This month we received the exciting news that we’ve been awarded a small grant from Royal Holloway, University of London to research PLACE/Ladywell; Lewisham Council’s new ‘pop-up’ housing village – the UK’s first. Place/Ladywell is a temporary housing development which occupies the site of the former Ladywell Leisure centre on Lewisham High Street.
The development provides interim use while Lewisham Council decide on permanent plans for the site. It will be a short-term home for 24 families currently on Lewisham’s homelessness register. The ground floor of the site also provides an event space, film screening venue, cafe and retail/work spaces for pop-up businesses.
In the past decade, pop-up has taken cities by storm. Pop-ups temporarily occupy vacant sites and are characterised by, and celebrated for, their ephemeral, unpredictable ‘animation’ of the urban landscape. In large part a product of the austerity era, pop-ups have until now usually been commercial ventures, with pop-up bars, cinemas, restaurants and shops emerging as a response to soaring vacancy rates and providing low-cost forms of regeneration. More recently, this logic has been extended into the welfare sector, including the emergence of pop-up courtrooms and libraries in the context of diminished funding for public services. Prominent within this growing phenomena is pop-up social housing, with a 2016 report from the GLA (that included PLACE/Ladywell as a case study) recently pitching pop-up housing as a ‘London solution’. But what are the consequences of transposing the logics of pop-up culture into the arena of social housing? In particular, how does living in an inherently temporary space, no matter how beautiful or spacious, affect people’s ability to construct a sense of home?
Our research is particularly interested to explore home and belonging in this context. We look to understand residents’ experience of living at PLACE/Ladywell and to consider how PLACE/Ladywell is distinctive, and perhaps even transformative, from residents previous housing histories.
We think this research is not only academically interesting, but will also have an important policy dimension to it, bringing the voices of residents to the fore in the growing debates on the potential of ‘pop-up’ villages. In this sense, we are keen to fill a gap in understanding on the possibilities and challenges of PLACE/Ladywell functionally and emotionally being experienced as ‘home’.
As well as interviewing residents we will be working with them to produce an ‘i-Doc’. I-Docs, or interactive documentaries, are a new form of documentary film. Unlike traditional documentaries they are made up of a collection of film clips, photographs, texts and sound. They are hosted on websites meaning users can interact with their materials. I-Docs have a ‘nonlinear’ format. What this means is that unlike a traditional film that you watch from start to finish, the material in i-Docs can be experienced in lots of different orders. Over the coming months we will be working with residents to collect images, film clips and text which documents their experiences of PLACE/Ladywell. These materials will then be compiled to produce an i-Doc through which users can explore, and respond to the multiple ways in which residents experience life in PLACE/Ladywell.
The project got off to a great start last Friday, when after meeting in Lewisham to set out a research timetable, we decided to take a stroll past the PLACE/Ladywell site and take some photos. As luck would have it, LSE London were hosting an event in one of the completed downstairs commercial units on ‘Alternative Housing Development in London: practices and possibilities’. The event consisted of a short film about PLACE/Ladywell, and presentations on the project by Osama Shoush and Jeff Endean from the Lewisham Council housing department.
Most excitingly of all, we were given a tour of one of the flats by Andrew Partridge of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the architecture firm that designed the project. The day left us full of enthusiasm for what’s to come, and in particular meeting the residents themselves.
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More about us
Katherine Brickell is a social and feminist geographer who is Reader in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. For the past ten years her research has focused on women’s experiences of home life and its challenges, including marital breakdown, domestic violence and forced eviction. She often uses creative methods to understand women’s lives, with a particular emphasis on participatory video. She is the co-editor (with Melissa Fernandez and Alex Vasudevan of Geographies of Forced Eviction: Dispossession, Violence and Resistance (Palgrave 2016). Katherine’s work is often policy oriented and has been funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). See this website further for more information on her work to date.
Mel Nowicki is a PhD candidate in the Human Geography Department at Royal Holloway University of London. Her doctoral research explores the impact of post-recession housing policies on low-income Londoners, with a particular focus on the ‘bedroom tax’ and the criminalisation of squatting. She has also worked as a policy researcher for the national charity Citizens Advice, working on a policy report documenting the local impacts of the housing crisis. She has published in academic journals (Geography Compass, the edited collection Geographies of Forced Eviction: Dispossession, Violence, Resistance), policy reports (Citizens Advice) and national media (The Guardian).
Ella Harris is a Cultural Geographer interested in imaginaries and experiences of space-time. Her current work focuses on ‘pop-up’ culture in London and explores the relationships between pop-up’s spatiotemporal logics and the current socio-economic climate. Ella is also interested in creative methods and, in particular, has pioneered interactive documentary as an experimental way to engage with urban space-time. She has published on pop-up culture (Geography Compass, 2015, Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, 2016, The Craft Economy, Forthcoming, Live Cinema Forthcoming) and interactive documentary (Area, 2016) and co-organises a collaborative project on ‘Precarious Geographies’.