The Luxury of Not Being Burned To Death

“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”

Eduardo Galeano

 

This has been the longest week ever for many. The agony of the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire continues. So many lives lost and so many people still unaccounted for. We are all still in mourning.

In the streets below the burned Grenfell Tower this afternoon, everyone’s saying where was the emergency response from Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea? Few council officers have been seen in the multiple help centres local people have run or chatting to people by the flowers, memorials and ‘Missing’ posters. Instead they lock themselves behind closed doors in the Town Hall and wonder why people tried to get in to demand answers.

Yet from a tragedy that had been so desperately predicted by residents in Grenfell Tower for many years, comes a sense that little can be the same again. Listening today at the perimeter to the charred tower to the angry voices from that community has been both sobering and inspiring. It’s been such a long time since working class voices and in particular black working class voices have been heard so loud.  It’s amazing. It’s fresh fucking air finally. We can breathe once more.

We have no particular faith in the mass media to represent those voices. There have been so many instances this week where journalists or reporters cannot simply just let people speak what’s on the mind. But we don’t need balance or to be calm right now. People have been rightly saying from Day One – you can’t depoliticise this! Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else spreads the word, there has been a massive highly sussed community response to the criminal business at hand.

 

The Fire In Which We Burn

We are still making sense of this crime in the City that we love and that is being destroyed and socially cleansed faster and faster. Every day we come across new injustices, new indignities, new outrages. Many, like this one, have been committed in the name of regeneration, a process steeped in everyday violence against us.  Regeneration has long been publicly unmasked as a massive act of social engineering where profit is the central machine that drives us out. Homes become investments. People get ‘decanted‘. People get Compulsorily Purchased. No longer are we welcome in the communities we have all had a hand in growing. Our communities are airbrushed away in architect’s plans. The other side of the story is disinvestment, our estates breaking down from a planned lack of care and funds. We are stigmatised here there and everywhere. We are told we are shit. We often live in shit – mould, damp, overcrowding. We are felt to be surplus to the remaking of the City as one massive cash machine that dispenses profit making unaffordable homes be they luxury towers or shared ownership apartment blocks. And if much needed refurbishment is done, the imperative of covering and making housing pretty for the area around it leads to criminal decisions, such as using cheaper flammable cladding.

It’s tragic that the fire, the terror and the deaths at Grenfell Tower have had to be the final potent symbol of all that has been brought down on our heads in the last 30+ years. It’s like everything has been exposed now – the greed behind gentrification and the greed behind cutting corners when maintaining or refurbishing, on materials and fire safety equipment. It’s as everyone has been saying this week – they don’t care about us!  Well, if they don’t care about us then it’s only up to us to come together and overthrow the rotten system at heart.

 

The Problem Is Not Towers, It’s Greedy Bastards!

The liberal chatterers in the press or TV wants us to be silent and wait for ‘the findings‘. The Tory media counter attacks that our anger is ‘a lynch mob‘ and that we should calm down. They want us to be silent and believe what phoney urban planners (like Create Streets) say so that the blame is shifted onto things and technicalities: obsolete buildings, faulty construction, ‘complex’ outsourcing. ‘The problem is tower blocks’ say many, including Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn: “It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down.

By the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s, he doesn’t mean the three 42-stories high residential towers of the Barbican, nor the now luxury refurbished Balfron Tower, but those that are still our council estates. Tower blocks do not seem a problem as long as those living in them are not poor, nor as long as millions of profit can be made on – (often) – public land like at Heygate or Aylesbury Estates.

Since 2007 in London have been built at least 20 luxury flat towers taller than 29 floors, 10 of which have over 35 floors. There are tens and tens of high-rise luxury residential towers under construction across the city, 10 of which will be taller than 50 floors.  Not only this, but high rise towers such as the Skyline at Woodberry Down in Hackney (31 floors, 2016) replaced the low and medium rise council housing estate by the same name. So let’s not be fooled: tower blocks are not to be blamed. High-rise living is not to be blamed. The blocking of the two alternative exits of the Grenfell tower is to be blamed, not the height of the building. Bad maintenance and murderous refurbishment are to be blamed, not the 24 floors.

 

Mourning & Organising Together

What heartens us, as always, is when the distant horizon that we walk towards seeking social justice decides every now and again to turn tail and run towards us. This sad and angry week is just that moment. Whatever story they stuck to in defence of their greed or arrogance has dissolved. The story has changed overnight. It’s our story now and it’s rushing up to us as fast as it can. It’s often dizzying to keep up with. A fortnight ago, no politician would say ‘occupy, compulsory purchase or requisition’ the empty new posh developments! A fortnight ago on no news TV would could you hear the words ‘working class’ as much as we’ve heard in the last five days. This opening is one entirely of our collective making but one we need to safeguard and keep widening out. The Tory government or the shameful local Labour boroughs burden of holding the story together has burst – the truth is out. As ever it takes our pain and our suffering to move us a few steps towards the horizon.

There are many roads we need to keep open and many horizons we need to chase. No going back to our suffering and humiliation that seemed horribly normalised only two weeks ago. Keep on mourning and organising!

Friday 16th June at Grenfell

On Friday 16th June, two days after Grenfell Tower burned, I visited the area in an attempt to find a way to lend some support. Over the two days after the fire, local community centres and faith organisations were inundated with donations sent from all over London and beyond, an incredible and spontaneous expression of solidarity that had resulted in tons and tons of clothes, toiletries, bedding and other items accumulating at collection centres. From the information that came through online it seemed that what was needed on the Friday was a hand in sorting the donations – so a friend and I headed to West London with a list of addresses that were looking for volunteers.

The first few places turned us away because they were full – they already had enough volunteers to help. Then by chance, walking along the Westway, we came across a collection point that still needed volunteers. We spent the afternoon sorting through bags of clothing and separated it out in cardboard boxes by type: women’s trousers, men’s shirts etc. Dozens and dozens of people lined up on the pavement and sorted, sifted and carried for hours on end. Every now and then a van would turn up and take a load of boxes away, to another storage facility.

grenfell cate 1

grenfell cate 3

Volunteers kept turning up, alone and in little groups, until the area became completely congested. It wasn’t clear whose collection points this was, who was in charge, and who was just there in passing like us. That withstanding, people got organised, asked each other for advice and worked out what to do. A determined and industrious energy pervaded the place, as people focused on their task, talking and sharing, but mostly just getting on with it.

grenfell cate 2

The great majority of volunteers here were women, many very young, many arriving from all over London, and many local to the area. The spontaneous surge of so many people collecting donations and then coming together to help, in the total absence of local and central government, is a testament to the strength, cohesion and community spirit of a grassroots and working class London that cuts across ethnic and faith lines – the great diversity of people involved a reflection of a London miles away from the wealthy enclaves of Kensington borough. Working class, Muslim, brown and black communities that mainstream political discourse and the press vilify and criminalise are organising a grassroots self organised aid effort of unprecedented scale.

 

grenfell cate 4

After leaving the sorting centre, I headed west along the Westway towards Grenfell Tower. As I drew nearer the determined energy fueling the collection centres quickly gave way to a sombre air of mourning and grief. At Latimer Road people were paying their respects at a memorial site, leaving flowers and candles and leaving messages, crying and talking quietly. So many people out in the street, standing together and staring in disbelief, in eerie, tense silence, in a collective grieving and feeling.  Underneath the grief, a smouldering anger. A crowd had just left the area, headed to Kensington Town Hall.

grenfell cate 5grenfell cate 6

The Town Hall is a long walk from Grenfell Tower, but when I finally arrived, having crossed some of the wealthiest streets of the capital, the Territorial Support Group had just kicked the angry crowd out of the building. A group of people remained by the doors, confronting the police, demanding a response from the Council. I saw a school girl pressing the picture of a missing person up to the glass, screaming in frustration, young women in hijabs standing tall blocking the police, and a many more expressing their anger at a local administration that ignored and silencer them for years, and at the police for protecting them.

People kept gathering and then marched, in a crowd of a few thousand, back to Grenfell Tower. The messages from the crowd pointed the fingers at the Tory government, demanding May’s resignation, and demanding justice. They also spoke loud and clear of the solidarity of this swelling movement across racial, ethnic and faith identities. The connections that are being created in the immediate aftermath of the fire will be hard to unmake.

But what is next?  Residents, survivors and local groups are the ones that know what is needed, but it seems important to us a that in the first instance the following demands are met:

– The council must re-house all residents within the Borough in high quality housing

– The land Grenfell Tower stands on cannot be sold off and the Council must reconstruct without loss of any social housing

– Residents living at the foot of the tower must be also re-housed and supported.

These demands require this surging movement to keep fighting and pushing the council and the government for an adequate response. It seems that this organising effort will be really important, and we will continue to follow and support it. We also want to hold and honor the need for quiet grieving, for silence, for privacy and for prayer, as well as the drive from people all over London to help in the ways they can. Anger, organising, quiet mourning and solidarity are all modes that are needed in the response to the fire.

grenfell cate 7

We burn. They profit!

What happened at Grenfell Tower is a crime, a criminal affair that is now under everyone’s eyes.

The deadly machine of profit-making subcontracting neatly slots into abysmal national fire and building legislation. Add to this waves and waves of budget cuts to reveal once again the overriding logic of cutting corners to make a quick buck on the skin of those who don’t have enough money and resources to fight back. This logic runs deeper and wider than the disaster at Grenfell across all the other tower blocks to embrace the whole edifice of this deeply unjust city.

IMG_20170618_140710
The true crime of the Grenfell Tower is the contempt with which council housing residents, here and elsewhere, have been and continue to be treated by those in charge of deciding if they deserve to live in decent, secure homes. Or if they deserve to live, full stop. ‘It’s always the same who die in fires‘, as our French friends in Droit Au Logement (Right to Housing) say.

And these were not voiceless, faceless and fragmented neighbours. They were organised neighbours, they spoke out, they denounced and protested and were ignored, silenced and threatened.

IMG_20170618_142501
The anger of people has been articulated forcefully on the streets. And even in sadness and anger, people are speaking out, eloquently, passionately. Their voices and their actions are shaking the grounds of the arrogance and spite of the cowards who pass themselves of as our rulers, or so-called building professionals and consultants, or so-called councillors, administrators or their contemptible Deputy Leaders or Cabinet Members for Housing, Property and Regeneration. Silence and threats must not and will not stop us any more.

The aftermath of Grenfell is a growing tremor, a sustained shout for justice, justice for the victims of this horrific and entirely avoidable disaster, but beyond it, justice for this profoundly unjust city, for the deep wounds of long-term discrimination and contempt, the smugness of the inviolability of those who profit from the death industry of indecent housing.

IMG_20170618_140741
And in the absence and silence of any institutional response, solidarity has shown the power of self-organisation, of love, of mutual support.

Those people need homes, and there are hundreds of empty perfectly decent ones left empty for speculation. Public opinion is shifting.

Don’t say it was a terrible disaster, say let’s start today to destroy the edifice of injustice so that it will never happen again.

We are in mourning still, crying still daily but we are angry!

 

 

 

Small and Further Heygate: Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate

Elmington Est Diagram New.jpg(Full size PDF of this graphic here)

Small and Further Heygate:
Demolishing ‘Regeneration’ on Elmington Estate, SE5           


346 Council Homes demolished

Seeing as the whole sorry tale of Southwark Council’s 20 year ‘regeneration’ of Elmington Estate is very long, we thought we would make it easier by summarising the most dastardly points in the above picture. Diehards can read the full 6000 words in a separate post here or print out it out as a PDF here. It is worth reading our fully illustrated nuts and bolts telling of the story all the way through as it shows, in detail, once again how long-term regeneration projects premised on demolition are really social cleansing schemes. The decant and re-housing processes are unjust and the Compulsory Purchase Order of leaseholders homes are legally punishing where no crime or wrong doing has been committed by those who were living on Elmington.

elmingtonestate
Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase One demolitions of the Tower Blocks, 2005

The telling of this story is also interesting in that it’s told almost 100% from the Council’s own consultation and progress documents. If the Council’s own telling of their regeneration scheme shows how appalling it is, it’s saying a lot, no? Yet in the same documents they also insist that everything is good and dandy for all! What’s clear once more, just like on Heygate and Aylesbury Estate, is that such ‘regenerations’ always result in a net loss of much needed local council housing – here 346 homes! They always result in the chucking out from the immediate area of long-term council tenants even though the ‘regeneration’ is supposed to benefit precisely them.

Time and time again we see that such ‘regenerations’ always have long histories of tenants saying repeatedly in protests and meetings with the Council, ‘we want to stay in the local area as council tenants‘. They always receive promises that this will be the case but these are always broken somewhere down the line by the Council despite mealy mouthed public assurances that ‘regeneration’ will benefit all – local communities and incoming private buyers. This is never the case. We have to start viewing regeneration as premised on lies. Regeneration is a big lie and the schemes are impossible to deliver without lies. This has been our experience every time. This is crucial for any new campaign against ‘regeneration’ to grasp at the very beginning.

Nearly As Good As Sherlock Holmes!

The Elmington story is, as yet, little known which is why we’ve spent a long time piecing it together. It starts all rosy with new Council homes built in Phase 1 but by Phase Two and Three, ‘regeneration’ simply means demolition of council housing and any replacement social housing delivered being unaffordable – shared ownership or ‘affordable rent’. The Council on the hand publicly attacks ‘affordable rent’ (rents up to 80% of local private rents) but on the other hand allows Notting Hill Housing Trust to build ‘affordable rent’ homes as the policy compliant ‘affordable homes’ component of Phase Two. Such demolition then means a displacement of tenants to other parts of the Borough and the displacement of leaseholders through both low valuations and a vicious Compulsory Purchase process.

elmington green twoElmington Estate, the name of the game! Elmington Green, mostly private homes built on top of demolished council flats

In the long years since the ‘regeneration’ started, the fact that hundreds of council homes were demolished is brushed under the carpet as the Council reneges or fails to provide a Right of Return for many of the households who signed up to the ‘regeneration’ on the premise of a new Council Homes on site. Despite the staggering initial loss of 369 council homes, the Council ten years later describes the empty land as a ‘brownfield site‘ and hence ripe for flogging off to developers. Those former homes are now magically absent as if they never existed, those tenants moved off to somewhere and non-existent too.

whodunnit copy

Although our long study of the highly dubious Elmington ‘regeneration’ sadly does not read as good as Sherlock Homes, there is something of a whodunnit about it. This is why we love to highlight once again this quote from Richard Livingstone, the (then) Southwark Cabinet Member for Housing in April 2015: ‘It is also worth noting that for every estate regeneration that has started since Labour took back control of the council (so this excludes Aylesbury and Heygate where the process started pre-2010) we have either retained the current stock or plan to increase the number of council homes’. This he said as the Phase Three Elmington demolitions and resulting loss of council homes were just about to start. Whodunnit indeed?

elmington demolish 5elmington demo view bellway
Elmington Estate ‘regeneration’ Phase Three demolitions of the maisonette blocks, 2016

In an exchange on November 22 2016 with Leader of the Council Peter John about the current demolition of council homes, we were surprised as ever by his claims. After, we pointed out that 144 homes were being demolished on Elmington and that no council homes were part of the scheme to re-house those displaced, his answer was the usual ill-informed one: ‘Council tenants prioritised for re-housing in better accommodation. New social housing delivered at Elmington’. We then pointed out that if less non-council social rented homes were built for rehousing folks then it wasn’t much of a priority. If 113 council homes are demolished and only 62 social rented homes are built, that’s a little bit less than 55% replacement. So where is the right of return to the area they agreed to leave for the other 45% of the community? The discussion went cold when we pointed out these facts and asked where people would go. Peter John said he ‘didn’t know and will look into it’. Five months later, we are still waiting for an answer. Whodunnit Peter? Magnifying glass is in the post to you!

Elephant Shopping Centre: The Time Is Now! Meeting Tues 28th Feb

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE ELEPHANT & CASTLE SHOPPING CENTRE?

The Shopping Centre is owned by property developer Delancey. It wants to demolish the Centre and build new shops and 900+ new homes in its place. But before Delancey can demolish the Centre it must get planning permission from the local council, Southwark. It must also get Southwark Council’s permission for any new buildings it wants to build.

Delancey gave Southwark its plans for the new shops and homes before Christmas. Delancey’s plans raise two big questions;

Will there be new shops for local traders?
Will there be new homes for local people?

Southwark Council is now asking what local traders and local residents think of Delancey’s plans and we must make our voices heard.

The Elephant Amenity Network is a group of local people that campaigns for a better deal from the Elephant’s regeneration. In this public meeting we invite all local people to discuss Delancey’s plans for the Shopping Centre – what we think of them and how we want them changed. We are being supported by the Southwark Green Party and other groups and campaigns.

The meeting will on Tuesday February 28th at 7pm

Venue: Tesco’s First Floor unit (above Tescos shop)

All are welcome – come and join us!

vision

Delancey’s plans for the shopping centre can be seen above. You can make comments here on our online form. It’s simple to use:

http://commentform.herokuapp.com/

ec-objection-form

Already there are detailed responses to Delancey’s plans most focusing on the plight of local traders in the Centre and market who are not being well looked after. Re-location strategies have not been forthcoming and only vague promises are being made (if at all), something we have seen across the entire Elephant regeneration project. Worth reading these objections from Southwark Green Party & Latin Elephant. They may give you some fine details to work with for your objections.

—-

The meeting has been organised by the Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/

—————

¿QUE ESTARA PASANDO CON EL CENTRO COMERCIAL DE ELEPHANT & CASTLE?

El centro comercial es propiedad de los desarrolladores Delancey, quienes proponen demoler el centro y construir nuevas tiendas y residencias en su lugar.

Pero antes de la demolición del centro ellos deben obtener permiso de gobierno local de Southwark. También debe obtener de Southwark Council permiso para la construcción de nuevos edificios.

Delancey entregó sus planes para nuevas tiendas y residencias antes de Navidad. Los planes de Delancey resaltan dos preguntas importantes:

  • ¿Habrá nuevas tiendas para comerciantes locales?

  • ¿Habrá nuevas residencias para la gente local?

Southwark Council está preguntándole a comerciantes y residentes locales qué piensan sobre los planes de Delancey y debemos dejarles saber nuestro sentir, que nuestras voces se escuchen.

Elephant Amenity Network es un grupo de personas locales que llevan una campaña para obtener un mejor resultado de la regeneración de Elephant. En nuestra próxima reunión discutiremos los planes que Delancey tiene para el centro comercial – Qué pensamos y qué queremos cambiar. Nos apoya el partido ambientalista de Southwark (Southwark Green Party).

La reunión será a las Martes 28th febrero, 7pm

¿dónde? – TESCO Unidad de primer piso

Todos bienvenidos – les esperamos!

———————————————————————————————————

Los planes de Delancey estan disponibles en

http://planbuild.southwark.gov.uk:8190/online-applications/simpleSearchResults.do;jsessionid=02EFEEFD01FBEF127FA1974DAC930F47?action=firstPage

Esta reunión organizada por Elephant Amenity Network’s 35% Campaign – http://35percent.org/


We Southwark Notes folks have written extensively about the fate of the Shopping Centre. Our most recent and top piece here: The Murder of The Elephant

Thurlow Lodge Centre, Aylesbury Estate Occupied

thurlow-lodge-folks
(Pic: Southwark News)

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall on Aylesbury Estate, Walworth is being defended by local users and groups after Southwark Council sought to close the well used space. Locals have began an occupation of the space and a meeting this week issued the following joint statement from Divine Rescue, the Thurlow Lodge occupation committee and Aylesbury new TRA steering group:

Save Divine Rescue and Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
Support the occupation of Thurlow Lodge!

Southwark Council intends to close or privatise Thurlow Lodge Community Hall and it has tried to evict homeless charity and foodbank Divine Rescue from Thurlow Lodge. This is both an attack on the homeless, disabled and poor clients of this charity and an attack on council tenants and residents on the Aylesbury Estate. By demolishing more than 2,000 council homes on the Aylesbury, the Council will create even more homeless people.

Our occupation, determined opposition and the support of trade unions, campaign groups and the wider tenants’ movement has forced the Council to row back on their eviction threats and attempts to close the hall. The Council now claims it never tried to close the hall in the first place! However, it is still considering legal action against Divine Rescue and it has put the prospect of privatisation on the table by saying that the hall will be put out to tender.

This is unacceptable. Tenants and residents on the Aylesbury are in the process of forming a new tenants’ and residents’ association which claims the right to manage this hall in the interests of the community, provide a secure home for Divine Rescue and fight for council housing for all. We are proud to state that the new TRA steering group has been offered the solidarity and assistance of experienced tenant reps in Southwark. We have every confidence that the new TRA will be able to successfully manage the hall and provide a full programme of events and activities. The new TRA is keen to work with the two remaining TRAs on the Aylesbury Estate to provide a genuine democratic voice for Aylesbury tenants and residents.

We demand that the Council recognise the Aylesbury new TRA as soon as it is set up. We demand that the Council lifts all threats of closure and privatisation and accepts that Divine Rescue can remain, on its current rent.   We call on Southwark Council to halt the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate and instead refurbish and properly maintain our council housing.

Signed, Thurlow Lodge occupation committee, Divine Rescue and Aylesbury new TRA

What you can do: Send a message of support, invite us to speak at your meeting:
thurlowlodgeoccupation@gmail.com  southwarkdch@gmail.com

For updates go to facebook southwark dch. 

Sign this petition

Join us in our programme of activities in defence of our TRA hall and Divine Rescue

Thurlow Lodge Community Hall
1 Thurlow Street, London, SE17 2US

Saturday 14th January 3pm – Solidarity Tea Party with music and fun. Bring union and campaign banners. Banner making workshop. All welcome including children.

Sunday 15th January 5:30pm – New TRA inaugural meeting. All Aylesbury tenants and residents welcome Followed by 6:30pm – Occupation meeting

 

Press Coverage:

South London Press
https://www.londonnewsonline.co.uk/14905/bailiffs-attempt-another-eviction-foodbank-time-protestors-ready/

Southwark News
http://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/homeless-charity-divine-rescue-workers-resisting-eviction-home-aylesbury-estate/

 

 

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists, People’s Bureau & Our Reply to the People’s Bureau

Empowerment for Surrender? A Response from The Artists to Southwark Notes

 We would like to thank Southwark Notes on three counts:

  1. For their serious engagement with the politics of the People’s Bureau (see our article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’)
  2. For raising a number of significant questions, and
  3. For the opportunity to respond.

We share many of the concerns of the authors. In particular we:

  • Acknowledge the tension between the ‘belief system’ of corporate capital, and the values of social capital and the global commons, which underpin the People’s Bureau.
  • Recognize the risk that in co-operating with a developer such as Delancey (including by receiving funding) we are co-opted to their purposes.
  • Suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance.

Indeed it is largely on the basis of such concerns that we have decided against accepting further funding from Delancey.

We agree with the authors that:

“For us this is less an argument about taking developer money for projects but more the thorny question of what you actually critically do and say from that money.”

We hoped that working with Delancey would present opportunities for influence. However, some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position.

Where we respectfully disagree with the authors is in their depiction of the People’s Bureau as ‘Empowerment for Surrender’. They overlook the subversive content of the project, describing it in terms, which imply it is little more than a trivial distraction and ‘museumisation’:

Operating out of a customised traders’ mobile cart first given to them by Delancey, the artists began by organising fun and playful activities, as well as workshops and skills-exchange sessions (‘…sewing, knitting and crocheting, pedicure, massage, facials, gardening, baking, vegetable fermentation, light workshop, embroidery, dream-catchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos.

This analysis completely misses the point of the project, People’s Bureau is intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital. It is intended to distill and to highlight:

1) The role and function of public space and public commons.

2) The capacity of the community to self-organise.

3) Economic alternatives to cycles of consumption and destruction that, through emissions of greenhouse gases, now threaten the future of life on earth.

There is, of course, a battle to be fought for the Elephant & Castle in the here and now. We do not claim that the People’s Bureau is at the front line of that battle. What we hope, however, is that by reminding people of what is at stake and by focusing attention on the oasis of social capital that is under threat, we give others a vision of something worth fighting for.

We are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes. We would, however, welcome a discussion with the authors about how we might work together to promote greater understanding of these processes. If individuals and citizens platforms come together to make their voices heard, co-operating and exchanging skills, we can ensure there is no meek surrender to the forces of blind capital.

 

People’s Bureau,
December 2016

Note: We have worked to try and improve the online representation of our work at Elephant and Castle online by putting together peoplebureau.co.uk.  We hope the project is better evidenced here and clarifies our point of view more clearly.

Also we invite you to a public discussion on February 2 (venue to be confirmed), to converse about this matter and the wider issues around socially engaged arts practice.

 


A Second Response from Southwark Notes to People’s Bureau

Southwark Notes would like to thank People’s Bureau for their response to our recent article ‘Empowerment For Surrender: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant’ and for the recognition that we are ‘raising a number of significant questions’. While we recognise the People’s Bureau’s willingness to engage in an exchange, we think that there are some fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. We’d therefore like to briefly respond in turn.

People’s Bureau: ‘we suspect that Delancey is more concerned with creating the appearance of community engagement and consultation, than with its substance’.

1.    Delancey DV4 is an aggressive multi-billion pound real estate investment company registered in a tax haven. Ourselves, many investigative journalists and local groups have been pointing this out for years:

35% Campaign on Delancey developments at Elephant
35% Campaign on Delancey Shopping Centre proposals
Private Eye on Delancey
Southwark Notes on Delancey and Shopping Centre
Gunnersbury Park Campaign on Delancey

Delancey, by nature of their business, are interested in one bottom line: how big a profit they can wring from the Shopping Centre redevelopment through the construction of private homes on the site. They have been set on demolition and displacement of local shops and community since they bought the Shopping Centre in December 2013. Two months later in February 2014, they announced ‘The first thing is that we are looking to demolish the centre and redevelop it’. People’s Bureau were then part of Delancey first public consultation in July 2015 where demolition was clearly signaled.

People’s Bureau state that they have moved from a position of thinking that they could accept Delancey’s money and have ‘opportunities for influence’ with them, to one of disillusionment with Delancey’s intentions. They state now that ‘some of their more recent actions have caused us to question that position’. Although we feel that trust in Delancey was always somewhat naïve for critical artists to have, we recognise the role of learning from experiences and criticism and we welcome People’s Bureau new-found realisation. We presume as demolition looms ever nearer that Delancey is now winding down it’s funding of local artists and other groups. What interests us now is: How has the Bureau communicated this let down to Delancey and how has their formal relationship changed? Making the details of their break with Delancey public would be very interesting not only for local campaigners but also to others in the artistic and creative community who might be faced with the same contradictions People’s Bureau have moved through.

So a vital question for us is how People’s Bureau will now use the special relationship they developed over the years with Delancey, to point out the phony nature of their consultation process? As Delancey’s Elephant Shopping Centre application has just been made public, this is a perfect moment to delegitimise the faux ‘community consultation’ and push for real and tangible community benefits alongside local campaigns.

2.    Our critique of People’s Bureau’s work comes from both an early engagement with a few of their events and a close observation of their later activities. Whilst we have not directly engaged with the workshops offered more recently around the People’s Bureau cart, we believe our participation and observation gives us enough understanding to analyse, reflect and comment upon their art practice.

We again question the use of some terms used to describe People’s Bureau’s practice. We fail to see how People’s Bureau’s work engages with debates about ‘the commons’. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a privately-owned commercial space, and doing workshops that are open to the public does not necessarily equate much with facilitating a deeper and practical reflection on the use of public space. It is a further leap to say the Bureau is visioning and working towards a ‘commons’ as if one stems from the other (assumed public space to commons). We fail to see how their work ‘highlights…the capacity of the community to self-organise’ when there is little evidence of such a constituency being built by them in a way that other local groups have been engaged in for years.

We understand community self-organisation as being an independent, non-commercial, critical and oppositional coming together in resistance to attacks on that community. The use of such terms seems to be more buzzwords rather than having a solid grounding in practice. They say that our criticisms are reductive of People’s Bureau work that is ‘intended as a rallying cry against the crude and merciless logic of corporate capital’ but, as we have said in our original text, we saw no evidence of any public disavowal of Delancey’s corporate plans for the Shopping Centre. Noting People’s Bureau self-description of the ‘subversive content of the project’, we would be interested in People’s Bureau further elaborating this subversion from within in relation to the engagement and organising they are claiming.

3.    What follows on from this would be that People’s Bureau up their critical stance and supports local self-organisation against Delancey’s plans by continuing to work as artists with the skills, knowledges and continuing desire for participation that they can input into opposition to Delancey and the Council’s plans. Opposition is the stance that many groups, community organisations and individuals have been taking at The Elephant for upwards of 15 years. Listening and learning from them is critical. Supporting them with time, energy, contacts and resources is now crucial.

It’s important to us that we respond to the notion that People’s Bureau ‘are artists and not experts in legal or planning processes’. Being ‘an artist’ does not absolve one of any responsibility or accountability nor provide some presumed neutrality for cover for all of one’s activities. Most of the people opposing Delancey (and other urban ‘regeneration’ projects in London and beyond) are not experts in law and planning and have had to learn fast as they go along. A fundamental part of this work is then to find, produce and share knowledge and demystify the smokescreen of legalistic lingo that developers and local authorities use to sugar-coat promises of ‘regeneration’ that are in fact gentrification and social cleansing.

We don’t much want this to turn into an online to-and-from between Southwark Notes and the Bureau although again we welcome a detailed reply. Outside of this exchange on ideas, the Bureau continues to be accountable to the local community (as is the work and actions of Southwark Notes). That community will be their final judges and critics, and they will base this on the Bureau’s actions, rather than their words.

SNAG
New Year’s Day, 2017

Southwark Notes continues to be written by local people opposed to the regeneration of the North Southwark area.  This exchange with People’s Bureau contains the thoughts and ideas of five of us!  *-)