About two years ago I moved into a property buried deep in a London suburb. For reasons that will become clear the location will remain undisclosed, though It is owned by a housing trust and leased out to an agency; who fill it with people like me in order to keep vandals and sex workers from illegally squatting in the empty building. It's a regular fixture in the London living scene (especially for struggling artists) so I won't bore you with the details.
Sitting in a bar in South Manchester, where I now live, I recently mentioned to an acquaintance that I was going out in Brixton the following weekend. "Oh really," Imogen* said, eyes lighting up suddenly. "I've never been but I've heard it's meant to be good. There's a couple of hot yoga studios there, right?"
Gentrification is not simply about gimmicky shops and cafes. It's about anger at being excluded on grounds of wealth. It's about the people being forced to move and the ones valiantly trying to stay put despite the pressure to leave. It's about the inclusive social and communal spaces that have gone, not the exclusive ones that have sprung up.
My show opened last week at The Saatchi Gallery. It's mainly about London (and the underbellies of other cities), and in one of the capital's most iconic institutions. Yet I don't live here anymore. I moved up north so I could be with my son full-time but equally I'd had it with trying to find the space I needed to work and live London.
The letter was swiftly followed by a visit from a council official, who spouted jargon about decanting, phasing and acquisition. She coldly talked about "units" rather than homes and seemed genuinely astonished that we were unhappy about their proposal to knock down our affordable, lovely home in order to build far less affordable ones.
Caitlin Moran's article came out and it struck a chord. And then I got my guitar and struck a few more. I realised that because of the day to day work I do on Save Soho, I hadn't actually made any music for months. But out it came. Like a storm that had been brewing in the back of my mind for months.
If Hermann's proposal gets approved in the near future, the "Berlin Wall of Pot" dividing the city's residents will come down, tourists will flock to the culture capital not just for the cheap living and turbulent nightlife but for cannabis cafes, and everyday Berliners will be able to pick up their ganja from a store counter, along with their milk and brötchen.
When I moved into my current rented flat in Forest Hill the area was reasonably cheap and had no coffee shops. Now, seven years later, it has at least five coffee shops, a deli and several boutiques. On top of that it's also on the East London Line on the overground. All of this has pushed rents up by over 50%.
In a borough as diverse as Hackney, you will never capture the area in its entirety, and this was never our intention. What the books is, is our version of our neighbourhood. What made it so special to create, was that we found we weren't the only people striving to mark what is going on here, and we certainly aren't the only ones interested in it.