Detail of a noticeboard – interior of Martin’s flat today.
In this audio file, Martin describes his childhood growing up in a central London slum during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Martin’s vivid spatial and historical account presents a picture of a dark world set in an East London ghetto. Today, Martin Wright is a London-based writer, political activist, gambler, hustler, raconteur and one of the original ‘class-war’ saboteurs.
City planners and architects in London have been struggling for decades to provide social housing for those at the bottom of the social ladder. From ugly, cramped and horrific 1970’s architecture to modern day ‘shoe-boxes’, as dubbed in the media, council housing in London is an eyesore. Furthermore, council estates are half-hearted solutions to the issues of poverty, social housing and segregation between the rich and the poor. While not all council estates are ridden with drugs, gangs and crime, the problems of social housing remain to be solved, especially in an expensive city like London.
Martin’s story is the first in a series of posts on life in London’s council estates. Although Martin grew up in an East End tenement, and not council estates, I would like to begin with this interview because it not only gives a historical context of low-cost housing in London, but also makes clear what options were available for people of low income before they moved into social housing in the United Kingdom. This will further explain why some Londoners patiently waited on the council housing list for decades to get a council flat. While some estates work well in small communities, others have problems of noise, ugly architecture and social dysfunction.
Martin’s bookshelves in his current apartment.
How do the estates affect the lives of those who live there? Do they care about where they live? Has anyone asked the residents about what its like to live in cramped high-rise flats before building them?
This series will take an inside view on the reality of living in council estates from the perspectives of the residents, which may give future city planners and architects something to think about. From single mothers, illustrators, political activists to poets and artists, we’ll get an insight into the reality of living in council estates.
Mixing anger with celebration, emotions with expression, this blog series will be an inclusive project to paint portraits of residents of social housing experiments. Each will offer a new voice with drawings, photography, music with writings on the wall, or a video of what life is like living in the council estates of London.
Post and photos by Seemab Gul. Seemab is a London based filmmaker who has been a political activist involved in anti-war campaigns and worked as a volunteer in various community art projects. While she makes socio-political films, her multi-media works span themes of migration, identity, culture and politics.