A few years ago a terrible fire broke out by our old town hall. I happened to be walking down the road at the time, and saw the billowing smoke and the flames leaping from the roof. It was an incident that drew the community together. At a public meeting soon afterwards, the audience made it clear that the town hall, and the library next door were both buildings the community valued. It seemed that our council officers took note, and planned to restore both buildings and keep them as community buildings.
Roll forward to 2016. Sunny Walworth, my home for more than three decades, is part of the extended regeneration zone around the Elephant and Castle. I believe it would be fair to say that the regeneration has not been quite what local people imagined it would be. We started with high hopes for our neighbourhoods, our communities. Gradually these hopes have been repaved by cynicism.
Whose regeneration is this?
It feels like neighbourhoods and communities are being unmade and remoulded, and the remoulding is for people the developers want to attract. This has been a diverse area, and one that has seen little division. Intentionally or not, regeneration has created a them and us scenario.
Increasingly it has felt as though established communities are voiceless. We can look on, but the place we regard as home is being redesigned for others. We are outsiders in our own neighbourhood.
If you are hoping to create new communities where everyone has a stake, it’s important to understand the things each community values. ‘Old’ Walworth values its civic buildings. So when a year after public consultations the council suddenly turns around an says it can’t honour its commitment to retain the Old Town Hall and library for public use, and that either or both may be sold and turned into something else entirely, maybe a hotel, there is a strong sense of betrayal.
To my mind, it is important these buildings remain places we use. ‘Old’ Walworth needs to know that its values and the things it takes pride in are part of the new shiny Walworth. To allow the buildings to become private property; luxury appartments, business premises in any shape or form is part of the unmaking of Walworth. If we want newcomers and old timers to build a new Walworth, both sides need to feel the things they value are respected. Build a future, don’t dismantle a neighbourhood.
Tomorrow there’s a public meeting. I want to speak, This post is part of the process of getting my thoughts in order, so your constructive comments will be very welcome.