Friday, July 11, 2014

Gentrification blues

Lively debate has been going on for the past couple of days on Twitter, Facebook and local blogs over a Guardian Comment Is Free article written by a journalist who has recently moved to the area. Jane Elliot claims, rather late in the day, that naming the new high street bar The Job Centre (after the building's previous use) is an insult to the unemployed. 853 Blog has a great round-up of the row.

We cautioned much the same ourselves on this blog when it opened. But we went to the opening, liked it and went back again. Less noisy, smelly and crowded than our beloved local of over thirty years, The Bird's Nest. Cheaper than the Duke and nearer than the Royal Albert. A lot nearer and just as good beer as the equally beloved Dog and Bell. It's great to have a new local and we don't really care what it's called. It's named after what it was. Not like Resolution Way which was once Mechanic's Path.

It turns out Jane Elliot is a member of People Before Profit who are always ready to jump on a bandwagon and claim it as their own. She makes some interesting points, but is wrong to say "Older residents see the more affordable stores on which they depend displaced by pricier establishments" – has she been down the high street recently? The latest new 'store' is a pound shop! Efforts to preserve the architectural gems in the street (which some might see as middle class gentrification) are thwarted by careless landlords and businesses who flagrantly ignore any rules about preserving the character of buildings in the certain knowledge the council cannot afford to enforce them. The high street is still a law unto itself. 

Things are changing though, especially around the new station. Who knew the owner of the building opposite the pub in question (and next to Cathedral's luxury flat development) wants to convert it to a hotel? But if PBP want to make a fuss about something why not this:

This was the Deptford Brunch Club last Sunday in Giffin Square at around 1.30pm. About 14 diners are eating brunch prepared by Hot Skillet who specialise in tastes from the southern states of the US. This is what it was like at around 11.45am. Empty. More or less what cynical locals expected.

It's not as though there was no publicity for the Brunch Club, which had two 'sittings', 10am-12noon and 12noon-2pm. And we've no doubt the food on offer was absolutely delicious. But the ticket price of £12 was a bit much. Even 'foodies' not put off by the ticket price should be put off by the location. Giffin Square on a Sunday has none of the ambience which accompanies the monthly food market that presently runs in the square amidst the hustle and bustle of the Saturday street market. (Although even that was looking a bit sad last Saturday).

But the most annoying thing about this enterprise is that it is subsidised by Lewisham Council. "An exciting new pop-up brunch club will open its doors in the heart of Deptford town centre on Sunday 6 July" runs their publicity. "...the latest project by the council to enhance the town centre's morning offer...will see some of London's best chefs and street food entrepreneurs showcasing their culinary brunch menus to hungry locals." Not the hungry locals using the local food bank run by People Before Profit, obviously.

The Council are working with London-based 'food portal' The Grub Club which it says "works to support chefs in providing exciting eating experiences in new venues". The lovely Grub Club rep onsite on the day told us the Brunch Club helps young chefs learn how to cook for a lot of people at one sitting. Deborah, the organiser from Lewisham Council, told us they'd had a few teething problems – like flyaway tablecloths – but had 49 people at two sittings.

Spending Section 106 money

Section 106 money subsidises this series that will run every weekend till the end of October. This is money developers pay to the council to mitigate the inconvenience they cause in their rush to make a profit out of cheap local land (not the official definition). Deborah said the S106 money being spent is for 'cultural activities in the community'. Is that S106 money that's come from a Deptford development? How does the local community benefit from this subsidy when it cost 12 quid to join in (£15 this Sunday, apparently)?

In Lewisham, the Dalston take-over of the old model market (the shop shacks next to C&A that have lain empty since 2010 due to plans to redevelop) has been hugely popular with trendy young (and old) people. So much so, they have been queuing to get in on the Friday and Saturday evenings it takes place. Tasty grub can be had for less than £12 (although a drink will set you back), but the main difference between this and the Brunch Club is it is in the evening. You don't really care what your surroundings look like when there's bright lights and music. Such a venture might work in Deptford. But instead we get an expensive breakfast in a barren civic square (that is filthy and stained from the market) on a day-lit Sunday, in full view of passing folk on their way to Iceland for some cheap provisions.


If the Council want to throw some money at a big marquee on a Sunday that covered something the community would enjoy, they'd do better to subsidise an Ale Festival. That would draw a few to the boring new square who would otherwise avoid it. At least one or two locals could afford a subsidised pint. But oh no! We can't have drinking in the square, can we? It might get out of hand! This is Deptford after all, already full of street drinkers (and some very proud drunks!)...

An attempt is being made to redefine Deptford's cultural character to make it more attractive to new businesses and residents. We're already well accustomed to developers and councils using the local artistic output and reputation to add value to their properties and attract money to the area (when in reality the artists are here because it's cheap, and are being priced out along with everyone else). A recently coined phrase is Artwashing: "When a commercial project is subjected to artwashing, the presence of artists and creative workers is used to add a cursory sheen to a place's transformation" says Fergus O'Sullivan in a recent article.

Now, it seems, Deptford's scuzzy reputation (betting shops, pawn brokers, street drinking and all that goes with cheap rents and affordable housing) must be replaced with a new buzz where 'art' has failed. Food is the new Art. We are now being Foodwashed. Are we ready for it?

Is the Council not getting a little ahead of itself, spending Section 106 money on trendy Shoreditchy stuff for the middle classes that make Deptford appear hip, when there are so many other things it might go on?

This arguably misguided Section 106 spending comes when local campaigners are lobbying for more Section 106 money from the Convoys Wharf developers. The GLA, who controversially took the planning application out of Lewisham Council's hands and passed it, allowed the developer to get away with only contributing a miserly £250k to be spent in and by the community. The Council had asked for £2m. Had they got it, Ms Elliot might concern herself with how they see fit to spend the money when they are happy to waste it on an expensive brunch initiative that only the well-off can afford.


  1. valid points all but i dont think you can pick and choose which bits are detrimental and which positive. We like impoverished artists moving in to practice their craft? OK. Quirky bars will open that thoise artists like to frequent, as will organic cafes and the like. Young medja types who went to art college and now have poorly paid jobs in creative industries like art and like organic cafes, and as a bonus they can afford the rent so they follow. They will compete for housing, the rents will increase. More and more people move in because they are victims of the housing crisis and the crisis spreads to our little part of london. The more expensive bars and restaurants follow. If you see an emergent art scene then that is where prices will rocket. The artists and ethical cafes are the advance guard of gentrification and those moving here are not wilfully trying to force anyone out and presumably some of those selling up are salt of the earth SE londoners cashing in and retiring to the country with a nice little wedge? i know the bods i bought from did and i dont grudge them. I agree that there are casualties, friction and some crass behaviour but thats people for you.

    (by the way, plenty of apples on the tree - good pruning!)

  2. So the Bruch Club had 49 people at 2 sittings, so it wasn't empty. Although it probably was at 11.45, as that is between the 2 sittings! Just because Giffin Square doesn't look like Hoxton Square doesn't mean the council shouldn't try and make it more interesting. There is nothing to do in Deptford on a Sunday, except go to Iceland, so why not have a pop-up brunch club?
    Model Market is great, but if you want to talk about prices I'd say 3 courses and free drinks and a goody bag (the last pop-up at Deptford Brunch Club) for £15 is way better value than paying £6 for the equivalent of 2 canap├ęs and another £6 for a cocktail, oh and £3 to get in. But it is even more stupid to compare the 2 in the first place as they both bring different things to the area.
    Deptford Brunch Club was launched on the success of The Catford Canteen, which was a great initiative and helped start new local businesses, unfortunately the funding was stopped. I don't think you can complain too much about the funding for the Brunch Club, look at the photos again, it is done on a tight budget! I honestly don't understand why this post is so critical.

  3. Yes, Anonymous, the two are completely different, and we've no idea whether the Model Market is subsidised. Do you? People who've been working all week are likely to want to spend their disposable income on a Friday or Saturday evening's socialising.

    The criticism of the brunch club in Giffin Square on a Sunday is that it costs £15 even with a subsidy. There are only a few people who can afford to pay that for brunch, so should Section 106 subsidies go on cultural activities that only a minority can afford?

    We saw that this Sunday's brunch was well attended. Possibly due to the breeze, the marquee side covers were up, so attendees were sheltered from view. Outside the tent, one of the square's stone benches was taken up by three of Deptford's resident East European street drinkers. Nice contrast!