Sanctum Ephemeral, Cressingham Gardens Estate, Tulse Hill

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I was drawn to this outdoor exhibition by the photo in the LFA ‘What’s On’ list – the face of a proud looking young man adorning the side of a brick council house. As I walked up Tulse Hill towards the Cressingham Gardens Estate I spotted another powerful image from the road, which really draws you in. Photographer Mark Aitken has taken these very personal portraits of residents over a couple of years, with a view to hanging them in visible locations around the estate. The young man looks out across Brockwell Park, which the estate borders, for passers by to enjoy. Others hang alongside routes through the houses and in an area where young people hang out. As Mark walked me round various people stopped to say how much they enjoy them.

Each image shows the sitter in their home, demonstrating their individual sense of belonging. Even without these powerful images it is self-evident that this is a thriving community. As Mark explains, there’s broad diversity in age, ethnicity and income. Owners live alongside council tenants, younger residents look out for older people, some of whom have been here since the 70s. Unlike nearby estates there’s no gang activity, the community hall is busy and there’s an active residents’ association. Buildings may look tired and in need of refurbishment, but they are well-designed and sit in well-landscaped gardens.

Mark, who also lives here, has good reason to create this photographic record. Lambeth council plans to demolish the estate – in the face of strong opposition from the residents who have even presented alternative plans – in order to build new public and private housing. Owner-occupiers who wish to stay will have to pay almost double the value of their existing homes for their new ‘desirable’ ones; council and affordable accommodation will possibly be relocated nearer to the main road. So what could possibly be the council’s motivation for uprooting a successful community and ignoring the views of long-term residents? Could it be anything to do with the prime location overlooking Brockwell Park, or opportunism in the face of the gentrification of Tulse Hill and Brixton?

Why demolish when it is more sustainable to refurbish? Why destroy a successful estate – a very precious commodity – when you could build on that success with well-designed infilling to achieve the same density? Please, Lambeth, think again!

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