Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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.

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

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¿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!

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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!  *-)

EMPOWERMENT FOR SURRENDER: People’s Bureau, Engaged Art & The Elephant

A Bureau of the people, by the people, for the people!

In June 2016, the People’s Bureau (Rebecca Davies and Eva Sajovic) organised an open discussion on “ethics, tactics and place-specificity in artistic practice, with particular reference to Elephant and Castle and its labelling as an ‘opportunity area’.” The idea was to critically look at the artistic duo’s work in the Elephant, how they work with communities, the Council and developers. It was an open event and there was a panel of artists and academics contributing. Here we think through some of those questions, who is asking them and who gets to answer them.

rtaimage

Davies and Sajovic have been working as artists in the Elephant and Castle for many years and we have crossed sites and paths many times, offering support sometimes and criticisms at others. Increasingly, we just ended up getting frustrated that their work wasn’t based in any critical position about the regeneration of the Elephant. We wondered why this was the case when so many locals and campaigns were working so hard to counter the spin and lies of the Council and developers.

Their People’s Bureau started as a Tate Modern pilot project in 2014. It later developed when Tate Modern put People’s Bureau in touch with Delancey DV4, a big shot developer who now owns the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre and who began to sponsor the project. Tate Modern will again be sponsoring a new round of People’s Bureau work as part of its ongoing 2017 Tate Exchange programme.

elephant-crushed-delancey

There is no need to go into detail here about how Delancey operates – have a look at our extensive write up on the planned murder of the Elephant Shopping Centre and 35% Campaign’s post about Delancery’s Tribeca Square development. What you do need to know is that Delancey is a developer accused by HMRC of “aggressive tax avoidance”. Their finances rely on being registered in the Virgin Islands and the use of multiple shell companies. They sealed off without consultation a popular public park (previously Elephant Park and part of the Heygate estate) and are paying a nominal fee of £100 per year to keep it as a construction HQ for Tribeca Square. This space is now declassified as public space. Delancey have sold the land to their own shell company, increasing the price from £8.5m to £18.8m in the course of the transaction. They then used this phony higher land value to demonstrate to Southwark Council that their development is not viable without removing all affordable housing and adding more private residential units.

It is worth mentioning that the artists had already worked with the previous owners of the Shopping Centre, St Modwen, as early as 2010, when their ‘Studio at the Elephant’ project was run from two vacant shops there. St Modwen Properties had partnered with Salhia Real Estate in 2002 to acquire the Shopping Centre for £29.25m in the hope of redeveloping it, but plans were delayed by the slump in the property market caused by the global financial crash of 2008/9. However, it still made a nice profit when it sold it for 80m in 2013 to a partnership of Delancey and Dutch pension fund APG. Delancey are planning on demolishing it to make way for hundreds more private rented homes (with maximum 3 year tenancies), a new LCC campus, a cinema and high street shops. The current shopkeepers are expected to sod off and the Shopping Centre market stallholders “may be able to” pitch up at the few replacement pitches promised at Tribeca Square. Considering that Delancey have already changed their original agreement promising to provide affordable retail space in Tribeca Square to displaced shops by giving this space to Sainsbury’s – we shouldn’t be holding our breath for an open-armed welcome to anyone being booted out of the existing Shopping Centre.

This is all by way of introduction to the kind of real-estate partner the People’s Bureau has chosen to work with in producing public art supported by Tate and Arts Council England. But what about the Tate itself, that big art factory on the Thames? Tate is clear in its strategy to embed art into real-estate development and also clear about carrying on the good work of making North Southwark into a luxury quarter – a plan which goes back to the Docklands developments and which the Council has been putting into place for the past 30 years. This is what they had to say about the Heygate estate ‘regeneration’ masterplan:

tate-heygate-response

Tate makes no mention of any qualms they have about 1100 lost homes and those displaced out of the area – they see the Heygate demolition as an opportunity.

In a somewhat naïve write-up after their June discussion, the People’s Bureau say this about funding: “There is a tension between payment and action. Can we expect to influence and not be influenced ourselves? It is a dirty context, but there are opportunities and possibilities there.” The tension between payment and action plays out between receiving funding and the blessings of Delancey and the People’s Bureau’s ability to speak freely about what is happening in the local area. Sadly, in the work of the People’s Bureau you won’t see much challenging or engaging with Delancey’s ground zero plans for the Shopping Centre, their theft of a public park and plans for making Elephant a luxury destination. 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. There is also precious little encouraging locals to involve themselves in the planning process by criticising the plans or making their own plan. In the same text, the People’s Bureau go on to think about the need to negotiate, and they say: “Trying to work in the ‘dirty context’ of a globally affected urban development is complex, but art and artists are not just a ‘clip on’. There needs to be negotiation, on both sides. We need to know what an organisation’s belief system is in order to engage with it.

pb-bec-drawning
Shopping Centre painting by Rebecca Davies

Davis and Sajovic are artists who have a long-term engagement with the area, so how is there any doubt as to what the belief system of Delancey is? Moreover, if the full power of Southwark Council’s legal and planning team has rolled over to Delancey, what chance does the People’s Bureau have in renegotiating or changing Delancey’s plans? What effort has been made to do that? How is it working to redress the imbalance between the community and the developer? What exactly are the opportunities and possibilities in this ‘dirty context‘?

 

Putting The Cart Before The Elephant: Empowerment for surrender

The goal of the People’s Bureau, as stated by the artists, is “to support the essential preservation into the future” of the Elephant’s “diversity of culture, skills, networks and underlying spirit of the place”. 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, dreamcatchers making‘, etc). The aim was to collect local E&C knowledge and memories: stories, drawings and photos. All the Bureau’s workshops and artefacts have been thoroughly documented, published or recorded.

pb-cart-new-centre

At the same time, the artists are maintaining an ongoing open call for archiving artworks that have taken place in Elephant and Castle shopping centre, which the People’s Bureau identified as the “cultural capital” of the area. They invite us to imagine the grand finale of the project as a kind of museum of local culture on the post-demolition site in Delancey’s brand new shopping mall, equipped with Elephant and Castle memories, artefacts and archives: The ambition is that the cart will eventually return to the newly built Elephant & Castle shopping centre, thus creating the link connecting the old and the new Elephant and becoming a museum of local culture’.

Such an ambition seems painfully wistful. Delancey seeks to create a cluster of luxury flats with upscale shops. They will have no ambition themselves to remind the new residents of who and what came before them. There will be no museum, just the dustbin of history for locals.

pb-mag244231492

Most of the Bureau’s activities promise to have empowering effects: employment advice, C.V surgeries and sessions on managing your personal budget, clothes mending, house decoration, carpentry and other skills-exchanges. However, these skills-exchanges (despite the fact that skills are attempting to be exchanged in the artistic encounter between locals and that fun and enjoyment is produced) do not empower people to step outside of the frame they have been put in. That frame is the frame of everyday activities as defined by the artists. The everyday concerns of where the shopkeepers and traders will go, where will local people be able to hang out affordably, what can be done to alter the oncoming tsunami of regeneration etc. – all of these are strangely brushed aside. The empowerment of these skills-exchanges is therefore an empowerment to surrender, to go on with their lives as if nothing was happening in their community.

Locally-sourced locals: the applied art of consultation

We have already written loads about how ‘consultation’ works in the context of a ‘regeneration’ scheme (in particular, see our useful Listening to No End case study of how consultation was spun at Heygate Estate). However, with the People’s Bureau another aspect of consultation opens up, that of artists placed as a conduit for talking to ‘stakeholders‘ in the community. The work of the People’s Bureau works to prepare the displacement of a community by documenting the last breath of community life and carefully archiving its history in this our ‘opportunity area‘. The community is engaged in a process which is never explicitly called consultation, but the artwork and artistic outcomes end up being used by the developer to demonstrate community consent for regeneration.

Art consultation is not unique to the Elephant. All over the country, artists are seen as skillful creative communicators who get invited by councils and/or developers to organise events which are often not presented as consultation, but end up by being used as consultation by the developers seeking local legitimacy. We should stress that this is not consultation that obliges the developer (legally or morally) to make any changes to their plans. It is consultation as a PR job and it is often done by PR companies alongside artists who do this sort of work for much less money and who are seen as less compromised than the suited squaddies of the PR industry. But the Bureau’s activities are not presented as consultation, there is something else at play here.

The work of the People’s Bureau, as artists embedded in regeneration, takes the form of exchanging skills and harvesting personal experiences which are then meticulously made into museum exhibits as traces of a disappearing life. This fine touch of museumisation serves as a heavy-handed procedure of removing life from its natural heavily social context and representing it as an outdated or decaying community whose days are numbered by the logical ‘progress’ of regeneration. Art promises to ‘dignify‘ this life through placing it into (self-made) archives, art books, further work in galleries and modern art museums. Artists usually organise their activities encouraging local communities to share their stories, experiences and memories, turning ‘opportunity areas’ into archaeological excavation sites. It is no surprise that one of Eva and Rebecca’s other Arts Council funded (£13,500) projects is called ‘Unearthing Elephant‘. In their artistic statement, they claim: “we want to ensure that the shopping centre and its communities are documented and made visible at this time of dramatic change”. This process of museumisation turns the local community into objects to be researched through the expert lens of the artist-archivist. Collected artefacts (personal stories or objects fashioned by the locals) are carefully documented and archived for future institutional treatment that will potentially bring new value to a post-regeneration site. All of this is set in an arena apart from consultation or the planning process.

The role of the community in this mummification process despite being promoted as an ‘active‘ one that contains ‘power‘ is only really about ‘visibility‘ where there’s neither a publicly constructed space for confronting the ‘dramatic change’ nor for questioning who really has power in this ‘contested‘ site and how to make a local counter-power. There will always be a fundamental power imbalance here: the community is studied in its natural habitat by the artists sponsored by the council/developers. The unspoken agreement is that the artists never really look at how the community’s desires might be in conflict with regeneration plans. Without tackling that power imbalance, all of this works to prove that regeneration is inevitable: it is the best of all possible worlds, there is no alternative. The community is destroyed and its colourful life is placed in “the museum of fish and chips”.

How different the reality is from what Eva Sajovic’s says in her research profile: “In particular I am looking at participation as a method for engaging people in taking hold of their agency, political co- and self-determination and democracy. This includes looking at ways to use art as a tool to support people in being resilient and active agents of their lives, as a catalyst in the processes of power, decision-making and the erosion of public space.” Nowhere in ‘Unearthing Elephant’ or other of the Bureau’s projects is this foregrounded. There is no public trace of engagement with decision-making or the building of counter-power to the developer’s and council’s social cleansing machine.

At the same time the artifacts and events of the People’s Bureau end up being presented as consultation. Here is the pink cart being displayed by Delancey at their community consultation event:

delancey-eva-3delancey-eva-2

People’s Bureau art displayed in Delancey’s consultation, August 2015

So, there is a double game being played here: the artists claim to be engaged in a process of making the community visible, while the developer uses this process to demonstrate that the community is visibly engaged with the process of regeneration. Are the people working with the People’s Bureau ever told that their activities are forming part of a pretend conversation with the developer? In our minds, this is not giving people agency and power. Power is not magically produced from the sheer ‘visibility’ and choreographed voices of a community about to be displaced. Such an archiving of voices does not amplify anything other than the actual muting of those voices in the celebration of an impotent nostalgia in the present tense.

 

Those star-crossed lovers: art and activism

Despite talking of art building up resilience and power, artists like the People’s Bureau tend to see their activities as distinct from activism (or anything which may rock the boat): “Art and activism, they are not the same thing, and one cannot replace the other. However they might exist alongside each other, finding moments of connection and ways to strengthen and enrich each other. In addition, artists may be able to get access to people and places which activists could not.” The Bureau asks where we should draw the borderline between art and activism? But they don’t ask if this separation is possible only in an era of making art subservient to developer’s interests. Should artists limit themselves to energising what they see as community, neighbourliness and sociability? Or it is just not enough? Does art involve the freedom to speak out about the plans for the Shopping Centre? Does it involve informing people of the future to come? Or is it in fact merely consigning the present to the museum of the past? If it is at all true artists can get access to places local people cannot then surely they are then in a very privileged place to speak out? Maybe access is premised only on not speaking out. While these questions remain unanswered, the Bureau’s pink mobile cart has traveled, after hard archaeological work in the shopping centre, to be proudly displayed by Delancey in their consultation sessions. So, while the Bureau’s activities are claimed not to be activism, they become an integral part of a ‘consultation’ which is justifying community support for whatever Delancey’s money cares to say goes. The cart stands to show the colourful local community is not against any of Delancey’s plans to purge them from the area and to prove a point to critics (and activists) claiming that regeneration is erasing the history of the place. Delancey has spoken of how they sponsor cultural projects wherever their assets are. Much like the asset of the high value land the Shopping Centre sits on, sponsored artists are appreciated as low value assets to make regeneration flow without much conflict or anything seeming out of the ordinary.

Public artists like the People’s Bureau like to present themselves as part of the solution, but to be able to challenge the lies and violence of regeneration, it is useful to understand their work as part of the problem. The Bureau claim not to be activists, but in fact they work as activists for Delancey’s interests, by achieving Delancey’s desired results and acting as Delancey’s on-the-cheap service provider. It works to extend Delancey’s ‘social license to operate’ by giving them a human face they don’t have. It works to offer skills which will not challenge or shape the regeneration in any way. It works as one way to neutralise criticism of the regeneration. It works indirectly as a public relations exercise masquerading as community activities. It pretends to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Whilst pretending to ‘empower’ local people as citizens so far it seems to only work to reduce them to colourful tribes ready for surrender.

That’s How Grateful We Are: Heygate, Aylesbury & RIBA Stirling Prize 2016

Just a quick report of last week’s protest demonstration at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) annual Stirling Prize Awards ceremony and posh party.

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Included in the shortlist for this ‘prestigious‘ award were DRMM Architects who were the designers for Lend Lease’s Phase One of the Heygate Estate site redevelopment named Trafalgar Place. Those like us with long and determined memories know that the site of the these new expensive homes was once the 104 council homes of Wingrave House. What has replaced these affordable homes for local people has been 235 new homes – only 8 social rented homes, the rest being a mix of mostly private sale homes, shared ownership homes and ‘affordable rent‘ homes (these rents being anything up to 80% of local private rents).

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“In our view it is essential that we are clear about the objective of estate regeneration: is it to improve the lives of those who live on and around existing estates, or is it to make more effective use of public land to help solve the housing crisis by creating additional homes and widening access to home ownership?” – wisdom of Ben Derbyshire

Interestingly enough the current President of RIBA is Ben Derbyshire, Chair of HTA Design who are the architects responsible for the next decades of social cleansing on the Aylesbury Estate. Pissed off locals had already visited HTA in 2015 to spell out their opposition to involvement on Aylesbury:

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Well, before you could even say ‘red rag to a bull‘, there was always going to be a protest at this horrible connivance of the British architectural establishment. First called by ASH (Architects for Social Housing) who wrote a great account of why we might view architecture as political and not just as pretty buildings (and also hilariously here), various unhappy local Southwark tenants and campaigns turned up on the night to join the other protestors.

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Guests paid (or had paid for them) £235 a ticket to attend the awards and party reception inside, and believe you me, this was really the Establishment at play with architecture being one of the most socially exclusive professions in the UK.
With a jumpy set of Met Police on the door and security behind them checking the party-goers on the way in, this was how things are for the architectural classes and their hangers on. Cosy and warm inside and nothing bothering them. Well, credit where credit’s due we hope they were bothered by the excellent speeches via megaphone outside from 6 til 9pm and the uninvited guests who managed to make their way into the building to make it clear that anyone implicated in social cleansing like DRMM or HTA Architects will not be allowed to rest easy behind police and security protection. Why? Because these are our homes and our communities they are playing with!

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We heard the first intrusion during the Awards ceremony was a valiant effort. Over the fire exit at the back and into the main building itself. Pretty soon the security cottoned on and aggressively manhandled the protestors out through the front door with headlocks and shoving here and there.Things livened up at this point out front and Heygate confetti was added to the party.


(‘Brick by brick, wall by wall, Jo and Ben have got to fall’)

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Undeterred, a second attempt was made later when the party was in full swing and this managed to go face to face with those partying inside. With megaphone chants interrupting the disco inside – ‘Heygate Estate – social cleansing‘, ‘Aylesbury Estate – human rights violations’ and banners pressed to the glass, the message was clear: This is how grateful we are for great and the good of British Architecture! This is how we greet their polite chit-chat that masks their total violence. We don’t believe fighting social cleansing is ever about asking for favours from those inside or for making sweet talk dialogue whilst our homes are knocked down in favour of expensive or luxury flats. We know that regeneration is violence!

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Needless to say, working class blokes employed to secure these types of posh shindigs rushed out to meat out some pushing and shoving to working class protestors whose homes are being demolished. The guy in the last picture apparently took it upon himself to make it his life’s mission to clear people off the terrace. After saying ‘I’m asking you nicely to leave‘, he set about pushing and pulling and making a dangerous attempt to throw people down the fire escape stairs whilst threatening someone who was filming on her phone that he would ‘kick the phone out of her hand if you carry on, yeah I will‘. ‘Touch me again and you will find out‘ and ‘if you don’t want to hurt yourself, start walking‘ were choice quotes from the guy. In the end, another security bod had to come and calm him down.

How do we know all this? Well we heard a recording made of this part of the protest and jotted down the guy’s helpful guidance. Any road up, points were made all night at the front and at the back. That’s how it is and that’s how it’s gonna be. Aylesbury won’t be another Heygate!!

PS:

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Giving us his usual ironic wave is Southwark Council Leader Peter John OBE (no less) on his way into the party to celebrate his vast past in the social cleansing of the Borough. Wondering who paid for his ticket – himself, the Council (i.e your taxes) or a property developer?  Maybe we will find out eventually here!

UPDATE: Oct 17th 2016: NO SURPRISE that Lend Lease stumped up the £235 quid for Peter John to attend:

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Letter To Evening Standard re: Aylesbury CPO rejection

‘In Monday’s article (regarding the secretary of state allowing Aylesbury Estate residents the right to remain in their homes in the face of Southwark Council’s and Notting Hill Housing Trust’s socially unjust ‘regeneration’ scheme) important points were missed. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid’s rejection of the compulsory purchase order should shame Southwark. Aylesbury Estate has a large Black and Minority Ethnic population. Javid’s report was clear that the redevelopment scheme will affect these most vulnerable local residents and noted Southwark’s failure to uphold its public sector Equality Duty in this respect.

The article also gave the impression that the leaseholders involved in this case are the last ones left on the estate. In fact, this recent Public Inquiry only relates to the “First Development Site”, a small part of the 60 acre estate. There are still hundreds of residents in the rest of the Aylesbury, watching this case with great interest because their homes are due to be affected by Phases 2, 3 and 4. The scheme if it goes ahead will result in a minimum net loss of 800 affordable council homes further impacting available housing for locals on the housing waiting list. After Heygate Estate’s demolition and replacement by mostly private sale homes, residents are fearful of Aylesbury becoming another Heygate, campaign groups in Southwark are calling for a moratorium on estate regeneration schemes that are premised on demolition and decanting of residents.

Finally, the statement by Southwark’s head of regeneration states that the regeneration is “supported by the vast majority of residents”. This is not true – the only ballot of residents to date (in 2001) rejected redevelopment with a 73% majority on a 76% turnout. Southwark Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust must now rethink this entire regeneration model and listen to the residents’ needs and desires’.

Aylesbury Tenants and Residents First
35 Percent Campaign
Elephant Amenity Network
Fight For the Aylesbury
People’s Republic of Southwark
Southwark Notes
Saving Southwark
Southwark Green Party
Southwark Defend Council Housing

 


PDF of this letter here for printing and circulation: letter-to-evening-standard-re

Aylesbury Regeneration Boss Says Social Housing Is ‘Undesirable’

NOTHING HILL HOUSING (DON’T) TRUST

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Notting Hill Housing Trust logo: a maze game to find your way to NHHT social housing!!

Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) is Southwark Council’s development partner for the complete demolition of Aylesbury Estate’s 2700 homes and their replacement with up to 4200 new homes. NHHT is a Housing Association: ‘a private, non-profit making organisations that provides low-cost “social housing” for people in need of a home’. NHHT is one of the biggest Housing Associations in London. Since the 1980’s when local councils stopped building council homes, it has been Housing Associations that have increasingly been the main developers of low-cost social rented homes.

That might all sound fine and dandy but in the last decade the big Housing Associations have started to develop more and more private homes as a way to finance more ‘affordable’ housing. The problem is that such ‘affordable’ housing is now more likely to be either shared-ownership homes where you need a large salary to buy a percentage of a new home or the rent will be what is called ‘affordable rent’. Such ‘affordable’ rents are up to 80% the price of local private rented homes. So in Walworth this can start at £150 – £200 or more per week. It’s been estimated that even at 65% of local Walworth private rents, you would need a salary of £35,000 to afford to rent such a home.

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The Chief of Notting Hill Housing Trust is Kate Davies. In this position she takes home £200,000 a year. She is also a ‘Fellow’ of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ, a Conservative think tank with dubious Christian leanings). The main cheese of the CSJ is Iain Duncan Smith, former Leader of the Conservative Party and now their somewhat Benefits guru as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He has been responsible for numerous attacks on those who rely on welfare benefits to get by. He has been the ideas man behind financial ‘sanctions’ on claimants who can’t satisfy ever and ever harsher Job Centre conditions. His Centre for Social Justice project pretends to be about ‘empowering’ poor people but there is no real justice on offer. Only pressure and stress. An estimate that is on the very low side talks about 60 suicides as a result of benefit sanctions. The DWP is refusing to release data it has about other suicide cases relating to benefit cuts.

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In 2008 Kate Davies contributed an Introduction to a Centre for Social Justice report on housing called ‘Housing Poverty’. She says ‘council estates are ghettos of needy people’. She says ‘council homes are subsidised by the taxpayer’ yet NHHT (and other Housing Assocations as well as private developers) receive millions of taxpayers money to build so-called ‘affordable’ homes. NHHT has been allocated £77.4m of funding to build 2,250 largely unaffordable homes in London.

She says council tenants ‘often pay little or no rent, and get their home maintained in good order for free’. She also maintains that ‘living on an estate can affect your health, your ability to work, the type of education your children will get and your life chances’ To top it all she adds that ‘social housing is not a desirable destination’ and that ‘private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions’ i.e council homes.
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These are the typical ignorance and lies that feed the demolition of council estates and then the gentrification of these areas.They pretend that council estates are not made up of all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs. They pretend everyone is unemployed or single mums or alcoholics. It’s the usual stigma to create a picture that council housing is a failure and needs to be replaced by ‘mixed communities‘. But we know this a code word for getting in more wealthy people to live in new private homes. You can read her introduction here:
Housing Poverty Kate Davies Introduction

You can displace working class people to far and wide and bring in more wealthy folks but poor people remains poor no matter where you pack them off too. ‘Mixed communities’ as an idea seems to conveniently forget this er…easy to grasp fact!

Notting Hill Housing Trust says ‘Centre for Social Justice report ‘is 7yrs old, much has changed inc Gov policy. NHH still committed to finding housing solutions for all needs’. We asked if Kate Davies was still a ‘Fellow’ for them as the CSJ project seems well in line with what they are doing on Aylesbury which will actually see less genuine cheap homes for current residents and future residents than it currently has.

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In Southwark, NHHT are developing thousands of new homes on old council estate sites (Walworth, Camberwell, Peckham etc). In their ‘The Exchange’ development in Bermondsey they promised 44 social rent homes but after planning permission was approved they changed these to the ‘affordable rent’ category, a sleight of hand that was signed off by The Council themselves. With such underhanded tactics, tenants on Aylesbury are concerned that the promised social rent homes in the regeneration will be also whisked away at the last minute, just like the broken promises at Heygate.

Aylesbury residents have a right to be nervous and demand answers and guarantees from NHHT.

The Council has said that Aylesbury will ‘not be another Heygate’ but Kate Davies and NHHT beliefs and policies mean that it’s very likely to be a repeat of the Heygate scandal. NHHT cannot believe that social housing is ‘undesirable’ while at the same being asked to ‘regenerate’ one of Southwark’s largest social housing estates. NHHT can’t be trusted.

— PDF Flyer of this article here: notting hill dont trust flyer

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January 2017: We highly recommend the article written from the inside on NHHT and especially Kate Davies role in their moving away from building social rented homes: Here on Red Brick blog

Externally, Kate was often heavily involved in policy development and lobbying. Amongst other things, she was a key advisor to the extremely influential Localis review (Principles for Social Housing Reform) on which Red Brick has commented many times (for example here). She chaired the ‘Housing and Dependency Working Group’ for Duncan Smith’s (misnamed) Centre for Social Justice producing a report – using NHHT resources – on housing poverty in 2008, where she repeated her call for an end to security of tenure and criticised social housing for providing ‘low cost living for life funded from the public purse’.

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Interesting stories of ye olden times concerning Kate Davies.

Internet says that back in the day, late 70’s and early 80’s Kate Davies was calling herself Kate Marshall and was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In 1985, as General Secretary of the RCP, she wrote a pamphlet called ‘Moral Panics and Victorian Values‘ detailed the prevailing return under Thatcher’s Tories of the insistence of hard working family life as a cure all to society’s evils such as gays, single mothers and so on. Forward a few decades to 2008 and Kate is now writing for Tory think tank Centre for Social Justice about ‘aspiration‘, ‘home ownership‘ whilst the CSJ with it’s strong Christian Tory leadership goes on about the strong role of the nuclear family in keeping society healthy. What a mad and vile tangle she weaves.

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