The Seven Stages of Regeneration

1. Shock & Disbelief

What! Why would they want to knock down our homes? That’s crazy! I don’t believe it! There’s no point frightening people for no reason. It’s just trouble-makers spreading lies.

2. Denial & Excuses

This isn’t happening! There’s no way they’d do this! They’re the council, for Christ’s sake, they work for us! And why would they sell off their own assets? It doesn’t make financial sense! And it’s not legal. People won’t allow it. No, it’ll never happen.

3. Fear & Anger

Fucking council! Lying, stealing, thieving, bastard council! Fuck ’em, they’ll never get my home! I’m staying here! Just try and compulsory purchase my home! You come and drag me out! This is my home! There’s no way I’m moving! How’d they like it if I came round and evicted them from their homes? I’ll show the fuckers!

4. Guilt & Depression

This is all my fault. I should have got off this estate when I had the chance. I should have put some money away for a rainy day. I should have listened to my parents. I knew this day would come. Why didn’t I get out when I could? This is my fault. I’m worthless. Nobody’s to blame but me. It’s time to go. They’re right, we don’t deserve anything better. As you sow, so shall you reap. This is God punishing me. I’m doomed. Sometimes, I wish I were dead.

5. Delusion & Bargaining

Okay, look: if I’m nice to the council, maybe we can come to an agreement. At the end of the day they’re reasonable people, and there’s no point making enemies, is there? They’re professionals, after all, and they’re just doing their job. If I do what they tell me to, it’ll all work out in the end, I’m sure of it. I’ll go to the meetings, fill in the forms, do the consultations, and stop opposing them publicly. They’re not so bad, really. We’ll work something out between us. You’ll see. They’re not monsters, after all!

6. Recognition & Hope

Okay, this is really happening. But it’s not over yet. Just because they want to demolish our homes, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. And if I give up now, it’s what they want me to do, isn’t it? Go quietly, with the least trouble and cost to them. There must be something I can do to stop this. Why should they say what happens to me? Why should these people I’ve never even met tell me where I should live? Who put them in charge of my life? The future isn’t written. Evicting us will take years, and anything can happen between now and then. At least it can if I make it. I’m a free human being. I decide what I do.

7. Resistance & Organisation

I’ve decided to fight. Together we’re stronger, so we must unite. Get everyone involved. Not only on this estate but all across London. We’re not alone. This is happening to all of us, and we must fight back! We know who the enemy is, so stop asking them to help us. Start helping ourselves. No more meetings with the council. No more doing what they tell us to do. This is where we live, and these are our homes. The politicians won’t help us. The press won’t help us. The middle classes won’t help us. God won’t help us. Only we can help us. We must build resistance, start organising for the fight ahead. Because this is a war, and we need to win it.

Architects for Social Housing

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Illustration by Andrew Cooper

Definitely London Town

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The fucking rich are fucking keen
To fucking keep us fucking mean.
The fucking pricks in Parliament
Are fucking us with our consent.
The fucking press is fucking lame,
The immigrants they fucking blame
Are cautioned not to fuck around
Anywhere in London Town.

The Tory fucks are fucking tools,
And fucking Labour’s just as cruel.
The fucking Prime Conservative
Has fucking fucked a fucking pig,
Then fucking sold us fucking out
To bail the fucking bankers out.
But still they own the fucking ground
You’re standing on in London Town.

The fucking town’s a fucking sight,
A fucking great construction site.
The fucking Mayor’s fucking bent
On luxury developments.
The fucking rent’s a fucking joke,
But still he wants your fucking vote.
Everyone’s a fucking clown
Everywhere in London Town.

Developers are fucking quick
To fucking use each dirty trick
To justify their fucking plans,
While washing clean their dirty hands.
‘It’s not our fault,’ they fucking cry,
‘Our fucking profits are sky high!’
While fucking knocking fucking down
Where you live in London Town.

The fucking suits in fucking ties
Have fucking pound signs in their eyes.
A fucking bloke is fucking nicked
For begging from some fucking prick.
He only wants a fucking bed
To fucking rest his fucking head.
The fine’s a hundred fucking pounds
Here in fucking London Town.

Estate agents, the fucking fucks,
Are fucking springing fucking up
Like fucking poppies on the graves
Of homes where we were fucking raised.
The fucking dreams they fucking sell
Are fucking built on someone’s Hell,
But no one sees the fucking mounds,
They’re buried far from London Town.

The fucking council’s fucking crap.
They fucking want your council flat.
The fucking filth are at your door.
They fucking hate the fucking poor.
‘You’re off the fucking housing list!’
They fucking take the fucking piss.
But no one makes a fucking sound.
Definitely London Town.

– After a 1980 poem by Dr. John Cooper Clarke, who wrote it after a 1940 poem by Captain Hamish Blair.

The Aylesbury Wall

1

The first, I suppose, was the Great Wall of China,
Thirteen thousand miles along its northern border,
Built to keep out the Mongolian hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the Emperor Hadrian’s famous wall,
Seventy-three miles long and twenty feet tall,
Built to keep out the Barbarian hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the wall around the Venetian Ghetto,
Encircling the island of Cannaregio,
Built to keep in the Jewish hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the most famous wall there’s ever been,
Wrapped twice round the border of West Berlin,
Built to keep in the Communist hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the walls of hate they call walls of peace
Along Northern Ireland’s divided streets,
Built to keep out the Nationalist hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the United States-Mexico border wall,
The most crossed land border of them all,
Built to keep out the South-American hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

And the wall between Israel and Palestine,
Around the West Bank but within the Green Line,
Built to keep out the Arab hordes –
But now we have the Aylesbury Wall.

2

Erected on Southwark Council’s order
Encircling the estate’s south-west corner,
Built to keep out the homeless hordes –
That’s why we have the Aylesbury Wall.

Built for one hundred and forty thousand
Around the first stage of the demolition,
Enclosing the two-month long occupation
Within the gates of the Aylesbury Wall.

Manned by security twenty-four/seven
With guard dogs and cameras and razor wire,
At four thousand pounds a day to hire –
That’s the cost of the Aylesbury Wall.

Evicted, at sixty thousand pounds per tenant,
From homes needing ten grand refurbishment,
Seven thousand, five hundred residents
Count the cost of the Aylesbury Wall.

Trapped within a ring of private contractors,
Twenty households, living like prisoners,
Cut off from their friends, family and carers
Pay the price for the Aylesbury Wall.

Across whose painted pink boards was written
Every night, while the guards were sleeping,
These words which, by the following evening
Were erased from the Aylesbury Wall –

3

Fuck gentrification, we want to live!
Public housing not private profit!
Down with all fences! Squat the lot!
Is what it said on the Aylesbury Wall.

Everyone needs a home to live in!
Why should we be forced to leave ours?
Homes for people, not for money!
Is what it said on the Aylesbury Wall.

What it said on the Aylesbury Wall is
My granddad fought in the Second World War.
These homes, the NHS, were his reward
For the sacrifice to build a better world.

What it said on the Aylesbury Wall is
Good luck to the occupants and tenants!
These empty council flats could one day be
Homes for your children and their families.

The council are trying to starve us out
And bully the remaining residents.
It’s not too late, fight for the estate!
Is what it said on the Aylesbury Wall.

Aylesbury endures security guard
Violence and intimidation.
No evictions! No demolitions!
Is what it said on the Aylesbury Wall.

What it said on the Aylesbury Wall is
Undefeated, the occupation continues.
Repopulate the Aylesbury estate!
Is what it said on the Aylesbury Wall.

4

And there were more words than I can recall,
Words shouted and written across the wall.
But the loudest words that I heard spoken
Were the words that turned into direct action.

And there are more walls than I can mention,
Walls of many builds in many locations.
But the largest wall of any kind
Is the wall we’ve built inside our minds.

And the sound of freedom is still the sound
Of a wall that’s been built being pulled down.
But we’ve been living so long behind them
It’s a sound that we’ve nearly forgotten.

But on the 2nd of April demonstration
Against Lambeth County Court’s eviction
Of the Aylesbury Estate occupation
London’s hordes pulled down the Aylesbury Wall.

And there are two sides to every wall,
And one is as high as the other is tall.
But the wall shuts out the humanity
Of those it locks in and those with the key.

And the sound of freedom is still the sound
Of a wall that’s been built being knocked down.
And on the day after April Fools’
We pulled the Aylesbury Wall to the ground.

– Simon Elmer

Sweets Way

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1

Suck on this, kids, open up the wrapper.
Stick it in your mouth, it’s a gob stopper.
As sweet lies go, it’s a double whopper.
To the bitter core, it’s an eye opener.

And the tears in the eyes of these kids,
And the anger in the voices of these kids,
And the betrayal in the hearts of these kids,
And the lessons in the minds of these kids

Will come back to haunt you.

Housing is a human right,
Human right, human right.
Housing is a human right,
Not a privilege!

Sweets Way: there has to be another way.
Sweets Way: we’ve got to find a better way.
Sweets Way: one day we’ll find another way.
Sweets Way: it’s time to find a better way –

To build a home to raise a family,
To build homes for a community,
To build housing with security,
To build for the needs of society.

2

Not married quarters built for service personnel,
Not properties purchased by Annington Homes,
Not accommodation leased back to the M.O.D.
For two million pounds of public money –

Not a site identified for regeneration,
Not temporary sublets to Notting Hill Trust,
Not a discharged duty to homeless applications
On Barnet Council’s waiting list –

Not assets in a corporate takeover,
Not a portfolio owned by Terra Firma,
Not investments made by Chairman Guy Hands,
A tax exile worth quarter of a billion –

Not real estate granted planning permission,
Not repossessions evicted of tenants,
But houses that housed one hundred and fifty homes
Demolished for luxury developments –

Homes of people now in emergency accommodation,
Homes of families now in temporary accommodation,
Homes emptied of children rehoused faraway
In Enfield, Essex and Luton.

These are our homes, they’re not yours,
Stop breaking down all the doors!
We just want somewhere to stay
In our perfect Sweets Way!

3

And Barnet Homes says: ‘If you have a low income
‘You will need to consider looking for a home
‘In areas that are more affordable.’

And Notting Hill Housing Trust says: ‘Our fear
‘Is that property owners won’t lease their stock
‘If faced with people refusing to move out.’

And Terra Firma says: ‘Neither Terra Firma
‘Nor Guy Hands personally has any involvement
‘In the day-to-day running of Annington Homes.’

And Annington Homes says: ‘No comment.’
But their lawyers at Barnet County Court say:
‘We need to nip this protest in the bud.’

And the District Judge says: ‘This occupation
‘Must come to an end. As of immediate effect,
‘The defendants are forbidden from entering – ’

Sweets Way: we’re not going to go away.
Sweets Way: we’re here to fight, we’re here to stay.
Sweets Way: we are seeds for another day.
Sweets Way: we’re here to find a better way.

4

And the lives you don’t care you’re destroying,
And the families you find so annoying,
And the children you’re so good at ignoring,
And the voices you won’t hear imploring

Are being born on this estate.

Listen to Jasmin, listen to Jennifer:
‘I love my house. I don’t want to move
‘Because all of my friends are there.’

Listen to Amanda, listen to Daniel:
‘I had a dream last night. I dreamed
‘That I lived in a council house.’

Listen to Mutaz, listen to Leanne:
‘They would chuck you out on the street
‘And not care about it. They’re heartless.’

Listen to Ergi, listen to Enida:
‘They treat us like a piece of trash. They need
‘To listen to us, they need to hear our voice.’

Listen to Abdou, listen to Kauthar:
‘When we grow older, we might be
‘Controlling them. They never know.’

Sweets Way: there’s got to be another way.
Sweets Way: we’ve got to make a better way.
Sweets Way: today’s the day we find a way.
Sweets Way: it’s time to make a better way –

To build homes for a community,
To build unity in diversity,
To build resistance to a rich man’s greed,
To build a movement through adversity.

5

And the banners say: ‘These people need homes!’
And the banners say: ‘These homes need people!’
And the banners say: ‘Stop the evictions!
‘These are our homes, not your investments!’

Housing is a right for the millions,
Not a privilege for the millionaires,
But only when the millions are marching,
Only when the millionaires are scared.

So resist the eviction of your estate.
Have the conviction to repopulate.
The only restrictions are those you create.
For occupation it’s never too late.

London Town is not for sale,
Not for sale, not for sale.
London Town is not for sale,
Boris Johnson!

Suck on this, kids, it’s your last sweet this way.
Don’t say goodbye, no matter what they say.
The seeds they buried are the shoots of today.
It’s strange and its new, but it’s a better day.

Sweets Way: it’s time to build a better way.

– Simon Elmer

Film by indefilmsdotnet

When We Marched For Homes

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When we walked the streets in the cold
From Shoreditch Church to City Hall
Having gathered there at midday
On the last day of January
To demand a home to live in
In the city we were born in
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the London Evening Standard
The night before printed two lines
About the march and two pages
About some millionaire’s wages
In the West End final issue
(Then it snowed early next morning)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When The Guardian on Friday asked:
‘Are you taking part in the march?’
If only one in one hundred
Of their 200,000 readers
Answered ‘yes’ – where were the rest
When the rain fell on Saturday?
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When you watched us from the café
Cradling your skinny latté
Against the cold that kept you inside
Knowing you’d read about the issues
In next morning’s Sunday papers –
Almost wishing you had been there
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the Focus E15 Mothers
And the daughters without fathers
Marched through the streets with their banners
Saying: ‘This is the Beginning
Of the End of the Housing Crisis!’
(Though they have no homes to live in)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the coppers under orders
From their paymasters and owners
Stopped us marching through the City
Turned us down Spitalfields shouting:
‘Social Housing, not Social Cleansing!’
Past Barclays Bank and Boris Bikes
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When at One Commercial Street
We saw the ‘poor doors’ for the workers
And the marbled entrance lobby
For the City boys and bankers
And Class War held up their banner
Saying: ‘All Fucking Wankers!’
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When at Goodman’s Fields the signs said:
‘Redefining City Living’
With luxurious apartments
In stunning new developments
Where they filmed us with their smart phones
From behind their plate-glass windows
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we turned down Prescot Street
And businessmen in business suits
Stood outside under umbrellas
And doormen in silk top hats
Stood and held the umbrellas
(Safe behind the lines of coppers)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we stopped at Tower Hill
Underneath the railway bridge
And the band of women drummers
Made the whole street dance together
Chanting: ‘Boris Out! Boris Out!’
Ringing through the iron girders
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we crossed on Tower Bridge
Stopped the traffic over the Thames
And the East End met South London
So that our one or two thousand
Grew to three or more thousands
As we turned into City Hall
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we passed One Tower Bridge
Where new homes are on the market
From one-and-a-half to fifteen million
For the Mayor’s future neighbours
And on their balconies we saw
Our flags and fists raised in defiance
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we stood in Potters Fields
And saw how few of us there were
Between the shields of riot police
Beneath the dagger of the Shard
And though our banners now were sodden
Still our voices had not fallen
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the speeches were concluded
And the leaflets were distributed
And photographs were being taken
Of the Aylesbury occupation
We turned to the absent thousands
In the flats and homes of London
In buy-to-let private investments
In property developments
In assured short-term tenancies
In uncertain rental vacancies
In ex-housing associations
In earmarked regenerations
On council housing waiting lists
On sanctioned housing benefits
In homes awaiting demolition
In rent arrears facing eviction
In newly taxed second bedrooms
On the couch in sublet front rooms
In furnished dives and in bedsits
On the street and off benefits
In tower blocks they’d occupied
In council flats now privatised
In social housing left to rot
In recently illegalised squats
In empty homes of oligarchs
On sleepless benches after dark
In the doors of West-End hotels
In B&Bs and East-End hostels
In emergency night shelters
On the seats of bus shelters
On the steps of tube stations
In the cells of police stations
In homeless accommodation
In far distant relocations
And we asked our fellow Londoners
Where were you when we marched for homes?

– Simon Elmer

The Nation’s Favourite Poem

This poem was written in 2012 just after the London Olympics, for which I had left the country. As with the similar spectacles of the Queen’s Jubilee and the European Football Cup, I was struck, on my return to London, by how the streets and public spaces which the previous year had been the site of student protests, anti-capitalism marches, the Occupy movement and nation-wide rioting, had been so demonstrably re-appropriated for the stage-managed celebrations of our nation’s manufactured athletic success. It was around this time that I read somewhere that the nation had voted for its ‘favourite poem’, and the winner, unsurprisingly, was Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, a poem which even the least poetic subject of her Majesty would recognise from its famous opening lines: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,’ the first of a series of conditions which, repeated over four stanzas, concludes with the reward for such stoic behaviour: ‘Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!’ What was surprising was that our victim-identifying, celebrity-obsessed, reality-show-watching, investment-banking-beholden, Tory-voting nation should recognise itself in Kipling’s liturgy of the Victorian values of stolid determination, quiet suffering, and collective achievement. But then, that’s how ideology works, isn’t it? – presenting us with the image of who we would like to believe we are, just like the spectacle of the Olympics. But as someone who believes that one of the roles of poetry is to reveal the truth about how we live our lives, I decided to update Kipling’s verses to a more accurate and representative image of British values at the beginning of the 21st Century.

If you think that a government elected democratically
Represents the will of a people;
If you measure the value of any activity
By the money you make from pursuing it;
If you think that the adverts for the sports industry
Are the best guide to living your life;
That competition is the royal road to quality
And the winner should always take all;

If you believe all the lies you know you are told
Cause you’re too busy too make up your own;
If you’d rather (if we don’t mind) not get involved
Cause your taxes pay someone else to do so;
If you make it a habit to do what you’re told
Cause if you don’t you know you’ll be made to;
And it’s easier to obey and buy what you’re sold,
Leave a tip and forget that it happened;

If you can fill five days of every week
With eight hours’ labour selling fuck knows what;
Then go home, put your feet up, turn on the TV,
And think of all the things that you’ve got;
If you think it’s all worth it at the end of the day,
At the weekends and when your holidays come up;
And you wouldn’t know what to do if you didn’t have a job
Telling you when to eat, sleep, work and fuck;

If you believe that an increase in the wealth of the few
Will increase the wealth of the many;
If you think that your bonus is a well-earned reward,
And money the only measure of plenty;
That the law of the jungle is the survival of the fittest,
And that capitalism is human nature –
Then yours is the world and everything that’s in it,
For you are the status quo – you fucker.

Simon Elmer