Catford’s prefab houses: History or Housing? By Stefanie Lai

    churchThe Excalibur Estate in Catford is a quiet pocket of prefabricated houses built as part of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944. The houses were intended to only stand for 10 years, but are still robust homes today.

Built on a network of small streets, all named after characters from the Arthurian legend, walking into the estate on a sunny afternoon feels like walking into a Florida suburb. Each house is built on its own plot of land with a front and back garden, and as one of the residents happily pointed out, because the houses are all bungalows, you can see the sky! 

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I visited the pop-up museum housed within one of the prefabs; it showcases photographs, films of residents’ interviews and prefab memorabilia. The overall impression was of people and a place that appeared quaint, but also portrayed a lifestyle that is enviable in London’s zone 3.  

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In contrast with Louise Rondel’s derelict Catford Stadium, the prefabs in the estate are anything but skeletons. With the exception of one or two houses, most are well-loved by their occupants. The minimalist exteriors of the houses mean they can be customized and the generous outdoor space is thoroughly utilized and enjoyed. Residents describe the estate as a thriving community with zero crime rates. 

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Lewisham Council has been proposing demolition of the estate, and part of it now stands empty and has been cordoned off. English Heritage has granted listed status to six houses, but campaigners say that the entire area, including the layout and the streets, are far more important that just a few houses, which arguably could just be moved into a museum.

Should the Excalibur Estate be preserved? And if so, should it continue to be council housing or private? If the buildings are listed, should preservation of their original attributes be prioritized over amenities such as insulation and double-glazing, and extensions to the houses?

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The rather bleak-looking fate of the estate raises interesting questions about local democracy vs the top-down power of English Heritage; the politics of housing rights; and how historical significance comes into being and grows and changes over time.

Stefanie Lai is currently a student in the MA World Cities and Urban Life. She has lived in Hong Kong and London, is interested in mobilities, especially cycling and walking in the city, and has recently been experimenting with photography.

Notes:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jan/02/postwar-prefab-houses-demolition-london

http://elisabethblanchet.photoshelter.com/#!/p/the-prefab-museum

http://londonist.com/2014/02/prefab-museum-coming-to-catford.php

 

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Regeneration Then and Now : 21 Years of Urban Change in Deptford by Francisco Calafate

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The Centre for Urban and Community Research invites local activists, local organisations, academics, residents, and government officials to this free event where you can share stories of the “regeneration” of Deptford.

On Friday 25th April we will be looking back over the two decades since the publication of Jess Steele’s book Turning The Tide, History of Everyday Deptford, which coincided with the start of CUCR’s evaluation of the Deptford City Challenge programme.

Our aim is to discuss the recent changes in Deptford, but also to think about the possible futures for the area. The day promises screenings, workshop and seminar. Speakers include : Alison Rooke, Michael Keith,  Jess Steele, Ben Gidley,  Jessica Leech, Heidi Seetzen, Rob Imrie, Luna Glucksberg, Neil Transpontine and  Joe Montgomery.

The event takes place on Friday 25th April between 3.30 – 8pm in the Council Chamber,  Deptford Town Hall. 

For more information and to register your attendance please go to :  http://www.gold.ac.uk/cucr/20years/hasthetideturned/ or contact Francisco Calafate on f.calafate@gold.ac.uk 

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Rubbish by Caroline Knowles

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The inaccessibility, on security grounds, of the Somaliland section of the flip-flop trail left me in Addis Ababa in the spring of 2012 with more time than I needed to complete the research leading to the end of the trail. This gave me a chance to update the work I’d done five years earlier. I feared a scale of changes that would undermine the book I was to write.

Things had changed but not in the ways I’d imagined. The old lady with the flip-flops – Zema – was living in the same house. Her neighbours, the local kiosk merchant and roadside traders were all still in place. ‘Where is my Arsenal T shirt?’ the welder greeted me. Zema drew me into her house. It looked completely different. Five years ago it was bare; photographs of Wayne Rooney and the Virgin Mary sat atop the sideboard next to a cassette player. Now she had a satellite dish, TV, fridge, upright chairs, and a suite of lounge furniture, all crammed into a tiny living space making it difficult to move around. We got out Zema’s shoes. She still had the brown leather loafers I bought her as a ‘thank you’ for her help with the research. She also had a pair of pink plastic mules with a flower on, a sensible pair of lace-ups with a heel, a pair of plastic sandals for wearing around the house, a second pair of suede loafers and NO FLIP-FLOPS!! She had better shoes! The flip-flop trail had shifted. It no longer ran through Zema’s house. That is, of course, the key point about it – it is unstable, constantly rerouting.

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I quickly investigated the situation. How had this improvement in her fortunes been possible? She directed me to her daughter, now working for herself making coffee for sale on the street. She had taken a job in Beirut as a maid for two years and sent back her wages to improve the family circumstances. She had learned Arabic and Lebanese family politics: she had become a (domestic) transnational migrant.

Where were Zema’s old flip-flops? I needed to complete the trail. She told me she had thrown them in a rubbish skip ‘with the house dirties’ on the other side of the main road that ran through her neighbourhood. From there the municipality collected it, she said, and dumped in in Gebrekristos. I set off in taxi to where she had directed me, 11 km from the city centre. Gebrekristos is hard to locate: the taxi driver had to enlist a local to show us where it was. When we eventually get there at the end of a long winding unmade road, there is no sign of the rubbish, but a large number of the residents appear to be disfigured. Asking around a bit I discover from a local priest that I am in a leaper colony: people come here from all over Ethiopia for treatment. I am on the wrong trail, and I wonder about Zema’s elision of discarded objects and people. I am sure that the flip-flops went to the giant city landfill site at Koshe, three kilometres further on. As usual I am lost in translation- Gebrekristos is the old name for the landfill.

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My first sight of Koshe is from the highway: a giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish, with occasional bright specs of colour. As my hopes rise from having found it, by heart sinks as I try to take it in. The interpreter I have engaged for this mission through my contacts at Addis Ababa University is not keen on going ahead. Leaving the taxi and crossing the highway by the bridge, I try to absorb the panoramic view afforded by this elevated viewpoint over the highway. This thirty-six hectare site – shrinking as the city attempts to regulate it – is patrolled from the air by large birds of prey, diving into the rubbish. Motley crews of wild dogs gambolling and snatching at the soft ground patrol it at ground level. Smoke rises in several places, adding a layer of haze to the murky colour scheme. Between the foraging dogs, the smoke, and aerial avian bombardment, some heavy machinery operates. Yellow bulldozers nose the heap and shift and level it; municipal rubbish trucks and flatbed trucks with skips arrive from all over the city and discharge their contents. Between the dogs, the birds and the machines there was something else, something I could only slowly take in. Two or three hundred people, dressed in the same murky hues as the rubbish dump, backs bent, hooks in hand, were working on its surface.

 

Photographs by Michael Tan

Caroline Knowles is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, based at CUCR. Her research is about circulations of people and objects and, in addition to publishing many books and papers, she is co-author (with Douglas Harper) of Hong Kong: Lives, Landscapes and Journeys published (2009) by University of Chicago Press.

Caroline’s latest book Flip-flop. A Journey through Globalisation’s Backroads is published in May 2014 by Pluto Press.

For further information contact C.knowles@gold.ac.uk

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MA Visual Sociology: The First Year So Far by Rebecca Coleman

 

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The MA in Visual Sociology was launched at last year’s IVSA conference with a plenary session with Bernd Kraeftner, chaired by Michael Guggenheim and Nina Wakeford (listen to the podcast here: http://cucrblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/ivsa-2013-visual-sociology-ma-launch-with-bernd-kraeftner/?relatedposts_exclude=181), and with a blogpost by Michael Guggenheim titled ‘What was visual sociology?’ (read here: http://www.csisponline.net/2013/07/01/what-was-visual-sociology/).

Positing visual sociology in the past tense (what was it?), Guggenheim argues that ‘we need to get rid of the “visual” as a denominator of the sub-discipline’ in order for sociologists to be able to ‘use whatever media they want – such as writing, audio taping, drawing, or photography – for whatever research question they need to answer’. That is, the ‘visual’ in visual sociology denominates both that this sub-discipline works through visual media and that sociology proper does not, preferring the textual media of writing. Visual sociology should be relegated to the past because sociology should not be confined – because of tradition, caution, and/or audit culture – to texts.

The launch of a new MA in Visual Sociology within this context is, as Guggenheim acknowledges, a rather perverse endeavour. The first cohort of the programme is taking up this task nevertheless, thinking through the visual – and also pushing it into other sensory modes where appropriate. Working with a range of media – photography, film, sound, text, food – and sensory engagements – affects, atmospheres, encounters – they are experimenting with sociological theories, methodologies and practices. These experimentations are developed via their own research interests in areas such as affect, trauma and memory, migration and identity, health and medicine, space, gender and violence, manufacturing, craft, and recycling, and music and public space. They are also developed in terms of course themes, this year on the topics of social mobility (term 1) and austerity and the body (term 2).

What, for example, would be involved in both studying and representing class mobility/immobility through food and cooking? Baking and eating a ‘class pie’, one group answered. ‘A genealogy of a family documented in bread’, responded another. Another group contemplated classroom session tasting food often seen as working class and therefore abject, while another used cooking together as a means of getting to know each other’s routes to the course.

Or, for instance, how could social mobility be documented, sociologically, via visual or inventive methods? Projects addressed this question in a number of ways: a sensory ethnography of cycling in a city; a photographic project on homelessness; a film from the top deck of a bus; a visual and audio project interviewing a building about its own social mobility.

These projects indicate some of the ways in which a sociological imagination can be fostered and extended via methodological experimentation. An exhibition of work around the theme of austerity and the body will be held from Friday 28th March, coinciding with the Sociology Department’s 50 anniversary celebrations (http://www.gold.ac.uk/sociology/50/), and connecting with the ESRC Seminar Series on Austerity Futures? Imagining and Materialising the Future in an ‘Age of Austerity’ (http://www.austerityfutures.org.uk/). All are welcome.

 

For more details on the exhibition or on the MA please see the website: http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/ma-visual-sociology/ or contact Rebecca Coleman (MA Visual Sociology convenor): rebecca.coleman@gold.ac.uk

 

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Gone to the dogs: The redevelopment of Catford Stadium by Louise Rondel

Gone to the Dogs  An inevitable title, perhaps, for a post about the closure of Catford’s greyhound stadium now reduced to an overgrown wasteland, ringed by fences and patrolled by a bored-looking security guard and a pair of ferocious-sounding dogs. Another headline, ‘From Traps to Flats’i (or more accurately from traps to Barratt homes), reports on Boris Johnson’s announcement in 2013 that the property developer will build nearly six hundred new flats and houses on the ground of the disused track.

In his work on the jellied eel stalls that could previously be found throughout much of the capital but are now increasingly rare, Alex Rhys-Taylor describes ‘the numerous skeletons of old eel shops that spatter contemporary London’. These ‘skeletons’ are haunting reminders of a greatly reduced ‘ostensibly white working-class culture’, embodied by those customers that Rhys-Taylor observes at one of the few remaining stalls in east London.ii Catford has its own skeleton: the former greyhound track. Opened in 1932, the stadium closed in 2003 blaming falling attendances.iii For over seventy years it had played host to the dogs, a pastime widely acknowledged as a working-class sport: ‘‘the working-man’s turf’ or ‘the poor man’s racing’’.iv Mark, who now guards the wasteland, remembers it from childhood visits as ‘a real spit-and-sawdust place’.v People came to Catford Stadium to race their dogs, to spectate, to study the form and to bet on a winner. There were once thirty three greyhound stadiums in London but following the closure of the Walthamstow track in 2008, only four remain: Wimbledon, Crayford (Kent), Romford (Essex) and Harlow (Essex).

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Standing on the site of Catford’s former dog track, Les Back describes the area as ‘haunted by its industrial past’. For Back, the demise of this greyhound racing stadium, ‘a working-class public sphere’, is ‘a symbolic marker of a shift from an industrial to a post-industrial landscape’.vi This shift is, in part, geographic: the tracks that remain are outside of London, on the periphery, peripheralised.

Looking from the window of the train that runs through Catford Bridge station to Cannon Street in the heart the City, the skeleton of the stadium is just visible. All that is left is the former entrance: the bricked up doorways which housed the turnstiles and, towering above the fenced off wasteland: the sign. Once bright blue, it is now discoloured with faded yellow lettering and, fashioned from steel but now barely perceptible, decorated with the silhouettes of greyhounds mid-race. It announces what was there and what took place in its grounds, now deserted but soon to be filled with identical neo-Georgian family houses. Shifts, displacements and exclusions are, at times, starkly written into the urban landscape, they are made visible in bricks and mortar, in steel and in the bodies and the activities that once occupied these spaces but now gone to the dogs.

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 Notes: 

i Lynch, R. (2013) ‘From traps to flats: Developer Barratt homes in on Catford dog track’, Evening Standard, 26th March, located at: http://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-news/from-traps-to-flats-developer-barratt-homes-in-on-catford-dog-track-8549823.html

ii Rhys-Taylor, A. (2013) ‘Disgust and distinction: The case of the jellied eel’, The Sociological Review 61:2, 227-246.

iii Hobbs, J. (2003) ‘Catford’s gone to the dogs’, Evening Standard, 17th November, located at: http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/catfords-gone-to-the-dogs-7225924.html

iv Baker, N. (1996) ‘Going to the dogs: Hostility to greyhound racing in Britain: Puritanism, socialism and pragmaticism’, Journal of Sports History 23: 2, 97-119.

v Name has been changed.

vi Back, L. (2013) ‘Anatomy of the Catford Riots’, LSE British Politicast Episode 1: Reflecting on the Riots, located at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/31716

Louise Rondel is a graduate from the MA World Cities and Urban Life programme at Goldsmiths. Based in Catford, her interests include the everyday urban landscape, food, hair and nails.

Photographs are the author’s own.

Contact: louise_rondel@hotmail.com

@LouiseRondel

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Uncertain Landings by Caroline Knowles

 IMG_0197  At this a major junction the flip-flop trail splinters in all direction: east to Australasia, south to Singapore and Japan, westward to the African continent, the US, Canada and South America, and north to Europe and Scandinavia, quietly connecting Fuzhou, the major production centre for flip-flops (in SE China) with the world. Staying true to my own rules of the road, intended to bring consistency to an ever-expanding matrix of possible routes, meant following the largest volumes. The same logics had led me to Korean petrochemicals and Middle Eastern oil earlier on the trail. The largest numbers (in container ships) pass through Singapore, then west, navigating the Red Sea and the sudden seizures of Somali pirates, and on to the port of Djibouti. From here they are shipped overland to meet a rising demand for cheap shoes in the East African state of Ethiopia which, with a population of over 84 million and a low GDP, is an ideal market for Chinese goods.

At least, I thought this was the route as I stood on the Ethiopian side of the Somali-Ethiopia border at Dire Dawa waiting for the trucks of flip-flops to arrive. Michael Tan (the photographer) and I had driven all of the previous day from Addis Ababa in an old car with dodgy brakes, avoiding the pilgrims filling the road only to find that they had filled up all of the hotels. This re-routed us to Harar, another border town, late at night and a hotel as dodgy as the car. Conversation with a policeman at the checkpoint the next morning revealed a fork in the trail I had not suspected. Only some flip-flops come through Djibouti and Dire Dawa, the rest land along the Somaliland coast and on to the Somali markets in Hargeisa, crossing the Ethiopian border at its less secure points. Both routes converge on the markets of Addis Ababa where distinctions between contraband and official flip-flops are erased – except in the price.

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Intrigued by this development – I thought only drugs and weapons were smuggled – we try to get closer to the ‘unofficial trail’. We failed. It took a ‘contrabandist’, as they refer to themselves, in Addis to explain that as an illegal activity smuggling is inevitably invisible: otherwise smugglers would be caught! We learned from him (while his armed guard sat nearby) that smuggled flip-flops are moved in fast cars driven through checkpoints with false plates; they are hidden under bundles of wood on camels driven by villagers; they are moved by calls from one mobile phone to other; they are moved by a matrix of contrabandists each specialising in a small bit of the route. Trying to plot these routes – I can’t believe I tried to do this – was equally futile: contraband routes are part of a (secret) shifting matrix of back roads that must not settle into a recognised route. In fact, I only managed to find contrabandists to interview because my student-assistant at Addis University had been one himself.

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These multiple invisibilities taught me an important lesson. I rely on what I can see and photograph. But what about what I can’t see? What about all the things I don’t know are there, but are nonetheless? Following trails is semi-skilled labour. In terms of geographies, languages, cultures, everyday life and even research methods I thought I had mastered, I was way out of my depth.

Back in Addis things were thankfully more straightforward. We followed flip-flops from the Mercato, the largest open-air market in Africa, through smaller markets and kiosks interviewing merchants and contrabandists, to establish their knowledge of the supply chain. We followed the flip-flops onto the feet of an elderly woman who owned only two pairs of shoes – the other pair were black plastic ballet slippers. We followed her on the routine errands of everyday life: around her home and to her neighbours, to market and to church. We interviewed her around the shoes she had owned and this opened up her biography and those of her grown children. We learned that her move to the city and to work on a building site brought her shoes; that before this time she was barefoot.

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Five years later and with additional funding to complete the trail, I arranged to follow the bit I had missed – from Berbera on the Somaliland coast where the contraband flip-flops land, to Hargeisa and over the Ethiopia border through one of the smuggling routes. I booked a flight to Berbera and with help from a Somali student arranged to get a visa from the Somaliland authorities in London. Although Somaliland was peaceful – the infamous jihadists and warlords operate around Mogadishu – I arranged for an armed security escort and a driver to get me to the Ethiopian border. As always when leaving on research trips I filled out the university insurance form. This was when my arrangements began to unravel. The insurance office referred the case to the registrar who warned the Warden. A meeting with Liz Bromley (on maps) and Pat Loughrey followed and ended with the Warden suggesting I find out from the Foreign Office if their travel warning for Somalia covered all of it or if Somaliland was as safe as I claimed. The FCO would not discuss their blanket travel ban: this invalidated the university insurance and worried the Warden. I had no option but to cancel.

Undeterred, I thought I’d check out the Djibouti route instead. But days before I was to travel serious rioting broke out and I had to cancel too. The route through Somaliland is the only part of the trail on which I had to rely on secondary sources. But there were lessons here too. The flip-flop route had revealed some of the geopolitical tensions of our time. Not being able to go there was as important in the story as going there.

Photographs by Michael Tan

Caroline Knowles is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths based at CUCR. Her research is about circulations of people and objects and, in addition to publishing many books and papers, she is co-author (with Douglas Harper) of Hong Kong: Lives, Landscapes and Journeys published (2009) by University of Chicago Press.

For further information contact C.knowles@gold.ac.uk

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Re-staging Revolutions : Alternative Theatre in Lambeth and Camden by Lesley Brew

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There was a recent remembrance of Stuart Hall by Clancy Sigal in the London Review of Books. He recalled late-1950’s times in the Partisan coffee shop in Carlisle Street in Soho  and clashes (mild and verbal) with Raphael Samuel. Along with the hang-out of the CP Historians Group [Dona Torr, Dorothy Thompson and others] and the editorial meetings of Universities & Left Review they evoke a moment in the manifestations of the post-war British left that attracts an aura and promise that ‘what was once, might be again’. But …

The streets aren’t aflame on a regular basis.

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Reverently I went with a good friend to Kate Crutchley’s  memorial at Oval House Theatre. It was  a composite show of Women’s theatre from the 70′s and 80’s, when she was Artistic Director. Fifteen minute pieces of comedy , drama and song. It was part of Re-staging Revolutions : Alternative Theatre in Lambeth and Camden 1968-88. My friends all had been very active in writing and acting in the theatre at that time. They restaged their plays and what was amazing was I felt they were fresh and undated, and relevant, not as a political movement but as an historical one now.

Oval House, and Kate Crutchley’s work within it, was more than a space for performance. It was the hub of a politically supportive network that sought to give practical encouragement to confront the politically initiated and socially divisive economic policy of those decades.

Kate Crutchley didn’t work alone: The Theatre of Black Women, Gay Sweatshop, Sadista Sisters, Welfare State International, Mrs Worthington’s Daughters for example were part of a multitude of pre-figurative structures that responded to the moment.

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It is poignant that her passing comes at a moment when hard-knuckle, socially-engaged art needs space and that space is more controlled that we can recall.

Lesley Brew (b 1958) is a British photographer whose work aims to deconstruct conventional interpretations of portraiture. The projects often deal with the notion of identity and belonging and show the relationship to the environmental .

Additional material by John Levett

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