London: Thirty days into the occupation of the Old Tidemill Garden

Yesterday [27/9/18] marked 30 days since campaigners — myself included — occupied the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a much-loved community garden in Deptford, and it was a day of celebration, as we secured a court ruling allowing our occupation to last for at least another month.

Campaigners have been occupying the garden since August 29, to prevent Lewisham Council from boarding it up prior to its planned destruction as part of a housing project with the developer Peabody.

Lewisham Council sought to evict the campaigners at Bromley County Court, but although the judge confirmed the council’s right to possession of the garden, he ruled that it cannot take place until seven days after a High Court judge holds an oral hearing at which campaigners will seek permission to proceed to a judicial review of the legality of the council’s plans. This oral hearing will take place on October 17 (and please, if you can, make a donation to our crowdfunder for our legal fees).

Andrea Carey, a member of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, said:

This is great news, as it was clearly unacceptable for the council to seek possession of the garden while a legal challenge to the legality of its plans was in progress. We urge the council, and the developers Peabody, to take this opportunity to do what they have persistently failed to do: to go back to the drawing board, and to work with the community to come up with new plans for the old Tidemill school site that spare the garden and the 16 structurally sound council flats next door, in Reginald House, and that deliver new homes at social rent.

The garden is a precious green lung in an urban environment short of green space, loved by locals of all ages. Crucially, the garden also mitigates the worst effects of pollution on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been measured that are six times the World Health Organisation’s recommended safety levels.

The garden features a design of concentric circles, with a magical ability to enable visitors to relax, to heal and to forget the noise and the pressures of the world outside. It was created 20 years ago by pupils, parents and teachers at the old Tidemill primary school, and has matured in the intervening decades. Only those who have shut off their inner self, and their connection with nature could be unmoved by it, and yet Lewisham Council and Peabody are determined to destroy it.

We occupied it on August 29 because that was the date when the council terminated the community’s “meanwhile use” lease on the site, which had lasted for four years, during which time it was opened on Saturdays for local people, for gardening, and for numerous cultural events. Prior to that, guardians in the old school, which closed in 2012 and moved to a new site, had also opened it up up for events, and so, for 20 years, it has been a green focal point for the local community.

As part of their development plans, Lewisham Council and Peabody also want to demolish Reginald House, a structurally sound block of council flats next door, whose only problem is that it has been subjected by the council to a process of “managed decline” — familiar to anyone subjected to regeneration plans. 80% of the residents have told the council — and the GLA — that they don’t want their homes destroyed, but the council won’t allow them a ballot, even though that is now supposed to be Labour Party policy.

In fact, in March, Siân Berry, the co-leader of the Green Party, who chairs the GLA’s housing committee, revealed that Reginald House was one of 34 estates whose destruction he had stealthily approved by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan before his advice regarding ballots was issued (which, in turn, followed Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement at last year’s Labour Party Conference that there should be no more estate demolitions without residents being balloted). Please also check out my article, The 34 Estates Approved for Destruction By Sadiq Khan Despite Promising No More Demolitions Without Residents’ Ballots.

Siân Berry paid a visit to the garden last Friday, and subsequently published an article on her website, ‘Old Tidemill plans should go back to the drawing board’, supporting all our demands. As she stated, “What is happening in Deptford is central to many of the problems associated with current regeneration plans in London — a project to build new housing that involves the unnecessary demolition of existing council housing that should be refurbished, a refusal to grant residents a ballot on the future of their homes, and a reckless disregard for environmental concerns.”

We have also just had a wonderful short film made for us by Nikita Woolfe, the director of the documentary ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates and residents’ resistance to the destruction of their homes, which I narrate. Niki came to the garden on Monday, took some delightful footage, and also interviewed campaigner Heather Gilmore, who eloquently explained why we’ve occupied the garden, and what we’re demanding, and also explained the legal challenges prior to yesterday’s decision.

So now a new phase in the occupation begins, as we have a whole month to step up our PR war with Lambeth Council and Peabody, who, quite frankly, are not winning hearts and minds. This weekend we’ll relax as the garden is opened up as part of the internationally acclaimed arts festival Deptford X, with performances, art and films, and a fundraising gig at Sister Midnight Records tomorrow evening, and next week the escalation begins, with more events planned for the garden, Lewisham-wide networking, London-wide networking, calls for environmentalists and housing experts to get involved, and calls to supportive journalists.

If you can help out in any way, please do get involved. This is not only a winnable battle; it’s a must-win battle, as the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden is genuinely too precious to be allowed to be destroyed by politicians and bureaucrats who have lost all connection with nature and with any real sense of community.

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