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Social mapping of LGBT+ spaces in Deptford

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This is a social mapping project about the LGBT+ community in Deptford in collaboration with Goldsmiths University’s Centre for Community Engagement Research.

Important terms

Map with Sticky notes
  • LGBT+ refers to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender
  • The plus (+) is an umbrella term intended to be inclusive of all minority sexual orientations and gender identities
  • Transgender refers to people whose gender identity is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.

What is social mapping?

close up of the map

American urban planner Kevin Lynch saw social mapping as a way for people to create a visual representation of their community and to document their personal experiences within it. During the project, I asked 22 participants to draw, highlight and annotate the areas of the map they considered to be LGBT+ safe/unsafe spaces in Deptford and explain why. This varied from libraries and theatres to local parks and housing estates. What started as a simple safe space project became a more general documentation of LGBT+ experiences and history in the area.

Why Deptford?

The reason I chose to focus on Deptford is because very little information exists on the LGBT+ community there, despite its rich history of gay culture in the 1980s and 90s. Deptford is also important because in the last few decades it has been the subject of large-scale development which has sparked several local anti-gentrification movements. Throughout the project it became evident that gentrification affected the LGBT+ community in radically different ways, varying across people’s income, ethnicity and abilities. For example, 4 out of the 10 participants who were not students earned less than £10,000 a year whilst 2 earned over £70,000. It is, therefore, important to recognise the vast differences within the community and not to put them into one homogenous group.

Consider the following, within the Deptford LGBT+ community, as in society more generally, there are those who are dependent on social housing and have lived in the area for many years and there are those who tend to be of a younger generation and earn a higher income that moves from outside of the area into expensive new developments. At least 6 of the 22 participants I spoke to live in social housing in and around Deptford whilst 2 live in the newly developed apartment blocks. Gentrification can give the impression that the area is more LGBT+ friendly and accessible because it tends to attract a younger, wealthy crowd. In reality, however, this can out-price and push out LGBT+ people who do not fit into the narrow demographic.

For instance, one participant I spoke to, a white, cisgender male over the age of 40 who suffers from depression and anxiety, told me of his frustrating experience with social housing services. He told me of the homophobic abuse he had been subject to from social housing and support services, which made him uncomfortable when asking for help. If people do not feel comfortable in seeking advice or in giving their personal information, they cannot receive the help they need. This participant was homeless for nearly a month because, amongst other things, they did not feel safe in asking for support.

The purpose of this narrative is to deconstruct the myth that gentrification, or ‘gayification’ as it has been referred to, serves to benefit all members of the LGBT+ community. People of different incomes, ethnicities, gender binaries, abilities and sexualities can be affected in radically different ways. Thus, the map must be understood in this respect - one person's safety is not another's. This project, nevertheless, remains a valuable source of information about personal LGBT+ experiences in Deptford.

Method:

Since very few LGBT+ groups exist in Deptford today, I had to look further afield to Greenwich and Lewisham as a whole to carry out research. The main groups that I approached for this project were Lewisham LGBT forum, METRO in Greenwich and Goldsmiths University students. I was also in contact with local Labour councillors who expressed their interest in representing the LGBT+ community more.

The Results:

The aim of the project was to aggregate individual experiences in Deptford and allow the map to speak for itself. However, there are a few point that I would like to make about my findings:

  • Many participants who did not live in Deptford had a preconceived impression of the area - that it was, to a large extent, unsafe and unfriendly to LGBT+ people. Some participants admitted to having racial and class based prejudices - there was the assumption that the low-income and large black community would be hostile towards LGBT+ people.
  • Many participants that lived and had grown up in Deptford had a far more positive outlook on the area. In particular, participants over 45 recalled the vibrant music scene in the 1980s an 90s that attracted a whole range of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds - including an LGBT+ crowd.
  • Some participants over the age of 40 spoke about the LGBT+ spaces that no longer exist in Deptford - such as the Dewdrop Inn and the Fordham Park Festival, both of which attracted a ‘queer, arty crowd’. The limited time and resources of this project meant I could not peruse this further, but Deptford’s LGBT+ history is very interesting. Unfortunately, the small snippets of information I got a hold of were not substantial enough to include in the data.
  • Although I failed to reach out to the large Afro-Caribbean and black community in Deptford, the data still reveals the varying experiences between different race/ethnicities. For example, one participant, who was white, considered a park to be safe space, whereas another, who was black, noted that there were several incidents in that area involving the harassment of black, gay men.

LGBT+ Social Mapping Deptford:

Conclusion:

As illustrated above, if individuals do not feel supported by the presence of others in their community, they can then feel emotionally and physically unsafe within their environment. Therefore, I hope this information will be used and expanded further to produce a more substantial body of work over a longer period and across a wider demographic. In the meantime, however, this information is an important first step for Deptford’s LGBT+ community and a provides a valuable insight to individual experiences. I would like to thank the 22 participants to took part in this collaborative project and opened up to me about their personal experiences. I hope you find the map useful.

Please contact me if you would like to add your own experience/comments to the map. All contributions are anonymous.

Email - emma_mullin95@hotmail.co.uk

Recommended sources:

Destination Deptford documentary - https://vimeo.com/204366515

Pepys Community Forum / Voice for Deptford - http://www.pepys.community/

LGBT Lewisham Blog (search for Facebook page to contact them) - https://lgbtqlewisham.wordpress.com/

METRO Charity - https://www.metrocentreonline.org/