Tuesday, June 11, 2019

From The Archives: Walterton And Elgin Action Group, 1985-1995

Seamus Clarke in his sub-standard flat before renovation, Walterton Estate, 1993

Another scanning session has resurrected a set of photos from the campaign by residents of two North Paddington estates to save their council-owned homes from sale to a private developer.  Explanation below.  More pictures here

In 1985, with the Greater London Council on the verge of abolition, Walterton and Elgin, two of its estates in the north of the borough of Westminster, were handed over to Westminster City Council.

The two estates, one comprised of Victorian terraces, the other of two 1960s towers surrounded by low-rise concrete blocks, were in poor condition. Without any consultation, the council immediately began drawing up plans to sell them off to private developers.

WEAG posters, Walterton Estate, 1987

Residents responded by forming the Walterton and Elgin Action Group (WEAG).  At very short notice, more than 200 tenants attended a meeting of the council's housing committee to demand that their needs and wishes should take priority.

It was the beginning of a seven year campaign, and WEAG, with a programme of inventive direct action and assistance from a wide range of sympathetic housing professionals, legal advisers and local Labour councillors, went on to draw up its own plan to save the homes for local people in need of rented housing. It lobbied council meetings, paid unannounced visits to the offices of property developers, signed petitions, and flooded the area with posters publicising its struggle.

Unannounced WEAG visit to Regalian Property Company, 1987

The Conservative led council, under the leadership of Dame Shirley Porter and concurrently fighting accusations of gerrymandering over its Building Stable Communities programme, resisted all the way. But in April 1992, the tenants and residents were victorious, their newly-formed Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) taking over the ownership and control of 921 homes, together with a dowry of £22 million to cover the cost of repairs and renovations.

Removing asbestos from a flat in Chantry Point, Elgin Estate, 1995

Friday, April 05, 2019

Public Sector Workplaces 1981-1991

Southwark Council, Lugard Road Kitchens, 1985

These photographs are from a set of newly scanned black and white negatives I shot in the 1980s, at a time when much of my work was commissioned by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Association of Government Officers (NALGO). Others were taken for the Popular Planning Unit of the Greater London Council, then led by Ken Livingstone, and for a variety of other publications and organisations.  More photos here.

It was a time of rapid change and struggle in the public sector, with the radical “contracting out” privatisation policies of the Thatcher government compounding the impact of the 1970s public spending cuts under Labour that had culminated in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979.

Domestics occupy administrator's office, St.Mary's Hospital, 1981

These policies were disastrous both for the workers who provided our services, cutting jobs, pay and conditions in the NHS, local government and elsewhere, and for the service users who relied on them.

They weren't good for photographers either. Claims of commercial confidentiality, and a growing obsession with written consent forms, made access to contracted out workplaces much more difficult to obtain.

More text here.

Contracted out domestic worker, St.Charles Hospital, Notting Hill, 1986
Manchester City Council refuse incinerator, 1987

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Brexit For Beginners

Paris 1996

From Powell to pandemonium: an assortment of Brexit-related images from my library can be found here. I wish they told a story, but nobody else can make much sense of it either. 

Enoch Powell 1983
Dover 2004
Nigel Farage, Margate 2015

Westminster 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Demolishing South Kilburn

South Kilburn Estate, 22-05-18

On South Kilburn Estate new concrete shells are rising from the rubble that was once Gloucester House and Durham Court. I've written before about Brent Council's 15 year estate regeneration scheme, and the implications of the changes of tenure that are at its core, but none of that captures the extraordinary visual impact made by the tearing down of people's homes, whatever the tenure. The most recent demolition phase lasted around six months. A bigger selection of images from that period is here. More words and pictures here.

South Kilburn, 22-3-18

South Kilburn Estate, 1-5-18

South Kilburn, 22-5-18

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

More at The Corner

Over recent months Speakers' Corner has taken on a new lease of life, not all of it healthy. The 'home of free speech' has become the arena for a weekly gladiatorial contest between Islamophobic English nationalists and a fluid group of young Muslim men, as eager to defend their religion as their opponents are to insult it. The result has been much noise, little enlightenment.

The conflict began in March, when the Austrian far-right Generation Identity leader Martin Sellner was refused entry to the UK and deported. The following week English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and a large number of his supporters descended on Speakers' Corner to protest at what they regarded as a denial of their right to free speech. Some of them have been around ever since, apparently happy to have found an easily accessible target for their anger.

Testosterone levels are high (very few women are involved), and police intervention has become a regular feature. After some years during which there were often none to be seen at the Corner on a Sunday afternoon, police are now present in force, their vans strategically parked and rows of constables lined up to step in and separate the two groups when they overheat.

In another new development, the clashes are now available to the world beyond in the form of hours of mostly unedited, often chaotic footage posted on YouTube. Everyone is either filming or being filmed, sometimes both at the same time, and the resulting broadcasts can pick up 20,000 or more views within hours of posting.

So the place has got a lot busier, and although endless religious arguments remain its most prominent (and least interesting) feature, crowd numbers are well up, there are still some discussions worth a listen - and still the occasional frisson when the police go on manoeuvres. More 2018 pictures here, older photos from my book here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Return to Speakers' Corner

Speakers' Corner 2017

Is it just winter, or is Speakers' Corner in terminal decline? On a recent visit – my first for over a year – religion, always a dominant presence, was the only thing on offer, mostly in the form of squabbles between Christian and Muslim preachers and hecklers. And there weren't more than three or four of those. I don't remember ever seeing such an unimpressive bunch.

It was the last, rather miserable, Sunday of 2017. Dull and damp, with occasional spots of rain, and darkness threatening by mid-afternoon. So maybe not a fair basis for judgement. I will be back to check. I hope I'm wrong.

For a record of how it used to be, my book Speakers' Corner, Debate, Democracy and Disturbing the Peace is still on sale at all good bookshops.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Lendlease: Someone Has Blundered

Elephant Park construction site, Southwark

Lendlease's controversial deal with Haringey Council may be looking precarious, but the developer is still going strong in Southwark, where it is replacing 1194 social rented flats on the once publicly owned Heygate Estate with a paltry 74.  A further 500 of a total of 2500 new homes in its Elephant Park scheme will be let at so-called 'affordable' rents, and the rest sold off. Purchase of a one-bed, shared-ownership flat requires a minimum household income of around £60K.
The now demolished Heygate Estate, 2002