This short film documents the demolition of a south London housing estate and its impact on the residents. Seen through the eyes of one working class couple who were forced from their home after 30 years on the Heygate Estate, its underlying message is about social cleansing and in the words of co-director Patrick Steel, “the human cost of big regeneration projects and the decline in social housing”.
In the film Larry and Janet Colfer are interviewed about their lives, from Larry arriving as an emigrant from post-war Ireland, through the years when they moved from a small terraced house into a maisonette on the newly-built estate in 1973, and then leaving it as some of the last residents before the estate’s final demolition in 2013.
A strength of the film is how it challenges the notion that council estates of the 60s and 70s were unable to replicate the community or kinship of the old Victorian terraces they replaced. “Everyone was friendly — it was a real community,” Janet says. And “no one wanted to move”.
This is not some rose-tinted image of halcyon days but a recognition that despite cheap building materials and the industrialised building methods often used in their construction, social housing created stable communities at rents that most working class people could afford.
The travesty of the wholesale demolition of the Heygate — and up to 100 other estates across London alone — is that “regeneration” is really about the generation of vast wealth for property companies, not low-rental social housing. In fact, there are now 92 percent fewer social rented units. Many of the previous residents have moved to locations outside of London altogether.
A key theme in the interviews, supplemented by scenes of housing clearance and the removal day, is how tenants and leaseholders were offered “alternative accommodation” which was completely unacceptable because of the standard of the dwellings or the distance from their current home. The local council’s offer of a “right to return” after regeneration proved an illusion to all but a handful.
If you want to understand the stress of displacement and the way that tenants are inveigled into relinquishing their homes which are then replaced by investment opportunities for the rich, watch this film.
To learn how to resist, you will have to get involved with campaigns like Defend Council Housing or start by reading the anti-gentrification handbook “Staying Put” available at www.southwarknotes.wordpress.com