In Pictures: The Heygate Estate, SE17 - A Modern Secret Garden?

By Nicolas Chinardet Last edited 157 months ago

Last Updated 03 April 2011

In Pictures: The Heygate Estate, SE17 - A Modern Secret Garden?

Local resident Zefrog takes a wander round the near abandoned Heygate Estate.

The Heygate Estate, a modern Secret Garden?
The Heygate Estate, a modern Secret Garden?
10th floor gangway of Claydon House
10th floor gangway of Claydon House
Secret Garden?
Secret Garden?

The bad reputation of the Heygate Estate, at the heart of the regeneration area of the Elephant and Castle, is partly what brought it to the sorry state it currently is in, waiting for the wrecking balls to strike.

As a neighbour with a direct view on Claydon, one of the big building blocks that surround the estate and cut it off from the rest of the area, I was curious to go and visit the fabled land of feral gangs and rampant gun crime (as the estate appears in the backdrop to many a film and TV series).

As expected, this collection of over 1200 homes built in the 1970s is mostly deserted, if one excepts the lone driving-school car circling the empty streets. Only about a dozen flats remain occupied and demolition has already begun in the further reaches of the estate near Rodney Place.

Rather than an urban jungle, I found an unexpectedly peaceful space reminiscent of a country estate park, if it wasn't for the boarded-up buildings decaying in its midst; a sort of modern Secret Garden with spring in full bloom among the tall trees and birdsong the only sound.

Everywhere, of course, are the signs of abandon. Heaps of rubbish gather in some corners and many families seem to have left their furniture when vacating their flats, hoping for new beginnings.

Also present, though less obvious and already slowly fading are the marks of rebellion: the phantom letters of an incomplete "SAVE OUR ESTATE" linger on a series of garage doors; torn and twisted banners advertise; bitterly sarcastic graffiti welcoming the visitor to Heygate Heaven or David Cameron's Big Society, informing him or her that this is "where the scum come to die", are scrolled angrily on the walls of a stairwell.

While the long slabs of flats that surround the estate are truly awful and forbidding and probably deserve to be demolished, the smaller blocks at the heart of the site seem much more benign and could possibly have been granted a stay of execution.

It is however clearly too late now and the sooner the warmth of new homes is kindled, the better. Hopefully the developers will manage to retain the mild sense of enchantment that exists there for now.

Pictures by zefrog. Browse more on Flickr.