The occupation of Tidemill Garden in Deptford

Echoing the combined efforts of squatters and residents to fight local councils and developers of the 2014/2015 period, Tidemill Garden in Deptford has been occupied since Wednesday the 29th of August, in resistance to Lewisham Council’s plans to redevelop the area, displacing residents and destroying the garden.

Tidemill Garden is a community garden located on Reginald Road in Deptford, SE8. It and Reginald House (an estate block comprised of 16 maisonette homes) are earmarked for demolition by Lewisham Council. The council plans to redevelop the site, in association with Peabody (Mosaic) housing association to provide 209 new homes, and while approximately half of these will be social rent, the council has touted the affordability of the rest of the flats, while continuing to change the numbers as they go. A good breakdown of the statistics can be found at the Crosswhatfields website. Anyone who has taken an interest in housing struggles in the last decade will know that the term “affordable” does not in fact refer to the homes being affordable to working-class people, but in fact refers to the amount by which the council will subsidise from the market rate, which means rent can be as high as 80% of the average in the area. When one starts to factor in the absurd cost of new-build luxury apartments, it is obvious how out of reach these new homes will be from the people who currently live in Deptford.

The Garden itself is another concern, regardless of the cost of the new housing. There are fewer and fewer green spaces for local residents anywhere in London, and when new plans promise green spaces, but fail to publicise that the newly-created spaces will be for private residents’ use only, it can only reinforce the idea that the local council have zero interest in their constituents and the world they live in. The garden serves as a meeting space, an event space, a local resource in which we see anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian organising in action. Prior to the Windrush era Deptford had a fairly well-to-do market, but was one of the areas that was condemned by councillors and planners, and intentionally destroyed in order to reinforce the class divide. It is ironic that now Deptford remains one of the last bastions of working-class identity that can say it is within a stone’s throw of the financial district of the City of London Corporation.

The residents of the area have had a licence from Lewisham Council to use the Tidemill Garden, but have essentially been notified that the ability to use the garden will come to an end, since September of 2017 when Lewisham Council finalised the planning permission that would see the garden and Reginald House demolished to make way for the new development. The rhetoric that the new development would ensure that the current residents obtain newer, flasher homes at the same rate as they currently pay is the same rhetoric those on the Heygate, the Aylesbury, and countless other estates have been promised, which conveniently ignores the fact that these tenants would be required to move out of the area while the new development takes place over the next couple of years.

When one takes a minute to look at the recent history of Deptford, it is apparent that this is not an isolated incident. The township sits in Zone 2, and it is surprising that it has held out this long against the voracious march of capitalism. Welcome then the new Market Yard, with cocktail bars and coffee shops, the new flats being erected on every corner, and the campaign to market Deptford as the next big thing in property investment. A recent campaign by the Evening Standard even marketed Deptford as the next up-and-comer, inviting the winners of a raffle to an all-expenses-paid weekend purveying the wares of many a shop on the high street that weren’t even made aware of their involvement in the Evening Standards campaign. And there was of course the saga of the missing anchor, once the iconic representation of a community on the corner of New Cross Road and the Deptford High St, removed for the magnetic attraction it had with local street drinkers. The calls by locals to reinstate its position as the Deptford standard fell upon deaf ears, until the property market caught on to the area, at which point the anchor was reinstalled, recognising the nostalgic chic that can have a massive effect on real estate in the locality.

Recently there were attempts to reinvigorate a sense of collective ownership of Deptford, from the Bank of No Money squat in 2016, to the re-opening of the bus next to the Bird’s Nest on Deptford Church Street. These projects provided people on the street a place to gather away from the CCTV and PCSOs that would assert themselves and their presence. Having meeting places, and spaces in which to socialise in a way that benefits the people who live in the area is crucial to the continuation of local and autonomous organisation. Unfortunately the reality of squatted or occupied spaces is that they are not for long.

This is the reality that now faces the Tidemill Garden. In the last year since the campaign really ramped up and started to involve not only the people who utilised the garden and the residents of Reginald House, but also many local activist and artist groups. The Garden has become a hub of activity and self-organising spirit, unlike the Lewisham Council which has reinforced its image as a wretched hive of scum and villany. On the 29th of August the local campaign which consists of residents of Reginald House, local garden users, squatters, pub locals and beyond took community control of Tidemill Garden, refusing to hand back possession despite Lewisham Council’s notice to quit. Events continue to be organised at the Garden, including September the 1st’s demonstration to coincide with the annual Party In The Park, a festival taking place in Fordham Park, which not only celebrates the area and its community, but also adopts a political struggle as the theme each year. This year the theme is housing, and it could not come at a more appropriate time.

It remains to be seen how Lewisham Council will respond to this occupation, but a spokeperson has said that they are prepared to take immediate action. Whether this results in court action is unclear, but the local campaigners have stated their intention to stay and keep the Garden open as a community space until the bitter end. And the end may be bitter, for the majority of political occupations do end with violent eviction. But the determination of the campaigners and occupiers can only be read as a positive sign of civil disobedience against the council, the developers, the gentrifiers, and the capitalists that would swallow Tidemill Garden in a single gulp to continue their destruction of all that resist the motive of capital investment.

The Tidemill Garden is located on Reginald Road in Deptford, SE8, and could do with all the assistance people can offer. People are camped out in tents and tree-houses, and in the wooden cabins already established by locals onsite. Donations welcome, from materials, to sleeping gear, to food, to bodies on the frontline for when the council returns. For those that don’t make it down, take with you the thought of defending the place you live from the vultures in the councils and the real estate development agencies. Harbour the spirit of resistance that the occupiers of Tidemill Garden have impressed upon Deptford. Vive autonomous local organising.

Tidemill campaigns updates here and here.


Photo: Save Reginald Save Tidemill