In December this year, Lambeth Council is due to make a decision on the future of Cressingham Gardens, a popular low-rise estate of some 300 homes, bordering Brockwell Park. In a series of themed blogs building up to the verdict, join resident Jo Parkes on a personal journey through regeneration, and get a unique insight into a contentious trend which is dramatically changing the lives of thousands of people across London.
Voting has long been an activity I’ve taken pleasure in: each time I walk the path leading to the familiar wooden booths of Holy Trinity School on Upper Tulse Hill, I well up with a pride in exercising my right, hard won by history. There’s a hope that somewhere, someone, will note my choice and their future politics will be influenced for the better. My husband does a convenient postal vote, but I feel he’s missing out on the poignant joy of a personal appearance.
This had until recently, more-or-less been the extent of my civic activity, besides the odd subversive conversation down the pub with like-minded Brixtonians. But the day Lambeth Council announced its regeneration plans for Cressingham Gardens, my excellent home for more than ten years, a new political zeal was born.
Previously, I’d known a little of what injustice might be like, but on a very small scale indeed. For example, when certain narrow-minded teachers wrongly earmarked my teenage self as a suspect force, simply because I’d died my hair black, and, er, purple.
But the threat of having your home stripped from you against your will, feels like real injustice. It’s like being framed for someone else’s crime. There’s a sense of being collectively punished for what many residents here consider to be a bizarre combination of chronic underspending and endemic wastefulness by Lambeth over many, many years.
Rather than hide as metaphorical bulldozers line up, like some here who may have felt beaten by the council rhetoric before this even started, I, along with many neighbours, decided to fight for an innovative repairs and refurbishment programme. The small triumphs our ‘Save Cressingham’ campaign has won since Lambeth somewhat euphemistically first unveiled its intentions at a ‘Summer Exhibition’ in 2012, have fed that fire, and even if in the end we lose, I know we will have ‘died’ in defence of what’s right.
We spent the first year of the consultation getting the council to agree to commission an estate-wide structural survey, so at least we’d know what condition the buildings were in, and how much it would cost to fix them. This seemed somehow preferable to the guesswork that had made meetings with the council regeneration team resemble a visit to Mystic Meg.
Two years down the line and we are still waiting for a robust costs breakdown, one of too many long-awaited responses to mention right now. But what we do know from the engineer’s report, is that there are only ‘isolated structural’, fixable, issues. Contrast this with some frankly hilarious myths that have been whispered by the complicit over the years, such as: ‘Did you know the estate is actually sliding down the hill?’ I know who I’d like to see rolling down Tulse Hill back to the Town Hall, never to return.
At risk of seeming facetious, part of me wishes that all Londoners could taste the bitter, infantilising brew that is to be ‘put into regeneration’. There’s nothing like it for inspiring a coming together. In lieu of that, we want to help seed an alternative to this ugly London property crisis, and help create a future for this city that we can all have a chance of taking part in.
Despite the almost all-consuming nature of this project, I still passionately pursue my career and interests. But this trumps them all for meaning. As a neighbour put it: ‘This is the meaning of life now.’
Cressingham Gardens is taking part in Open House London on September 20 and 21.
Follow Jo Parkes on Twitter @Adjournist