In this post Charlotte Bill tells the story of how the reconstruction of Clapham Park Estate, a massive public housing project in London, impacted her and her neighbors.
I moved to Clapham Park Estate in 2004. We had finally been housed by Lambeth Council after two and half years on the urgent need list. When we saw the flat, up on the fourth floor of a lovely old 1930s block we were so happy. My daughter ran up and down on the balcony and we looked all around at the twisting stairs and the little bathroom. It was just right for us two. I felt at last we could settle and my daughter could have a good, stable environment to grow up in. It had central heating and we were cosy and warm. We painted the flat and grew jasmine and tomatoes on the balcony. Next door lived a big Somali family and all the children played together on the walkway outside the flat. Downstairs was a big family from Kenya and they all played outside in the little playground.
One day a postcard arrived saying,”find out how the master plan will affect you.” I rang the number on the card and was told if the master plan went ahead my flat would be demolished. I would be transferred into another block then housed in one of the new buildings which were going to be built when the stock transfer happened. Lambeth Council were giving away all the social housing. The tenants were subjected to a massive advertising campaign where we were promised “Brighter homes for a brighter future” Everyone was promised a new kitchen and bathroom or rehousing in a new flat. We were exhorted to vote “Yes” to the stock transfer. I tried to believe in the scheme and that we would be rehoused in a new flat. I tried to believe 2,000 households could be accommodated in the same area that 1,000 currently occupied. It already felt overcrowded. But I was unable to believe in the new scheme and I wanted to stay a council tenant. I voted NO to the stock transfer. However the majority of those who voted voted yes so the transfer went through and demolition began.
I decided to collect the memories of the people who had lived on the estate longer than me. I gathered a group of young filmmakers to form the collective Clapham Film Unit, and we recorded the oral histories of the oldest residents of the estate. People who had lived there for 30 or 40 years. We put the stories together as a series of short documentaries, Brink of Change. I wanted the stories to be told by different filmmakers to make a multi-voice documentary. I wanted to reflect diversity of the people who lived on one of the largest estate in Europe. Brought together by housing need but from very different paths.
Meanwhile I was called in by the new owners: Clapham Park Homes. I was offered a choice to be rehoused after demolition in a new block on Clapham Park Estate or to move out into a housing association flat. I chose to move out as I wanted to give my daughter a stable home and did not trust the people in charge of the housing. We moved out in 2008 but only moved half a mile away so it was easy to keep an eye on developments.
I saw the old blocks come down and new blocks go up. I saw the block we might have been moved into and It didn’t look too bad. Then the credit crunch hit and the powers that be decided not to put gas into the new blocks. Then they decided not to house tenants in the new block but to sell it off privately to pay for the rest of the development. They decided not to demolish our old block and all the people living there had been strung along on false promises of redevelopment. Not only were they were dumped with all the old problems of the aging and neglected council properties, they also had to watch the yuppies moving into homes which had been promised to them.
A lot of elderly people who had bought their flats at a massive discount in the time of the Thatcher-sell off were now faced with extremely high charges for refurbishment in line with Clapham Park Homes redevelopment of the blocks. They are faced with bills of £10,000 which they can not pay.
All in all, many family lives were disrupted for profit.
Post and photos by Charlotte Bill. This post is one in a series about life in London’s Council Estates.