Posts Tagged ‘stay put’

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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Protests – May 16th 2015

Sunday, May 16th, 2021

The purpose of protests is to bring whatever cause they support to the attention of others, particularly those who bear some responsibility for them or who could act in a different way to address the problem that led to the protest.

The current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to make protests entirely ineffectual – allowing police to insist they will only take place where they will not be noticed and banning them from making any noise or causing any inconvenience. Given the Tory majority and the lack of concern for civil rights shown by most MPs it seems likely to come into force, but I think unlikely to actually be enforceable by police, though it will lead to clashes and arguments which will greatly reduce public trust in the force.

On May 16th 2015 I was privileged to be able to cover a protest by the grass roots trade union United Voices of the World from their meeting before the protest to the end of the event. Most of the members are low-paid migrant workers and most of the business was conducted in Spanish, with some key items translated into English for the benefit of me and the few other non-Spanish speakers.

From the meeting in Bethnal Green we travelled by bus to Liverpool St and then walked quietly as a group to meet up with others close to the Barbican. Many were carrying drums, flags and placards as they rushed past the two security guards on the door of the centre who held up a couple of them but couldn’t stop the rest, and the group made its way to the heart of the Barbican Centre, where people were already gathering for evening performances.

Rather than employ cleaners directly, the Barbican Centre uses a contractor, Mitie. The Barbican is a relatively good employer and offers its employees decent terms and conditions, but MITIE cuts costs to a minimum and has threatened the cleaners with sacking if they protest for a living wage and proper sick pay and other conditions, and the union says they employ bullying managers who disrespect staff and fail to provide proper working conditions. One disabled worker had recently been assaulted by a manager and accused of ‘terrorism’ after posting a short video clip showing his working conditions.

The protesters held a short noisy protest, using a megaphone to let the public know why they were protesting and calling for an end to the victimisation of trade unionists and for negotiations to get satisfactory conditions of work and service and a living wage. They called on the Barbican to meet its obligations to people who work there by insisting that any contracts they make include safeguards to protect the workers – rather than denying any responsibility for those who keep the centre clean.

After a few minutes, police arrived and argued with the protest organiser Petros Elia who agreed to move, and the protesters then went on a walk around the centre to make sure all those in it where aware the protest was taking place and why the union was protesting. Finally they agreed with police to leave the centre, going out the way they had come in and rejoining members who worked at the Barbican who had stayed outside to protest. The protesters then walked around some of the public streets around the Barbican before returning to protest in front of the main entrance, where I left them still protesting noisily.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill all of this would have been illegal, and perhaps they might have been allowed just a small and quiet display some distance across the road from the centre, which few would have noticed.

I’d earlier photographed three other protests, two of which I’m sure would have fallen foul of the proposed new law. Newham Council had been trying to get rid of Focus E15’s weekly street stall in Stratford Broadway since it started almost two years earlier, and today’s protest celebrated the dropping of a contrived case against Jasmin Stone, one of the protest leaders. Later in the year the police and council came and ‘arrested’ the Focus E15 table – but had to release it a few days later.

While it might have been possible for the Free Shaker Aamer campaign to get permission for their protest on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square, I think their activities and use of the megaphone would have been severely curtailed.

The small, silent ‘Stay Put’ vigil – seven people holding posters in silence by the wall in a corner of the square – is perhaps a model of what Priti Patel considers an acceptable level of protest. Though more probably she would like to go full North Korea.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre
Silent protest over Sewol ferry disaster
Caged vigil for Shaker Aamer
Victory Rally For Jasmin Stone

Grenfell scapegoat scandal

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

I hadn’t expected much of the official report into the Grenfell fire, but was still shocked when details of it were released that is was so clear and determined an attempt to shift blame onto the London Fire Brigade. Monumental scapegoating is no way to get at the truth, and hindsight is always cheap.

Had the LFB known what people in the TMO and Kensington and Chelsea council responsible for the cladding and the failure to properly maintain the building knew – and that the complaints by residents about fire safety had been ignored – or worse, they could be blamed for incorrect advice. But the council had deliberately hidden the truth about the building.

The Tory government too had played its part, cutting what it described as “red tape” over building regulations and allowing private companies to carry out essential safety inspections at cut price, which at best meant cutting corners and at worst simply not doing the job.

It was Boris Johnson as London Mayor who made sweeping cuts to the LFB, severely diminishing their capability to deal with fires such as this. Despite the number of high rise properties in London the service had to call on Surrey for an engine capable of dealing with a building of this height. Firefighters protested on the streets against the cuts to their capabilities driven by a Tory government and the Mayor.

Protest against closing fire stations in 2013

You can read the comments of an experienced and now retired fire-fighter on the “Stay Put” policy, who states he has attended “dozens upon dozens of fires in high rise residential buildings.” These buildings are designed to contain any fire within one flat, and would normally burn themselves out even without the fire brigade turning up. It didn’t work at Grenfell mainly becuase the building had been covered by cladding which some have described as “like petrol“. But the LFB didn’t know that. SteveDude68’s post includes a telling photograph of a serious high-rise fire he was in command of tackling in Bow in July 2018, “much more serious at the outset (than Grenfell) but extinguished within 20 minutes. ” Flames and a huge plume of black smoke pour out of the windows of the one flat, but nothing from the rest of the tower. Contrast this with the pictures of Grenfell.

It shouldn’t have taken this long to get at the truth about the fire – and of course it didn’t. Architects for Social Housing released their report The Truth about Grenfell Tower around 5 weeks after the disaster, and little has changed since then. After a similar fire in Japan, those responsible were in court just over a month later.

I’ll end with a quote from a comment today from the Facebook group Grenfell – The truth is out there :

Please remember the names of those directly responsible for what happened:
RYDON
ARCONIC
EXOVA
CEP
KCTMO
Please remember that the residents warned the KCTMO for years about their concerns.


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