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A portrait of Deptford, 2009

Deptford is unique.  This was one reason we wanted to document it.  The other is the clutter of building cranes shooting out of the town.

As visitors in Deptford we found a bric-a-brac market spilling onto the entrance of a community theatre, England’s first purpose built housing co-op, halal butchers next to a pensioner’s pop-in café, music and art studios sitting on the banks of a river-creek, home to a community of boat-dwellers.

In March this year New York Times journalist Benji Lanyado recommended Deptford to US tourists, saying that: “with the unpolished location comes that most heady of urban ingredients: an edge.”

Currently there are six new developments planned or underway in the area meant to create 1,300 new jobs and homes for 6,400 residents.   Lewisham council states: “New homes, new artists’ units and gallery space, and new parking facilities will all strengthen the local economy, improve business opportunities, and build upon Deptford’s reputation for artistic excellence.”

For example, one such housing development will cover some 350,000 sq ft, with guideline prices starting at £300,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. A total of 35 per cent of the properties will be affordable housing.

We have tried to document Deptford in the face of the above urban renewal projects; looking for the history and culture of the place with one eye on the impending cranes.

During our photography we have heard frustrations with the depth of the consultation process, and how parts of the creek home to the boating community will be covered with the shadows of new multi-storey flats.

There are echoes of the creative-led regeneration seen in Hoxtonduring the 90’s, where art studios are now leaving for Deptford, as rents for the Shoreditch area have shot up in the last decade.  Sections of the artistic community that created the buzz for urban renewal in east London can no longer afford the prices that come with city development.

Lewisham council have also promised a £320 million borough-wide school program.   In the past months, however, we have seen parents using civil disobedience to protest at the closures of Lewisham Bridge school on Elmira St, and Charlotte Turner school on Benbow St.

For a town on the edge of gentrification and relatively untouched to date, Deptford’s story is relevant to the legacy we leave on cities across the country and not just the banks of the Thames. (July 2009)

Sources:  www.lewisham.gov.uk, South London Press, New York Times, The Times

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The project was completed in collaboration with photographer Luke Tredget.  To see his images e-mail luketredget@googlemail.com.