Posted December 13th 2011 at 10:55 am by
in Life in London's Council Estates

A View of Clapham Park Estate, South London

Clapham Park Estate is one of the biggest council estates in Europe, stretching from the top of Brixton Hill down to almost the edge of Clapham Common.  Council housing is similar to ‘affordable housing’, or government-subsidized housing in the United States.  Many of its 1,000 homes are up for demolition and rebuilding, as the complex plans to double its units.

“The council promised the existing tenants that they would move into one of the new blocks but it is now being sold off to private ownership,” says Charlotte, producer/director of a series of documentaries about Clapham Park Estate. Charlotte was living in one of the blocks in Clapham Park Estate that was scheduled for demolition, which was what inspired the documentary series. She wanted to capture the stories of a world which was about to disappear.  Some of the movies are posted below.

The original blocks were built in the 1930s as part of slum clearance. The estate got larger when more blocks were built in the 1950s after World War II, and continued through to the 70s. The latter buildings mainly had flat roofs, unsuitable for rainy London, and are the ones that are due to be demolished. Clapham Park Estate is currently five years into a ten year demolish and rebuild program.

The first three blocks have come down and the first two new replacement blocks are up, but since the credit crunch hit in the first year of the program, the demolition and rebuilding work has slowed down substantially.

The responsibility of such council buildings has changed many hands over time. Charlotte tries to clarify the situation: “the blocks were originally all London County Council then became Greater London Council which was abolished in 1986. The Clapham Park Estate which was then under Lambeth Council is now part private and part housing association.” Charlotte further explains that housing associations came out of the housing cooperative movement, where people attempted to take control of their social housing issues. Some tenants say that housing associations run like a not-for-profit business but at least are smaller than councils and can be easier to deal with because of less bureaucracy. Charlotte moved in as a short-term council tenant but it was a time of change for Clapham Park Estate. Following a vote by tenants, after better kitchens and building were promised by the new association, Clapham Park Estate changed hands to this association, Clapham Park Homes. Later most of what was promised was disregarded by the new association leaving tenants angry and disillusioned.

This short film series was produced by Clapham Film Unit, a collective of filmmakers in South London. Their aim is to train and equip local people to tell their personal stories on film. These films are a part of local history in South London and were made in 2008 and 2009.

The Clapham film unit gathered the oral histories of older residents and those who have made major contributions to community life. This documentary series provides a glimpse into a world which is about to disappear forever as the estate is demolished.Here are three short films, which are a part of Brink of Change, a collection of films about life on Clapham Park Estate:

Ken Floyde:

They call me the BMX man down in Brixton,” Ken tells us his story of deprivation, his struggle with mental health and his great achievement – creating a fantastic place for children to ride their bikes.

This film is part of a series of documentaries about Clapham Park Estate. The film unit gathered the oral histories of the older residents and those who have made major contributions to community life. This documentary provides a glimpse into a world which is about to disappear forever as the estate is demolished.


Christina moved to Clapham Park Estate, London in the 1950s. She was aged 8 at the time and still lives in the same flat. She talks about being surrounded by “Friendly Ghosts”. She talks about their excitement when the first black people began to move onto the estate : people from a far away country. ” We didn’t travel in those days, it was a chance to hear about other lands.” Christina wants to stay within the community but change is coming.


“What’s the use of recording history ? No one wants to hear it” Terry lives on Clapham Park Estate in London with his children and grandchildren. His house is due to be demolished to make way for a redevelopment of the area. Terry describes the community life there and he does not want to move. “There won’t be any gardens on Clapham Park…”

After coming across a wide range of people living in council estates in London, I have come to realize that council estates do not equal social housing the way I assumed it would. This is because although the council estates were made to serve people on low incomes and those struggling to afford rent in London, in reality a lot of the properties in many estates are now private. This not only undermines the entire purpose for building such state subsidized council estates but also deprives those who need social housing in London, one of the most expensive ‘real estate’ cities in the world.

The various London councils claim that making more affordable buildings will solve some of the urgent social housing needs in the city. But these new council estates will also eventually become private property for those who can afford it. This will not solve the social housing problems in London because it will not help those who cannot afford to pay high rents or buy a property. There have also been campaigns to move people on low incomes out of London, which have been completely unsuccessful due to lack of consideration for family support and job opportunities for these Londoners. Whether it’s social housing, education or the National Health Service (NHS), the British Government seems to be seeking to imitate United States models. Unfortunately this means slowly privatizing everything until there is nothing left of the welfare system in the United Kingdom.

Post by Seemab Gul.

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