The Gardens of the Ghost Estate

The Heygate Estate near the Elephant and Castle took me by suprise. I hadn’t intended to go there and to the casual passer by it may well seem to be the sort of place you avoid. To give some context, this estate is scheduled for demolition, at present out of over a thousand homes, there are around 3 residents who are clinging on against the threat of compulsory purchase orders and eviction. Against the backdrop of this, the estate has begun to descend into ruin. Windows have been smashed, gardens have become overgrown and debris litters the walkways, where children once would have played now only the remains of the playground remain, broken and battered. Exploring the estate felt lonely, the huge empty concrete blocks built during the 70’s towered over you wherever you walked. You expected to see more people, hear more sounds, but for large periods you heard nothing, saw no-one.

Near the heart of the estate I came eventually across a group of people, clearly part of a youth group they were building go-karts on which they planned to race along the raised walkways of the estate. The go-karts had been built by the kids and were know been raced ferociously through walkways in time trials throughout the estate. It was a bizarre sight but evidence of the fact that the local community were innovating new ways of breathing life into the area.

The estate also seems to be becoming a breeding ground for street art with artists such as Malarky, Gold Peg, Mighty Mo and Sweet Toof all daubing the walls with their signature styles. Some of the work is quite impressive in it’s scale and other artists have got in on the act with art dotting the walls all over the place. By all accounts at one point the local council acted swiftly to clean this up but they may have now stopped fighting against the tide and given this up, well let’s hope that’s the case anyway.

But perhaps most suprising to me were the gardens and allotments that have sprung up in the heart of the estate. Where once communal grass areas would have been now tomato’s and cucumbers grow. Great care has been taken to tend these areas and the veg seems to be growing at a great rate. One sign in these ‘allotments’ announces that we have entered the ‘Heygate Regeneration Area’. It was certainly an unexpected but welcome twist to what I might have expected of the estate had I chosen to be intimidated by its appearance and just walk on by.

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