Concrete Heart Land/ Bleacher on the Rye Gentrification Double Bill
‘I feel sorry for the residents of the estates that are being knocked down who will have to leave the Elephant and Castle. With so many new people coming to live here it will force a lot of people out…’
Joyce, ex-Heygate Estate Resident.
Full Unemployment Cinema and Southwark Notes present an evening of films and presentations around the politics and economics of gentrification and ‘regeneration’ in south London. While in the midst of a widely acknowledged housing crisis London also seems to be in the grip of a malign spiral of development that threatens to displace many working class people from ‘their’ city. This process is exemplified by the recent ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle that has led to the eviction and dispersal of long term tenants, a protracted struggle by leaseholders to secure equitable compensation and the eventual building of a private housing development with almost no social housing.
The film Concrete Heart Land documents the attempts by local Heygate residents to resist this ongoing process of dispossession and gentrification. Concrete Heart Land traces this struggle through a combination of archive footage, panoramic views of the huge Heygate estate and by parodying the language of regeneration in chanted ensemble performances in the deliberately run down estate.
The second film in the screening is Bleacher on the Rye (working title), a documentary about the regeneration of Peckham Rye Station and the surrounding area by the independent, activist production company Spectacle. The film pays close attention to the way the wider dynamics of gentrification are hostile to existing communities, businesses and the diverse cultures of a particular neighbourhood.
Ultimately at the heart of both films lies the wider question of what kind of city we desire to live in. One characterised by gentrification, profit led development, the atomisation of existent communities and the zoning of the city according to the dictates of class status and income? Or is it still possible to assert political control and neighbourhood autonomy over the pressures of property development and the managerial, market led imperatives of local and central government? Or rather than this 21st century urban either/ or might the paraphernalia of gentrification-from craft coffee to chain-stores, sterile public spaces and market rate lettings- somehow co-exist with existent working class neighbourhoods? After the screenings a presentation by Southwark Notes-a local group of activists investigating gentrification-will explore these questions as well as the role of local art scenes in both opposing and abetting gentrification. This will be followed by a discussion, possibly to be continued in an establishment selling either beer or cup cakes, depending upon preference.
 ‘Quarter’ #4 Spring / Summer 2008 ‘the official regeneration magazine for the Elephant and Castle produced by Southwark Council and its development partners Lend Lease’. See Southwark Notes blog http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/heygate-estate/
The film Concrete Heart Land analyses the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. It marks the moment that the estate was finally lost as social housing to make way for a regeneration scheme. The film is not just a chronicle of defeat in the face of profit led gentrification but also documents attempts by the local community to resist.
Assembled from 12 years of archive materials, the film charts the struggles of the local community to keep their homes, stay living in the area and maintain communal benefits, in the face of the advance of this now notorious ‘urban redevelopment programme’. Throughout the film, we hear the community engaging in some of the crucial battles with elected officials, planners and barristers in municipal planning meetings, public enquiries and interviews.
Weaving through these recordings is a performance staged in 2012 on the then inhabited estate. An assembled group of past and present residents, community activists, and critics of the Heygate plans, chant texts made up of phrases from the Regeneration Masterplan. The performances highlight and parody the technical and ideological language of regeneration, and the aspirational language of gentrification.
Over the course of 2012 and 2013 we filmed panoramic video images of the estate and interiors of some of the Heygate flats, all of which feature in the film.
Having evicted the last residents in November 2013, Southwark Council and the developer Lend Lease are currently working towards bringing about the wider gentrification of the area. Community groups continue to campaign, critique and resist.