The Ghetto’s Tom Hunter makes film showing in Hackney tomorrow

A film detailing the “amazing” history of Woodberry Down Estate - currently undergoing social upheaval in a �1billion regeneration project - shows at Rio Cinema in Kingsland Road tomorrow (Wednesday December 15).

A Palace for Us documents 50 years of life on the estate, through the testimonies of residents who have lived there since it was first built - Kit Heatley, Erica Dobbs and Jim Campbell, who moved there when his house in Albion Road, Stoke Newington was destroyed in the Blitz.

The 16 minute-long film was made by artist Tom Hunter, after he spent over two years getting to know the estate’s elders’ group at a weekly tea morning.

“It’s a celebration of socialism and social housing and the people who live there,” said Hunter, who lives in Eleanor Road.

“I originally come from a small village in Dorset and you would expect rougher and tougher stories from an estate - but they are about meeting your future husband in the church hall, playing hopscotch in the yards and scrumping apples.

“It’s universal, just the everyday stories that sum up life really, a shared communal feeling of people getting on and living together,” added the artist who is better known for his photographic work The Ghetto, about a London Fields squatted community.

Construction began on the Woodberry Down Estate in 1946 as a response to the wreckage of World War II bombing, and when it was completed in 1962 it was heralded by the Hackney Gazette as an ‘estate of the future.’ “Tenants were filled with such pride, all the ladies shared the cleaning of the stairs, scrubbing them by hand, and the people living there would invite people up to show off,” said Hunter.

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“Everyone seems to blame estates now as an evil, but it wasn’t the case at the time.

“Thousands of people have been bought up there and lived amazing lives and to say they’re terrible places doesn’t say much for 70 years - it’s missing why it was built and what it’s done.

“There’s also a question mark over what happens next - how are we going to house the less well off people in our borough now that David Cameron is going to fundamentally change the welfare state and social housing,” added Hunter.

The estate’s older residents are now playing an important role in shaping the future of Woodberry Down as it undergoes huge social upheaval - with 2,000 flats which are being knocked down to make way for 4,000 new ones.

The film was commissioned as a Skills Exchange project by Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery, where it premiered last night and will be showing every day until January 20.

Skills Exchanges begin with the premise that older people possess many skills, insights, memories and ideas that are not only useful, but vital, to our understanding of, and planning for the future.

“It will be nice to have a good memory of the estate before it’s all knocked down, they’ve had interesting lives and I want to show that,” said Hunter.

“The elders are an active, vocal group of people and it’s all being ripped down now, just trashed in a way - which is sad because it’s a great legacy,” he added.

Age Concern Hackney is hosts a screening of the film at the Rio Cinema in Kingsland Road, Dalston on Wednesday December 15 at 11 am.