Photographer Hannah Lucy Jones had a photo exhibit of the Heygate Estate at a group exhibition in Camberwell in February, 2009.
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.
Kadykchan, a lost Soviet era city that once contained 12,000 people, now totally deserted . . .
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.
They just end up in the Guardian.
Gavin Watson is a British photographer. He knew many of his subjects, and this intimacy comes out in his photographs. A London you couldn’t imagine now, even in the post-turbo-capitalist phase – but who knows, if the recession deepens, it may be on the way back . . .
Post from the Worker’s Revolutionary Party from March of last year interviewing some Heygate residents who said they were being railroaded from their flats.