‘The 93 families of the New Era estate have achieved an incredible victory against greedy corporations and lazy politicians and I believe, and the name of the es…tate suggests, this is the start of something that will change our country forever.
When I first clattered into Lindsey, Lynsay and Danielle in Hoxton market, East London, bantering, smashing out flyers and hassling shoppers into supporting the campaign to keep their homes, I had no idea that I had inadvertently wandered into the heart of a truly accessible and exciting movement to oppose pointless government and tyrannical big business.
As I stood and listened to the hollering trio, their kids wove in and out of their legs like titchy Agueros. The women have one child each; “The Lindsays” are both working single mums. I was captivated by their abundant spirit, the clear validity of their cause (greedy landlords jacking up rents, inefficient authorities doing F.A) but also by an eerily resonant pang, a ghostly memory of something lost to me, or perhaps stolen.
Over the next few months I became further enchanted by my new neighbours and met more of the New Era families. Initially just popping to the estate to glean information germane to the campaign – how much is rent going up? (it’s being quadrupled) Is this social cleansing? (the growing practice of moving working people out of big cities, yes.) Have Westbrook, the American corporation in charge, done this before? (yes, they’ve been banned for dodgy practices in NYC). Then I started to stay at the estate for tea, perhaps with Lindsey G’s parents Chrissie and Tony. Then for food, Lynsay S is a mean cook. Then for no reason at all Danielle’s boyfriend Ian is a laugh and we chat about football. I went there whenever I had free time. It became, to simplify it, basically the plot of “Dances With Wolves”.
I left my lonely (luxury tax haven!!!) house, which would be Kevin Costner’s fort, waved goodbye to Morrissey, my cat, which, in my mind, would be that wolf, I believe he was called “Socks”, and headed to New Era – in this patronising analogy they’re the Native American tribe.
Drawn in initially by the importance and ubiquity of the cause, housing is the issue of our time, I was compelled to stay, as if held by the heart, by a deeper issue, both social and personal. By something I didn’t even know I was grieving; the loss of community, our connection to each other.
On the New Era estate I was welcomed first by the campaign leaders but then by everyone as I continued to hang out there, Harry, father of a teenage son and a boxing coach, Nell, who speaks mostly in swearwords and still thinks I’m Russell Harty and Mary. Mary who sounds like my Nan and with the first words she said to me hit a dormant chord that hadn’t been struck for ten years since she died.
At Dolly, Linsey’s daughter’s confirmation at St Clements, at the buffet I fell backwards through decades wasted and ignored. Old dears that were old lady shaped cooed and brought me paper plates of nearly vegetarian food, and the memory of my ol’ Nan’s mates; the Joyce’s and the Vi’s welled up in me as I mimed eating bacon quiche. Her house on Lillechurch Road, Dagenham where she lived and died and where I’d crash and hide when I nightly crumbled in London and all that stood between me and suicide was a 3am omelet.
The Eastend communities of her generation spilled into Essex as “The Smoke” coughed up its natives to make room, not for immigrants, like they thought but for creeping gentrification. Their kids, my parent, maybe your parents bought their homes in Essex and Kent, but more was swapped than mortgage for rent. I grew up alone in Grays End Close, a lonely boy, the only son of a single working Mum. By the time my growing up was half done the idea of tribe, community was an abstract one. For me “You make yer own luck in this world son” was my creed and individualism my religion.
I got the things I was told would make me right; fame, money, glamour and it’s not all that. It’s better than signing on or being a junkie but is it ever as simple as that?
Now I know, thanks to the New Era families, that what I was looking for, perhaps what we’re all looking for is already here; “the kindom of Heaven is laid upon the earth but man does not see it”, it is found when we put aside selfish things and come together.
I gave up a lot to pursue my dream of fame and fortune and now I’m not sure that dream was ever mine to begin with. Now I know that what I lost, or perhaps what was stolen was a tender thing that’s hard to weigh or render, but it’s there. It was there at my dear old Nan’s, where the door was always open, it lingers in me still after the decade long crusade for personal glory and it’s there in the New Era estate where 93 ordinary families stood up to corporations and lazy government and won. There’s a little of this spirit in all of us and it is beginning to awaken.’ Russell Brand