Posts Tagged ‘gentrification’

Reclaim Brixton 2015

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Brixton has been in the news again recently, with various analyses published on the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Brixton uprising (aka Brixton riots) which began on 10th April. Official reports put the 3 days of unrest which caused £7.5m of damage and left almost three hundred police (and an impossible to estimate number of the local community) injured down to poor housing, unemployment, and police harassment.

It was largely the actions of the police that led to the events. Their failure to effectively investigate the arson attack on a party in New Cross which killed 13 young black people in January 1981 scandalised much of the nation and the racist reaction of the mass media to a protest march about this raised tension, exacerbated by the police arrests of the march organisers who were charged with riot – and later acquitted. But the final straw was when police at the beginning of April began ‘Operation Swamp 81’ with large numbers of officers coming into Brixton and stopping an searching almost a thousand people – almost entirely African-Caribbean – under the ‘Sus law’, the 1824 Vagrancy Act which allowed police to stop and search anyone they believed was acting suspiciously.

Little changed after the official reports came out, and it was only 19 years later, following another scandalous police failure to properly investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 that the Macpherson report found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. Although some changes have been made, there are still plenty of signs that this continues to be deeply embedded in the ethos of the force.

The publication of ‘The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ on 31st March this year (2021) came at perhaps a particularly insensitive time for a report that is widely seen as a whitewash by a commission set up to reflect particular views. Set up in opposition to the protests by the Black Lives Matter movement over the death of George Floyd (and three weeks before the trial of his killer ended in three guilty verdicts) it evoked fury from many experts in the field as well as the millions who still experience discrimination.

More recently is has been condemned in remarkably forthright terms by the independent experts of the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council who state “In 2021, it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent” and call on the British government to categorically reject its findings.

Brixton has changed since 1981 and some of those changes are very much for the worse for the local population. There were further riots, and there have been deaths at the hands of police – such as those of Ricky Bishop in 2001 and Sean Rigg in 2008 – but the main threat facing the local communities is gentrification as Brixton is changing from a working class area home particularly to migrant communities to a trendy up-market suburb. Its a change which is in part inspired by the vibrant communities which it is displacing, but also driven by the excellent transport links the area enjoys.

25 April 2015 saw Reclaim Brixton, a day long protest against gentrification which saw several thousands gathering at various events in what is still so far as I’m aware the largest protest of its kind. One major blow to local people has been the decision by Network Rail, backed by Lambeth Council to redevelop the railway arches in the centre of the town, home for many years to some of Brixton’s best loved – and cheapest – businesses. The current tenants, one of which came here in 1932 – are being evicted and after renovation the rents will be triple and their places largely taken by the same chains and franchises that we see in so many other high streets.

Soon after I left Brixton – in what seemed like a quiet period and I thought things had probably ended, activists took direct action against some of the major players they hold responsible for gentrification, breaking a large window Soon after I left Brixton – in what seemed like a quiet period and I thought things had probably ended, activists took direct action against some of the major players they hold responsible for gentrification, breaking a large window at Foxton’s estate agents, going into Brixton Village with their banners and briefly occupying Lambeth Town Hall.

More at:
London Black Revs ‘Reclaim Brixton ‘march
Reclaim Brixton celebrates Brixton
Take Back Brixton against gentrification
Brixton Arches tenants protest eviction

Gentrification is Class War: 4 Feb 2018

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

Back when I began taking pictures of London in the 1970s London still had many largely working class areas, many the kind of places where some photographer friends would raise an eyebrow when I said I had been taking pictures there, or even send me dire warnings about the dangers of walking the streets there with a camera around my neck.

They were areas where people in the basic jobs that keep the city running could afford to live – both those whose families had moved to these areas several generations back and those including migrants and refugees who had come more recently. Some were certainly beginning to see a new more affluent population moving in, and many of my pictures featured skips in front of housing that was being renovated, both by developers who were buying up many older properties and young professional couples who were often ‘knocking through’, and pub conversations began to be riddled with terms such as ‘RSJ’.

Since then more and more areas across London have been subject to ‘gentrification’, their character being changed and new businesses coming in to cater for the new wealthier population, while increasingly the low-income inhabitants are forced out to cheaper areas further from central London as house prices and flat rents soar – and as council estates are demolished and replaced by higher density largely private flats at high market rents.

This process of ‘social cleansing’ has been taking place across London, and has been accelerated by many Labour councils since Tony Blair began New Labour’s regeneration programme with a press photo-opportunity on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark in his first speech as Prime Minister in 1977.

Many of the shops that I photographed back in the 70s and 80s, small local shops – corner stores, cobblers, hairdressers, greengrocers, butchers, etc – and other small local businesses have now disappeared, their premises now often estate agents, and cafés have changed their nature from ‘greasy spoons’ where you could get a filling cheap lunch to serving coffee and cakes, vegetarian food or rather more expensive restaurants catering for the new and wealthier clientèle. Of course tastes generally have changed and so have shopping habits, and some of the new is certainly welcome. But so much of those shops and pubs that were a part of these neighbourhoods have been lost.

Brixton perhaps stood out against gentrification longer than most – with the reputation it had from the disturbances in 1981, 1985 and 1995 deterring many newcomers. All took place following heavy-handed police action; Operation Swamp 81, when over 900 people were stopped and searched in 5 days, with 82 arrested, the shooting of Cherry Groce in 1985, and the death in police custody of Wayne Douglas in 1995. But many young people were attracted to the area by the vibrant atmosphere and Caribbean culture, by music venues, the Roxy, markets, food and pubs, and with its good transport links and closeness to central London it has attracted many young professionals in more recent years.

Railway lines run through the centre of Brixton, and the arches underneath them have been an important part of its life, providing low cost premises for businesses and, particularly in Atlantic Road and Brixton Market Road, for shops. They provided what has been called “the heart of Brixton”. But as I wrote in my text for Save Brixton Arches: 3rd Anniversary Action on Sunday 4th February 2018:

Network Rail have colluded with Lambeth Council to get rid of something that gave Brixton its unique character and replace it by trendier shops catering for the new wealthy young population – part of Lambeth Labour’s programme of social cleansing which includes demolishing council estates and replacing them with high cost private accommodation (with a token amount of so-called affordable properties.) The Council ignored the public outcry and large demonstrations to keep the arches.

The plans were accompanied by a great deal of lies and mismanagement by Network Rail and work was supposed to be completed by 2016 but is only scheduled to start tomorrow, and the Save Brixton Arches campaign are calling for it to be abandoned as the plans for the work fail to include proper fire safety precautions and will severely restrict access by emergency services to local businesses and the railway and station.

Save Brixton Arches: 3rd Anniversary Action

Despite the campaign both by the traders and many of the local population the refurbishment of the arches went ahead, though over a year later many had not been re-let. Allies and Morrison, the architecture and urban planning practice which recommended the scheme in 2013 has been involved in many contentious ‘regeneration’ schemes with developers and councils across London which opponents describe as social cleansing. Local Labour MP Helen Hayes was a senior partner in this firm until she left shortly before being elected in 2015, although she has denied any involvement in this particular scheme.

More at Save Brixton Arches: 3rd Anniversary Action.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


9 January 2016

Saturday, January 9th, 2021

Class War at White Cube Bermondsey

This was always the most depressing point of my year. Particularly back when I was still teaching full-time, getting up on cold dark mornings to go into work, at the start of the term which, particularly for those teaching classed facing exams in May and June, seemed to be longest and hardest slog of the year. We are actually just a few days past the latest sunrise of the year, (it is a whole 2 minutes earlier today) but its only really by the middle of the month it starts to be noticeable.

NHS Bursaries Rally & March

Usually we’ve put away the Christmas decorations, turned off the Christmas tree lights and put the tree outside, waiting for the energy to plant it in the garden. We’ve eaten the Christmas cakes (we usually have an iced fruit cake, stollen and Buche de Noel to get through, finished the meat, eaten the nuts and fruit, Bombay Mix and chocolates and are back on normal fare, with perhaps a dose of austerity to make up for the previous weeks of minor gluttony.

NHS Bursaries Rally & March

But this year has been different, with no family, friends and neighbours visiting to help us get through the Christmas bonus or see in the New Year. Everything has been flatter and less interesting, and I’m feeling bored. I exercise along routes I’ve cycled or walked close to home many times before, taking out my camera and making pictures largely out of habit rather than any great interest.

Ian Bone and Rita the Raven

Back in earlier years, protests and other events were getting back into swing at this time of year after something of a hiatus over Christmas and the New Year, when most of us were busy with other things. I live just too far from central London to be able to easily take part in the New Years Eve events, and though for some years I went up the following morning to photograph the New Year Parade, in recent years this became too organised to be really interesting.

Ian Bone takes a free kick

Saturday 9th January 2016 began for me with a rally and march against the axing of training bursaries for NHS nurses and midwives. As a part of their training they perform valuable work in hospitals, caring for patients, and the time involved means that unlike other students they are not able to get part-time work to support themselves.

Fire-eating outside the White Cube

The removal of the bursaries seems certain to result in much greater hardship and also in fewer students training as nurses – and we already have a shortage of nurses. It was a simple cost-cutting measure that only makes any sense as a part of the Tory plans to privatise our NHS by stealth, part of which involves putting greater pressure on the system so that more aspects of it can be put out to private tender. Many in government have interests in private health companies and favour a move away from the principles behind the NHS of a service based on clinical need free to all towards a US-style high-cost insurance-based system.

I left the march before it finished to join Class War outside the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey St, one of the areas of London where gentrification is most apparent.

December 9th 2015: Class War protest Gilbert & George at White Cube Bermondsey

I’d come the previous month to photograph Ian Bone of Class War and Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing holding a short protest outside the gallery over the appropriation of protest slogans by Gilbert and George in the show taking place there, and the gentrification of the area. I wrote then:

Bermondsey, once a working class industrial area on the edge of London’s docks with many small workshops in yards off of Bermondsey St producing hats, leather goods and a more recent arrival, the print trade, has changed dramatically. Run down when I first photographed there in the 1980s (and produced an industrial archaeology walk leaflet, West Bermondsey – The leather area) it is now full of restaurants, galleries, designer clothes and other businesses catering for London’s new gentrification, with offices, design studios and expensive flats now having replaced most of the workshops.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2015/12/dec.htm#banners

In front of the gallery is their large open yard, and Class War had decided that as this is an area where many still live in council estates with notices on the green spaces ‘No Ball Games’ that this would be an ideal place to hold a game of football as a protest against gentrification. And I’d been invited to come along and take pictures.

Although they hadn’t been invited, the police had clearly heard about the protest and had come along too, along with some security staff employed additionally by the gallery. A large sculpture at one side of the yard had also been wrapped up to protect it from damage (and artistically that seemed to me a great improvement.)

Jane Nicholl performs ‘The Finest f***ing Family in the Land

There was some opposition – and a hapless young police woman tried to tell the protesters that kicking a ball around was reckless behaviour – but the protest continued. Here is my description from My London Diary:

The protesters deliberately kicked the football at police and security, encouraging them to join in the game. Some of them did kick the ball back, while others simply stood and let a protester come to collect it, sometimes holding it but returning it when requested.

But the protest outside the ‘protest’ show (entitled ‘Banners‘) was not just football, but there was some spectacular fire breathing along with a premiere performance of Ray Jones‘s latest song, ‘any chance of a sub?’ dedicated to Damien Hirst and accompanied by the dancing Lucy Parsons banner ‘We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live’. (Jones, together with Ian Bone were formerly part of the Welsh punk band “Page 3”.) ‘Sid Skill’ had brought along a fairly lifelike black model bird (a fiver on eBay) which inspired a histronic performance from Ian Bone, about how the security men guarding the White Cube had murdered the last raven from the Tower of London, and that London was now doomed. Doomed I say, doomed.

Later, there were two spoken word performances, one by Jane Nicholl of a traditional verse, ‘The Finest f***ing Family in the Land‘, performed with great gusto and with the small crowd joining in, and the second of a rather odd poem about a raven, sent in response to a tweet about Ian’s performance at the protest by Ray Jones, which he read to us all. And the Womens Death Squad led a rousing performance of their anthem, ‘ Bunch of C***s

Altogether it was a ‘happening’ with arguably rather more artistic credibility than the rather sterile work on display inside the gallery, and one that was appreciated by some members of the public even though it lacked the Art World’s financial imprimatur.

Eventually it was time to leave – and for Class War to continue their celebrations in a local pub … On the way a number of Class War Womens Death Squad stickers somehow found their way onto street furniture, walls and estate agents windows, to remind the gentrifiers that Class War will be back.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2016/01/jan.htm#whitecube

More on My London Diary
Class War Footy at White Cube
NHS Bursaries March
NHS Bursaries rally before march


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Highgate to Stoke Newington

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

On the early May Bank Holiday – the one that should have been on May Day but isn’t – Linda and I walked another short section of the Capital Ring, from Highgate to Stoke Newington.

After a short walk along footpaths and roads, the route joins the former railway line which is now the Parkland Walk. Quite a lot of this is in a cutting, though there are some embankment sections, but except where the line has bridges over roads the view is often very limited by trees and bushes which have grown beside the former line.

A long bridge takes you across the East Coast main line and its suburban outliers and into Finsbury Park, where both cafe and toilets were very welcome.

Across the park you join the New River, supplying water to London since 1613, thanks in particular to the efforts of Sir Hugh Myddelton, though I expect he had quite a few others to dig it for him (and it wasn’t his idea in the first place.)

This goes along the edge of the Woodberry Down Estate, a large area bought by the LCC for housing in 1934, but only developed after the war as a ‘utopian estate of the future‘. Building began in 1949 and the 57 large blocks of flats were only completed in 1962. The estate included the country’s first purpose built comprehensive school and a medical estate opened by Nye Bevan, but unfortunately was allowed to deteriorate over the years, and beggining in 2009 became one of Europe’s biggest single-site estate regeneration projects.

The controversial scheme by Berkeley Homes, Notting Hill Genesis and Hackney Council will involve a loss of around a fifth of social housing in the area estimated by the council at around 320 homes and has been described as ‘state-sponsored gentrification‘ with 3 bed flats selling for around £800,000 and many being bought up as investments by foreign investors rather than used as homes.

On the opposite side of the path, across the New River are large reservoirs of open water, part now a nature reserve with public access (and another tea room with toilets) and another used for sailing and other water sports. The remarkable Scottish Baronial castle built as offices for the water board is now a climbing centre.

From there it’s a short walk to Clissold Park (another cafe and toilets – this must be the best provided section of the Capital Ring) and Stoke Newington Church Street, often described as a ‘hipster hub‘. Next to the park are the two churches of St Mary, the older locked but with an atmospheric and overgrown churchyard and the Victorian built in 1858 to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott,  open and well worth a visit.

As a final climax we came to Abney Park Cemetery, one of London’s finest, set up in 1840 as a burial ground for non-conformists and the final resting place of around 200,000 Londoners, now a nature reserve. We looked up the train times from nearby Stoke Newington station and rather than rushing through to the station spent some time wandering around and finding a few of the better-known graves and some other interesting monuments.

In our rush from there the few hundred yards to the station I lost a little concentration and we went down to the wrong platform and caught a train going into London rather than out and had to re-plan our journey home. It turned out to be almost as fast.

More pictures from the walk at Highgate to Stoke Newington.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Up the Elephant

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

A quick trip on the Bakerloo line took me from elephants in Cavendish Square to the Elephant, where Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant and Up the Elephant were holding their Love the Elephant Street Celebration.

For generations the Elephant & Castle has been a lively South London hub, its nature changing over the years. The country’s first shopping mall was built here in 1955 on the site of a bomb-damaged estate, and while showing its age is still more interesting than most, and one that both reflects and caters for the local community, increasingly Latin-American, as well as largely older bingo-playing local residents.

Shopping malls are generally pretty soulless places, and on going inside you transition from whichever town or city you were into some strange limbo of franchises and chains. The few with a little more character are some of the older ones, usually incorporating market traders and other small local businesses, while the more recent examples have little to offer except the same as every other more recent mall.

Virtually the only reason I ever enter them is to search for the public toilets most offer, which usually involves a long trek following often confusing signage designed to take you past every retail outlet en-route.

Not of course that the Elephant shopping centre is perfect, far from it. It is certainly showing its age and needs improvement, and it has been deliberately run down by its owners to promote the redevelopment.

But campaigners say it should be redeveloped with the local community in mind while the developers Delancey working with Southwark Council and the London College of Communications, seem largely concerned with maximising their profits from the scheme.

Years of campaigning by local community groups has resulted in some minor improvements to the proposals – including more social housing, though it remains to be seen if this will actually happen.

Although the plans were finally approved last December, the campaing goes on, to keep the shopping centre alive until it is demolished and to get fairer treatment of the existing traders. Some have been promised space in the new development, but sometimes only a small fraction of their current area, and the campaign want all to be made offers on a ‘like for like’ basis, with an increase in the relocation fund.

More at Love the Elephant.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.