Arguably since the inauguration of Thatcher in the late 1970s, critiques of British society and culture have spoken of a slide towards ‘Broken Britain’. Such mutterings have been further exacerbated by rising rates of unemployment, sceptical management of the welfare state and increasing levels of violent crime.
Blair’s first speech as prime minister took place on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, South-East London, where he made a point of tackling the sprawling severity of urban decay. Since that day in 1997, the situation within inner-city housing projects has without doubt transgressed into a state of perpetual decline.
Through personal experience, I believe that it is not until one actually breaks the forbidden taboo of going to one of these places that the reality of the situation becomes tangible.
Last week, a friend and I, armed with a camera, traveled to the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, also in South-East London. Constructed from 1968 through to 1972, and now ‘part-inhabited’, the Ferrier Estate consists of eleven 12-storey towers, masses of walkways and low level accommodation, a motorway, a school and even its own water tower.
Quite frankly, it is one of the most disturbingly eerie places I have ever been to. In 2009, it was announced that the area was due for a mass regeneration process, with all tenants put up for relocation.
Such a process is naturally nigh on logistically impossible, and it is estimated that some 150-200 residents still remain on the estate. As darkness falls, the true concrete nightmare emerges.
Some of the blocks are empty, and some of the flats are squatted, with the metal council grids of condemnation prized away from windows, doors and walkways. However, perhaps the most chilling of views is the scattering of dimly lit windows that represent families either refusing to move from the estate, or families that have been unable to relocate.
In some of the tower blocks, just one or two flats remain legally inhabited. One cannot even begin to contemplate what it would be like to reside in such deprived isolation; the thought is a chilling one.
Perhaps it could be tranquil with the only sounds truncating the eerie silence being the whine of the police siren, or the howls of the street gangs, squatters and stray dogs?
Let’s hope that today’s social-housing architects do not make the same mistakes of those in the 1960s and 1970s; the consequences have thus far been unimaginable.