Valentines Day on the Heygate, 2009.

Found this on Youtube this morning:

Mostly old folks gathered in a community hall – I”m guessing the hall behind what used to be the doctor’s office, now the office for the Heygate Tennant’s Association. Probably the last time people got together like this on the estate.

It says a lot that in the six or seven months I lived on the Heygate, I was hardly aware that this older, white working class still existed. The faces I saw were mainly those of immigrants – Africans, South Americans, East Euros. This, I”m sure, had a lot to do with the fact I was an immigrant myself, albeit of a different kind. But it does say a lot about the alienating power of the estate, when you can’t even get a sense of the people who live around you.

Where are these folks now, I wonder?

Paint the Heygate

The person behind this has made his/ her site invite only (why?) since I last checked it a couple of days ago, but supposedly there is a campaign on to paint the heygate estate.

It was unclear from the site whether this would be the painting of the whole estate, one building – or perhaps just one flat – but it seems the organizer wants to bring in several renowned artists to ‘paint the heygate’. 
From a letter, he/ she sent to Southwark Council:

I have six world renowned well known urban artists (local and overseas) who have told me personally that they want to come down to paint the Heygate and work with this local community. Imagine the possibilities.

They list this video by Sony Bravia as an inspiration . . . 

More Photos from the Heygate . . .

A photographer named Anthony Wallace posted this short Photo essay called Sealed Up in a magazine called ‘actuphoto’. He writes that he discovered some workers sealing off another empty flat while he was exploring the estate. 

“Inside, an old armchair had been left behind during the evacuation. The sunken seat cushion conjured up images of who had sat there and what kind of people had occupied the flat up until the previous day. 
The head of the welding team granted me permission to photograph other flats whilst they were being sealed. I found myself emphasizing with the abandoned objects and decided that I would collect one as a representative of each property. 
These photographs are a way of preserving the living spaces and some of the memories entombed in them.

Waiting Rooms

Photo: Hannah Lucy Jones (

Photographer Hannah Lucy Jones had a photo exhibit of the Heygate Estate at a group exhibition in Camberwell in February, 2009. 

   The show was called ‘Waiting Rooms, between habitation and demolition’. 
   On her site, Jones writes: 

The first residents moved into the Heygate estate in Walworth in the early 1970’s. Never aesthetically pleasing, the estate has sunk into disrepair and does not meet the government’s 2010 Decent Homes standard. Some residents claim the Heygate has been abandoned by Southwark council. They complain of having no heating or hot water for days on end, of leaks and flooding, and of the council’s indifference to their housing needs.

The council promised residents brand new homes to move into on a like-for-like basis. However, the redevelopment has fallen behind schedule, and so far only 12 new flats have been built specifically for Heygate residents, at Wansey Street (completed 2006), of the projected 1000 plus. Southwark council has now brought forward the date by which all residents must have left the Heygate to September 2009. It is unlikely that any of the remaining 15 developments will be completed by this date, so the vast majority of Heygate residents are now having to use the Homesearch system and move into existing council stock in Southwark.

As the rehousing process – or ‘decant’ as the council phrases it – continues, the Heygate estate is gradually emptying out. To begin with empty flats were ineffectually barred off, and either squatters moved in or looters stole scrap metal such as water pipes from the empty flats, causing flooding in connecting flats still occupied. Now welding teams are on site all day, welding shut empty flats with grey steel boards. Some floors are now entirely empty and blocks such as Kingshill have become frightening places for the few residents left, who might live in the only flat still occupied, next to 21 other empty flats on their floor. Southwark’s Executive Member for Housing Kim Humphreys warned residents in November 2008 that as the estate emptied and became more unsafe, people were vulnerable to violence and even murder if they continued living on the estate and resisting a move into existing council accommodation. The remaining residents argue they would leave if the council would give them the new homes they were promised.

Not a buldozer or a builder’s bum in sight . . .

BBC documentary short about the Heygate Estate, from March, 2009

More than 800 households have been moved off the estate. Yet 400 remain. Touching commentary by some the old people still living on the estate:

“They don’t want the working classes in this area . . . ”

“Put me on the scrap heap why don’t they?”

The bulldozers and builder’s bums are supposed to be making an appearance this summer, but we’ll see if they do.

KingsHill II

Back on Kingshill . . . once you seen it, you don’t want to leave. 

Saw two families pulling stuff into the lift and out again into a van parked at the bottom. Looked Asian. One black couple. Everyone friendly, easygoing. Maybe leaving brings it out. 

Drizzle, the fog enveloping the Gherkin, the dome of St. Paul’s, the towers of the city. Tower Bridge off in the distance behind the blunt edge of another tower. The drizzle made the foilage between the buildings seem more febrile, alive – you could smell the moss, the green and for seconds at a time, I felt like I was back in my native British Columbia, walking through the woods, with the damp dripping from the trees onto the rich undergrowth. 
Memories. Squatting in London, tearing away iron doors from blocked up flats like the ones on KingsHill to get inside some shabby council flat. I never squatted in towers like the Heygate, but I roamed them often enough, wondering what I was doing in London wandering these shabby estates looking for a place to live. Every spring I’d go back to British Columbia and work in the forests for two or three months to make enough money to live for the rest of the year so I guess those two images – council flats blocked up with iron doors and rain dripping down through the rainforest canopy are linked inextricably – bizarrely – in my mind. 
What will the credit crunch bring to the Heygate? Already there is talk that the private developers responsible for the demolition and ‘restoration’ of the estate and environs, might not be able to access the funds to come through. The government is guaranteeing high-profile projects like the Olympics and Crossrail – but will they come through for the Heygate? 
What happens then if nothing is done at all. The Heygate comprises some 1260 units – will they just remain empty? Let’s say the council moves everyone out yet the demolition doesn’t take place, the estate just sits there, rotting. Inevitably, with more and more pressure on the rental market – people who now can’t afford to buy or have lost their homes have to live somewhere – there will be pressure to make those 1260 units available again. By that point, many of these flats will have been vacant a year or more, their already delapidated condition that much further gone – will the council even be able to move tennants in? 
At what point do the squatters take over?