This Is What the Beginning of Gentrification Looks Like
Meeting the residents of the Notting Hill estate earmarked for destruction.
All photos by the author.
Considered a suburb of London back in the 1800s, the Notting Dale area – now called Notting Hill – had long been known as a slum. Originally an area of London popular with brick makers and potters for the natural resources available in the earth, the place became overridden with pig-keepers and their livestock after they'd been driven out of the Paddington area to make way for the Bishop of London's estate. Overcrowding, cholera and drastically poor sewage made the area almost unliveable, and it was only by the 1950s and 60s that the slums were eventually cleared out to make way for the council estates that stand there today.
One such construction is the Silchester estate, just outside Latimer Road tube station, which comprises some 700 homes divided among four 20-storey tower blocks and a number of low-rise buildings ranging from cottages to maisonettes. Boxed in on all sides by the Westway, the Western Cross Route and an above ground section of the Hammersmith and City line, many come to the building with misguided preconceptions of what lies within.
The façade of the estate, which began construction in 1969, might also reinforce these impressions. "Look at the place – I'm sure it's never had a coat of paint since the buildings were put up," says one disgruntled tenant. "It's just like a midden, if you ask me… I'm not joking."
Another tenant I meet goes as far as calling out the uninviting appearance of the estate as one of the reasons for its uncertain future. "It's my theory that because they all come in from Oxfordshire on that road [the Westway] every Sunday night and go back out every Friday night, they look at this and they think, 'What a blight! The first thing you see in Kensington are these tower blocks!'"
The ominous "they" that the nine-year resident of the estate, Piers Thompson, refers to are the members of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council who have earmarked the estate for what is described as a "regeneration" initiative. Their webpage outlining the project explains, "As well as the residential potential of the area our study is looking at the opportunities for creating employment through new retail and office space and for new social and community spaces. We will also want to look at ways to improve the townscape and open spaces in order to make this part of Kensington more attractive."
Since first receiving a letter through the door about proposals in July of 2015, there has been a wave of scepticism and backlash from residents. In their eyes, this is far less an issue of the council wanting to improve the living standard for those who are already in the area, and instead a move to prepare it for those who wish to be there and have the money to pay for what it's worth.
Discussions are only in their most preliminary stages, with planning permission still three years away from even being applied for. However, this is what the Save Our Silchester campaign, spearheaded by Thompson, view as their one advantage in their fight. "We're very early in the game," he says. "This is the first time that any council has encountered mass protest at this early stage. Though it's one of the reasons that with some people there's a slight lack of urgency."
It's true that there are also those who seem to take little notice of what's going on. Asking some of the residents about their thoughts on the proposals, my questions were the first they'd even heard of it. Others who had known about the proposals were resigned to the idea that the issue was already out of their control and were simply waiting for a verdict.
Though there are the obvious personal repercussions of being uprooted from their homes, one major concern that was often voiced among the residents was the loss of a community that has been cultivated on the estate for generations. Many of the inhabitants have been in them for decades rather than just years, and many have grown up or grown old surrounded by the same familiar faces. Some choose to interact and others do not, but the familiarity that comes with the nod of a head or a smile towards someone they have passed in the corridor for the past 15 years has brought about a sense of home that would disappear with any drastic change.
Putting this sense of community into context, several of the residents bring up the owner of the local supermarket, Buggsi, which is also due to be destroyed as part of the demolition project. "He's been here for years," says one resident. "Round here you get people on benefits – he lets them have tick until they get their money. You won't get that in Co-op and that. He's brilliant, he is, Harry."
It was actually right outside this shop that the 1958 Notting Hill race riots began, with a fight between Majbritt Morrison; her Jamaican husband, Raymond; and several white onlookers. This isn't something to be celebrated, of course, however one result of the clashes between the Teddy Boys and London's expanding West Indian community was the Caribbean Carnival - the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival: a historical significance to the area that not just the locals, but the whole of London, can recognise.
Despite their generally strong opposition, some of the residents I spoke do not completely reject the idea that planners and the council may have genuine intentions of keeping their livelihoods intact. However, they're also well aware of the fact that circumstances can change – often induced by the cold governance of money and financing, which doesn't take emotional issues like nostalgia and community into account. What may start out as a plan to create a space with at least 50 percent social housing may – like it has elsewhere across London – turn into something far less accessible to those who call the Latimer Road area their home.
These photos are intended to highlight the human impact of a story that is in no way new to London. Though from the outside "regeneration" may seem like a good idea for any seemingly neglected pocket of the city, to those who are at the receiving end of such benevolence, it's just a risk that could mean the end of their community, livelihood and home.
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