Month 10: Walworth

Bric-a-brac, Walworth Road
Bric-a-brac, Walworth Road

When I flipped the coin, and I realised that I was going to the Walworth Road, I was not looking forward to it. This is one of my least favourite streets in London. A bit rundown, rough around the edges, and always busy, I’ve travelled through here many times, and never wanted to linger. All the shops seem somewhat ramshackle, and many feel like they’ve come from another era. And on more than one occasion I’ve seen the darker side of this high street, too.

What’s more, the Aylesbury Estate fell into my coin circle as well. One of the largest public housing estates in Europe accommodating some of London’s poorest residents, the estate is notorious for being one of the most disadvantaged and crime-ridden parts of the city. The media often use this estate as an example of urban decay, as do TV shows and politicians. Not the kind of place you want to go carrying a camera around. I knew the estate was in the process of being redeveloped, amid some controversy, so I really didn’t know what state the place would be in, or what to expect. With some trepidation, I boarded the 45 bus from my house in Brixton, and headed out into the unknown.

Aylesbury Estate
Aylesbury Estate

The Walworth Road was busy with shoppers and weekend warriors on their way to Burgess Park, as it was one of the last sunny days of summer. After dodging in between the cash converters, bookies, charity shops and cheap furniture stores on the high street, I ventured into the side streets and headed towards the estate. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with the sight of razor wire and broken glass, followed by a decaying floral tribute memorial to someone’s brother who had clearly died there. But this was soon overshadowed by the sound of children laughing and playing, which lightened the mood and urged me to carry on exploring. Parts of the estate were abandoned, with windows boarded up, but others were still populated and looked fairly well looked after. There was also a lot of construction going on as part of the redevelopment scheme. A splash of orange atop a security fence urged further inspection, and when I got closer I could see it was a teddy bear caught in the razor wire. Coincidentally (or maybe no coincidence?), the window above him was open, and from below it looked like he had flung himself out of the window in some kind of cuddly toy suicide. I liked the juxtaposition of something so cheerful committing such a desperate act, and this was one of my favourite photos of the day.

In between photographs of bullet holes, graffiti and burned-out storage units, I did see a few people who lived on the estate, just going about their daily lives: a young family kissing their relatives goodbye, a woman coming home from the shops, a man airing out his laundry, and groups of kids playing games and eating ice lollies. Despite its reputation, the estate is just another home in London, a place where people go about making the best of what they have in life, just like any other home. I left the estate with a positive feeling overall, and headed across the street to Burgess Park to photograph the estate buildings in the late afternoon sunshine.

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