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It’s September already, and I’m back in Deptford for a few days with Paul Clarke (one third of Uninvited Guests). We’ve had a really busy couple of days, getting to know better the people and streets of Deptford whilst enjoying (kind of) an Indian Summer.

On Monday we took part in Deptford Lounge’s weekly reading aloud group. It’s a small but engaged group who meet every week to read a short story aloud and then talk about it as they go along. As Hothouse’s focus is the future of Deptford and our job was to suggest a short story we decided on a science fiction writer called JG Ballard. In 1961 he wrote a story called Billennium, which is a dystopian vision of a city in the far future so overcrowded that people live in cubicles in stairwells, and sometimes find themselves in a pedestrian congestion that can last days at a time. It provoked a really interesting discussion around space is cities, particularly London and what the future of our housing will be like. As well as discussing the future of specific locations in Deptford we also talked about the rich history of the area: St Paul’s Church which was described as the ‘pearl of Deptford’, Albury St with its cobbled streets and its maritime past. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and I thoroughly recommend checking out the reading group. We are mostly used to reading out loud to children but it’s a rare thing to read aloud with adults.

Thinking about sci-fi and the possible lack of privacy and space we may face in the future I thought I would include a piece of writing that one of the young people wrote from the Summer Arts workshop week last month:

I can see a giant building climbing up into the purple sky. Look: the building is made of a reflective material. It glistens when the sun hits it. If you squint hard enough you can see the very top of the structure and right at the top is a beautiful garden in full bloom. All the buildings reach high into the sky now. Multi-coloured lights climb up and down the sides of them. One has a cascading waterfall running down it. There is the sweet smell of strawberries and cream in the air: can you smell it? Every hour the scent boosters that are attached to every building send out a different smell to the streets of Deptford.  In the middle of the giant skyscrapers I can also see an old looking kiosk. As you look closer you can see that people are buying little packages from the kiosk and every package has a different emotion printed on it, like “”happiness”, “fear”, and “courage”. These emotion pills are completely legal and everyone in Deptford is taking them: look. There are little silver drones that fly all over and record everything they see in every home, workplace, and public spaces are fitted with cameras invisible to the untrained eye. There is no longer such a thing as privacy.

On Tuesday Paul and I ran an afternoon session with the brilliant Meet Me at the Albany, an all day arts group for the over 60’s, quite unlike anything that has come before. We had been invited to run our ‘Society of Friends’ event that we ran a few months ago in The Lounge foyer. It involves reading the day’s newspapers over a cup of tea and finding an article that matters or affects you in some way. Everyone is then invited to speak about why they have chosen that article. The headlines from those articles are written on pieces of flash paper which are burnt at the end as we shout them out, and musicians play and sing the headlines back to the group. One gentlemen said to me afterwards that he thought ‘it gave older people a voice’. It was a real privilege to spend time with the group and listen to their thoughts and opinions on what is going on in the world.

On Wednesday Paul and I spent the day researching current planning for Deptford, walking the streets and thinking about possible routes for Give Me Back My Broken Night and simply talking to people who live here.

Even though I have been working on Hothouse since January I feel like I have a much better sense of Deptford now. It takes time to get to know a place. You have to walk its back streets and hear its stories and breathe its air.

We spent time wondering around the famous Deptford Market and watched the calming Tai Chi session that now happens every Wednesday morning in the foyer of The Lounge. We also discovered some cool coffee shops like Deli X and The Waiting Room, and ate at the popular Vietnamese restaurant Pho Hanoi. The sun shone, we got quite sweaty in over 30 degree heat and my feet hurt from all the walking, but all in all it’s been a great few days! See you soon Deptford…

Jess (Uninvited Guests)