Aysen Dennis loves her flat. Two bedrooms, a neat kitchen-diner, a cosy living room, lots of light, a separate toilet and bathroom, and a much broader hallway than in the poky million-pound Victorian houses that surround her in south London – all for £110 a week, plus £30 heating and service charge. Her flat is warm, and no one can see into it. “I feel free in my home,” she told me recently. “I can take off my clothes without worrying about curtains.” She still has the original 1960s kitchen cupboards, miracles of space-saving and clever joinery. South London hipsters would love them.
Dennis is not a hipster. She is 57, single, and has been unemployed for four years. She used to work in a women’s refuge.
Before that, three decades ago, she came to London from Turkey: a leftwing activist fleeing the aftermath of a military coup, during which she had been shot at and imprisoned, and some of her friends had been killed. After a few uneasy years in squats and shared properties – “the husband of my last housemate was a racist” – she moved into her flat in the spring of 1993.
“At night time, I look out of my window and see red lights all around in the distance – the red lights of cranes. Gentrification is happening everywhere in London.” She glances at her precious 60s kitchen cupboards. “I want to take them with me if I have to leave.”
Then she rallies: “We will delay and delay Southwark. We’ve already delayed them for over 15 years. And when we stop them, the Aylesbury will get a proper repair.” It is possible, just, that the infamous, unlovely Aylesbury will be where the long war against council estates comes to an end.