R1-04709-026A

South London’s Transformation: Testimonies from Locals and Transplants

Rampant capitalism is taking over South London, hear the testimonies of the locals and the transplants and how they feel about South London being the "place-to-be".

When I first visited South London, a much needed comforting sense of familiarity washed over me. The hustle and bustle of inner city life, the mix of different types of people on the streets, the melting pot of ethnic retail stores and restaurants, reminded me of my Melbourne roots.

What was also familiar was that I could see South London going through some changes. Between all the shabby shop fronts, you could see renovations poking through. Unique family owned businesses were being replaced by generic franchise stores. You see PRIMARK, and chainstores and construction everywhere. New cafes, bars, clothing stores, galleries popping up between all the older establishments creating a more hip, modern vibe but at what cost?

 

R1-04709-036A

 

South London is known for its multiculturalism but with rampant gentrification in the area, what will be left? I decided to speak with a few locals who have spent some time in South London to get the full picture. Unfortunately, they all declined to be photographed, but their words held the weights of their personal stories. I decided to capture intimate portraits of the neighborhood, so you could see all the contrast and construction yourself.

 


Shirley


 

Shirley, a woman who has been living in South London for 20 years, told me, “I always liked a walk along Rye Lane (Peckham) and look in the Afro hair shops and food stores. A strong memory of mine is of the fishmonger that sold Mr Whippy Ice-Cream out the front of the shop. I loved to hear the Caribbean music and the many different accents of a diverse population.

As we (Shirley’s family) were about to leave, the Peckham Estate was being demolished to make way for safer townhouses and safer walkways. I remember an old discarded suitcase in the rubble. It had old 1950/60’s photos of a black family in it from an era when Peckham and Camberwell were not very safe, but cheaper places to live. We could see the ‘trendy’ happening in 1999. New restaurants and cafes. Some very nice. Some trying too hard to be something that was too snooty for 1999 Peckham. I will miss the old memories of a bygone Ethnic era.”

 

R1-04709-022A

 

Peckham is one of my favourite areas of London. I will actually travel there to run errands, instead of getting them done locally. However what’s unsettling about visiting Peckham and other parts of South London is that every time I go, something is different — and not in a good way.

 

London prides itself on multiculturalism and yet continuously pushes it out

 

Either a store has changed or some scaffolding has been put up, or the streets are blocked off for refurbishment. Even though I haven’t been frequenting South London for that long, the changes are stark and obvious. I have learned that signs of refurbishment usually come with warning signs of relentless gentrification. They are not refurbishing for the locals, they are refurbishing for the hipsters.

 

R1-04709-035A

 

I wondered how the changes must feel to someone who has lived there their whole life, so I asked community member Rhiain for her insight.

 


Rhiain


 

“What I love about South London is the culture and variety of people, the sense of home and the once community. I love to be able to see representation of kinds of people through South London by hearing different languages, food and practices. South London has a mixture of different souls from creatives to gang members but somehow we all coexist.

 

I think gentrification can be good if the existing community is involved in the future plans

 

The community comes from representation, you’ll always be nice to your own. The changes through gentrification are prominent. It’s sad because the people moving in don’t want to build a community, they just want real estate investment. They don’t want to invest back into the lives around the area such as youth centres or small businesses.

I think gentrification can be good if the existing community is involved in the future plans but as more and more ethnic minorities are pushed out because rent is too high or council estate are being sold off, the community will diminish and monoculture will begin. London prides itself on multiculturalism and yet continuously pushes it out. I feel that over time, a lot of areas in South London won’t even be recognisable.”

 

R1-04709-029A

 

I agreed with Rhiain’s insight — gentrification isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it does actually give back to the community. There are people who have moved to South London who are aware of the problem, and are contributing to it the best they can. Students and transplants often move to this neighborhood to find community themselves, but they hold the responsibility of giving back and supporting the local businesses.

I spoke with my friend Kyle who had moved to South London to attend college.

 


Kyle


 

“I moved here 11 years ago to study Illustration at Camberwell College, since then I’ve jumped around South East London from Camberwell to Peckham to East Dulwich and Peckham again. I’ve built a nice little life here. There’s a pretty vibrant skate scene and many art school graduates stick around, so there’s a lot of like-minded people about. The businesses are changing for sure, a lot of the salons have closed on Blenheim Grove for development, ‘luxury apartments’.

 

I feel conflicted, I don’t like some of the stuff I’m seeing now, some really shitty wanker bars and restaurants, but my generation is responsible

 

I observe the change, but I am also part of the change, I drink coffee in these fancy places, I’m an outsider coming in and a part of the gentrification. Me and my mates were even part of a Converse event which facilitated Copeland Park to become what it is now. So I feel conflicted, I don’t like some of the stuff I’m seeing now, some really shitty wanker bars and restaurants, but my generation is responsible. The best thing you can do is maintain a connection to real local businesses and people.”

 

R1-04709-024A

 

As sympathetic as I am towards a lot of South London locals who have to watch gentrification displace the surroundings they grew up with, it was always bound to happen. So how do we move forward and help support local communities? How can transplants use their guilt to propel them to give back?

South London still has a lot of culture to it, and the locals, and hopefully the transplants, will hold onto it. As beautiful as the culture is, there is a lot of strength that hold them down too. Business owners have stayed there for hundreds of years, and with the support of their local communities, can hopefully stay there for so much more. The multiculturalism is still thriving and will hopefully unify the community, as long as people who move to the neighborhood hold a sense of self-awareness.

South London may be the new “place-to-be”, but let us not forget the communities that gave it its personality in the first place.

Jenny Wang is a writer from Melbourne who is now based in London. When she's not struggling with her identity crisis of being Chinese/Australian, she works on her music and her art.
FacebookTwitterWhatsApp