Whose Regeneration is This?

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.

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9 thoughts on “Whose Regeneration is This?

  1. Do go along and have your say Isobel…having worked for years for a local authority, part of my job was to find out the views of local people and feed this info back into the future planning processes. If the local council has decided to go against the wishes of its local people then it need to be held to account and find out why the buildings which have clearly been voiced as important to the community are seemly going to become commercial operations..!! Questions need to be asked and if the commercial revenues are the reason then what is on offer to replace these local assets to compensate the local community for the loss of these important local services…do let us know what happens at the public meeting.

  2. We went through a similar confrontation with government intentions running contrary to what everyone in the community thought was a literal pillar to our existence – the main Post Office. It remains unresolved but thanks to some serious lawyering, the sale of the building has been blocked indefinitely.

    My suggestion for your eloquent defense of the community of Walworth would be to keep emphasize the history and community without creating the picket fence that say so new folks are welcome. I have great faith that you can do this.

    People with vastly more disposable income than you or I and certainly our less advantaged neighbors have, will be moving in and setting up shop in the tonier cafes they attract in their wake. Some of them will be lovely people. Those are your targets for support because they are already living in Walworth but perhaps not understand what they are about to lose.

    • Point taken. I think feelings, and not just my own, will be running pretty high. I don’t mean to taget incomers, rather the developers who seem to see the area as a tabula rasa, with nothing that existed before they descended on us worth saving.

      • Every time you said “block of luxury flats” in our last encounters, I trust you noted our knowing smiles. Not every development is horrible; some on lots that have been vacant are welcomed. But the continual justification regarding the need for “market-rate housing” without any sense to what is being built, and where; without regard to what will be lost is just so 20th century thinking. The same smart thinking that brought us tower blocks for the poor is now bringing us luxury tower blocks for the middle classes or better. In spite of it being well-documented that no one want to actually live in a tower block. Hope you spoke your piece and peace at the meeting.

        • Oh no, is ‘luxury flats’ my verbal tic? The meeting was odd and sytarngely flat. The council reps seemed depressed, defensive, and although they vowed they wanted to hear our thoughts and be inspired by us, they didn’t seem able to hear what anyone said. It was a frustrating and bizree experience. I did speak, and I read out Celia’s question too.

  3. I feel that with so much new money coming into the area there should be ample funding for the rebuilding of the town hall and library. I’m sorry to miss this evening’s meeting but my question to the council representatives there is, “What are you doing to identify these new sources of income, and to show them the heritage buildings that give the area its character?”

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