Aylesbury Estate – Unwanted Diversity


Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri Photography ©

Aylesbury Estate is one of the most notorious estate in the United Kingdom, built in 1963 to host families with low-income rates.
The Estate is located in Walworth, South East London, and it is under the Southwark Council duties. It was projected by the architect Hans Peter “Felix” Trenton and It was named Aylesbury as the borough in Buckinghamshire. Consequently, each block carries the name of villages in the region: Foxcote, Wendover, Winslow, Padbury, Taplow, Ravenstone, Latimer and Chiltern.
The Estate is currently composed by 2.704 dwelling inhabited by 7.500 residents. The constructions ended in 1977 with the inauguration of a nursery, a day centre and a health facility.

Tony Blair used the Estate as the stage for his first speech as Prime Minister in 1997.

“I have chosen this housing estate to deliver my first speech as Prime Minister for a very simple reason. For 18 years, the poorest people in our country have been forgotten by the government. They have been left out of growing prosperity, told that they were not needed, ignored by the Government except for the purpose of blaming them. I want that to change. There will be no forgotten people in the Britain I want to build.” (Social Exclusion Task Force 1999)
The introduction of his harangue alludes to the situation of decay which affected Aylesbury Estate since the early 80’s.

Acorn – an online database which evaluates consumers’ lifestyle, behaviour and attitudes to analyse customers, identify profitable prospects, assess local markets and focus on the specific needs of each catchment and neighbourhood- classifies Aylesbury Estate under the “Urban Adversity” section defining it as a “Struggling Estates”. Burnham Estate located in Swiss Cottage, a well-known and prosperous area of North London, is also classified as such. Therefore, the location of an Estate is not directly proportionable to its social stratification.

Problems with the building began in the early stages of its existence. “Leaks and floods, difficulties with the lifts and pest problems have been ongoing problems for residents for years.” (Creation Trust 2014)
Crime and the apprehension of crime have also been a major distress for occupants for decades. “However, in the major headline-grabbing incidents that have taken place on the estate, the perpetrators were not residents of the Aylesbury estate, but had found the architecture of the area conducive to carrying out their crimes”. (Creation Trust 2014) Aylesbury structure, in fact, acts as a barrier towards the public streets. Furthermore, it is a residential area composed by 2.704 apartments where residents aim to maintain a peaceful leaving situation passing most of their time within their houses. Therefore, the Estate is dominated by silent isolation from the outside which makes it the ideal place for criminal and vandals to act undisturbed.

The structure of Aylesbury Estate was also the ideal location for “directors, producers and location scouts looking for grim backdrops to murder scenes, gun and drug storylines and gang-related crimes in soaps and gritty dramas.” (Benstead C., 2014) Some examples are “The Bill” and “Spooks”.

British rapper, Tinie Tempah, grew up on Aylesbury Estate until his 12-years. His memories of living there are in tune with some of the darker sides of films shot there.
“I remember growing up and seeing grey, very narrow walkways which are sort of prone to conflict. You can only walk past the same person so many times without someone saying ‘Who are you?”
“There were very grubby lifts where people would urinate. Those high-rises, when you wake up in the morning, they do not inspire you – you do not feel the need to want to get out of there” (BBC 2013). His statement alludes to a real social problem within the building.

Film Director Joe Cornish hopes to provide a different impression of the Estate through his movies: “You could go back even to the film Metropolis where architecture like this was seen as something futuristic and aspirational. Instead, suppose it was more viewed as a utopia like it was when it was first built.” (BBC 2013)

In 2009, young residents of the Aylesbury Estate had small parts in the movie “Harry Brown” where a retired royal marine man performs his justice within his neighbourhood against vandals, drug dealers and criminals to purge his residence.
Aylesbury resident Jean Bartlett says film-makers will not be welcome unless “somebody comes along with a decent story that doesn’t portray us as hell’s waiting room’ with a negative image” (BBC 2013). He also denied filming in the Estate even if Brad Pitt embodied the main character of the fiction. The way Aylesbury Estate is pictured is a huge issue for its residents. People tend to assume behaviours and attitudes with which external parts depictions them. Therefore, the inhabitants of Aylesbury Estate pressure the Southwark council to forbid filming on the estate. “There was a very clear message coming through from the residents that they’d had enough of it,” says Councillor Fiona Colley. “They were sick of seeing their estate portrayed as dirty, grimy and dangerous and it had to stop” (BBC 2013)

Channel 4 created an ident – a short film clip shown before a TV programme begins – which shows sections of the estate, festooned in laundry and bin bags, moving together to form the channel’s logo. The washing lines, the shopping trolley filled with rubbish bags and the many satellite dishes, were all artificial embellishments added in by film-makers. All these representations have perpetuated the reputation of the estate. Although Southwark banned filming in the building, the ident continues to be regularly aired.
The Creation Trust, a charity within the Aylesbury estate, collaborated with the film-maker Nick Street to record an alternative and more realistic version of the clip. The latter shows the Estate as it is, without any negative embellishment and it displays residents on their daily basis customs as people are pictured in public spaces. The video captures individuals to free them from stereotypes. Channel 4 says, since BBC London got in contact, it has viewed the new film, liked it and has been in touch with the filmmaker about running it once. However, the broadcaster said it would not be dropping the original ident.

As a result of the issues with the estate, it was decided that rebuilding would be the most cost effective solution, so the estate is now going through one of the biggest programmes of regeneration in the country. Southwark Council was planning to demolish the estate and replace it with modern houses controlled by a housing association. The plan involves increasing the density of accommodation from the current 2,700 units to 4,900. 2,288 units would remain social housing and the remainder would be for sale. The sale of these units is planned to fund the whole scheme. Despite the complete demolition of Hygate Estate, which was no distant from the Estate under study, the actual action on Aylesbury will be a step by step demolishing and reconstructing.
The regeneration is planned to be completed within 20 years. It is divided into phases which are summarised in two different schedules: re-house the current householders and sell properties to the Southwark Council. The first phase was completed in August 2013. It consisted in embodying four extra sites in the south-west corner of the estate. The project was financed by the L&Q housing association, which created 261 different units and a new resource centre for adults with disabilities. It is a mixture of affordable and private houses where existing Aylesbury residents have the priority to move in.

More than 70% of residents on London’s Aylesbury Estate voted against a government-backed plan to transfer the 2,500-home estate to Horizon housing group. Therefore, the Council will realise what is against the Estate’s residents will.

The Aylesbury scheme included a plan to sell off 1,329 homes to the private sector, an unprecedented action in a site where pressure for affordable housing is acute. Piers Corbyn, chair of the United Campaign to Defend Council Housing in Southwark said: “This is a crushing defeat for privatisation. If there is money around for improvement, it should be spent on council tenants. (Weaver M. 2001)
In 1999 the Labour government set up a New Deal for Communities for the Aylesbury estate, this ended in 2009, and Creation Trust was established as the successor organisation, to ensure that residents currently living on the estate will see real advantages from the regeneration of the area. Not just new homes, but the social and economic benefits, which means, employment opportunities, youth projects, activities for older people. This source proves the untruthful role of the Council towards the residents of the Estate.

“Residents voted in 2001 by a large majority against the transfer of its council stock to a housing association, scuppering redevelopment attempts to create a more ‘economically mixed’ community”. (Quinn B. 2015). On September 27th, 2005, London Borough of Southwark would rather order Aylesbury Estate demolition to build modern housing controlled by housing associations, involving “the construction of hundreds of new homes, shops and open spaces and the rebuilding of several schools.

Nevertheless, the council promised to the Estate’s leaseholders that they would be offered market value. However, the Council reneged on this pledge. Instead it has offered market value based on a valuation carried out by officers in its regeneration team.
In “Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group” site, property owners stated:
“We should not be forced into costly, lengthy and distressful litigation battles to obtain market value for our homes. Many of us have lived on the estate since it was first built and are ending up having to relocate to outer boroughs as a result.” (Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group 2015)

Those who decline the Council’s proposal are left isolated in empty blocks with heating disconnected and the few who remain are served with compulsory purchase orders. Current residents are fighting against the demolition of their houses. Residents have stated that their houses are bright and spacious; therefore, they do not conceive the need to demolish them.

In January 2015, “squatters” occupied the empty properties to protest against the demolition of the Estate and the gentrification of London. Media and journalist have been hooked, and so the police forces.
The activist Charlie Ebert accused the cops of heavy-handedness and said the estate had become synonymous with a London housing shortage affecting the poor.
“What’s going on here is effectively social cleansing to make London a nice ‘clean’ place for the rich,” he said. “A group of us wanted to stand in the way of that so we took over some of the flats as an act of solidarity.” (Quinn B. 2015)
On the other hand, Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transport at Southwark council declared that the illegal actions taking place in the Estate “are risking the delivery of the very homes they claim to be campaigning for, for the people they claim to be campaigning for.” (Quinn B. 2015)

Society has shifted towards a careless perspective. London gentrification is the new means to hide the actions against ordinary people who are not able to afford the new city standards focused on high wealth and privatisation. Aylesbury Estate is just an example to assert this statement.


Acorn (2016), “MULTI-ETHNIC, PURPOSE-BUILTESTATES – SUMMARY”, online source available from http://acorn.caci.co.uk/data/#t54_p1 accessed on 13/04/2016

Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group (2015), “Home Page”, online source accessible from https://halag.wordpress.com accessed on 13/04/2016

BBC (2013), “South London housing estate residents say no to film-makers”, Entertain- ment&Arts, New, online source available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertain- ment-arts-16858535 accessed on 13/04/2016

BBC (2014), “Channel 4 attacked over Ayles- bury Estate advert”, London, UK, News, online source from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-eng- land-london-26270841 accessed on 13/04/2015

Benstead C. (2014), “South London estate residents hit back over negative Channel 4 images”, Housing Network, The Guardin, online source available from http://www.theguardian. com/housing-network/2014/jan/23/south-lon- don-aylesbury-estate-channel-4-campaign-ident accessed on 13/04/2016

Creation Trust (2014), The Aylesbury Estate, online source available from http://www. creationtrust.org/the-aylesbury-estate accessed on 13/04/2016

Social Exclusion Task Force (1999), “Prime Minister, Aylesbury Estate, 2 June 1997”, News, Home, online source available from https:// web.archive.org/web/20070626045507/http:// archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/seu/newsa52f. html?id=400 accessed on 13/04/2016

Quinn B. (2015), “Six arrested as police help
in evictions from London estate”, Housing, The Guardian, online source from http://www.the- guardian.com/society/2015/feb/18/six-arrested- as-police-help-in-evictions-from-london-estate accessed on 12/04/2016

Weaver M. (2001), Resounding no vote for ‘worst stock transfer’, Society, The Guardian, online source available from http://www.the- guardian.com/society/2001/dec/27/1 accessed 12/04/2016


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