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The Ragged School Blog Deptford

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Deptford is all around you

This is the approach down Hales Street I would have originally taken when walking a new route from Deptford High Street towards Deptford Church Street to catch a 47 bus (opposite Wavelengths Leisure centre). At that time the building was not covered in 'permission based graffiti', but was still orangey red brick. I remember thinking, what is this place, an old wash house ? When I read the plaque which said Ragged School, I immediately thought about Jerwood Space in Union Street SE1, a Victorian school converted to a very successful mixed arts facility opened in 1998. Its something which has inspired my investigations into urban regeneration working with heritage, not against it. Naturally I imagined the Ragged School to have similar potential for Deptford. I didnt then know anything about the building until I returned another day when the door was open and to my amazement there was a gallery showing. The place was alive with artists and visitors coming and going and reminded me more of the atmosphere of The Foundry at Great Eastern Street EC2. Just as I was getting excited about a vibrant new creative zone, I learned that the fate of the building was uncertain. Within that I realised that so many minor historical buildings around Britain are being used as 'regeneration firewood'. I am using this blog to make associations with groups and individuals to explore how digital technologies are letting citizens reclaim 'regeneration' from the glossy brochures and sales rhetoric, and back into the hands of local people. Creativity is more important than funding, grants, investment etc, as money will always go towards a vision that works, but just a shiny new building will not neccessarily attract visionary activity.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Molly outside John Evelyn Pub

This is a video of Fowlers Troop performing in Deptford, December 2005. They are doing a Molly dance. The embedded video is hosted by YouTube which makes sharing video easy. The video comes from Richard Sanderson, who is the author of Baggage Reclaim blog. Its a good example of traditional and cyber culture dancing around each other. There are also related pictures on Flikr from outside The Dog and Bell pub. Both are examples of hosting media without needing a website. With people soon video blogging directly from mobile phones we will have to get used to a new era in the way we look at events and places in our culture through a constellation of clips, submitted and commented on by 'citizen journalists'.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Deptford Social Economy

In October 2005, a conference called 'Progressing the Social Economy' happened in the Old Seager Distillery, Deptford. I have just reviewed their website and thought it was an excellent example of local community action made visible through basic web technology. Of particular note is the archival of audio and rough transcripts summarizing each speaker, as ordered by appearance. I missed the conference but was able to learn so much from these transcripts. I wonder how many other similar constructive projects in Deptford are rendered invisible without this crucial web representation ?

Due to Deptfords long standing constitution as a matrix of 'underpaid artisans' the area has evolved to become expert in self provisioning. There is a wide range of co-operative activity where basic quality of life issues are developed in practical projects, almost always initiated by necessity. Amongst this matrix appears the traditional 'intervening philanthropists' who further embellish this provisioning with varying results. In these particular circumstances, it is interesting to see which social projects survive and thrive, and which decay, gracefully or otherwise. When money and sponsorship is scarce, the projects which choose innovation always survive - their legacy is transmitted beyond a set lifespan, their usefulness is unbounded by place or material fabric. 'How to get things done better' always distinguishes a lasting contribution to society and culture. The Albany theatre for instance is historically the result of an educational outreach project whose mission was to give access to education for the hundreds of 'gut girls' working in the slaughterhouse on the site which is now Convoys Wharf. The project has evolved over a century and is now a linchpin in Deptford, using performing arts as the most vibrant and effective form of inclusion.

More recent, digitally based projects such as Boundless.coop and Deptford.tv has moved the notions of outreach further on and into the realm of 'self provisioning media', using such places as the Albany site as a meeting facility. My recent trip with Deptford.tv showed how the Laban with its conferencing rooms is also able to provide this crucial space. By drawing on the local traditions of community participation, these activities initiated by local people is moving the discourse about 'regeneration' away from top down schemes mediated by institutions, governmental and 'traditional philanthropy' and toward local, flexible and innovation based projects powered by a sense of shared ownership.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Google Earth Greenwich

Whilst at Deckspace during the recent Deptford.tv project launch, James Stevens overheard me discussing Google Earth and told me about Greenwich Emotion Map which is - as far as I am aware, the first major project of this type in south east London. The Google Earth program allows users to look at satellite photography of an area and overlay any data onto it. Christian Nold worked with residents of the Greenwich Peninsula to capture and annotate various experiences which were mapped using GPS to record the location. Later the data was sorted in a way which enables users to filter various 'layers' in Google Earth. Using this technique it is possible to make sense of a dense conurbation and allow visitors and residents to take ownership of how it is signposted and narrated. This will have a major effect on how we consult information about a locale (without recourse to traditionally authoritative sources). It show us how this technology can bring forward existing projects and interests making them visible (in a world where mounds of text feel like swimmining in glue.) Fortunately, a fellow blogger (Archeology of the Future) has written a great entry detailing his day participating in the project.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

19 Princelet Street

Following my theme of tracing the descent of local history into rank obscurity, and what I call disposable heritage, I would like to contrast the plights of two buildings. They both represent architecture as the essential fabric which documents society and culture. One is gone, one is fighting to stay alive. The one that has disappeared is a kindred to The Ragged School of which this blog is a plaque in cyberspace. I found it, as I always do, by accident whilst browsing around. The Sydenham Society website has a page on Boys' Industrial Home, Perry Rise also known as Shaftesbury House which was demolished in 2000. As the building is now gone, I found this web page a touching echo of mine as the author asks why and how, letting us honour what would have otherwise been cast into the void. Anyone wishing to trace the fate of The Ragged School / Princess Louise Institute Hales Street only need look here to see how easy it SHOULD be to track down vital documents (re: why was permission granted to demolish a known historic building).

So to contrast, please check out 19 Princelet Street off Brick Lane, which is still extant, a house and heritage campaign with every plotline you could wish for, not least that it is an "unrestored Huguenot master silk weaver's home, whose shabby frontage conceals a rare surviving synagogue built over its garden." I have visited this magical space and its best feature is to educate people that such vital historical documents are seriously at risk and no one will automatically come to help. Only we, the community, and more recently the internet community can help make visible the plight of Britains disappearing (and sometimes simply invisbile) heritage before it is simply too late.