Take Back Deptford


Tradeptford questions the orthodoxy of the regenerative city, seeks to understand the underlying forces of the development profit motive and attempts readdress the balance of the planning system on a local and national scale.

By radically critiquing the the current values and modes by which we live, through practising solidarity, self organising and shared learning people are already starting to engrain a different set of rules to the ‘Rights of the City’. Tradeptford is a chance for a specific locale, a collectively defined ‘identity’ a shared sense of place, a boundary defined as Deptford, to look at the cause and effect of ‘regeneration’ and try to plot a different course.

Neighbourhood planning, counter-mapping, citizen science, commoning, peer-to-peer learning, open source networks, militant investigation, are all tools to be harnessed to take back the city.

This helps us redefine our values, turns the profit driven model on its head and looks at ways individuals, families, neighbours, communities, regain their strength, their ‘identity’ their society, their ‘demos’, so that our atomised existence ceases to cause our collective destruction.

Tradeptford challenges us to turn directly towards a discipline that so often defines the gentrification phenomena. Art. Sometimes actively instrumentalised, often a victim of its own success, lamented for it adaptability, its flourishing in the face of precarity, its malleability from the transcendental to its commercial liquidity.

Here we take a sensory approach to models of learning in our community.


EAT (or Rob) Deptford (in a not so violent way)

Food is the physical edible holder of culture, invention, and nutritional necessity. Eating to learn. Food is perhaps the only act/practice ever than has the ability to envelop all the human senses in one. Using it as a tool for learning then seems like the most natural of all teaching methods.

It’s connective abilities create a level eating field for discussion. One key lesson we took from taking a classroom as kitchen and dining room was a local understanding and language based context of where we had tried to set this class.

We had proposed over the course of 5 markets, under the project of Trade-deptford to eat, map, listen, act, finally assembly, Deptford. These actions, and senses seemed open and broad enough to translate widely.

We hadn’t been ready for the urban translation of EAT* which was bought up around the table but broke down some barriers between the participants of the meal.

From this meal we take the lesson of context above all else. Knowing that you position, taste, and view is yours and you should always be open to the others that you share the table with.

*UK street slang. Basically to rob someone in the street in a not-very-violent way.

Urban Dictionary Definition by Kilo Lobo July 01, 2003

In East London, England it means people going to a specific place just to steal or rob from victims.  by Ricardo Clarke, London February 12, 2005

map deptford - workshop - the order of things

MAP Deptford

In order to better understand the impact of development on Deptford’s identity, we intended to counter-map the future development sites, giving voice to Deptford’s communities struggling to retain their place in a rapid ‘regeneration’ context. Counter mapping is a tool first utilised by indigenous communities to counter against dominant power structures. Counter mapping as an approach is bottom-up, but when utilised in ‘developed’ communities, past efforts have had a tendency to overlook the knowledge of women, minorities, and other vulnerable, disenfranchised groups. We strived  to oppose this tendency as so much of the misappropriation of Identity and Place, starts when a small subset of society becomes empowered, whilst others become further marginalized.

Bob Bagley and Roo Angell, local activists and historians, writing on the Treachery of Maps, helped further frame the workshop’s purpose. Here quoting John Rennie Short’s views on maps.

“Maps are neither mirrors of nature nor neutral transmitters of universal truths. They are narratives with a purpose, stories with an agenda. They contain silences as well as articulations, secrets as well as knowledge, lies as well as truth. They are biased, partial, and selective.” (John Rennie Short 2003.)

A workshop was led by Goldsmiths MA Politics and Art students, who produced a large scale map from participants experiences and views. The premise of the exercise was to create an ongoing survey of the species and habitats of Deptford and Deptford Creek. Looking at Deptfords rich history of human, animal and plant migration and investigating the urban landscape and the neighbourhood using it as the inspiration and source material for the creation of a large-scale map.

The group described maps as being, “Designed to fulfill the human desire to organize and define the world according to the way they see it. Doing this is known to help with a typically human condition called existential anxiety. Humans especially love to draw lines on their maps. These lines then become borders. Borders are used to justify highly destructive human activities like war and imperialism.”

“This map is an attempt to reimagine an alternate Deptford in which a shopping trolley becomes a home, and the language of categorizing species and the habit of drawing lines dissolve into water along with all other forms of classification.”  

Through this process of de-classification and a tongue in cheek use of the terms ‘native’, ‘non-native and ‘invasive’ as a way to describe species, both human and non-human, a questioning and re-learning of the purpose of maps was required.

map Deptford walk

Radio Deptford

Learning to listen together. We invited Chris Jones of sound art collective Ultra-Red to lead a listening walk around Deptford, asking questions such as? What does community sound like? What does gentrification sound like?

“A few years ago, rather than asking people simply to listen to what we had made, we began asking, “What did you hear?” The modesty of this query belies the labor of shifting the foundation of Ultra-red’s practice from the terms of music (e.g. aesthetic evaluation and the organization of sound) to those of listening—the relationship between intention and perception. This shift was necessitated in part by the still unsettled correlation between our aesthetic and political interests and orientations.

We situate our sound practice in relation to specific constituencies, locations, conditions and concerns. Most importantly, we organize listening as a collective rather than as an individual procedure—listening as a relation to an other.

Finally, and perhaps most difficult to discuss, is the tense of the question: “What did you hear?” There is an acoustic action, the attention that bends to it, and then the question, “What did you hear?” What we heard was our encounter with the object. Our responses to the question teach us, in part, the terms of that encounter. The articulation of these terms provides the foundation for a political analysis. Thus, rather than only paying attention to what the sound represents, to what it indicates or means, collective organizing benefits from a rigorous understanding of how we tender our attention, of how we listen.”

(Ultra-Red ‘On listening together. What did you hear?’)

We set out in silence on a decided route, listening at stopping points to the environment around us.

On return to Tidemill, we sat together and spent half an hour simply recording on paper our group answers to the question ‘What did you hear?’. From this outpouring, we realised that as well as here the presence of Deptford, we also are aware of the absence of what we can hear. What do we need to hear in the future? Who do we need to hear? What nuances are missing when we stand in a quiet gentrifying street? What conversations do we need to have with other locals? Who in the group can further these connections?

Not only did we find quite quickly agreements on what we had heard, we were able also to deal with differences round the table. It was asked what does it means to be ‘interested’ in gentrification? What is the difference between an ‘interest’ and being directly affected by the processes of displacement? We talked about the basic question that we always need in community working together – who are we round this table and how did we come to be here? By this we mean what stakes does anyone at the table have in the question at hand?  By stakes we mean if you stop being interested in the question are you still faced with the pressures of that question or not? It was a gentle way into understanding what we have in common around the table and what contradictions are also present from differences. It is often the case that those with the most to lose are the ones that introduce this question.

Listening together is simply a way to make an encounter between us. It’s also about learning together, from each other towards trying to work against the forces that are not benefiting our community. Listening as learning is a political act because when we talk about who has something at stake, something to lose, then we sit squarely together in politics, in solidarity, in trying to change things.” Chris Jones – Ultra-Red


ACT Deptford

Forum theatre is a rich and full narrative form of the Theatre of the Oppressed, which is a range of techniques, games and exercises in order to achieve social change. ‘For teaching how people to change their world.’ Augusto Boal

Augusto Boal, is a Brazilian theatre practitioner and political activist and Forum Theatre has since been used all over the world to build communities, empower and liberate individuals and to support their creative potential for personal and social transformation. The work of Boal starts from the reflection on the social use of art and its political function and is based on the idea that while some people make theatre, we all are theatre, all human beings are able to use the language of theatre to know and transform the world.

Theatre of the Oppressed (TotO) is a method, composed of different techniques, that aims at developing, in the oppressed citizens, the language of the theatre, which is the essential human language. From the point of view of this form of theatre there is an oppression whenever a dialogical relation become a mono-logical one: when s/he who has lost the right to express her/his wills and needs, and is reduced to the condition of obedient listener of a monologue. The practice of the TotO has the purpose of transforming situations of the real life that are oppressive from a personal and/or social point of view. TotO aims at being an instrument to transform the society that engenders those oppressions.

In a Theatre of the Oppressed performance the spectators become “spect-actors”. They have the opportunity to intervene and change the outcome of the play. Spect-actors take on the role of the protagonist, explore possible alternatives and practice solutions for the problems, conflicts, oppression situations familiar from their everyday lives. This allows them to see clearly their own problematic situations and the role they play in those as well as the consequences of actions taken or not taken.

Through the project participants from the local community were able to reflect on their personal and collective relationship to their local community, the process of gentrification and the problems that might have been caused by this process. The underlying complexities of who is oppressed and who is the oppressor in relation to gentrification come to the fore. Conflicts and confrontations came out, between those ‘interested,’ but equally still implicated in the gentrification process and those who suffered its impacts most clearly. However, a deeper narrative became understood, causing all ‘actors’ in the process to recognise that we are all implicated in this process, our anger is manifest in us all feeling powerless, but unity was found by better understanding our common oppressors and by finding hope in taking action in solidarity.


Take Back Deptford

The final event culminated in a proposed public assembly, orchestrated by a number o f local grassroots groups who had participated in and informed the project throughout its development. The event was a celebration of Deptford’s multi-authored identity of collected cultures, flavours, sounds and practises, but also of debates and conversations on pressing local issues.

The event was a success in that it empowered supposed disparate groups to come together and work towards organising around more long term structural issues in the local community. This work carries on in Deptford today and it’s building momentum, at the same time the pressures of ‘regeneration,’ cause further displacement and social cleansing. When immigration raids continue in Deptford’s shops, when more people become homeless end up on the streets, when more green space is bulldozed to make way for unaffordable flats, when social housing is knocked down and families are left scattered all over the borough. The fight to take back Deptford has been a long one and it isn’t set to finish anytime soon.

Written by Owen Hodgkinson
and Ross Bennett