One year ago yesterday, the two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, came to a violent end when bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council evicted the occupiers in a dawn raid.
[For more infos see Thirty days into the occupation of the Old Tidemill Garden in Trespass issue 3]
It was a disturbing end to a long-running effort on the part of the local community to save the garden — and Reginald House, a block of structurally sound council flats next door — from destruction as part of a plan to re-develop the site of the old Tidemill primary school. The garden — a magical design of concentric circles — had been created by pupils, teachers and parents 20 years before, and the community had been given use of it after the school moved to a new site in 2012, while efforts to finalise the plans proceeded, with the housing association Family Mosaic (which later merged with Peabody) and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes.
The garden was not only a magical green space; it also helped to mitigate the worst effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, but the council weren’t interested in considering alternative plans that would have spared the garden and Reginald House, and terminated the lease on the garden on August 28 last year. However, instead of giving the keys back, the community occupied the garden instead, embarking on a two-month experiment in community resistance that resonated around the world.
A year ago yesterday, after the eviction, whose intended swift conclusion was delayed as one brave activist, high in a tree, survived efforts to bring her down that were patently dangerous and in contravention of health and safety protocols, there was a stand-off, and numerous skirmishes, between the bailiffs — 130 of them in total —- and many dozens of police officers brought in to “protect” them, and the local community and activists and campaigners who had been part of the occupation, or had been part of the longer struggle to save the garden from destruction, or who, in some cases, only got involved when the eviction took place, and were instantly radicalised by the violence on show.
The eviction cost over £100,000, and the council subsequently spent over a million pounds paying the bailiffs to guard the garden 24 hours a day, causing serious distress in the immediate neighbourhood, as the bailiffs were not always friendly, the garden was floodlit at night, and guard dogs in the garden barked all night. Eventually, after campaigners persuaded a tree services company hired to cut down the trees to withdraw from their contract, the council found a more pliable company, and that destruction took place on February 27 this year, on the same day that, with breathtaking hypocrisy, the council declared a “climate emergency.”
The campaigners, however, continued their resistance, symbolically occupying the green next to the garden and causing the council further headaches, but in May they withdrew, fearing crippling legal costs in a court case. However, although the green was soon boarded up, building works have not begun.
Instead, Sherrygreen Homes and Peabody have begun work on a second site, Amersham Vale, which was stealthily twinned with Tidemill at the planning stage, where 120 new properties are to be built, 81 of which will be for private sale, in a development marketed, without a trace of irony, as ‘The Muse.’ Once this cash cow is underway, the development of the Tidemill site — where only 51 of the proposed 209 properties are for private sale — will presumably begin, and it will be interesting to see, when this does eventually happen, what resistance there will be, as campaigners have not given up on the residents of Reginald House, whose homes shouldn’t be destroyed, and who have never been given a ballot to ask what they want, and campaigners also continue to insist that the garden should be re-planted and retained, which would actually be a significant gesture on the council’s part towards tackling the “climate emergency” that they so hollowly declared back in February.
Keep watching for updates — and do check out what’s happening at Amersham Vale — but in the meantime enjoy my photos below, of the beauty of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, and its exhilarating two-month occupation last year.
We all still miss it every day.
Source and lots of fotos at Andy Worthington’s blog