What distinguishes the Tidemill event, and makes it distinctive from any other Sound System that night, was that it was totally condoned and facilitated by Lewisham Council itself.
The organisers of a so-called "Three-Day Community Event" at the old Tidemill School are Newbould Guardians. Over the bank holiday weekend they tortured their local community with 18 hours of extremely loud sound system noise.
Badly photocopied grey leaflets were distributed to most of Crossfields on Thursday morning – just two days notice of the event, which promised three days of 'alternative' celebration, featuring Saxon Sound International at the top of the bill. There was not much time to plan an escape.
Meanwhile, the organisers had already been publicising the event far and wide via the internet. The Facebook page proclaimed:
THIS IS NOT A LOYALIST EVENT – THIS IS A COMMUNITY EVENT CELEBRATING THE PEOPLE, ART AND MUSIC OF OUR COUNTRY – ONE AND ALL WELCOME.
A lot of Crossfields residents like reggae and some are old enough to have skanked along to Saxon Studio International in their hey-day 30 years ago when they fostered Smiley Culture and Tippa Irie, but there's a place for the loudest sound system this side of Brixton, Notting Hill and Bristol, and it's not in the middle of a residential area. Thirty years ago, hard-to-let Frankham House was mostly occupied by students who may have enjoyed the school playground next door being taken over by a reggae Sound System, but that was then, and this is now. Families and the elderly live here now.
The Facebook post stating "this is a community event" was actually not a claim made by the printed publicity. At no point had the community been consulted about what they would like, nor given good notice it would be happening, so obviously this was not a community event. This was an event inflicted on the community.
Newbould Guardians put on less noisy bands and acts (from "far and wide") in the rain-proof school hall, and meanwhile gave the 'community' an inescapable two 9 hour days of Jamaican Sound System, as if Tidemill playground was Mountsfield Park. It would have been three days if it hadn't rained on Sunday.
Newbould Events' Jubilee Street Party: Sat – Mon 2-4 June 2012
Newbould's Street Party as advertised by Transpontine online.
Residents received a pale poorly photocopied black and white imitation of this effort.
On the Saturday at Frankham House, the noise became uncomfortable just after midday. Saxon were set up outdoors in the old school playground with their speaker stacks facing Reginald Road, Frankham House and the high street, whilst indie bands, circus acts, comedy and performance artists were confined to the school hall – where, incidentally, the Fire Doors were kept open continuously in contempt of Health & Safety.
Although the event was "free", once past the strict door policy (which lapsed later on), attendees could buy food and drink, with alcohol priced at around £3. Bringing in your own food and drink was totally discouraged. Frugal students and street drinkers alike – carrying cans and bottles bought in the high street – were sometimes refused entry, depending on who was on the door. Often there was no one on the door. Unless it was a condition of the license, it seemed the aim was to make as much money as possible on refreshments sold on the premises, but the prices were prohibitive for most.
At around 5pm, Saxon cranked up the sound so that everyone in Castell House across the road couldn't hear each other talk or their TVs over the usual noise from the traffic – even with their windows closed. At Frankham House, the vibrations from the loud bass were rattling windows, interior doors and furniture, and setting off car alarms.
In the playground, at around 8pm, there weren't that many in attendance, most seemed to be friends of Saxon. Some young white guys played football in the netball court next to the playground (annoyingly rattling the wire fence adjacent to Frankham House), whilst other studenty types hung out smoking in the back garden. Most of the attendees in the school hall seemed to be fans of the acts.
Some local sound system fans and street drinkers who'd been turned away earlier, were happily standing outside the fence in the car park on the west side where they could drink more cheaply. A couple of guys had got a barbecue of their own going at the car park's entrance.
Locals were thin on the ground – they were not here. And with nowhere to sit down, indoors or out, it was a pretty shit party for anyone over 30. Frankham and Castell House were extremely grateful the loudness stopped round about 9pm.
It rained all day on Sunday, and Saxon didn't play, much to the relief of the local residents, but the party must've been in full swing in the school hall, since the Environment Team were still being called about noise from Tidemill at 2am in the morning.
On Monday, it all started again. For another nine hours, residents were subjected to yet more bass vibrations from sound system royalty, Saxon, playing at a volume more suited to a park venue.
At around 5pm, with the sun coming out, there were about 40 people in the school yard, and another 40 in the school hall. By 6pm, kids were playing in the netball court and the outer gates were open with no security, but a sign was going up to remind people they could not bring their own booze and food into the playground.
By 8pm, with the sun still out, numbers had slightly swelled in the forecourt with the gates wide open for once, creating a party vibe, though the playground itself was still empty with everyone hanging about its edges, whilst the school hall audience was much diminished despite the uplifting music of a three piece playing traditional Irish jigs. Outside, Saxon were as loud as ever, so Frankham Housers could not open their doors to greet the evening sun (or the birdsong, which was equally stifled). A young couple who'd been refused entry because the young man had a can in his hand, went mooching round the lawn area of Frankham looking for somewhere quiet to sit (no chance of that). Even Bird's Nest regulars across the road thought it was too loud.
The Environment Team reported a record number of calls. They promised to confiscate Saxon's equipment if they didn't stop at 9pm – but they would've needed a truck to cart away the gear. Saxon stopped at around 9.15.
For a 'Community Event' there had been a remarkable lack of understanding of – or consultation with – the local community. Local residents only had two days' notice of the event. The outdoor programme lacked any imagination – where was the African, Asian, Vietnamese, Latin or Irish music? Some R&B, a bit of Tango, a little Jazz?
Some of those dropping by (and leaving soon after because it was too loud in the playground) didn't even notice the sign pointing the way to the School Hall where the more varied music was – after all, the event was described as a "Street Party" so no one expected an indoor venue.
Why was the loudest sound system in South London given exclusive use of the outside venue? Why not have a Latin band and some tango dancing in the playground? Why not have all the bands playing outside under the canopy, come rain or shine?
If it was a "Street Party for the Community", why was it necessary to describe "Deptford" to outsiders on the Facebook page? How come the participating bands were telling their mates on Facebook "not to worry about the rain, it's an indoor party?"
Where was the "Street Party"? Why stop 'the community' bringing their own food and drink to their own "Street Party"?
There was something deeply patronising about this event that saw all the whiteys sheltered from the rain indoors with a variety of music (though they could escape to the garden to smoke), and a singular taste in Black music catered for outside in a cliched back 'yard'.
The empty playground
Newbould seemed to assume there would be a ready-made audience for the full-on Sound System outdoors. There was not.
Trying to recreate something the Jamaican community is quite capable of creating on its own (as was going on at the usual beacons, Upper Brockley Road and Ffinch St on the Monday), Newbould Guardians managed to garner no more than about 50 people to the playground, despite a sound level equivalent to People's Day, where a properly organised festival has people coming in their hundreds, if not thousands.
The empty playground
Who are Newbould Guardians?
The company's website says it places professional people in empty buildings that are vulnerable to squatting, arson, vandalism, fly tipping and theft, and claims to offer rates up to 95% cheaper than paid security guards (in other words, it does charge for its services). The council has claimed there are "no ongoing costs" but has refused to reveal any other financial details (see The Mercury's report from March 2012).
Newbould charge the few young professionals living there 'a reasonable rent', and we're told space is also rented out to 'community projects'. Newbould's website tells prospective property owning clients:
Back in April, some squatters took up residence in the old school keeper's house at the east of the property. It was not Newbould who alerted the council, but a Frankham House resident. So much for security.Live-in guardians temporarily occupy your property, meaning that your insurance premiums will be considerably lower than if your building is left vacant. Newbould Guardians protect your property against squatting and other illegal activities, however unlike conventional security our guardians also maintain your utilities infrastructure by keeping them in use and can alert you immediately of any problems with the building. Having your property occupied prevents it from becoming dilapidated and depreciating in value and maintains a sense of neighbourhood community.
Eight Romanians were spotted coming out of the old schoolkeeper's house only last week (a Frankham House resident stopped to chat with one of them) – they have cleverly cut the metal railings at the front of the property so that they appear intact.
Perhaps the council do not care what happens to this little building? Squatting by East Europeans is on the Safer Neighbourhood Team's agenda, mostly behind Reginald Road, where they say local landlords do nothing to help the problem, which renders the SNT powerless. The Frankham House resident warned the guys that new laws may result in prison, and we're not proud of outing them here, but someone else would have, and the point is that Newbould aren't doing the job they're engaged to do.
We also gather the main building is not being maintained properly (it has the same leaking ceilings it had when the school occupied it). And, with the gates shut most of the time, there is no sense of 'neighbourhood community' being maintained.
Back in March, the 'Guardians' put on an evening event that was so exclusive only a handful of local people got an invitation. The 'artists' living in the building showed off their art and performance work, and told visitors that they were not allowed to use the playground, ballcourt or the garden (even though all three of these outdoor venues were used and abused on the bank holiday weekend). This exclusive event in March was supposed to end at 8.30, but the private party went on past 11pm, causing the Environment Team to be called.
When asked by the few local visitors if Newbould had any plans to involve the community, the 'artists' promised more open community events and a programme of activities to cater for the community in the future – but, some three months later, this shambles of a three-day weekend is the first.
The banner on their otherwise unpenetrable front gates says "Community Arts in the Unused" but they are not listed on the Lewisham Council website as a place that might be used by the community – mind you, neither is the Deptford Lounge. Of course, any 'community rents' Newbould might pull in will be going to Newbould Guardians (a private company, part of CIS Security, who are contracted by the council), unlike other buildings occupied by artist groups elsewhere in Deptford, where rent is paid to the council and not by it, buildings are looked after, and disturbances are rarely caused.
At a time when other (much quieter) artists groups are threatened with the loss of their space (Creekside Artists and others in Faircharm, those in all the buildings that are part of The Deptford Project, and Utrophia) the arrangement Lewisham Properties has made with Newbould Guardians beggars belief.
The conditions of their contract are presumably (but maybe not) as stated on their website ("under no circumstances are parties or big group gatherings allowed"). (www.newbouldguardians.co.uk/property-owner-faq)
Meanwhile, on another page of their website they are advertising "an innovative new scheme" to deliver "effective, innovative and creative events...with our commitment to involve the local community" which until recently showed pictures of the event they held in March to which none of the community was invited (newbouldguardians.biz/newbould-collective). We found another webpage displaying pics from the bank holiday weekend showing what happened in the school hall: www.kctv.co.uk/events/newbould_gardians_present/ (no photos of an empty playground).
In the four months they've been here, they've neither made contact with the local community nor proved they can put on an event that doesn't totally alienate the entire neighbourhood.
The Council's Response to complaints
Frankham Housers have written a letter of complaint, via Cllr Paul Maslin, signed by residents in 17 of the flats. As well as reporting their distress at how their bank holiday weekend was ruined, they also asked:
- which are the specific terms of the leasehold (or other relevant contractual arrangement between the two parties) which will in future allow the council to ensure that this third party supplier provides a service to local people which is fit for purpose; and,
- how will the council ensure that these terms are more diligently adhered to and policed in future?
"the council...are pleased the guardians have been able to use the building for the community to benefit from".They have done nothing so far to benefit the community, Steve.
"Newbould Guardians attained a temporary events license for 4 days between Friday 1 July and Monday 4 July, to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee."Er, you mean Friday 1st June and Monday 4th June, surely?
"This allowed them to hold events from 12noon until 11pm. Out of consideration to the local residents the guardians ran events for 3 days and shut down at 9pm, two hours earlier than the 11pm license allowed."If decibel levels were found to be acceptable within the required levels of the license (see below), they could have continued to be open to the public till 11pm. So it was not "out of consideration to local residents" that they closed at 9pm, simply that they chose to stop policing their event so that they could enjoy it themselves. They then managed to party privately with their friends till 2am, as reported by the Environment Team.
"(The guardians) arranged a free community event, completely open to the general public. Over the course of three days they had approximately 1500 people from the local area through the gates enjoying music from Saxon Sound International, Prankster, and many more local artists and performers."FYI, Steve, PrankSTA are not a band, they are costumiers. Saxon Sound International are a Sound System, Steve, and are therefore extremely LOUD, that's what Sound Systems are. The performers who played in the school hall weren't all - if any - from Deptford, most of the audience was not from the immediate community, and there were never more than 50 people in either the school yard or the school hall most of the time (except, perhaps after 9pm when the exclusive few were allowed in to party till 2am?). But anyway, at least Pranksta are actually local.
"Prior to the event Newbould Guardians applied for a Temporary Events License which was posted on lamp posts for all members of the local community to see."Only if you're looking for it, Steve. Frankham residents walk up Frankham Street every day and they didn't see 'em. First they knew was two days before when a leaflet came through the door.
"As part of this license they were asked to perform a decibel sound check which was undertaken on the afternoon of Tuesday 29 May. This sound check fell within the levels required of the license."So, Steve, did Saxon come down with a lorry load of speakers and set them up in the yard on Tuesday to be tested for decibel levels? We think not (we'd have heard it!!!).
"They posted flyers a week prior to the celebration; containing details about the event and included an invite for local residents to come and enjoy the event."No, Steve, they posted on Facebook and other social networks advertising to their mates in other parts of London, and only told local residents two days before.
"The guardians have expressed they have been extremely disappointed to learn that some of the local community felt that there was a lack of consultation between Newbould Guardians and Frankham Street residents."FYI, Steve, numerous phone calls and requests for the music to be turned were made at the time to the manager of this event and were ignored. Not only that, but the council's Environment Team will have records of the number of times they were called out and run ragged that weekend.
Steve ends his reply with:
"As a result of your constituent's letter, the guardians have expressed their desire to find better ways to communicate and involve more of the community in their projects. They have agreed to hand deliver letters to residents not only inviting them to events and asking for input...but also making explicit any noise any future events may bring."No apology then (not that it would be accepted). Mr Gough has chosen to believe the word of 'the Contractor' over that of the residents, and Newbould are let off without even a slapped wrist.
Residents asked for an iron-clad guarantee that this sort of noise level will never, ever be repeated again, but Newbould are being totally supported by Property Services, and more or less being given free reign to police their own events with no promise of external monitoring that might protect local residents from further disturbance. Like it or lump it, then.
Perhaps Mr Gough would like Saxon Sound International to come and play in his own backyard all weekend and see how he likes it.