Aylesbury Estate update: Eviction support and demo

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The struggles at Walworth’s Aylesbury Estate continue in the next two weeks. Here are two quick call-outs for support

1) AYLESBURY OCCUPATION OPEN DAY this Sun / EVICTION THREAT

Since moving itself somewhat smartly during last weeks failed police eviction from the old Chartridge block to the new one, the Occupation has been keeping on with getting the message out. This Sunday they are having a Open Day for all to ‘meet the Occupation‘ Get on down and check it out if you haven’t been. Am sure they would also appreciate some good new banners to hang on the block. We are still working on our ‘Peter John – no free lunches here!‘ banner!

On a serious note, the Occupation is back in court on Weds 4th March (next week) and if possession is granted to Southwark Council, a repeat of last week’s police assault on the Occupation is guaranteed. We can’t stress enough how anyone who supports the Occupation should keep abreast of news after Weds to be ready to get down to any subsequent eviction attempt. Maximum support needed. Please spread the word. This is serious frontline anti-regeneration stuff going on (amongst all the other great campaigns and fights) . Be there and get your mates down too. All hands on deck!

Evcition News updates here.
Occupation Twitter feed here. This is going to be where any eviction attempt is posted (as well as other sympathetic twitter accounts. Ours, SL RCG, PRS etc.)

Please circulate the need for eviction support via Twitter, Facebook etc and through your own networks and email lists.

2) AYLESBURY PROTEST MARCH: SAT 14th MARCH

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All welcome. All housing campaigns welcome.! See you there. Make some noise!

Regeneration Is Violence

How is it in London in 2015 that people who reside in public housing can be subject to such extremes of subtle and unsubtle violence? When we use the word violence what do we mean? Well for starters we mean the slow burning, long-term violence done to those who are being forced out of their homes in the name of ‘regeneration’ with it’s routine accompanying upheavals, anxieties, stresses and affects on physical and mental ill health.

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How is it to lose you home? What does it mean to be ‘regenerated’ and be asked to leave your home where there is no alternative presented to you but to lose your home. What does ‘home’ mean to people in this instance – isn’t it a vast collection of memories, events, experiences and also connections to others around you? How do you ‘regenerate’ those very personal aspects of people’s home lives and their community?

What is it like to be live day-in and day-out, not wanting to leave your home as more and more people around you are leaving? What is it like to have to move to Sidcup in Kent as you can’t afford to stay local as gentrification means your leaseholder compensation from the Council is too small to buy you anything where you have lived for much of your life?

What does it feel like to be treated with zero dignity or respect even though your crime is only to live in a home where the Council and it’s partners want the land your home sits on? Do you and your life and your community’s life count in this instance? Or are you just a statistic on the regeneration paperwork? How is it to be issued a Compulsory Purchase Order for your home that you have paid off, receive a low valuation and then be forced to take up a new mortgage for a home miles from where you want to live?

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How is it that opponents of moving from their homes, of social cleansing, of gentrification, can be ignored by the Council as if these desires, feelings, views and good common sense simply does not exist. How is it to be in your latter years, be removed from your community and support networks? We know from our interviews with ex-Heygate tenants that there is a lot of anxiety, sadness, depression, ill health and in some cases early deaths happening with many of those decanted and displaced from that community.

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How is that a Council would rather smash up it’s decanted homes than let homeless people live in them?

How is that once you could live in London in cheap housing because that was a common sense housing policy but now the policy is to force you out in favour of developers profits, those who use housing as investments, those who already have too much and those who think you are unworthy to live in central London?

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This is what we mean by violence. This is where we see that regeneration is a type of violence.

These social costs of demolition and displacement are huge and yet the Council ignores this in favour of simple economic arguments that pretend ‘regeneration’ is all about benefiting a local community. But Londoners and especially those subject to these awful schemes are winning the argument that such schemes are only really about social cleansing. It seems that the last 6 months of high-visibility campaigns have won that battle. The next stage has been reached and campaigns are no longer simply arguing that regeneration is gentrification but are now moving into practical and shared actions to defend their homes from regeneration and to act against evictions – Focus E15 mums campaign and their re-occupation of Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford, the New Era estate in Hoxton victory of preventing a new private owner of their homes from evicting them, the Guinness Trust occupation in Brixton and the Aylesbury Occupation, are all amazing moments of the last few months.

And then there is a less subtle violence that all concerted actions against this regeneration bollocks will have to face and that is the ultimate use of the police and bailiffs by Council’s to get their way. This week we have seen that violence on Aylesbury Estate:

Aylesbury Occupied

This last fortnight has seen a somewhat incredible local and public denial that regeneration of Southwark’s large council estates is good for local communities. You probably already saw that part of Chartridge block on Aylesbury estate had been re-occupied by protestors who wanted to both draw attention to the social cleansing of poorer parts of Southwark and to give a boost to local housing campaigners on and off the estate. It certainly did that with daily meetings, petitions by residents of residents on the Aylesbury, street stalls on Walworth Rd, public meetings and a lively posting of news and arguments up on the Internet. All of these events and activities were organised by the occupiers, local residents and local groups.

Council’s First Response
Southwark Council’s only response was to repeatedly use the same tired old press statement in any media coverage.  None of the detailed arguments made by Aylesbury residents, leaseholders, the occupiers and people like us were answered in any way. Mark Williams, Cabinet member for Regeneration, instead claimed in the oft repeated statement that ‘In Southwark we are tackling the housing crisis head on and in the last three years we have built more affordable homes than any other London borough. The squatters do not represent the residents of the Aylesbury and are risking the delivery of the very homes they claim to be campaigning for, for the people they claim to be campaigning for. Southwark is working hard to tackle the London-wide housing crisis but others must also play their part to provide the homes Londoners need.’

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We would say simply: How do Southwark think they are tackling ‘the housing crisis’ by building these so-called affordable homes (eg. 25% shared ownership in Southwark requires an income of £56k for a 2-bed)? 47% of households in Southwark have incomes of £15,000 or less per annum. The median income for Council tenants was just £9,100 (Southwark key housing data 2012/13). So the numbers just don’t add up as numerous criticisms can be found of ‘affordable’ homes where it’s clear that are not ‘affordable’ unless you are on a very good wage or unless you can move from a cheap council rent to a more expensive Housing Association rent. So decanting tenants out of the Aylesbury, demolishing it, and having Notting Hill Housing Trust build some social rented homes but mostly private or shared ownership homes is not tackling the housing crisis for local people. Decanting tenants off of the Heygate Estate, demolishing it, and having Lend Lease build a tiny amount of social rented homes (79) but mostly private or shared ownership homes (3000) is not tackling the housing crisis.

Both regeneration schemes immediately reduce the numbers of available council homes by demolishing them and not replacing them (Heygate 1100 homes gone, Aylesbury will be 3000+ gone). Not only are council places lost but decanted tenants are re-housed mostly in existing council housing stock further reducing available council homes for those 18,000 people on the waiting lists. The experience of Heygate is that when some new homes were built for decanted tenants locally very few ex-Heygate residents took up the offer as they were either too expensive or they didn’t want to move once more. By the time these homes were built the Heygate community had already been displaced so people felt there was no longer any point in returning to near the Heygate site. It will be the same for the Aylesbury regeneration scheme. In both cases, tenants and residents have long argued that they want to stay in their local area and in their local community. If you have kids, are ill, are elderly, are low waged or unemployed, like large spacious and light flats, like Walworth and its shops and so on, these are some of the many reasons people do not want to move. Council rent means being able to have a decent home and to be able to survive for many many people.

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Removal of council homes means upping the level of those just above, on or below the poverty threshold and Heygate and Aylesbury sites are high on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Let’s be clear, regeneration schemes do not tackle poverty, they make it worse. Decisions made in offices or at fancy dinners with developers do not arise from actual contact with local people. As was said this week on Twitter re: Aylesbury regeneration – Southwark Council just ‘doesn’t understand Council Housing from the perspective of a tenant’. We think that’s a very useful point. They do not understand and really do not care about the impact of these schemes on local communities. That’s the impact on the very people who vote them in to supposedly look after their community.

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Never Mind The Ballots
The Council’s lack of will to actually enter into argument and debate about it’s regeneration policies comes from the arrogance of those who now control the Council. It’s a very top-down affair of thinking they know what is good for us without ever asking us directly and with a transparency and accountability that is needed. Instead, they use consultation companies to arrange ‘show and tell’ meetings with those facing regeneration where the outcome of those meetings have already been pre-determined to show pro-regeneration support. We have already written much on the consultation con and we won’t repeat here. However, two illustrations might shine a light on the current state of whether the Aylesbury regeneration is supported by a majority of residents :

When the draft Aylesbury Area Action Plan (AAAP) was published in 2009, a series of ‘consultation’ meetings and events happened. The AAAP was the master-planning document was the blueprint for how the demolition and regeneration of the estate would be. On 6th and 7th March 2009 the Action Plan was ‘publicly displayed’ in Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and people invite to comment on it. Over the weekend, ‘133 people recorded their attendence over the two days…of whom 100 filled in questionnaires’. The Council was then able to write that this event ‘clearly showed local support for the Action Plan where 82% of questionnaire respondents supported the vision for the Aylesbury’.

The Aylesbury had approx 6000 or 7000 residents. If we do some maths, we can argue that responses from 100 people out of whom only 82 were supporting the regeneration is not a large very sample to trumpet out local resident support for the scheme. This is especially the case when in 2001 73% of residents voted against their homes being demolished and their tenancies being transferred to a Housing Association. Yet the Council now ignores the ballot and also constantly refers to a ‘vast majority of residents who want to be rehoused’. It also refuses to runs ballots on any further estate that they seek to regenerate as they know people have rumbled the regeneration rip-off.

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The 2014 Statement of Community Involvement summarises the process of public consultation that has taken place on the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate in preparation for the submission of a detailed and outline planning applications. In the above chart you can see how many actual people attended each consultation or event. At the end of the chart the total attendance is put at 732 people in attendance. But how is it possible to know whether these 732 attendees were all different people and not a more likely mixture of the same people? How is it possible to know what they even said? The report only mentions in passing peoples obvious concerns about displacement. (You can see the hole-ridden 148-page Statement of Community Involvement here).

However, what struck us this week as we went to the occupation, the well-attended public meetings, the petition work or when we just met people passing through the estate was how few of them actually believed regeneration was in their interest. In fact the term ‘social cleansing’ came more out of people’s mouths than ours in these days. People instinctively grasp that what Southwark is doing is moving on poor people on large estates and moving in under the phony guise of ‘mixing the community’ more wealthy people. In one small shop on Westmoreland Rd, the owner was worried how his business would fare when the Aylesbury residents all moved on and more affluent people moved in. There was also a common acceptance of people living in empty buildings if they want too. People said again and again – ‘if they are empty why shouldn’t people live in them’.

Yet none of these concerns and desires not to leave the estate or the area, nor people’s support for the Aylesbury occupation seem to register in the Council’s propaganda machine. This week saw Leader of The Council, Peter John expressed dismay that any of this regeneration stuff could be seen as ‘controversial’. In light of Heygate scandal, the Aylesbury social cleansing with it’s stressful and pressured removal of tenants, the Compulsory Purchase Orders of very elderly residents, the non-affordable new housing, you wonder what there is there that isn’t controversial! Re-iterated again and again through public events about regenerating the Aylesbury  is that local residents see ‘affordability’ of new homes as their major issue and concern and yet the new homes are, as we know, going to be very unaffordable.

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Council’s Second Response: More Violence
Every day, the Occupation held a public meeting at 6.30pm where many people came and discussed both the regeneration and the Occupation and how to proceed. Within the Occupation there was clearly a sussed understanding of how they were occupying to help local people re-energise their opposition to the regeneration.

The Council’s line was that ‘the squatters’ had no support nor we’re they representative of local people’s feelings. They tried to distance any support for the occupation that as we have said was clear by just pretending that a part of the estate has been squatted and this had nothing to do with the regeneration or it’s opponents. At one point, Peter John called the squatters ‘fakes’ because some other squatters who were clearly nothing to do with the occupied Chartridge block held an unwanted noisy party. Police both accepted that this was nothing to do with the protest occupation but also did nothing when some of the occupiers were attacked by the party squatters when they asked them to stop the music which was pissing off local people.

On Tuesday evening, the Council decided it needed a final reckoning, and after securing an Interim Possession Order in court that morning, police arrived on the scene team handed. Although they had been filming the occupation that day, had been stopping and searching people there, had police on site 24 hours a day and had been trying to understand the situation with the occupation, they still basically spent a couple of hours evicting an empty block. The Occupation has simply moved at the start of the police raid into the adjoining block that was not covered by the Possession Order. The defence of this block was made even easier because when the Council had previously smashed up these flats a week before to prevent them being occupied they had also erected sturdy metal fences that now aided the occupiers against further police incursion.

At this moment of impasse, the police then made 6 violent arrests of supporters from the crowd of 100+. It was entirely provocative when the evening had so far been angry but calm even when the police were raiding the empty block with a show of force.

With no eviction then in place, outsmarted and somewhat deflated, the Council then tried to persuade the police that they had evidence of criminal damage committed when the occupiers took over the block. Police then came to the occupied block saying they were going to arrest all who didn’t leave due to ‘criminal damage’. The occupiers and crowd made a great job of arguing that this was a lie and somewhat ironic as the Council had already smashed up the block the week before. In the end, the Chief Inspector on the night with a nervousness that was quite funny to watch declared a dispersal order to clear the area but also didn’t go through with an illegal eviction.
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The Council, until it makes it’s next legal move, has been hiring private security to be a pain in the ass to the occupation, producing more intimidation and violence and its supporters and is also building many fences around the block as if laying it to siege. Potentially very dangerous but then the Council always operates from siege mentality unable to actually talk to local people, treat them nicely, see the actual harm of their regeneration regime and so on. They remain hunkered down in their in posh houses or secure in council chambers.

 

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As we write the occupation continues at 69-76 Chartridge Block, Westmoreland Rd, SE17. Their website is here for news and updates. Last Saturday they held a Family Fun Day for all and this brought more people to the place to see what’s going on and to enable further discussions around local people’s objections to this ‘regeneration’.
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We wonder when Peter John or any high-ranking regeneration officers last visited the Aylesbury for a chat with locals? Any guesses?

Southwark housing campaigns and activists support the occupation on the Aylesbury Estate

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Statement on the occupation and housing action on Aylesbury Estate ( Friday 6th February):

Numerous Southwark housing campaigns and other local activists warmly welcome the ongoing occupation of a number of empty homes on the Aylesbury Estate. The current occupation of Chartridge block on the Aylesbury Estate has brought a much-needed spark of inspiration to local residents and housing campaigners.

Southwark Labour council has been publicly claiming how the Aylesbury was not going to be another Heygate, as ‘lessons have been learned‘. The Heygate Estate decant programme has been widely denounced as an exercise in both the undignified displacement of locals and initiating the gentrification of the Elephant & Castle. However, exactly like on the Heygate, Southwark has been displacing the Aylesbury residents out of their immediate area and subjecting leaseholders, many of them elderly people who’d lived in the area their whole lives, to unnecessarily brutal Compulsory Purchase Orders. Abysmally low offers for their homes are forcing them to leave their neighbourhood and communities for good.

The right of tenants to return to a ‘regenerated‘ Aylesbury would force them to take non-council tenancies in more expensive Housing Association flats, something many residents do not want. In 2001 a majority of Aylesbury residents voted ‘No’ in ballot on the Councils desire to transfer the estate out of council ownership. Not only is this ballot no longer being honoured, the Council has been unwilling to undertake a new ballot of residents on the question of refurbishment instead of a total demolition.

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The Council attempts to dismiss the occupiers as ‘not representative‘ of the Aylesbury residents while claiming Southwark is building ‘more affordable homes than any other London borough‘. Council-backed developments such as the One The Elephant tower contain zero (0) ‘affordable‘ homes, let alone any social-rented ones.

Local people know that council-rented homes are the most affordable and secure. Promises by the Council to build 11,000 new council homes in the next 30 years have been met with hesitant support, with no guarantees that this will not simply involve demolitions of estates without residents being balloted.

In a borough that has some 18,000 people on the waiting list for council (and not housing association, nor ‘affordable‘) homes, none of the above can be tolerated any longer.

Since they reclaimed the homes on the Chartridge block, the Aylesbury occupiers have been holding public meetings every day at 6.30pm, and each meeting has been packed with neighbours from the estate itself, other Southwark residents and campaigners from across London. The occupation clearly highlights the disasters of Southwark’s own and London housing and development policies in which profit gained from land speculation comes way before the people whose homes and lives are destroyed in the process. ‘Ordinary’ Londoners, be they the Aylesbury occupiers, FocusE15 mothers or the New Era Estate residents, are showing that alternatives exist and they work.

Our homes are not for sale!

Supported by:

Alvey Tenants and Residents’ Association
Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group
Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First
Better Elephant
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
People’s Republic of Southwark
SolidariTea
South London Renters
South London Revolutionary Communist Group
Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Southwark Defend Council Housing
Southwark Notes

Charlotte, Camberwell
Dan, Peckham
Dave, Peckham
Deb, East Dulwich
Denis, Peckham
Hattie, East Dulwich
Janice, Peckham
Jennifer, Bermondsey
Jennifer, Peckham
Karen, Waterloo
Katy, Peckham
Laura, Peckham
Mike, Walworth
Milena, Elephant & Castle
Nile, Walworth
Olivia, Peckham
Penny, Peckham
Steve, Peckham
Stuart, Camberwell
Suzan, Rotherhithe
Tina, Peckham
Tony, the Albert Triangle
Tracy, Camberwell

FocusE15 campaign
People Before Profit
Labour Land Campaign
People’s Republic of South London
National Bargee Travellers’ Association
Our West Hendon
Barnet Housing Action Group
Grenfell Action Group
Brick Lane Debates
Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club
Deepa Naik, This is Not a Gateway
Glyn Robbins, Unite Housing Workers branch
Janette Evans, Barnet
Jim McDonald, Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH)
Jordana, London
Les, Hackney
Paulette Singer, Barnet
Pilgrim Tucker, London
Tony Smetham, London
Trenton Oldfield, This is Not a Gateway

Add your name: If you, as a Southwark resident, or a local community group or just a supporter from anywhere, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email here as soon as you can – if you are a resident, all you need to do is say is your first name and area you live in, eg John, Camberwell.

This Sat 7th Feb: Public meeting on the occupation of empty flats in Chartridge, Aylesbury Estate

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Aylesbury Estate empty flats revitalised

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Aylesbury Estate Occupation: 77 – 105 Chartridge, Westmoreland Road, SE17. Map here.

You probably heard but people have opened up a few of the decanted and empty flats in Chartridge House on Aylesbury Estate in Walworth. The occupation came at the end of the March for Homes on Saturday 31st January which ended at City Hall at Tower Bridge. About 150 people marched back to the Aylesbury and helped support the flats that had been opened up earlier on. Right now (Monday night), the occupiers have released a statement of why they are doing this and have set up a website to keep people informed.

Come and have your say, get involved!
There are open assemblies for anyone to come to each day at 6.30pm. The one on Monday was great with lots of locals, long-term housing activists on Aylesbury and other Walworth Estates and other supporters. There was cake supplied by one generous local woman and lots of practical ideas and help was offered to the occupiers. The contact for the occupation is: aylesbury(at)riseup.net. Pop down and say Hello and see what they need, maybe!

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Everything we have to say on Aylesbury Estate is here so we won’t repeat ourselves. But this occupation is about both the fights on Aylesbury for saving the estate as well as the more general crisis around real decent affordable housing for all. At the meeting today it was clear that the occupation is one tactic amongst many but it was supported with great enthusiasm and solidarity by all.

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Statement from the Aylesbury Estate occupation

“Since the “March for Homes” demo on 31st January, we have re-opened and occupied a part of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, South London.

We are tenants, squatters, and other people who care about how our city is being grabbed by the rich, by developers and corrupt politicians, socially cleansed and sold off for profit.

The Aylesbury Estate is where Tony Blair made his first speech as Prime Minister in 1997, making empty promises about social housing. Since then, for the past 18 years, Southwark Council and their developer friends have come up with one misguided scheme after another. All with the same result: to dispossess the residents, demolish their homes, and dispose of the land.

In 2001 Aylesbury tenants fought and won a campaign against demolition and voted down the original scheme in a ballot. But now big areas of the estate are emptied and sealed up awaiting the bulldozers, while residents are “decanted” away from the area.

The same bullshit that we have seen on the nearby Heygate estate, and all across London.

No demolition of the Aylesbury.

No yuppy flats.

Homes for all.

We are here to fight for the Aylesbury.

We are here to fight for our city.

We are here to liberate this space and bring it back to life. Come and join us.

PS: Thank you to everyone who has come down to show support, to all our neighbours and to those who have even come from as far away as Hackney bringing tea!

PPS: Come along to our public assembly today at 6.30PM. All neighbours and friendly visitors are warmly invited.”

CONCRETE HEART LAND

Been a lot of screenings of this Steven and Rastko’s film since it’s arrival and a lot of good discussions around it. Now you can watch here from your sofa with your own popcorn of choice. Enjoy!

Concrete Heart Land exposes the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. It marks the moment that the estate was finally lost as social housing to make way for an unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme.

Assembled from 12 years of archive materials the film charts the struggles of the local community to keep their homes, stay living in the area, and maintain communal benefits in the face of the advance of this now notorious ‘urban redevelopment programme’. Throughout the film we hear the community engaging in some of the crucial battles with elected officials, planners, and barristers in municipal planning meetings, public enquiries, and interviews.

Weaving through these recordings is a performance staged in 2012 on the then still inhabited estate. An assembled group of past and present residents, community activists, and critics of the Heygate plans chant texts composed from phrases used in the Regeneration Masterplan. The performances parody the technical language of regeneration and the aspirational language of gentrification.

Over the course of 2012 and 2013 we filmed panoramic video images of the estate and interiors of some of the Heygate flats, all of which feature in the film.

Having evicted the last residents in November 2013, Southwark Council and the developer Lend Lease are currently working towards the wider gentrification of the area.

Heygate Pyramid re-animated: Public Art Fights Back

Southwark Notes attention has been drawn by our international circle of art-loving friends to an article in Art Monthly, October 2014, entitled ‘Public Art Attack’ by writer and curator Andrew Hunt (here). The article writes in depth about the cancelled Pyramid for Heygate public artwork that we opposed and wrote about at length at the time. The article, amidst a heap of other artworks and references, makes a case that the dumping of the Pyramid through Council jitters from local hostility was a bad thing because the Pyramid as a symbol of top down ‘brutality’ would have been a perfect opportunity for ‘dialogue’ around processes of social cleansing.

The article also claims that local activists misread the artwork as ‘siding with gentrification and displacement’ thus enabling the council to cancel the project, ‘effectively gaggle local activists arguments’ and push the criticism onto ‘scapegoats’ Artangel and Nelson away from the Council. This is frankly pony and ill-informed as opposition was squarely aimed at the Council for colluding in the project and Artangel for its lack of sensitivity. In fact we didn’t ‘scapegoat’ Artangel, we directly blamed them for producing something on Heygate that would be used by the Council explicitly to sell and market the regeneration ‘opportunity area’, licking their lips at the massive cultural cred Nelson and Artangel would bring and their excitement to have this on Heygate site. Our early letter to Artangel from October 2013 makes a long point on this that Artangel sidelined in their eventual dismal reply: Artangel & Southwark Notes Emails

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As for ‘gagging’ ourselves – local campaigns existed well before the proposed Pyramid and they still exist after. They did not need the blessing or supposed intervention from the art world to make their arguments public and accessible. In fact the protests around the Pyramid and its cancellation was part and parcel of the continuing making known of what was happening around Heygate Estate and North Southwark and found many sympathetic ears in others local campaigns.

Mike Nelson was never attacked directly because without access to Mike Nelson as the writer seems to have had, it was always impossible to judge the artists intentions at the time. When the Pyramid was going through the motions of being prepared for the Heygate site, there were no public statements from Mike Nelson on his intentions such as those now retrospectively revealed by this article. It is also somewhat hard to trust these revelations of a pointedly critical work against Southwark Council’s treatment of Heygate residents, when Artangel and Nelson had been looking for a site for such a demolition and re-construction since 2009. This in some ways undercuts the argument then made around Heygate being chosen as an artistic target.

It is somewhat fanciful to imagine that Nelson was trying to pull the wool over Southwark’s misty eyes with his assertion that ‘an artwork was needed that represented the same form of brutality’. Artangel might produce monumental artworks by artists but it does not seem to have a long history of going in for projects that would be such an attack (on Southwark Council in this instance) as the one Nelson desires. Anyhow we would be interested to know where this Nelson quote comes from and when. There is no source for the quote in the article.

The Art Monthly article attempts then a somewhat revisionist version of what local opponents were saying at the time in a way that attempts (once again) to re-establish the primacy of art as a neutral space for ‘dialogue’. For us, as vocal and public critics of the intended public artwork, we still think that focusing now on the artists intentions are missing the point. We were clear at the time that our criticisms were more levelled at both Artangel and The Council and much less at Mike Nelson precisely because we were unable to judge what he had in mind with this Pyramid. Also worth saying we appreciated that the piece was not a ‘socially engaged work’ (as modern descriptions have it of creative projects done with usually disadvantaged communities or folks and all the ‘orrible discontents liable to surface in such artistic engagements). The Pyramid remains committed to the older form of The artist makes Artwork and the rest is up to us. Either way, we find both forms inherently problematic and full of unpleasant contradictions that ‘Art’ is unable to either resolve or improve.

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Maybe we can simply restate again our arguments and the feelings of some local residents including some of those who were displaced by the Heygate regeneration.

– Like the Council’s own imposition on Heygate residents of the regeneration scheme and it’s non-accountable resultant loss of 1000 public housing homes in favour of 1000’s of new private homes, the Artangel Pyramid also seemed a done deal foisted upon the remaining community. There was little attempt to ask local people and those who had been displaced what they thought about the art project. At Southwark Notes we offered numerous times to put Artangel in touch with local people and campaign groups so they could sound out local feeling. They ignored these offers in favour of later asking us for community contacts for engagement around the Pyramid only after it was built.

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Artangel also entered into contracts for demolition, had access to the Heygate site and spent much time figuring out how the Pyramid would be built and so on even before their planning application has been up for decision. This seems to point to us that the Council had already reassured them that all would be fine. Our initial letter to Artangel makes our point clearly that this kind of behaviour is made on the basis of the power of privilege that exists for middle class art curators but not for Heygate residents to decide (once again) what happens to where you live and your community. Some of those who had been ‘decanted’ just did not want this art to be allowed to arrive at the site and all the insensitivity this implied.

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– We made a concerted effort to criticise the Council and it’s desire for a triumphalist artwork on the Heygate site precisely because they wanted such a cultural capital-rich artwork to be instrumental in heralding the regeneration project. Being unable to ‘decipher’ much about any of the supposed artists intentions, they were happy to go along with it, whatever it was, alongside as it made headlines for them, as ‘Southwark’, for their regeneration project. It was only when local people made a fuss and promised a heated reception to the Pyramid that they then saw what an abyss of negative publicity opening up before their very beautiful regeneration scheme. Despite chummy assurances and helping Artangel prepare the site and scheme, they freaked out on Dec 20th 2013 and pulled the plug leaving Artangel in the lurch and (as we understand it from F.O.I requests) contractually obliged to the demolition company who they had hired to do the preliminary deconstruction work on Cuddington block.

heygate art no road sign
– It is clear to us from occasional conversations we find ourselves involved in that the idea that Pyramid would create a space, as Hunt says, ‘to reflect urgent political decisions and to engage in favourable dialogue with campaigners concerns’ still has some currency despite the campaign against the Pyramid and the very arguments on which it was resisted. Without an agreement or sensitivity to those locally who are the community about whether they want this artwork, bringing thousands of people to come into that community to see the Pyramid is disrespectful and also loaded with fantasies about how that audience will engage in this struggle not to be displaced from our homes. Art lovers or the curious might imagine they are entering into a dialogue or polemic about regeneration but, we suspect, that they are more likely to have an interesting day out at a site of social cleansing that is now only open to them as an artwork. For local campaigns who have spent years having their own public meetings, writing publications and websites, holding protests, anti-gentrification walks around the area and so on, there was little interest in having a Pyramid help them out especially one foisted upon them with zero attempts by the artist or Artangel to contact them beforehand.

For us, we remain committed to believing that such a public spectacle around the construction of a Pyramid out of one of the old Heygate housing blocks is of dubious use for any real actual political fighting against ongoing regeneration and social cleansing. Dubious because numerous art projects made on regenerating council estates up and down the U.K (including 2008’s Artangel-produced Seizure by Roger Hiorns on Harper Rd, another Southwark Council estate) have not resulted in a saving a single council home but have resulted in lots of concerned hot air, liberal hand wringing, pretentious art criticism and endless academic studies. Southwark Notes has met hundreds of people over the last 5 years with our optimistic willingness to explain our point of view to those who ask to meet us. Yet we would say 99% of those we meet will not give back from their art, writing or researches or put anything into the campaigns that they come and take from.

heygate art no road sign
It has been interested to see, after the Pyramid death, other London estates refusing to have art projects foisted upon them (Catherine Yass’s piano dropping art cancelled at the Balfron Tower, Canton St residents saying no to Performance Poplar on their estate). This is one way of assessing the strength and foresight of campaigns around social cleansing when art can be viewed not as a gift to fighting gentrification but suspiciously as a part of the very process of gentrification itself, a topic on which we have written perhaps too much!

Probably worth saying again that what we suggest as a good and strategic way of doing our politics in the struggle against regeneration and displacement demands that if we are to accept Art as a category then we must also demand that it is subject to scrutiny and that this scrutiny is used to understand where Art gives power and to who and thus where it takes power and from who.

 

ADDITION:
We heard today (16th Nov 2014) that the cancelling of the Pyramid via community campaigns described as a massive act of artistic censorship. With so much written by the campaigns about why they didn’t want the Pyramid artwork, you wonder what it takes to come up with that perspective and exactly what the persons stakes and investments in it are?! Once again, the Pyramid saga rolls on and on.