We’re Still Here is a film about the local community groups fighting gentrification and social cleansing in London.
This is kind of a weird watch for me. You watch all these documentaries from all over the world and you see things you identify with even in the most disparate experiences, then it’s the stuff closer to home that feels strange. I almost feel like I live on the other side of this struggle. Obviously I support the housing groups and the right to safe, social housing, obviously. But I feel like there’s a real generational difference here. My family all grew up in council housing, I grew up in a council house. Then my parents’ generation all bought their council house, and I and pretty much everyone in my generation have only ever lived in private lets. The idea of fighting for your council housing is something I obviously support, but here, for my generation, that battle is lost and over. None of us would expect not to have to rent from a private owner. None of us would expect not to have to move to a different area when the rent gets too high where we are. None of us would expect to have the same neighbours year after year, or even the same flatmates. Or even know who our neighbours are much of the time.
And I know I say this as someone who was lucky enough to find a benign absentee landlord, who let me stay in the same place for 10 years, water caving in part of the ceiling and riddled with mice though it was, and then 30 months ago was able to buy my first one-bedroom, ex-council flat thanks to a win on a scratchcard. But it feels like a fight from a different age watching this.
What is inspiring is seeing how much people rally together on this, and keep hope alive over years and years of struggle. They live daily with the prospect of eviction and demolition over their head, and yet they go above and beyond to continually keep pressure on decision-makers. I loved the Focus E15 group which was led by teenage and young mums, who were sick of being told that to be homed, they would have to move out of London entirely. They just went, no having it, you think you can walk all over us, but you can’t. And parked their prams in the housing office, and went, find us a home or I’m not leaving. Goan yersel hen!
It’s a tricky situation, because there’s no simple solution. Politicians of every party are gonna prefer money coming in from developers rather than money going out on council housing. Doesn’t matter who you vote for, they’ll always like money and power more than you. And time and again, the community can come out in force against these proposals, and whoever they voted for on the platform of opposing them will just nod, say we hear your concerns, and pass that shit anyway. Like with Otago Lane up here.
But you have to see the victories. Despite them having all the money and all the power, they have yet to evict these folk or knock down their houses. We’re still here motherfucker. Literally years later, the campaigns are still running, and the people are still giving a big fuck you to the developers. Those E15 mums are raising their kids in their communities, with dignity, an example of strength, and a knowledge of their right to be there.