Here.Us.Now sheds light on the importance of London’s social housing amidst the city’s rapid gentrification
Spotlighting residents living in three different housing estates, the project is a testament to how “extraordinary insight and articulacy are to be found in the most ordinary of places.”
- 17 February 2021
- Jyni Ong
Here.Us.Now is a new series of shorts directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard and starring a group of people living in three London housing estates. A year long investigation into the role of social housing in modern day London, the films were birthed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. While families of the victims are yet to find justice in the travesty nearly four years on, Here.Us.Now challenges the misconceptions of social housing, shedding light on the diverse inhabitants and touching on issues of gentrification, the right to buy scheme, and community resilience.
Made in collaboration with Cardboard Citizens, a theatre company working with homeless people for over 25 years, the initiative aims to activate social change through its meaningful work. Adrian Jackson, Cardboard Citizens’ artistic director tells us how the project came about. “We’ve been using verbatim theatre techniques for some years as a way of getting important stories direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.” He recently read Tony Parker’s verbatim account of a 1970s London housing estate, a text loosely anonymised as People of Providence, and contemplated how peoples’ living situations have changed almost 50 years on. “To give these voices more power, and the freedom to speak without constraints, Cardboard Citizens members, all of whom have experienced vulnerability in their housing situations, were employed as the researchers and actors.”
Over time, these narratives became three live theatre performances debuted on the estates in question, and now, the material has been made into eight short films. When it came to shooting the films, luckily, the whole production happened prior to the pandemic. As director Dorothy put it, “in a very different London.” Considering all the shorts were shot on location, inside the local resident’s homes, it was a smooth process. Working collaboratively with all the interviewees and other Cardboard Citizens members offering their local knowledge and support, the bustling shoots were helped along with tea breaks, kids operating cameras who, in some instances, also feature in the films.
The process in finding subjects for Here.Us.Now was pretty ad hoc. Members of Cardboard Citizens were trained to approach people living in the three estates. “Each estate had undergone, or was currently undergoing, a process of regeneration,” explains Jessie Wyld, engagement manager at the initiative. If a resident was happy to discuss their experience of living on the estate, interviews were recorded which formed the basis of the verbatim live performance which, in turn, informed the content of the films. When listening to the interviews, Dorothy was struck by “how each estate has its own particular character”, something she shows through the unique interior of each short, reflecting its subject’s character.
A huge factor in each estate’s distinct personality however, was dictated by its stage of unstoppable gentrification. “The social housing estate where we filmed in Hackney was by far the most divided,” Dorothy explains, “it’s not unrelated to the fact that this estate is the furthest down the line of ‘regeneration’. Much of it has been knocked down, rebuilt and sold off as privately-owned flats, so there was talk of ‘us and them’ and a latent tension in the air that isn’t helped by the intense policing in the area.” The director learned a lot while working on the project, most of all, that there is an infinite number of stories waiting to be told by people living in these estates. Stories which are “continuously surprising and demonstrate that extraordinary insight and articulacy are to be found in the most ordinary of places.”
One such story comes from Shaunette Fraser, a lifelong resident of a Hackney estate who feels increasingly out of place due to the area’s rapid gentrification. She talks about her experience of feeling excluded from the area she’s grown up in in this behind the scenes video, a clip which also shows her sitting on a sofa with Cardboard Citizens member Nirobi. Shaunette’s experience is just one of many moving tales of how London has changed over the years, and the people being left behind by the soaring prices. Despite this, the sense of community felt from this project is overwhelming, not only between various London residents but also the creative initiatives like Cardboard Citizens highlighting social change through the arts. And all in all, Here.Us.Now reveals the importance of social housing in the capital city, no matter what.
Dorothy Allen-Pickard and Cardboard Citizens: Here.Us.Now
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.