Lambeth council estate documentary aims to ‘humanise the inhumane process of gentrification’

A documentary maker is hoping to humanise London’s gentrification debate with his film examining a Lambeth council estate’s destruction screening at Brixton’s Ritzy Picturehouse on Sunday.

Uprooted highlights the plight of Myatts Field North residents who have been forced from their homes as part a Lambeth Council’s controversial regeneration project — an essential part of the Labour-led authority’s pledge to build 1,000 new homes by 2018.

Brixton residents fear that their vibrant community is being destroyed by the project and it was that feeling that attracted filmmaker Ross Domoney to explore the subject more.

“I have spent several years in different zones of this city but I feel sadly, more and more that it has become a shallow hub of a capital that doesn’t allow space for sub-cultures to flourish,” he said.

“A lot of the old architecture is being trashed by the wrecking ball and these new mundane ‘copy-paste style quick builds’ that are popping up everywhere are soul lacking at best.” 

The documentary follows the last days of three residents as they make their transition from Myatt’s Field North estate to their new build homes in ‘Oval Quarter’, a process which Ross described as a humbling experience.

“I cannot imagine what the stress of the move must have been like for the residents,” he said.

“There were some times when we all shared some very intimate moments without having known each other for very long. It was a humbling experience and in some ways felt natural.”

After an extensive search, Ross credits Leeds University’s Dr Stuart Hodkinson, who has researched the Myatts Field North regeneration programme, for putting him in touch with residents who were more than happy to vent their action over they way they have been treated in Lambeth.

“The experience of watching your home be demolished when you did not make this choice would be traumatic for anyone,” he said.

“I think in some ways it created a post traumatic stress situation for the people in my film too.

“They were all at loss finally in one way or another. From saying goodbye to decade long memories embedded in the old bricks, to having a radical shake up in the demographics around them.”

Much of the debate around London’s housing crisis has focused on numbers and statistics, but Ross hopes his documentary can add a human voice to the debate a touch a wider audience.

He said: “The film is about humanising the inhumane process of gentrification in London. Something that is all around us and has had an impact on people lives in a negative or positive way.”

He highlights the experience of one resident, Miss Daly, who had grown a tangerine tree in her old garden from a Jamaican seed for 25 years.

The move forced her to leave that tree behind and she now has to peer through her new-build window onto a busy, noisy road.

He also spoke of other former residents were forced to move out of the area or seek expensive rented accommodation because they were unable to get mortgages to move into the promised new-build homes.

The process of making the film, which he described as stressful, has only made Ross more angry about the housing crisis and strengthened his resolve to help preserving communities.

He said: “Community is everything from the spaces we share together to the support groups we create in times of crisis.”

Ross, who became a political filmmaker while studying for a photojournalism degree, said he is excited to show the film to residents on Sunday and hopes to screen the finished product at film festivals before moving on to new projects.

He said: “I hope it can foremost be a screening for the residents of various estates going through this injustice.

“Brixton has changed a lot in recent years but optimistically there is a huge amount of solidarity between the various housing groups who are engaged in the struggle across Lambeth.”

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “The Myatts Field North redevelopment was an award-winning PFI scheme designed to bring huge improvements for residents, including more and better homes and a safer, cleaner estate.

“The scheme comprised 808 new homes and 172 refurbished homes, construction of a combined heat and power plant and new community centre, over a 25-year partnership term.

“The council and its contractors carried out extensive consultation with residents before, during and after this massive project.

“However, carrying out such a large-scale project inevitably caused some disturbance for the community and we have acknowledged the disruption experienced by some residents.

“We have also accepted that we needed to improve the way residents’ concerns were dealt with.

“Despite this, an independent survey of just under 100 residents of new properties in Myatts Field North, carried out in 2014, found an overwhelming majority agreed that the estate was cleaner and tidier, felt safer, was a nicer place to live than two years before.

“It also found a large majority agreeing that their new home was a nice property to live in and that, when complete, the regeneration project will have improved the lives of residents.”

Uprooted will screen at the Ritzy Picturehouse on Sunday June 5, from 3pm-6pm.

The event is free to attend but priority seating will be given to residents of Myatts Field North and Cressingham Gardens.

Image courtesy of Ross Domoney, with thanks

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