Tag Archives: Regeneration

WHERE’S DELANCEY? PROPERTY DEVELOPER DELANCEY AFRAID OF THE ELEPHANT

 

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Occasionally The Elephant and Castle community is visited by those who have the power to destroy it. In this case, the main culprit is the tax-avoiding offshore-registered company Delancey. We remember the hilarious moment a couple of years ago when one of the Delancey minions was presenting planning updates to the local community at one of those Southwark Council-run neighbourhood meetings where the said minion was asked about the fate of Pricebusters. The minion said he didn’t know what Pricebusters was. Well, seeing as Pricebusters is one of the biggest stores in The Elephant Shopping Centre, you could probably start to form some suspicions that the plans to ‘regenerate’ The Elephant weren’t so much aimed at local people and their shops but maybe, only every so slightly, they might actually be aimed at a different clientele! Hmmm? What do you think?

A lo and behold there came that time again this Thursday March 12th at Southwark’s ‘Empowering Communities North West Area Forum’ at Amigo Hall in Lambeth Rd where locals were promised that the meeting will ‘include an update from Delancey on the redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre‘. Now as you may know the excellent community campaign Up The Elephant has been working tirelessly for a few years resisting the social cleansing plans for The Elephant. In that time, the campaign has also secured many improvements to the original proposals submitted by Delancey to Southwark Council in Oct 2016:

  • An increase of social rented housing from 33 units of social rented equivalent, owned and managed by the developer, to 116 proper social rented units, owned and managed by Council or housing association.
  • Provision of affordable retail space for displaced traders in the Shopping Centre
  • Helped to establish a Traders’ Panel for Shopping Centre businesses to put their views and needs across.
  • Secured a temporary traders’ premises on Castle Square.
  • Trader relocation fund of £634,700 and pressured the Council to add a further £200,000 into the pot.
  • Argued for 15-year affordable retail leases (rents to be held at 75% market for Years 6-15)
  • A change to the s106 legal agreement, to better ensure any future increase in social rented housing.

 

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None of this comes without a fight though and Up The Elephant and supporters have been holding both the Council and Delancey to account through protests, public meetings, stalls outside the Shopping Centre, benefit film nights and so on. But it’s crunch time at The Elephant as Delancey has announced a closure date of the Centre for 31st July 2020, a matter of only a few months away. Both Latin Elephant and Up The Elephant have been doing an amazing job mapping which traders are there, how many are being offered any relocation and working with traders to fight their corner for decent compensation and/ or relocation. As we write we know that many traders are simply not being helped by Delancey, shops and stalls are closing down and the increasing uncertainty of whether many of these hand-to-mouth businesses can survive until July. Particularly affected are the traders who run market stalls outside the Shopping Centre. Viewed by Delancey as the least desirable in the shiny new development, they are currently getting the worst of it. You can read a good breakdown of the state of things here.

 

• PROPERTY DEVELOPERS – WORSE THAN ESTATE AGENTS

‘When developers visited the City, the used to creep in at the side door, now the councilors bring them in the front door, one on each arm’. Not only had it become respectable for councilors to be seen with developers, it soon became imperative to be involved with them. Indeed, it got to the stage where councilors and developers became indistinguishable. The only real way they could be told apart was that the developer was always talking and the councilor was forever nodding his or her head’.

From ‘Glasgow’s Not For Sale’ by Brendan McLaughin (in ‘The Reckoning’ by Workers City, 1990)

For us at Southwark Notes, somewhat long in the tooth but fighting fit most days, we remember the time when working class communities such as ours, viewed the property developer, like the landlord, as a class enemy. What was known was that deep down, despite any promises, the property developer just wasn’t on our side. What ever they brought to the community wouldn’t be any good. What they wanted was to profit and profit big and we were simply in the way. We knew that and communities worked from that intuition.

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As times went by, the story changed. In Southwark, the controlling Labour council is mostly made up of those who still believe in some working class aspirational nonsense they got from Tony Blair’s New Labour project. They also believe in the Blairite project of ‘regeneration’ that seeks to ‘rebalance’ communities by moving many more middle class people into them. To make this happen, Southwark has been demolishing whole estates or estate blocks to allow private developers to then build 1000s of luxury or overpriced flats as well as the mythical ‘affordable’ housing as a small percentage of the overall new houses being constructed. Although this might have a basis in some wacky New Labour urban policies of yore, for developers it’s a green light to come to our communities, displace them, demolish their organic fabric and make loads of profits for themselves and their investors.

The quote above from the excellent Workers City book out of Glasgow speaks directly to our experience of Southwark Council’s extended love-in with developers over the last 10 years. Peter John, the leader of The Council, standing down after a ten year reign this month, sadly won’t be able to have one last junket in Cannes at the annual property development jamboree MIPIM as it has been postponed due to the Corona virus. Shame as that trip was sponsored by:

  • 2020 Capital, developers of two sites in the Old Kent Rd area
    Avanton, owners of several Old Kent Rd sites including the Ruby Triangle and gasworks
    Berkeley, who have plans for a site on Malt Street
    British Land, the council’s Canada Water development partner
    Get Living, the build-to-rent brand which is a partnership between Qatari Diar and clients of Delancey, active at the Elephant & Castle
    Grosvenor, who have just received approval for their Biscuit Factory scheme in SE16
    Hollybrook – Southwark-based developers with several sites in the borough
    Joseph Homes – developers of a tall building in Sylvan Grove off Old Kent Rd.
    London Square – developers of the old Crosse & Blackwell factory in Bermondsey
    Safestore – self-storage firm with an Old Kent Road site
    Shaw Corporation – developers of HSS Hire and BP petrol station on Old Kent Road
    Urban & Provincial – developers of Carpetright site

You see where Workers City and we are going with this!

 

• “HOW ABOUT ‘FUCK DELANCEY’ AS THE SLOGAN?!”

When the Delancey date with the local community was announced a few weeks ago, Up The Elephant decided to in some ways escalate their campaign by hosting an ‘Unwelcoming Delancey’ protest outside the Empowering Communities event and to tell Delancey plainly to their face that we will fight to win this campaign. But fighting to win needs fighting words and so the event was underscored with the idea that the brilliant community of The Elephant will no longer stand deferent to the higher-ups, the powers that be, the developers and the Council and any or all of those who are complicit in the destruction of our neighbourhood. Although the demo would not interfere with those attending who wanted to hear updates from the Council, we would face Delancey down with a less than happy smiley face. The modern political terrain seems to be one where politeness is demanded at all times from we underlings lest those in power don’t get their way. Of course the actual slow violence of destroying our communities can then never be up for any angry questioning. As working class people who have been schooled from day one in deference to our betters, it didn’t take us long to throw that in the bin after many humiliating experiences at the hands of those above us.

Unwelcome Delancey March 12 2020 editUnwelcome Delancey Kick

And so we mobilised as best we could, we spread the word, we went online and did that social media thing, we spoke at events and joined a few UCU strike picket lines to make the connections between the financialisation of the university system and the financialisation of housing. We made the connections with those struggling on low pay and high rents to the plain facts that the social cleansing of London mirrors this austere landscape for most working class people and increasingly for many people traditionally seen as middle class. Sometimes we felt a bit like those old American Wobbly organisers going from struggle to struggle to offer support and make links in solidarity. But nothing wrong with that fine itinerant tradition!

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We went to join the UCU strike picket lines at London College of Communication (LCC) in The Elephant and Central St Martins in Kings Cross, both part of University of The Arts London (UAL). UAL are a development partner with Delancey and we heard about the appalling two-tier employment structure where majority Black and Brown cleaning, security and other maintenance staff are outsourced to aggressive race-to-the-bottom global services companies. We heard about excessive workloads for staff, low pay and the fact that a staggering 2500 UAL staff are on insecure ‘Associate Lecturer’ contracts.

Joining the picket at Goldsmiths we heard about the privatisation of student housing where similar private student housing providers take over formerly University run students housing increasing rents and lowering conditions. We briefly popped into the student occupation at LCC too to offer some support just as the management decided to more or less lock them into the room they were occupying. That didn’t surprise us as LCC management has always both been very aggressive to any support for Up The Elephant by staff or students at the same time as it ignores any attempt to seek accountability from them in relation the Elephant community they pretend they are a proud part of.

 

• WHERE’S DELANCEY WHEN YOU DON’T NEED THEM!?

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Anyhow what happened on the night of the big showdown? Simply this. We got together a good solid crew of locals and supporters, we put our banners out, we leafleted the folks going into the meeting and we waited. Well we didn’t wait so long as a little bird had told us that Delancey had cancelled coming to the meeting. Chickenshits or what? In the end they merely sent along a series of slides and asked the Council to present them to the meeting as the Shopping Centre update! We are hearing that this didn’t exactly go down well at a Council-run meeting designed to empower communities. Even the Council wasn’t that impressed. But hey, what’s the expression? – ‘Lay down with dogs and…’

(We apologise to all dogs! And chickens!)

To add an insult to an injury, Delancey then had the cheek to say that they were concerned about the Corona Virus and hence decided not to come in person! You really couldn’t make this shit up. This is their level of outright contempt. Our feeling is that they simply didn’t feel up to meeting hostile community critics and decided to remain at home at their offshore-registered British Virgin Islands tax haven for the night. For we mere local mortals who are seeing our neighbourhood mangled and destroyed, we don’t have the luxury or privilege to stay at home!

 

• A FEW WORDS ON THE FUTURE

It’s very desperate times. Government plans for housing and urban questions will see more and more of our communities under threat of social cleansing. Our material conditions will be further eroded. We will either turn again to each other or we will turn on each other. We have to think more about what actually organising our communities across intersecting struggles looks like. Sure we can mobilise protests and things but can we actually organise politically and in unity to resist attacks but also to improve our lives and conditions? By organising we mean calling on the deep roots we have with many people and groups where we live. We mean doing basic work of creating infrastructures of survival where we live. We can see some of these initiatives happening now with places like South Norwood Community Kitchen or Cooperation Town network. We can see this at places like food banks where with just a little more support and organising we can turn this into places of community sharing and gathering into food kitchens, advice centres and places to organise from, going beyond the helping hand of charity and running our own spaces of care and support and solidarity for all. We are a very long way from winning but everyday we win a little bit more if keep hope in each other and build confidence.

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When we changed the language of the Up The Elephant campaign to be a bit more angry and hopefully more of a piss-taking non-deferential mode, we did that to try and build up our energies and the energies of all anti-social cleansing campaigns and organising in London. There have been dozen of meetings and encounters in the last few years between these campaigns. These have been slow, slow work of meeting each other and swapping tactics and practical resources but they are always refreshing. Let’s step up to that work a bit more this year and centralise ourselves in our own community struggles as the people who actually know what we want and know what we need to do to get it. Fuck Delancey! Stay feisty everyone!

 


* Up The Elephant Campaign Traders demands:

  1. Commit Delancey to an increase of the relocation fund.
  2. Provide transparency and parity between the rent and service charge costs of the relocation options to bring them into line with each other.
  3. Amend the definition of “local independent operator” in the Section 106 agreement so it clearly includes the tenants subletting in Arch 7 and those in the Shopping Centre red line.
  4. Ensure fair treatment of the market traders and a commitment that all traders still within the red line will get a benefit of rent reductions until the Shopping Centre closes.
  5. Ensure that the independent business adviser, Tree Shepherd, applies the agreed criteria for the allocation of relocation spaces in a fair and transparent way.
  6. Ensure that the database of opportunities reflects what was agreed on the approval of planning permission.
  7. Prevent closure of the Shopping Centre until the traders have been relocated or have accessed a suitable level of compensation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICKENS NOT VULTURES

A Little Elephant Among The Big One: Elephant Road, Railway Arches and ‘Regeneration’ in Focus

Southwark Notes is very happy to publish a fantastic guest posting from Talia Clarick, a writer and researcher who is currently helping along the good, good work of Latin Elephant campaign.


We cannot change the regeneration that comes, and sadly and gracefully these changes that come will bring consequences that our space will disappear. This date, in one year possibly, our site, number 6 and 7 will disappear. These spaces serve the community and have served the community for around 15 years. It is a Colombian and Latin space where you can have a bite to eat and learn to dance salsa as well. It is a culturally dignified space associated with the area it resides in.” – Cesar, Distriandina


DO YOU KNOW THE ELEPHANT RD?

Elephant Road is a small street that connects Walworth Road to New Kent Road. It only spans the length of a single city street but plays an indispensable role in the bustle of the neighborhood. On the East side of the road there is the site of the demolished Heygate Estate and the shiny new Lend Lease development Elephant Park. On the West side is the small entrance to the Elephant and Castle above-ground railway station. All down Elephant Rd, a series of railway arches support the Thameslink train on its daily journeys to and from the railway station. The street is entangled in a thorny knot of ownership, with usual real estate suspects Delancey, Lendlease, Network Rail, and now Arch-Co, the new owners of the railway arches, looming large.

Elephant Rd View

All of the businesses on the street exist under railway arches, and are often overlooked in maps of the area, where the above ground railway takes priority. The activities in the arches give life to the street, which is almost always active, due to the fact that some spaces are open early as cafes, and some take on a more nocturnal identity such as Corsica Studios and Distriandina. The arches of Elephant Road were occupied within the last twenty years and have become home to mostly Latin American businesses although closer to New Kent Rd are TR Autos and Recycling bike shop.

Unsurprisingly, the arches are also key elements of the current ‘regeneration’ as Arches 6 and 7, currently home to Colombian café and nightclub Distriandina, and a small shopping arcade called ‘Elephant Central’ are planned to be cleared by property developer Delancey in the forthcoming changes to the area. Delancey’s excuse? They need to make way for a pathway from the ‘New Town Centre’ to the park across the street, or perhaps a way for wealthy residents of the new high-rises of Elephant Park to leisurely stroll back through the arches into what will inevitably become a landscape of Waitrose? Zara? Starbucks?

DELANCEY New Public Space Arches

CGI image of what the opened-up Arches 6 and 7 looks like – Delancey

 

After Delancey purchased the site of the Shopping Centre in April 2014, its army of architectural renderers created these images of what the empty arches might look like in the coming years after their ‘Town Centre’ has been constructed. In 2016, Southwark Council released some stylized images of what the arches may turn into and people are walking through the new east-west pathways, in a spectacle-induced daze.

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CGI image of what the opened-up Arches 6 and 7 looks like – Southwark Council
Southwark Council wrote in 2016 that “The routes through the arches will be largely stripped back to their Victorian brickwork and exposed soffit to the platforms above. The stone paving to the street surface will extend from the Town Centre, through the arches, to meet Elephant Road. Paving modules here should respond to the geometry of each arch to further emphasize the two, near parallel viaducts

Delancey’s vision is that the clearance of the arches forms a part of their larger project of creating an “open-air pedestrianised town centre in the heart of Elephant and Castle” which will include “safer pedestrian routes, wider pavements, connections through the railway arches, and a public square.” Their ongoing lack of commentary on how this will actually affect the existing tenants of the arches remains steadfast here. But thankfully, the well-organised campaigners at Latin Elephant, with the help of Petit Elephant, have created an updated map of the current status of the tenants of the Shopping Centre and the railway arches. This mapping work is key to the understanding of ownership in the area as well a functioning as an innovative campaign tool. This largely compensates for the lack of consultation and lack of understanding that the traders have received from the developers themselves.

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Petit Elephant’s Map Below Ground at Elephant Shopping Centre

Arches 6 7 Red Lines Graph Reader

A ‘social enterprise’ called Tree Shepherd, a private consultancy appointed by Southwark Council as an ‘independent’ business advisor has been set up to supposedly consult traders about their potential relocation deals and sites. But Tree Shepherd’s funding comes directly from Delancey, proving that they are dependent on the very developer hoping to kick out the traders. There are currently close to 100 independent businesses in the ‘red line’ for relocation, but the amount of space the traders will receive in their relocated units is difficult to establish because Southwark Council and Delancey have changed the layouts of their relocation facilities. Now, the areas of the future units do not match those publicly available in Southwark Council planning portal. The updated plans are ‘kept secret.’ However, if we draw on the original plans, most of the traders have been offered a unit that is substantially lower than their current business area. An earlier Southwark Notes article reports on Tree Shepherd’s multidimensional ineffectiveness: asking traders deceptive questions about whether they want to relocate, not including the vast majority of traders, scheduling meetings sparsely, and making people fill in forms with no tangible outcomes, which is why the work of Latin Elephant is so important.

 

UNCERTAIN TIMES SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL

Nowadays, they know that they can put a nice glass door, and then they can rent it to someone big like Nando’s and to some big gym, and then they can pay just 40k-60k a year. So that’s the reason they closed down the whole lot in Brixton, and the same thing will happen here. And they just give us a lease, and they give us six months notice when they are going to need the arch- they are going to need the arch one day, they might ask you one day to go and they find someone else, that’s it.”– Diego, Computer Repair – Arco Central

Speaking to some of the traders in the arches, you get a sense of the continuing uncertainty around the future of these particular spaces. Many traders expressed their reliance on Latin Elephant in informing them on the current status of their possible relocation. The precarious position the traders are in remains as the dates for the potential relocation have become muddled in a relentless cycle of delays. One of the most common complaints from traders over the long years with the regeneration hanging over their head has been the lack of information and the frustration of never knowing what’s going to happen. For some, it’s produced a weary resignation.

Arches 6 and 7, the arches Delancey wants to clear, are fundamentally different in how they operate, as Arch 6 is filled by a single business and Arch 7 is filled with a myriad of small businesses. However, the developers are treating both of these sites as two independent businesses in total: one being Distriandina, the leaseholder for Arch 6, the other being Beset International, the leaseholder for Arch 7. This erases the presence of the other smaller businesses in the Arch 7, as their interests are not recognized immediately in the relocation scheme, and have to depend on the single leaseholder.

As of now, the traders of Arch 7 are looking for relocation in a site nearby. Gathering information from the traders, representatives from Latin Elephant explain that this is the extent of the information that the traders of Arch 7 were given. The rest of the information remains vague, as well as dependent on the results of the Judicial Review, and the amount of money they can get from the relocation fund. Distriandina is a similar case, the critical difference being that Distriandina is a single tenant. Because of how symbolic the place is for the Colombian community who comes from far and wide across London to the arch, they were able to make a case for themselves to the Council and developers, and gain a temporary space in Castle Square across the street. However, this did not come without a challenge, as the space they were allotted is much smaller than the current site. An ‘open dialogue’ with Delancey and Southwark Council appeared to be more of a box-ticking exercise for the developers to claim they were engaging with the traders.

This uncertainty has caused undue stress among people whose livelihoods depend on the arches and nearby Shopping Centre as both means of income and spaces of communal gathering. This constant delay is also caused by Delancey’s refusal to meet the minimum requirements of the Council’s own local plan, something that was recently challenged in the Up The Elephant campaign’s Judicial Review on October 22-23rd at the High Court on The Strand. The Judicial Review results are still pending but the arguments were that Delancey’s ‘regeneration’ scheme is still not providing enough social housing. Up The Elephant is also campaigning hard with traders for a fair relocation for businesses in the Shopping Centre and against unaffordable rents. Worth reading 35% Campaign’s summary here entitled ‘Delays and Delancey’.

 

ARCH-CO: THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE OF REAL ESTATE KINGS

The Elephant Rd arches have also been thrown in the middle of a national narrative as all Network Rail arches have recently and controversially been sold off. The lucky buyer was a joint venture between British private developers Telereal Trillium (it has a property portfolio of more than 12,000 properties in the U.K ) and the infamous Blackstone, a U.S private equity company, who formed a joint venture called The Arch-Co immediately adding another layer to the privatisation of publicly owned land at the local and national scale. This £1.5 billion sell-off of covered the span of 5,261 different properties across England and Wales, with more than half of the portfolio being based in London. This was in response to Network Rail’s £35 billion debt to the Department of Transportation, and funding shortfall in the years 2014-2019, which had left many projects underfunded and risked not being completed. So they decided to sell the arches, their “assets”, in what was termed an “Asset disposal strategy” in 2016 in order to cover the costs.

The selloff is indeed an all-inclusive scrapping of affordable rents, as the arches have historically been cheap spaces to set up shop, as well as offering a generous amount of floor space to people to subdivide and design as they wish. Many of the businesses in the arches are unique to the space allotted to them, as the arches offer spaces for both industrial and commercial uses. On a single stretch of arches in London and the UK one might find a car repair shop, a brewer, a hair salon, art studio, a fitness gym, and so on. As a part of the sell-off, many of these varied tenants have already faced daunting increases in rents, which could increase by 54% in the next three or four years, if all follows the predictable trajectory of the marketplace.

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Throughout the process, there was also a lack of input from existing tenants of the spaces. The audit also states the lack of community consultation was in part because the leases were not directly up for removal by the sell-off. However, the excellent campaign group Guardians of the Arches note the selloff as a threat to the tenants’ agency and demanded a fairer deal from it, including the ability for tenants to purchase parts of the portfolio, more favorable rental terms, security of tenure, and formal recognition as a tenant’s association. Network Rail objected to most of these issues, stating that “stronger tenant protections were unnecessary as the sale agreement ensures existing leases remain in place, and that stronger protections would contravene its requirements to act commercially and could raise the risk of judicial review or State Aid Challenge.”

But what does “acting commercially” mean when these arches are already filled with a wide variety of commercial activities that serve many communities in Britain and Wales? The ability to make a profit, to serve the interests of private developers, same as it ever was…

 

THE U.K’s RAILWAY ARCHES KINDA INTERESTING HISTORY

It is important to understand how these current stretches of arches have evolved to accommodate a wide variety of uses. The historical trajectory of the arch spaces is interesting, as it demonstrates how the underside of infrastructure has been creatively used beyond its original intent as a set of viaducts supporting the above ground rail. Focusing on Elephant Road, the gradual occupation of the arch spaces is a testament to how the community in Elephant and Castle evolved from the ground up, both literally and metaphorically.

Elephant Rd 1940 1
Elephant Rd, circa 1940

 

The railway itself was constructed in the Victorian era, but its arches sat on what appears to be vacant until the turn of the century. Going through the Post Office Directory records, local history archives and other historical records, one finds little information on the former lives of this street, aside from two photographs of it in post-WW2 reconstruction phase, prior to the Heygate Estate’s construction. The street took on an entirely different character as it does today. The particular rail line on Elephant Road, formerly known as the London Chatham and Dover line, was built on viaducts cutting through Southwark, Walworth, and Camberwell. The arches of Elephant Road lie adjacent to the old railway station, also built after the speculative ‘railway manias’ in 1862. Today, the railway station has entrances on Elephant Road as well as entrances within the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre at the height of the platforms above.

Elephant Rd 1940s 2

Elephant Rd, circa 1940

In Britain, for decades after the arches’ construction, they had a poor image amongst the general public. They were initially managed and occupied in an ad-hoc way, giving space for trades such as ‘smithies, marine stores, stables, mortar mills, the storage of old tubs, casks and lumber, and other low class trades.’ as Brian Rosa writes in a fascinating Ph.d study of railway arches. They were also associated with poverty because the rail-line was often deliberately built in working class neighborhoods. Throughout late 19th century and through most of the 20th century, the arches maintained a marginal, industrial position within London and the UK. It was only when the management of the arches became embedded in the city’s ‘formal’ economy that their mainstream cultural reception changed. While there are exceptions, the overall de-industrialisation of British economy opened up these spaces for smaller-scale practices. In the 1980’s the British Rail Property Board proposed a large program of arch refurbishment with the intention to improve the arches so that they were competitive with modern buildings, and yielded higher rents.

As the area underwent de-industrialisation in the 1980’s, the private sector had a greater influence on the makeup of the railway arches. The changing perception of these spaces gave way to large-scale cultural shifts and the focus on reclaiming urban space for leisure, entertainment, and lifestyle, as they became friendlier to a wide variety of entrepreneurial pursuits. This also changed the way the spaces themselves were configured, as they became more flexibly designed. The spaces offered opportunities to expand from a single railway arch into multiple, as is the case with Corsica Studios in Arches 4 and 5. It also allowed single arches to evolve into more expansive networks of many arches. The “parallel renting market” that was established offered cheap prices for people to set up shops in the arches, and was less affected by normal commercial price pressures, and local competition for the land. This model has allowed for certain groups of arches to grow into clusters of socially linked businesses, like the Latin American businesses on Elephant Road who came to the area in the last 20 years.

 

WELCOME TO LATIN ELEPHANT: MIGRATION AND SETTLEMENT

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, many Latin American migrants came to the UK because it was easy to get a work contract from abroad. People migrated to the UK following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1971, a piece of legislation that put more restrictions on migrants coming from countries with colonial ties to Britain. Many migrants came with the idea of working for a few years, saving money, and returning to their home countries. Some have stayed, as a returning to the home country adds a risk of never being able to return to Britain. Patria Roman, from Latin Elephant, has well described this history and process in her 1999 book ‘The Making of Latin London’.

In the following decade, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre was experiencing the effects of the UK recession, which opened up the area to Latin American migrants looking for affordable spaces to set up shop. The Shopping Centre began to lease the spaces for cheap, and entrepreneurs began to repair the shops that had not been occupied for decades and began to transform them. In 1991, there were hardly any shops open on the first floor of the Centre, but a year later, Latin Americans began opening shops there. La Fogata opened in June of 1992, followed by Inara Travels. By 1994, there were ten shops owned by Latin Americans. This growing Latin American presence began to define what is a large contingent of Elephant and Castle’s demographic, and Latin Americans began to relocate businesses to the area, which includes Elephant Road. You can see a great pictorial summary of the early Latin businesses in The Elephant here.

Talking to Latin American traders about their early days in the railway arches, many of them point to the turn of the century as the beginning of the making of this particular facet of Latin London. Distriandina moved from North London to South London in this period, but originally functioned as a food distributor. The business moved to the South because of the growing presence of Latin American consumers in the area, as well as the space of the railway arch itself offering an accommodating place to sell and ship mostly Colombian products in and out.

In the early 2000’s, the nature of the shops on the street was more accommodating to businesses involving large-scale shipping, and more ‘heavy-weight’ products. The street was not yet a place to visit for a cup of coffee or bunuelo. The two mini-arcades on this block Arco Central and Elephant Central respectively were home to a carpet shop and shipping company called Beset, whose office still exists in the arch, alongside a series of other small stalls. The traders who were there during this period describe the street’s life as hectic, and ‘higgledy piggledy’ and filled with the coming and going of trucks, carpets, bedding, and musical equipment.

ELEPHANT RD PARK OLDELEPHANT RD DEMO 2013 1
Local campaign to save the Open Space on Elephant Rd in 2013 gathering outside Distriandina

Many of the traders refer to the Heygate Estate’s demolition as a part of their workday observations during this time. The residents of the Heygate Estate were large users of these former businesses of the arches, as well as the Shopping Centre. Traders note this demolition as one of the major turning points in the street’s character, as what sat directly on the Elephant Park site before was a publicly owned lot with children’s playgrounds, a pitch for football matches, an actively social space where there is now an underused, bleak square with the visible presence of CCTV cameras and a security guard.

Elephant Rd Corsica Distriandina March 2019.jpg
Half of Corsica Studios at Arch 5 and Distriandina at Arch 6

During the early 2000’s, Corsica Studios moved onto the street, also from North London. Corsica Studios, which only operated in a single arch at the time as a practice space for music, and art studio. Next to Corsica Studios to the South was a music equipment business (now a second arch-space for Corsica Studios), which Corsica Studios frequently used for its parties.

As the Latin American community expanded in Elephant and Castle, and the market for carpets, and bedding dwindled, the formation of Arco Central and Elephant Central sprung up at similar times. In Arco Central and Elephant Central, the spaces were subdivided into stalls, and mezzanine levels were constructed to fit an even greater number of small-scale operations. Throughout the years, the stalls have changed uses many times, but their scale, and short-term leases allow them to become favorable spaces for people to establish their own businesses in the area. Within Arco Central there is currently a clothing store, a computer repair shop, a tailor, a money transfer, an immigration consultancy. In Elephant Central, there is a Colombian products store, two shipping companies, a Café, and a hair salon.

Traders mention how the subdivided spaces act as micro-communities, and point to both the design of the spaces, as well as the multiplicity of functions when they describe how they are used day-to-day. They allow people to transfer money, ship a package, grab a coffee, and purchase an accessory in one go. They also point to the transnational identity of their users, as they offer vital places for people to speak Spanish, pass time, and communicate with other people in the area. Traders often shift around these spaces, expanding their stalls, moving around the arch, progressing their particular businesses.

This also allows for spontaneity and creativity, not a ready-made agenda from the top-down. A trader in Arco Central mentioned that he used to hold martial arts classes in one of the unoccupied stalls because the space allowed him to do so, as he has been practicing Tae Kwon Doe since coming to London and has now moved on to a larger studio in Stockwell. A trader in the clothing stall in this arch mentions expanding from one stall to another upon the growing success of his business, and points to the design of the space as allowing him to easily expand. Another trader mentions working in a food products store at the bottom of the arch, and establishing his own office for legal advising on the top floor of the same arch years later.

Throughout the 2000’s, Distriandina also evolved from a Colombian food distributor to a restaurant and venue for salsa. As the nature of the street began to shift, the owner of the space decided to make it more of a gathering space for the community. The design of the interior of the space transformed to accommodate the changing character of the street and neighborhood. A mezzanine was constructed for the kitchen upstairs, a bar was added downstairs, as well as bathrooms, and areas to dance and gather. Distriandina is also used for salsa classes on certain days, and features salsa nights Friday-Sunday. Distriandina has also shown great love and support for the Up The Elephant campaign to save the Shopping Centre!

Corsica Funding 2018

It’s been a bit divisive down on Elephant Rd in that although Corsica is recognised by the Greater London Authority as an ‘existing cultural’ space, Distriandina is not and despite its popularity on the weekend is reported to be only a coffee bar. With this dubious fudge, Corsica will receive £125,000 of funding to soundproof their club space presumably to spare them the wrath of those new wealthier neighbours while Distriandina will be thrown out of their arch all together. None of this is to point the finger at Corsica who have supported the area for over 20 years but more so at the sketchy and appalling way Black and Brown communities get treated under the regime of ‘regeneration’. With this in our minds, we also give a big shout out to our friends at Save Latin Village in Tottenham who are facing the same long battle as Latin traders at The Elephant!

 

COMMUNITY CAN PLAN ITS OWN FUTURE!

This is simple: if you do a treat the public well and delicately, good word will spread. It is like working in a restaurant. If you make bad food no one will come to your restaurant. If you do well, if you make good food, people will come and spread the good word.” –Alexander, Arco Central

Distriandina and the other businesses along Elephant Road played a large role in Latin Elephant’s envisioning of a Latin Quarter, a document envisioning an official recognition of the Latin American Community in the neighborhood, published in 2016. It highlighted key parts of Elephant and Castle as especially important to the Latin American community, and offered small but significant updates in the designs of these sites to amplify the importance of the already existing businesses. In this plan, there are drawings that display small facelifts to the railway arches and the surrounding street, and offer improvements in the layout of the roads, safer crosswalks for pedestrians, and clear signage and entryways into this cultural quarter. Although this vision was never executed, it allowed for imaginative renderings of what one could, yes, safely call ‘regeneration’ by the people who are most familiar with the area.

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Elephant Road is no Bond Street. It is not the most glamorous road to walk along. The arches along the North side of the road are covered in graffiti, and the pavement is poorly maintained. This makes it easy for it to get overlooked by passerby and developer alike, and allows people to associate the street with dereliction. It gives a greater case to developers like Delancey for their regenerating the area, and city councilors to welcome this. This gives developers the opportunity to run rampant with proposals that cleanse the area of highly complex social enterprises that have taken years to cultivate, and have infinite potential to grow even further, as seen in the Latin Quarter proposal. Just from talking to traders, there was an overwhelming antagonism to the regeneration, though some traders remained neutral to it.

The Elephant Never Forgets – The Struggle Continues:

“They are planning to give to the traders a really small place but there is just like 30 or 40 places for people. But we are more than what they offered him, so I don’t know how they are going to do it. Also, someone told me that there is a place where they are supposed to put the traders, but they are refusing the applications. They are telling to the traders that they cannot get those places.”

“I think this it is the identity that we have here. We are here in England. This is a different culture for us, a different language. Anyway it’s London, it’s very multicultural but it’s not our country. In this place we find a little piece of where we are, it’s like our identity, our culture, where we are from. For example I came here five years ago, I live by myself. I don’t like to cook, but I like the food from my country so here I can find this. I think that we are more than a building, we are more than a space in here. We are more than a commercial transaction. They are selling the space to the other people to make more money. This place is more than that. I think that they are not saying from that side, they are saying from another side. It’s sad, but I think it’s the reality. I don’t know if there is something that we can change. I don’t know, we just have to wait…”-
Both from Lisette, Arch 7

Hearing these local points of view makes you see that the situation at the Elephant and Castle railway arches reflects the complex, multifaceted and critical aspect of the regeneration of the area. It also points to a more national conversation on affordability and the survival of small local businesses. Existing within the Network Rail selloff, the struggle for affordable rents on Elephant Road reflects both local and national campaigns, fighting for the stability and livelihoods of small businesses and their surrounding communities. The use of terminology like “asset disposal” really begs the question “who needs to be disposed of… who needs to get in the bin?”. Despite the Council’s support during the long campaign for the area to be officially recognized as a Latin Quarter, it seems that there are few actual planning protections for the current Latin traders. The first feisty battle is ongoing at the Shopping Centre but latterly those in the Elephant Rd arches with the new owners of the Arches being in part a predatory ‘vulture fund’ and Delancey’s plans to knock through two arches, will face the sharp end of commercial displacement that ‘regeneration’ schemes usually bring. The struggle continues…as always! See you there!

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Sobre Retrasos y Delancey – Destruyamos mitos sobre el Centro Comercial Elephant & Castle

Sobre Retrasos y Delancey – Destruyamos mitos sobre el Centro Comercial

Delancey está culpando de los retrasos de sus planes en el centro comercial y de la reubicación de los comerciantes a la demanda legal planteada por residentes. A continuación respondemos a Delancey.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial (JR, en inglés) está retrasando los planes de desarrollo urbano.

-Nosotros decimos:

-La negativa de Delancey a la hora de proporcionar viviendas sociales es lo que está causando retrasos. En su proyecto inicial de 2016, Delancey no ofrecía auténticas viviendas sociales. Residentes y comerciantes tuvieron que pelear por DOS AÑOS para conseguir vivienda social; conseguimos algunas concesiones, pero aún no son suficientes. Delancey nos ha obligado a continuar nuestra batalla en los tribunales – Delancey es el causante del retraso.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial está retrasando la reubicación de los comerciantes.

-Nosotros decimos:

-Nada impide a Delancey para que ayude a reubicar a los comerciantes, con independencia del recurso judicial. Algunos comerciantes ya han sido reubicados en Perronet House. Otros tienen espacio en Castle Sq. Estos se consiguieron gracias a la Asociación de Comerciantes de Elephant, Latin Elephant y la campaña Up the Elephant. Pero muchos otros comerciantes han sido excluidos. Estamos peleando con los comerciantes para conseguir más espacio comercial en Sayer Street, que pertenece a Lendlease. Southwark Law Centre ha tomado el caso en representación de los comerciantes.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial significa que el dinero del Fondo para la Reubicación de los comerciantes no puede utilizarse.

-Nosotros decimos:

-No habría un Fondo para la Reubicación de los comerciantes si los residentes no lo hubieran reclamado. Nada impide que Delancey utilice este dinero para ayudar a los comerciantes en el proceso de reubicación, con independencia del recurso judicial.

El Fondo para la Reubicación forma parte del Plan de Reubicación para los comerciantes. Delancey no tenía plan de reubicación en su proyecto inicial en 2016, y se negó a tener uno hasta que obtuvo finalmente la licencia urbanística en 2018, dejando a los comerciantes en una situación de incertidumbre y sin posibilidades de planear el futuro de sus pequeños negocios. El fondo sólo tiene £634.700

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial está retrasando Castle Square.

-Nosotros decimos:

-No. Castle Square es un proyecto diferente con un acuerdo legal s106 distinto. Delancey puede construirlo tan pronto como desee. Delancey no tenía una propuesta para un espacio temporal para los comerciantes en su proyecto inicial. Castle Square se consiguió gracias a los comerciantes y residentes después de dos años batallando.

-Delancey dice:

-El Recurso Judicial ha ‘paralizado’ el acuerdo legal s106.

-Nosotros decimos:

-El acuerdo legal s106 es un contrato voluntario entre Delancey, el Ayto. de Southwark y University Arts London (UAL) para la construcción del nuevo proyecto. Todos ellos tienen control absoluto sobre el contrato; no han sido forzados a firmarlo. Han decidido paralizar el acuerdo al ser demandados en los tribunales.

Elephant JR Tweet

Lea más sobre RETRASOS Y DELANCEY (en inglés) – 35percent.org/2019-06-15-delays-and-delancey/

Ponte en contacto con nosotros y sigue Up The Elephant:

http://35percent.org/

@UpTheElephant_

Facebook – ‘Up The Elephant’

 

 

Why the ‘Up The Elephant’ Campaign is going for a Judicial Review

The post below is the text of a leaflet that Up The Elephant community campaign is currently giving to all traders in the Elephant Shopping Centre to tell them why we are going for a Judicial Review (JR) of Delancey’s housing plans for the area. It’s a direct response to this tweet from Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for Jobs, Business and Innovation where she made an unnecessary PR opportunity with some of the traders. If traders are worried about the forthcoming JR then we hope to set their minds at rest and to point the finger directly back to Delancey. We support all traders in the Shopping Centre and the Campaign is accountable to all traders through our monthly meetings! JR not PR!

Cryan JR PR

DELAYS AND DELANCEY –

Elephant & Castle
Shopping Centre Myth Buster

Elephant JR Tweet

Delancey have been blaming the forthcoming legal challenge mounted by local campaigners Up The Elephant for delays to the redevelopment of the shopping centre and the relocation of the traders. We answer Delancey below.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review (JR) is delaying the development

We Say: Delancey’s refusal to provide enough social housing is what is causing any delay. Delancey did not have real social rented housing in its original planning application in 2016.   Local people and traders had to fight Delancey for TWO YEARS to get social housing; we got some, but there still is not enough. Delancey have forced us to continue our fight in the courts –Delancey is causing the delay.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review is delaying relocation of traders.

We Say: Nothing is stopping Delancey from helping relocate traders, despite the JR. Some traders have already been relocated to Perronet House. Traders have also been allocated space in Castle Sq. This was space won by Elephant Traders Association, Latin Elephant and the Up the Elephant campaign. But many traders are being left out. We are fighting with traders to get more retail space on Sayer St, owned by developer Lendlease. Southwark Law Centre has taken up the case on traders’ behalf.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review means money from the relocation fund cannot be spent

We Say: There would be no relocation fund if campaigners had not demanded it. Nothing stops Delancey from spending this money to help traders relocate, despite the JR. The relocation fund is part of the relocation strategy. Delancey had no relocation strategy in its original planning application in 2016 and refused to have one until it got planning permission in 2018, leaving traders insecure and without any way to plan for the future of their businesses. The fund has only £634,700.

 

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June 2019 – Castle Square planned box park thing currently not being built vs the Delancey vision


Delancey Says:
The Judicial Review is delaying Castle Square

We Say: No. Castle Square is a different development with a different legal s106 agreement. Delancey can build it as soon as it likes. Delancey had no proposals for a temporary space for traders in its original planning application. Castle Square was won by traders and local people after two years of battle.

Delancey Says: The Judicial Review has ‘frozen’ the s106 Agreement

We Say: The legal s106 agreement is a voluntary contract for the delivery of the redevelopment between Delancey, Southwark Council and the University of the Arts London (UAL). They have complete control of this; they were not forced to sign it. They decided to freeze the agreement if they were challenged in court.

(A Spanish language version of this leaflet is coming soon!)


Read 35% Campaign’s full account here on the Elephant Shopping Centre and Delancey  DELAYS AND DELANCEY:

“To sum up, we have little doubt that had Delancey presented the improved scheme that it presented to the planning committee on 3 July 2019 at the very first scheduled planning committee meeting, back on 18 December 2017, it would have been approved and any legal challenge long resolved. Delancey could then have saved the crocodile tears it is currently shedding on behalf of the traders.”


 

 

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Into the Void with Peter John OBE, Leader of Southwark Council

As long-standing critics of some but not all of Southwark Council’s policies towards housing development, we happen to spend some of our free time on Twitter sharing to others our criticisms and using the platform as a small tool in the campaigning we do. We also spend a lot of time researching things, writing them up on this blog and also being active in the streets and estates.

In recent years, we’ve been particularly involved in different ways in campaigning at The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and also on Aylesbury Estate. Southwark Council is very keen for demolition and what they would call ‘regeneration’ of both those sites. Sometimes we have engaged in small Twitter conversations with the Leader of Southwark Council, Peter John O.B.E. Although Twitter can be much of muchness, it is still a public forum and so these conversations are part of the public debate around what the Council does and the effect it has on local communities.

 

Peter John – Gone Fishing?!

In 2016, we wrote up the whole sorry saga of how three rounds of ‘regeneration’ on Elmington Estate in Camberwell had left the estate with 346 less council homes after it’s development by Notting Hill Housing Association and later by private company Bellway Homes. In November we exchanged Tweets with Peter John about his news that Southwark was going to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043. We questioned him about the then demolition of 144 Council homes on Elmington saying thatno council homes replace these for displaced tenants’. He replied Council tenants prioritised for rehousing in better accommodation – new social housing delivered at Elmington’.

We then questioned this: ‘144 council homes gone – replaced by 130 private, 36 shared ownership but only 38 social housing. Some priority!’. Even if there was a Right To Return, which wasn’t certain, we asked ‘Where do all the 113 tenant households displaced by demolition return to then if only 38 new social homes?’. Peter then replied ‘I don’t know but will look into it. Thanks for raising’. Ok, so far, so good – a fairly civil public conversation with an elected politician who makes a promise to look into it. We prompted again in December 2016 and again in February 2017 but we are still waiting for a reply from Peter about it.

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In the long wait, these new Bellway homes on Lomond Grove have been almost completed and people are moving in. The scheme is part underwritten with taxpayer’s money from 2013’s ‘Help To Buy’ subsidy where the Government used £12 billion to guarantee up to £130 billion of new mortgage lending. Much to the relief of the big house builders the scheme has now been extended to 2023 with an estimated extra £20 billion. Almost 40% of the 10,300 homes Bellway sold during 2017-2018 were aided by Help to Buy hence the building companies staggering profits of £640 million in 2018.=

Elmington Help To Buy 2019
Researchers have found that the Help To Buy scheme does not necessarily increase house building but certainly the subsidy means that large volume building companies like Bellway are inflating the sale price of new build homes on the back of the scheme. A small flat that has one bedroom and combined kitchen and living area starts at £379,995. Once again, the profits are privatised and sit in Bellways and their shareholders coffers and the risk is nationalised with taxpayers money*.

 

PETER JOHN strata.gif

Peter John – Gone Fishing Some More?!

Jump to December 2018 where the Up The Elephant campaign was a couple of years into fighting for the Elephant community. The campaign has been fighting the dismal plans of Delancey to replace the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre with close to 1000 new homes. As part of that long campaign, Up The Elephant had managed to pressure Delancey to increase the number of social rented units from 33 to 116. Without that pressure, the pitifully low number of actually-affordable homes would have stayed at 33. The Council planning officers had no qualms about recommending the Delancey plan for approval in July 2018.

PJ Housing Elephant None

In a somewhat aggressive Twitter argument with some other people questioning the Council’s wisdom on this scheme, Peter John wrote ‘And those who have bizarrely opposed the development of the shopping centre – where no housing currently exists – and have therefore opposed the delivery of new social and affordable housing need to explain themselves. I can’t’.

As this was not true, we jumped in and asked him: ‘Can you show which of the campaigns have opposed new housing? The community campaigns pressured both Council and Delancey to up the social rented housing from 33 to 116. In July 2018 the Council recommended the 33 homes plan for passing’. Once again, no answer was forthcoming from the Leader despite a few nudges and prompts

Thinking that maybe Twitter is not a personal enough mode of communication to resolve these questions of Peter’s assertions, we decided to send our questions direct to the Leader and so we emailed Peter a polite email to his official Council account on 10th January 2019:

Dear Peter John
We write to you from the group Southwark Notes who you may know from various campaigns about housing in the North Southwark area. We have been involved in the Up The Elephant campaign hoping to seek better benefits from the Delancey scheme for local people. We noticed on Twitter on 29th December in a exchange about housing and The Elephant you said ‘And those who have bizarrely opposed the development of the shopping centre – where no housing currently exists – and have therefore opposed the delivery of new social and affordable housing need to explain themselves.’

We wonder if you have any proof of this? Or is it actually not true?

As far as we can see the various and numerous campaigns against parts of the Delancey scheme have only ever publicly campaigned for more genuinely affordable housing in the scheme. In fact, despite the Council recommending to pass the scheme earlier in the year with only 33 social rented homes, pressure on Delancey from campaigns resulted in them seeking GLA finance to increase this figure to a possible 116 social rented homes. Not only this but there has been some indications that Delancey may consider offering these homes to Southwark to run as council homes. That would be welcome if this could happen. You may be able to see why campaigns get frustrated when there is no actual recognition of the work they do for free in their spare time which actually increased benefits to local people at The Elephant. That campaign work is exactly the sort of pressure the Council should be putting itself on developers because there are benefits to taking a harder line especially where this is backed up by a strong local campaign such as Up The Elephant.

Surely, we could now get to the truth of this matter and so we waited for a reply. Then we waited some more. Then we prompted again and then….You know the rest…

TalkToTheHand copy

 

What Does Public Accountability Look Like To A Community?

Peter is not a big Twitter user and each to their own. But there is something to be said that if you reply on a thread to Southwark Notes, you are also replying to every one of our 4896 followers and so that makes any conversation a public moment. Not only that but many of those followers are local people or local campaigns who take an interest in both what the Council is doing and what it is saying to justify those actions. It takes a special sort of behaviour to decide to call out campaigns like us and Up The Elephant in public but then not remain in anyway accountable to those statements when the local campaigns say to you ‘ Hey! Wait a moment. That’s just not true!!’.

But hey, that’s politicians for you, no? It’s a special way of being. As we have said before here, when we say The Council we know it is made up of both a workforce as well as a bunch of executive officers and councilors. But Peter John, as Council Leader, wields a special political power in a way that many council officers and workers don’t. His own political ideas and beliefs go a long way in making things happen in the borough especially in the realm of housing and regeneration. A large task of his job is also then to be accountable to local people who make questions on these political ideas and actions.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_95c92430-b2cd-11e8-8fb1-ac438dd6af00

In relation to our little Bellway homes tale above, it’s clear that government policies favour both massive profits for house builders and landlords, the knock-on effect of high houses prices being that buy-to-let landlords can pick and choose tenants and increase rents every six months because most people can’t afford to buy a new home and have to rent. Peter John insists that, and we quote verbatim, ‘in a housing crisis the way to solve a housing crisis is to build new homes‘, misunderstanding that the real crisis is of a lack of affordable homes and not the myth of lack of available homes.

But this doesn’t doesn’t surprise us. We’ve long thought that Peter John has no real grasp of the wider and long-term bad effects of the Council’s current ‘regeneration’ policies and in some ways we try our best to put things to him that bring what we see as his confusions to the fore. Well, lets say in our more generous moments we try that but we are also not liberals who think the powers that be must do right by us at some point after seeing the error of their ways. We are far too long in the tooth and battled-scared after the scandal of the Heygate Estate, and everything else, for that. Although we battle the council we try to not be defined by that battle as mere subjects of the Council and that political system. Our battles are also fought outside of the liberal regime of local ‘democratic’ politics where random people (councillors etc) are supposed to stand in for us and fight our corner. But they are not even anywhere near our corner. Hence there remains a vital and dynamic conflict that we take part in, shape and carry out and we aren’t scared of an argument or a political fight. If Peter doesn’t want to answer, it’s no skin of our noses. Contempt breeds contempt. We will keep on doing what are doing and be happy to remain accountable to all those we work with in the community campaigns and the wider community. Up The Elephant! The fight goes on…

Delancey In Streets Poster JUly 2018


* There is a useful summary of the Help To Buy scam in Chapter One of Danny Dorling’s readable book ‘All That Is Solid: How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It‘.
>>> All-that-is-solid-the-great-housing-disaster

PETER JOHN strata.gif

The Curious Case of The Heygate Estate, Hej Coffee And A Hey Presto!

As ‘people who sit in the dark typing things by themselves’, we are happy to shine a light on the real and marvelous history of The Curious Case of Hej Coffee and The Heygate Photo.

At the start of August we received our usual public relations updates from multinational property developer, profiteer and demolisher of the Heygate Estate, Lend Lease, with exciting ongoing news about their new development Elephant Park. This time there was an Elephant Park video promoting the new Hej Coffee shop on Rodney Rd. Hej Coffee is part of the new blocks where the old Wingrave blocks of Heygate Estate had been. Ok, but that’s how it works? – Lend Lease promote a new café to advertise their new development and the café promo talks about the new development to promote Lend Lease and their cafe. They are joined at the hip. Ok, that’s not sinister. It’s just business doing its thing. Marketing, selling, profiting or hoping to profit. However…

 

WHITEWASHING?

The video is fronted by Joanna, a black barista working at Hej Coffee (pronounced Hey! as in Hey-gate!). At the time we commented that although we had ‘massive respect to Joanna as a local worker’, it was ‘utterly tragic the actual disconnect between the words and the pictures in the promo video and the actual reality of the social cleansing of The Elephant’. By disconnect we meant that the script of the video talks about the customers being ‘diverse’, ‘variety’, ‘all sorts of people’, ‘everyone’s different’ but actually everyone in the video wasn’t different or diverse but were all white 20-somethings. So it’s a typical whitewashing of a local London area that is a massively mixed and great community. In Heygate’s hey day it even had about 3000 working class people living around where the Hej Cafe stands.

Cafe Manor Place Holal

This isn’t the first time this goes on locally and probably won’t be the last. In fact, this week Notting Hill Housing who are developing the Manor Place depot site put up hoardings with very much more of the same – a barren but stylishly chic café with only white people in it and yet bearing the text ‘Hola!’ and three spicy chillis! You could argue that these regeneration images are just identikit nonsense, badly thought through or you could argue that’s it’s deliberate. We edge towards the latter.

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(Customers from the Hej Coffee promo video)

 

Of course, it’s not our argument that we want a more inclusive gentrification! Gentrification will only ever be exclusive along class and race lines – that’s how it works. Black people rarely get ‘included’ in these ‘indicative CGI’ pictures of forthcoming developments because images of smug white coffee slurpers are used to sell the new-builds to exactly those smug white coffee slurpers. Creating a terrain of whiteness means that these hoardings are like all those other unsubtle codes that racialise everyday life – white people indicate safety, white people indicate networking and getting on, upward mobility, white people indicate taste and style, beauty and desirability. To be honest, it’s sickening. So, this was our first criticism directed at Hej Coffee.

 

Hej Orignal Photo

ARTWASHING?

A few days later we heard that Hej Coffee had put on its wall a large artistic photo of the Heygate Estate as part of the décor. It’s a pretty photo, carefully taken in 2010, a symmetrical presentation of an empty estate. Hej Coffee was very proud of the photo and Tweeted out its installation in the café by the picture’s taker Simon Kennedy, an architectural photographer and lecturer at University College of London’s Bartlett school.

As people who were heavily involved in the last years of the struggles against the demolition of Heygate we wondered what it meant for a new café, an intimate part of the gentrification of the area, to want to display a photo of the Heygate albeit one especially chosen for its abstracted sense of the estate blocks. So we dropped some lines to Hej Coffee about this saying things like ‘don’t think many customers understand the long messy and scandalous history of the demolition of the Heygate. It’s certainly not a good look for the Hej cafe. Bit insensitive given that the Heygate scandal has not gone away for many local people’ and posting up photos we took in 2011 of the old Wingrave blocks.

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(Photos – From Heygate Estate to Hej Coffee 2008 – 2018)

 

Hej Coffee replies were never on the subject of the criticism and only about coming in for a coffee to chat about it. In fact the more we and then other people commented the more they made invites (with cute emojis) – ‘We need more people to come in to drink more coffee and know more things…not to be sitting in the dark typing things by themselves’. Nice one!

Hej Heygate Text on PhotoHej Text Heygate

Eventually they made a move and placed next to the Heygate photo two texts to try and give the photo some context and some rationale. These were a bit rich really and seemed to us as manly guff and wishful thinking – ‘Reverence for history is paramount at Hej, consequently we are open and honest about Heygate’s past. With your co-operation we would like to facilitate discussion and debate to benefit our community’. They also posted out a link to an article ‘Heygate Abstracted’ about Simon Kennedy’s Heygate photos where various ideas are mooted about what Kennedy’s images mean in relation to social housing and the scandal of the demolition – ‘Kennedy’s photographs emphasise the consequences of the painfully protracted if not perpetual contemporary ‘regeneration’ process which has left homes and shops conspicuously vacant for years on end’. Hej Coffee wrote ‘This should help everyone understand the context of the art we proudly display at our roastery’. (Here, we could be pedantic and ask: is the scandal really that those homes and shops were vacant for a long time, or is it rather that the diverse community that lived and worked there for 35 years were forced to vacate them, for no other reason than desire to sell-off the land and encourage privatised profit and a whiter, richer image for the area?)

HEJ FLYER

Anyhow, then it all becomes a bit confusing. Either Hej Coffee or someone else made a leaflet for a discussion night at Hej Coffee on Friday 7th September about Hej and the Heygate. This then caused another round of online back and forth. Hej Coffee said they hadn’t made the flyer but were happy for a discussion to go ahead.

 

AND THEN AS IF BY MAGIC – HEY PRESTO!

For us lot, although Simon Kennedy’s picture shows an empty estate and might therefore represent some kind of symbolic commentary on the political processes around the ‘regeneration’ and demolition of the Heygate buildings and community, we thought that there’s something less than sincere in the representation and in its display in a café that is only situated where it is because of that social cleansing process. Despite its neat portrayal of vacancy, at the time the photo was taken in 2010 there were still many households living on the estate and there was a huge range of people doing stuff in the estate’s public spaces to highlight it. We were there too being a part of the allotments, the film screenings, the public exhibitions on the scandal of the decant, the chicken keeping, hosting visits for school kids and students, leading anti-gentrification walks and supporting all the remaining residents in their struggle for decent rehousing or fair compensation.

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(Activities on Heygate Estate right up to the final eviction of the last resident, 2013)

 

So when Hej wants to contextualise their use of the image as a respectful memory we would question whether such an image devoid of the actual real tenants and residents functions in any such way but more appears as a done and dusted and historical artefact removed from any actual painful and still very real context. One Tweeter described Heygate as ‘still an open wound’ which is something we agree with and continue to do the work we do on this basis. We replied to Hej Coffee – ‘your Heygate photograph describes ‘a process that disassociates these buildings from their contentious histories, and any sense of domestic life’ yet when he took those photos residents were still living there and all sorts of public life was still going on for 3 more years. The community never gave up on the public and social side of the estate until the final eviction and enclosure. In fact that enclosure was resisted til the end. The Heygate photo you proudly display is both an abstraction and aestheticised erasure of that long community struggle. It would make more sense if you were genuinely concerned to remember the social housing of the Heygate by framing these displacement maps of where residents went. Displaced so Lend Lease could demolish their homes, build Elephant Park & you could rent a space for your coffee shop’. We also posted a photographs of their site that show the actual material history of what demolition and displacement looks like and how it’s experienced by many locals. Other critics were also piping up. Our friends at Vile Arrogance wrote ‘When posh coffee shops come to your neighbourhood and wanna debate ‘context’ about poor decisions of displaying an arty photo of the council estate they were built on top of…

Hej Heygate Gone

Any road up, were were umming and arrrghing about whether to go the event or not. We do not relish liberal dialogues in gentrified spaces where any anger or pointed criticism gets washed out by scene and setting. But on the day of the event, Hej Coffee took down the Heygate photo and wrote ‘whilst we never intended any offence or insensitivity by displaying art, we have listened to your comments and have taken the photo down’. It wasn’t any old ‘art’ that was seen as offensive and serving the politics of gentrification, but Hej Coffee could not at this point seem to bear to name it. Whatever! The Heygate photo was gone, decanted to some other unmapped place.

 

FINAL HEAVY HEAVY CONTEXT OF OUR OWN

By way of a small finale, we want to add some things in about gentrification, community and coffee shops. It would be a kind of foolishness to equate expensive coffee shops with some kind of enemy. Hej Coffee, like others appearing in the neighbourhood, are the product of gentrification and not the cause. Although we don’t particularly like the kind of expense, vibe and disposition of such places, it would be stupid to centre our entire political life on opposing them. Campaigns against ‘yuppies’ in the 80’s and against ‘hipsters’ now rarely have any potential for actual community organising and they seemingly don’t have much longevity! In the same weeks that this mini-soap opera was playing out with us, Hej Coffee and others, we were more usefully spending our time being part of the local campaigns against the demolition of the Shopping Centre and of the Aylesbury estate, because opposing these is opposing the much larger forces at play – that’s national and local government-supported gentrification dressed up as ‘regeneration’.

 

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(Latin@s from Boyle Heights protesting the Weird Wave Coffee Shop, 2017)

 

Having said this, there are many communities in the world who are militantly against the arrival of gentrifying businesses as they are part of the signal that it’s okay for developers and speculators to colonise ever greater chunks of our cities for their bloody-minded profit-seeking schemes, while low-income residents get stomped over or cast aside. In Boyle Heights in L.A, a Latin@ neighbourhood with a decades long struggle for public housing and against the social and ethnic cleansing of their area, parts of that community are targeting new business such as cafes or art galleries that are a sign of the violent gentrification of their area. Those struggles are enacted by a community that recognises itself as such – as poor and as Latin@ – and who are fighting from the basis of that self-identification.

We would say that in London the debate and action around these questions has not been so clear. Of course, it’s London and not L.A and each anti-gentrification struggle is different but it would be good to see some discussion here about how to think and link different parts of the ‘regeneration’ process – global development and real estate, investment and construction, demolition and displacement with the ‘uplifting’ of areas, luxury flats and more expensive shops, lifestyle values and displays. But let’s not mistake one for the other. White coffee slurpers have little power over any of this, the same as the rest of us. We need to be clear also that many (but not all) people living in gentrifying areas are likely to be as precarious in their housing situation (low wages and expensive rents), even in new developments like Elephant Park. Then of course, there are the rich folks buying into the area and so what role do they play? So far, locally, they do not really organise as a lobby to boost more ‘regeneration’ although London is seeing a rise of Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) groups who are dubious in their support for more and more new gentrifying developments.

Elephant Crowd 2108

In The Elephant, the community campaigns have not been making clear demands to new more upscale businesses partly because this probably reflects it being an unresolved issue within London’s wider anti-gentrification campaigns. Partly, locally, this is out of sheer tiredness with keeping up with everything going on in the area. Maybe it’s because the carrot of a Labour government dulls a bit the fact that we actually want a whole lot more than just percentage peanuts of social rented homes? Partly again there is still over politeness to politicians, be they councilors or The Mayor. There have been attempts to make a Neighbourhood Plan of our area and that would enable us to make decisions about what kind of things we want to keep and what kind of things we want to see invested in around The Elephant. All good stuff but its slow work! One thing for sure though is that without thinking through and being clear on the above and if we aren’t clear about how to take on gentrifying businesses head on in line with our vision for the area, we will wake up in a whitewashed bland-o-rama!

 


LOLZ…

Hej Blocked

more LOLZ…on the old Heygate site…and that is why we keep going on about it!!

Heygate House Price Aug 2018

HAGGLE FOR THE HEART OF THE ELEPHANT – ALL SET FOR TUESDAY 30th!!

SHOPPIN CENTRE JAN 30TH 2018.jpg


For once in our lifetime at Southwark Notes, we get to write something we’ve never ever written: The Council rejected a Planning Application that sought more luxury flats in The Elephant.

Savour that news, for now, as we have been savouring it too since Tues January 16th when after an epic 7 hour meeting, Delancey’s plans to knock down The Elephant Shopping Centre were put on hold.

Even more impressive was the remarkable re-grouping of the Elephant community. From the old campaigns who have been dogged in their graft from day one, to the new student and staff activists from London College of Communications (LCC), the formidable traders and their supporters, the media work being done by some to get the campaign’s voices out in print and video, and the folks from other parts of London nervous how any luxury over-development of The Elephant will impact their much-loved communities.

It’s been a joyful ride these last few weeks! In fact, we had tears in our eyes when we marched with you all on Tues 16th; 200 strong, up Borough High St to the gates of Southwark Council’s castle in Tooley St. A certain magic enabled us to all get into the Town Hall and make enough noise for the planning committee to know the community was at the door and not just online!!

 

DEVELOPERS FIGHT BACK. STUDENTS PULL A BLINDER

The last week has seen an amusing counter-PR campaign by the developer Delancey. They set up Twitter accounts to promote all the benefits as they want them to be seen. ‘They’ being an unaccountable offshore-registered, tax-avoiding client fund, so the benefits they see are only ever making ££££ for their investors. There was even a petition set up by the mysterious ‘Zara Hindle’ to encourage locals to support Delancey’s plans. In the end, the PR guff didn’t garner a lot of support. People can see it for what it is, a desperate move by a desperate developer.

The petition accused the campaigns of being an aggressive minority! Well, two things we know for sure are, yes we are aggressive in our assertion of being a community defending itself from the sheer violence of this ‘regeneration’ plan. As for being a minority, this community has organised countless public meetings, gathered online objections to the plan (900+) and pulled together a large and growing band of people determined to defeat this land grab. All this done for love and on a shoestring. There’s certainly no offshore bank accounts paying for any of our hard work.

And we can’t say we’ve seen much love for the plans: at the Planning Meeting on Jan 16th where space is given for someone local to support the plan, not a soul in the room spoke in favour.

In the last weeks too, students at LCC have been doing amazing organising to expose the College’s shameless partnership with Delancey. LCC is brazen in its support of Delancey against the wishes of the local community and have been very heavy-handed in dealing with any internal discussions that staff have tried to have about the LCC’s possible role in the social cleansing of the area.

LCC Occupation – Here

HOLD TIGHT! STAND FIRM! (and apply a pinch of salt…)

But despite all of this amazing campaigning and coming together, the dice is always loaded. We are not being cynical when we say that this is just the start. We face the long haul now and the campaigns have to stay sharp. We are going to be as honest as we can right now and say that the work of some local councillors on this campaign has been great and we’ve even heard a councillor or two say the word ‘gentrification’ here and there. Interesting times. But councillors, as ever, are as accountable to their communities and this round of speaking up remains to be tested over the next years. We are not being spiteful to remind people that not so long ago some of those same councillors sat in the same planning meeting as we all and approved the demolition of the Heygate Estate or the Aylesbury plans. But if there now is a sea change in local Labour party politics coming from pressure from local party members, and the national direction of the party, that’s great. Do your best! Just remember that the trust broken for years cannot be re-established in one night.

For us, we want to continue from this new found determination to defeat the social cleansing of the Elephant and beyond. We want local communities setting the agenda of what we want and what we clearly don’t want. And, of course this means support for our neighbours at the Aylesbury Estate where more of the same disaster is being dumped top-down onto tenants and residents. There is ample space now for local ward councillors there to be less pro-regeneration and listen better to the serious concerns of the community campaign on the Aylesbury. The ongoing Public Inquiry to the attempt to Compulsorily Purchase people’s homes on the Aylesbury has more than enough evidence and facts on how bad this ‘regeneration’ scheme is and will be for Walworth for generations to come.

 SHOPPIN CENTRE JAN 30TH 2018

NO SELL-OUT & NO STITCH UP ON TUESDAY 30th!

The community’s campaigning has made all the right and best arguments for the Elephant and we’ve all been backing them up with action. On Tues 30th January, the planning application is back at Southwark’s Planning Meeting. The pressure to pass the plan must be enormous on those sitting on the Planning Committee. It’s not even so clear what is possible at that Planning Meeting. The Council’s planning team has been publicly saying the reasons for refusing the plans are weak. Will there be more back-room wheeler-dealing like we saw at 1AM in the morning on Tues 16th! We hope not.

Once again, the community has called for a large mobilisation at the Town Hall. We say again: for any Londoner who fears for London becoming more and more a place for the rich and the wealthy at an extreme cost to the fabric of our local areas, please come down and support the battle for the heart of the Elephant. We are calling for a COMMUNITY CARNIVAL to demand that the vote is respected and that there is no STITCH UP! And we will be there to make sure this doesn’t happen!

Bring your campaign banners, flags, mobile sound systems, energies and passions! See you all there!