high salaries in London, with a railway station and two underground lines providing excellent transport links for professionals working elsewhere in the city. Those who previously lived and owned properties on the Heygate have had to move much further from the centre of the city, some many miles away.

The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, was opened in 1965 on the site of the 1898 Elephant & Castle Estate which had been badly damaged by wartime bombing, and was the first purpose-built shopping centre in the UK and certainly one of the first in Europe. Many of its 115 shops were then owned by local traders.

A market trader speaks about the poor deal they are getting

The rally and procession by Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant and Up the Elephant at the Elephant & Castle called on Southwark Council and the developers Delancey to develop the Elephant for the existing population and users, rather than as social cleansing to attract new, wealthier residents and shoppers. They would like to see a development that retains the existing character of the area which has become very much a centre for South London’s Latin community many of whom live in the surrounding area. It became the most diverse and cosmopolitan shopping centre in London, with also other amenities such as a bowling alley and bingo hall, serving the population of the area.

Security officers order the campaigners out of the market area

They say the development should include more social housing and call for fairer treatment of the market traders, who should be provided with ‘like for like’ new spaces at affordable rents and be given adequate financial compensation for the disruption in business the development will cause.

A long series of protests in which locals were joined by students from the London College of Communication whose new building forms a part of the redevelopment did lead to some minor improvements to the scheme by the developers, but the shopping centre closed in September 2020 and demolition went ahead and was complete around a year later. The new development will include high-rent shops, almost certainly mainly parts of major chains, expensive restaurants and bars and plenty of luxury flats, along with a small amount of “affordable” housing.


Sewol Ferry Disaster 5 years on – Trafalgar Square

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The good transport links that make the Elephant so attractive to developers also took me rapidly into the centre of London as the procession of protest there came to and end, although events there were continuing all afternoon – only four stops taking 6 minutes on the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross.

I’ve photographed the small monthly vigils by campaigners in remembrance of the victims and in support of their families of the 304 people who died in the Sewol Ferry Disaster of 16 April 2014 on a number of occasions, though its always difficult to find anything new to say, either in words or pictures.

But this was a special event, the fifth anniversary of the disaster, and the 60th 60th monthly vigil. Campaigners continue to call for a full inquiry, the recovery of all bodies of victims, punishment for those responsible and new laws to prevent another similar disaster. They tie cards on lines with the class and name of the 250 high school children who were drowned after being told to ‘stay put below deck’.


Brexiteers march at Westminster – Westminster Bridge

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Brexiteers were continuing to march weekly around London holding Union Jacks, St George’s flags and placards and many wearing yellow high-viz jackets because although there had been a small majority in favour of leaving Europe in the 2016 referendum, Parliament had not found a way to get a majority to pass the legislation needed. It was this indecision that led to a resounding victory for Boris Johnson in the 2019 election in December, though unfortunately his ‘oven-ready’ agreement has turned out to be extremely half-baked and most of the things dismissed by Brexiteers as scaremongering have turned out to be true, while the promises made by the Leave campaign have so far largely failed to materialise and most seem unlikely ever to do so.

Johnson’s deal – important parts of which he seems not to have understood, particularly over the Irish border arrangements has left us in the worst of all possible worlds, though it has made some of his wealthy friends – including some cabinet members – considerably wealthier and protected them from the threat of European legislation that would have outlawed some of their tax avoidance. Back in 2019 I commented “We were sold the impossible, and things were made worse by a government that thought it could play poker when what was needed was a serious attempt at finding a solution to the problems that both the UK and Europe face.”

The protesters were also protesting with flags and banners supporting members of the armed forces against their trial for killings in Northern Ireland and for the Islamophobic campaign ‘Our Boys’ which seeks to have a drunk driver of Hindu origin who killed three young men prosecuted as a terrorist.


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Guantanamo, Privatisation, the Elephant, Social Cleansing & a Book Launch

Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Guantanamo, Privatisation, the Elephant, Social Cleansing & a Book Launch.
Thursday 5th February 2015 was an extremely varied and rewarding day for me.


Close Guantanamo – 8 Years of protest

The day started rather quietly with the London Guantánamo Campaign and their monthly lunch-time protest at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square which had been taking place every month for 8 years, calling for the closure of the prison and release of those still held, including Londoner Shaker Aamer. I’ve not photographed them every one of those almost a hundred months, but most times when I have been working in London on the day they were protesting.

Close Guantanamo – 8 Years of protest


From Grosvenor Square I went to Trafalgar Square, joining protesters outside the National Gallery where management had told 400 of its 600 staff they were no longer to be employed by the gallery but by a private company. Staff there were incensed when on a five day strike one of their PCS union reps, Candy Udwin, was suspended.

Nobody answered the door.


The National Gallery was then the only major museum or gallery in London not paying its lowest paid staff the London Living Wage. The privatisation further threatened the pay and conditions of loyal and knowledgeable staff already living on poverty pay. These staff are responsible for the security of the paintings and the public, provide information about the collection, organise school bookings and look after the millions of visitors each year.

Eventually the petition was handed to the Head of Security


Staff who were then on a five-day strike had come with supporters to present a 40,000 signature petition to management against the privatisation and call for the reinstatement of their union rep. First they tried the management door, but no one came to open it, so some entered the Sainsbury Wing of the gallery to try to deliver it. Security asked them to leave, and promised that the Head of Security would take the petition would personally hand it to management who were refusing to come down to meet the strikers.

Jeremy Corbyn joins the march and Candy Udwin speaks

After consultation with the members the petition was handed over and the strikers and supporters marched down Whitehall to the Dept of Culture, Media and Sport where the minister concerned had agreed to receive a copy of the petition. A rally took place outside, with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn, while the petition was being handed in.

No Privatisation At National Gallery


Around the Elephant

I took the tube to the ELephant and Castle on my way to visit the continuing occupation against Southwark Council’s demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and had time to walk a little around the area before and afterwards.

Around the Elephant


Aylesbury Estate Occupation

Protesters against the demolition of council estates and its replacement by private developments with little or no social housing across London had marched to the Aylesbury Estate and occupied an empty block, part of Chartridge in Westmoreland Road at the end of the previous Saturday’s March for Homes.

Entering the occupied building required a rather tricky climb to the first floor, and both my age and my heavy camera bag argued against it, although I was told I was welcome. Instead I went with a group of supporters who were distributing flyers for a public meeting to flats across the estate. They split into pairs and I went with two who were going to the top floor of the longest single block on the whole estate, Wendover, where one of them lived.

There are I think 471 flats in the block and from the top floor there are extensive views to the east, marred by the fact that the windows on the corridor seem not to have been cleaned since the flats were built. But there was one broken window that gave me a clear view.

Aylesbury Estate Occupation


Getting By – Lisa’s Book Launch

Ken Loach, Jasmine Stone and Lisa McKenzie


My final event of the day was the book launch for Lisa McKenzie’s ‘Getting By’, the result of her years of study from the inside of the working class district of Nottingham where she lived and worked for 22 years, enabling her to view the area from the inside and to gather, appreciate and understand the feelings and motivations of those who live there in a way impossible for others who have researched this and similar areas.

St Ann’s in that time was undergoing a huge slum clearance project, but though providing more modern homes relieved some of the worst problems of damp, dangerous and over-crowded housing, it left many of the social problems and provided new challenges for those who lived there.

It was a great evening, attended by many of those I’ve photographed over the years at various housing campaigns.

Getting By – Lisa’s Book Launch


More on all these on My London Diary:
Getting By – Lisa’s Book Launch
Aylesbury Estate Occupation
Around the Elephant
No Privatisation At National Gallery
Close Guantanamo – 8 Years of protest


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March Against Housing & Planning Bill

Sunday, January 30th, 2022

The March Against Housing & Planning Bill on January 30th 2016 was organised by activists from South London, particulary from the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

These include many who are fighting against the demolition of social housing that is taking place across London, including in Lambeth and Southwark. Council tenants and leaseholders on council estates are fighting to save their homes – and fighting against Lambeth and Southwark councils who together with private developers and estate agent advisers are bent on demolishing the estates and replacing them with new estates which are largely for private rent or sale at London’s inflated market prices.

Southwark Council in particular carried out an expenisive PR exercise to demonise the Heygate Estate at the Elephant & Castle, having failed to carry out necessary maintenance and flooded the estate with people with various social problems over a number of years. The whole disastrous history has been documented in depth on the Southwark 35% site. A prize-winning estate with 1,214 homes built in 1974 to provide social housing for around 3,000 people was deliberately run-down and demolished. It’s replacement, Elephant Park has less than 100 social housing units. Many of its new flats are simply investments for overseas owners.

Southwark sold the Heygate to developers for one third of its previous valuation, and spent more on the scheme than it received. A study by Global architect firm Gensler concluded that the £35m spent by Southwark in rehousing the estate residents was exactly the same as it would have cost to refurbish the estate up to modern standards – and would have avoided the huge carbon footprint of demolishing and rebuilding.

A well as Heygate, Southwark Council’s main target has been the Aylesbury Estate, where Tony Blair chose to launch the Labour regeneration policy which has enabled corrupt councils to destroy much of what remained of social housing. For many council officers and some councillors it has enabled them to move into highly paid jobs with developers as a reward for their services. Lambeth has also been pursuing similar policies (along with other boroughs in London) and in particular with the Central Hill estate close to Crystal Palace.

An angry heckler – their argument continued after the speech by Livingstone

The protest against the Housing & Planning Bill in 2016 was also attended by people from both Lambeth and Southwark Council, and when Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing Richard Livingstone stepped up to the microphone to speak at the rally before the march some trouble was inevitable. Among those loudly heckling him was another of the speakers, Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing.

Class War have also been active in support of social housing in South London in particular and livened up the march by dancing along the street with banners singing the ‘Lambeth Walk’. One banner carried the words of a leading US Anarchist Lucy Parsons (1853-1942), “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” and another had a field of crosses with the message “We have found new homes for the rich“.

Class War supporters rushed across the street for a short impromtu protest in front of a large branch of one of the leading estate agents driving the gentrification of London and advising councils and government on housing policies, but soon rejoined the main march of around 2,000 people heading for Westminster Bridge and Downing St.

At Downing St there was another protest outside the gates. Police had formed a line across Whitehall and directed the march to the opposite side of the street opposite Downing St. The march followed them across but then many simply walked back across the street to mass in front of the gates for a rally led by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! who have been active in supporting the Focus E15 Mothers in their campaign against the housing failures of Newham Council.

More on My London Diary at Housing and Planning Bill March


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Property Vultures Self Awards

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

Outside the Housing Awards event at Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane

We suffer from a housing benefits system that actually benefits landlords rather than tenants and a housing policy that is led by the advice of estate agents and developers.

Combined with governments dedicated to austerity and cuts this has led to a record level of evictions, doubling of rough sleeping in London and the worst shortage of truly affordable housing in history, while property developers cash in by building luxury flats for largely overseas investors who have made profits from rapidly rising market prices for flats which are often left empty for all or most of the year.

Protesters pay a brief visit to Foxtons on Park Lane

The attack on social housing was largely begun by Margaret Thatcher, who forced councils to sell off housing stock under her ‘right to buy’ scheme, and stopped councils from using the funds to replace them. Many or most of these properties were later sold to private landlords and became ‘buy to let’ properties at high market rents.

Housing Action Trusts, set up under the 1988 Housing Act took many council estates out of council control, eventually handing them on to housing associations, many of which have become hard to distinguish from commercial landlords.

New Labour ratcheted up the crisis with their emphasis on estate regeneration – whether the tenants wanted it or not. Though possibly begun with good intentions it became a tool used by many councils to demolish social housing and replace it by mixed developments in cooperation with private developers or housing associations which often contain only small amounts of genuinely social housing at ‘council rents’ (though with much less security of tenure) along with various shared ownership and so-called ‘affordable’ rent schemes and a large proportion of properties at market prices.

Often the original tenants and leaseholders of such regenerated estates have been ‘socially cleansed’, forced to move out of the area to lower cost fringe areas. Over 50,000 families have been forced to move out of London, where many more properties remain empty, thanks to housing policies that serve greed rather than need.

Protesters held their own award ceremony outside the hotel

I’m not a fan of awards ceremonies, industry events to pat each other on the back and make effusive speeches. Too often the awards go to the wrong people, but in the case of property developers there are perhaps only wrong people involved. But the protesters held their own, with large cardboard cups going for the Placard Making Award, Demonstration of the Year, Occupation of the Year and Young Protester Personalities of the Year.

Those who turned up to protest outside the plush hotel where the awards event was taking place included many who have been affected by the greed of developers and are fighting against the demolition of their estate or their eviction so that property owners can replace them by wealthier occupiers at market rents.

More pictures on My London Diary: Property Awards at Mayfair Hotel

A Day Out with Class War

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Lisa McKenzie’s election address in Chingford

Class War had decided to stand candidates in the 2015 General Election, and a handful of people had volunteered to stand under their banner including in three constituences around London. These included Lisa McKensie, then a research fellow at the LSE who was standing against Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith in his Chingford constituency on the north-east border of London. An on Saturday 14th Mar 2015 I went with Class War for the launch in Chingford of her election campaign to give his constiutents a chance to kick out him and the evil policies he represents, which inflict misery on the poor and disabled. Unfortunately few in Chingford seem to care much about the poor or the disabled and although there was an almost 5% swing away from the Tory in the election only 53 votes went to Class War.

Police take away Class War’s election banner

What Class War didn’t have with them for the launch of their campaign in the constituency was their banner showing pictures of their banner stating clearly their opinion of leading politicians, which controversially police had ripped from their hands at a protest earlier in the week because of its large text ‘ALL FUCKING WANKERS’ rather than the disturbing faces of party leaders. Some months later they were directed to return it, but somehow had managed to lose it – I hope Class War were re-imbursed.

Police had turned up in some force at Chingford station to welcome the group of around 20 supporters who had turned up for the launch, and continued to harass the group as it made its way along the street, stopping occasionally for speeches.

A police officer threatens a man with arrest for holding a poster

There were remarkably few people on the streets of Chingford and none of them made complaints about the posters that were being held up, though there were one or two who made ‘V’ signs and shouted obscenities, largely from passing vehicles. But most of the few who walked by either failed to notice the protest or pretended to, with others expressing similar views to Class War of their MP, in seat since 1992.

Lisa puts a leaflet in the door at the Chingford & Woodford Green Conservative Party office

There was a convenient space in front of the Methodist Church for Lisa to give her election address, and there were other speakers, including Class War’s candidate for South Croydon Jon Bigger, all watched intently from across the road by a police officer, though there were now fewer following the event. After the speeches the group wandered back up the road towards the station, with Lisa stopping to put a leaflet through the door of the local Conservative Association office before most of us made our way into a local pub to celebrate the election launch.

After a drink or two we made our way across the road for the train back to central London, with police still following us until the train pulled out of the station. Some of those present including the two candidates were on their way to the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark to show solidarity with occupiers who continue to highlight the shameful treatment of residents whose homes there are being demolished, and I went along with them on what was a rather hilarious journey.

It was a little tricky to get into the estate as Southwark Council had tried to block all the entrances, but fortunately we met some activists who were able to show us a rather lengthy detour to gain access. It did at one stage involve swinging across a small gap, made a little more difficult by the heavy camera bag I was carrying, but eventually we were there and something of a party was taking place. The occupied flat was on the top floor and had splendid views of south London.

I didn’t take many pictures, as undertandably many of the activists did not want to be photographed. It was the kind of curious situation where many were taking pictures on their phones, but I was shouted at for using a camera – though carefully framing so only those who I had permission to photograph have their faces shown.

Much more about an interesting day out on My London Diary:
Class War go to Aylesbury Estate
Class War celebrate Election Launch
Class War Chingford Election Launch


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Cold spell – no heating

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

Southwark are perhaps the worst of London’s councils so far as their housing policies are concerned, though they face stiff opposition from others. But their demolition of the Heygate estate next to the Elephant & Castle is hard to beat for its combination of lies, total disregard for residents, loss of social housing, veniality and sheer incompetence and has been well-recorded on local blogs. It is a truly sad story for any local council, and particularly for a council dominated – as most of London’s councils are – by the Labour party, which currently holds 49 or the 63 seats with the only opposition being the 14 Lib Dems.

The Aylesbury estate is more or less immediately south of the former Heygate in Walworth, and is said to be the largest public housing estate in Europe, with 2700 homes built between 1963 and 1977. It contains a mixture of huge blocks like those in the picture below and much smaller and lower ones. Residents turned down a plan to pass the estate over to a housing association in 1999 and in a later ballot turned down Southwark’s plans for demolition, calling instead for the much cheaper minor works needed to refurbish each property up to modern standards.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Southwark Council had failed to carry out much necessary maintenance, and although the varied properties were generally well designed and built, the estate was allowed to deteriorate. Like the Heygate it was also used to house people with various problems including mental health and drug use and gained a notorious reputation, very much exaggerated by its use for filming a number of TV crime series.

The lack of proper maintenance has continued into this century, and residents feel it has worsened since the council made the decision to demolish the estate, parts of which have already been emptied and destroyed, to be replaced by properties at expensive market rents or the unaffordable ‘affordable’ rents at around 80% of market rates. Few of the Aylesbury residents can afford to take up any of the new properties, and are forced to move to the outer areas of London.

The Aylesbury was built with a central boiler house to run an energy-efficient district heating scheme. Because of the council’s failure to properly maintain this, there are repeated breakdowns in cold periods of winter such as that we had just been suffering. Residents either freeze or rely on expensive electric heating. One of those who spoke told how she had put £20 into her prepayment meter only for it to run out a day later; another told of having reported the heaters in her flat for six months without the council coming to maintain them.

Residents are convinced that Southwark council have been purposefully neglecting their well built homes to justify the demolition of the estate and bully the residents out against a ballot result which called for refurbishment rather than demolition. They protested outside the local housing office for over an hour, calling for someone from the council to come out and speak to them. No one came out and security men prevented the protesters from going inside.

Southwark Council claimed in a statement to a regional TV programme which covered the protest that they were doing their best to keep the heating going, but no-one on the Aylesbury believes them.

More at Aylesbury residents protest lack of heating


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