Image: The Ufton Centre, corner of Ufton Road and Downham Road. From De Beaver newsletter, October 1976.
Own De Beauvoir! is a project focusing on moments from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when community action remade the space of De Beauvoir Town. The project will culminate with a publication and a series of public events at OSE over the coming months.
The project is organised by Jonathan Hoskins, who lives in De Beauvoir and was an Associate Artist at Open School East last year.
He’d love to hear from anyone who has memories, photographs, documents or artefacts from any of these events, and would like to be involved in the project: 07784 223109, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting in touch doesn’t mean committing to anything. Open School East is supporting the project, but has no requirements for what the project focuses on. That means it’s a great opportunity to look again at events that deserve to be celebrated more, and give a fresh perspective to others that are already well known.
The project will focus on community action that caused long-term changes to a small number of specific locations in De Beauvoir between 1960s and 1980s. Some of the important moments are obvious: protests, ‘clean-up’ events, meetings, and so on. Some are less obvious but are just as relevant: a good example is when Regents Canal was drained in 1975, sparking a brief popularity for mudlarking, and marking the changing significance of the canal from being closed-off to being an important part of everyday life.
Most of the information that has formed this research has been so far found in local newspapers and community newsletters from the period. There are other examples that are equally interesting but didn’t make it into the newspapers. If you know of any, please get in touch.
Some details vary between sources, so there’s a chance of inaccuracies in the following information. Apologies if that’s the case; if you spot any errors, please get in touch and they will be amended.
The Ufton Centre
The Ufton Centre was at the bottom of Ufton Road: a former factory building converted into a community centre, and an open-air playspace. It began in 1973, when people from the area cleared the site (previously used for pre-fab housing after WWII) and built a children’s playground on it, in response to the lack of community spaces nearby.
The site developed gradually, and involved the work of many people over the years, from both the local area, and beyond it, such as the Community Service Volunteers that helped staff the playspace. More of the land needed clearing by hand (including the factory building) and plans had to be prepared that would convince government bodies to fund the centre. Later, the De Beauvoir Community Association was formed to programme and manage events in the Ufton Centre and the Rose Lipman Centre, after it opened in 1975.
De Beauvoir Schools (around Tottenham Road)
Concerns for the safety of parents and children going to and from school led to several protests and locally-initiated redevelopment plans in this period. For instance, on three occasions in 1973, parents and children blocked Balls Pond Road for hours by marching back and forth across it to demand a safer pedestrian crossing for the families who lived on the other side of this busy road from the schools. In 1974, parents protested to promote a locally-initiated plan to extend De Beauvoir Junior and Infants School to the north side of Tottenham Road, which would have permanently closed the road at this point.
De Beauvoir north of Downham Road
It’s well-known that local campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s defeated council plans to demolish and rebuild almost all of De Beauvoir along the lines of the Lockner Estate (east side of De Beauvoir Square). However, many of the moments during this long campaign are less well-known. For instance, the first locally-initiated meetings to discuss the council plans were very well attended, thanks in part to Robin Young and Stuart Weir (both central to much community action throughout this period) driving around De Beauvoir beforehand, announcing the meetings by megaphone.
The General Improvement Area
Following the success of the campaign to rebuild De Beauvoir, the focus shifted to improving it, rather than demolishing it. Over the coming decade, GIA funding was spent on improving housing, traffic calming, tree-planting, landscaping, and so on. A GIA Residents Committee served as means of liaison between the council and local residents throughout the period, but the De Beauvoir Association formed an independent ‘Southern Area Action Group’, which conducted a comprehensive survey of the area, going from house to house.
Kingsland Basin and Regents Canal
From the early 1970s onwards, local campaigns were mounted to convert Kingsland Basin from industrial use to leisure use. Several companies were unpopular with people living in the area because of the noise and waste they produced, such as Picons Readymix. Throughout the period of 1960s – 1980s, a series of local campaigns were mounted against industrial businesses in the area believed to be a nuisance to residents.
The council first announced its intention to open Regents Canal to the public in 1973, and this eventually happened in 1979. In the meantime, occasional events re-focussed attention on the canal. For instance, it was drained (for the first time in its 140 year history!) in 1975 so that it could be cleared of rubbish. Local children took to mudlarking in the drained canal, gathering a great deal of local press attention.
A Community Centre for De Beauvoir ‘New Town’
De Beauvoir Estate was originally built without a community centre. After a local campaign, the former rent office hut was made available in 1973, but without any toilets or other faciliites. The campaign continued, and The Rose Lipman Centre eventually opened in June 1975.
Green Space in De Beauvoir Estate
De Beauvoir Estate was built with very few substantial green spaces, but campaigns later mounted to change this. In 1980, a campaign by the De Beauvoir 1972 Tenants’ Association won gardens for 30 households in De Beauvoir Estate after informing the council that it would mark out the plots for the gardens themselves if the work did not commence soon.