‘It’s rampant commercialisation trampling over history’: Norton Folgate under threat from city developers

It’s impossible to walk through London and not witness the sprawling gentrification of the city’s much loved individual and cultural hubs. Shoreditch, which used to be the retreat of London families and broke artists seeking escape from the financial drone within the city, is now spilling over with glass-walled offices and apartment blocks for those willing to splash the cash to live within streets adorned with art. But it’s the locals paying the true price, unable to match the wallets of those who only see pretty patterns, and not messages of social change, on these colourful walls.

The demolishing of buildings is the demolishing of the area’s history and identity, and next on the proposed list is the iconic Norton Folgate buildings in Spitalfields. British Land came after Elder Street in 1977 but were prevented by locals and a group of conservationist squatters, led by Dan Cruickshanks, who since became The Spitalfields Trust. Now, British Land are again trying again to rip down over 70% of the area – which stand in the Elder Street Conservation Area – and replace them with high rise office blocks.

The thirteen storey blocks would tower above the four storey 18th – 19th century architecture, and while locals might welcome the redevelopment if it offered jobs or affordable housing British Land is targeting huge corporations who won’t bat an eyelid at the rent as their next-door neighbours have inevitable holes burnt straight through their pockets.

The Spitalfieds Trust, and many of the same trustees, including Cruickshanks, are fighting the same fight – just 38 years later. They’re clamouring for Londoners to send their objections to The Tower Hamlets Council to the cleansing of an area that once homed the poet Christopher Marlowe and staged the first production of Charles Dicken’s “The Pickwick Club”.

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The underhand tactics used by the City of London to gain possession of these buildings and maximise the area’s use as “anodyne” office blocks is what the Trust is trying to draw attention to. “The buildings have been kept empty by the City of London,” says Tim Whittaker of the Save Norton Folgate campaign, “It’s deliberate – keep the buildings empty and say they’re no use.

“They’re perfect for a variety of uses: small offices, tech industries, small businesses, residential. A complete mix, just as it always has been historically. What British Land want to do is create vast office spaces that last thirty years then get destroyed and rebuilt.”

The Trust staged an exhibition in February telling the historic story of Norton Folgate and criticising British Land’s threatening scheme. The exhibition was held in Dennis Sever’s House, a “still-life drama” created by Server who lived there until 1999 and spent his time transforming the rooms into a time capsule of centuries gone by. They suggested reuse of the site that would “repair its historic fabric rather than destroying it” and deliver jobs for local people and increase the amount of affordable housing.

Although the exhibition has since been taken down Charles Gleddhill of the Spitalfields Trust has agreed for it to be on display in his own home for anyone who wishes to understand the area’s rich, textured history. But he fears this disregard for the capital’s character is just the beginning of Britain’s commercial transformation.

“The city of London has been buying up the area east of Bishopsgate bit by bit in order to do this mass redevelopment. It means the old rivalries are in play again.

“If they start doing this to conservation areas in London what does that mean for conservation areas throughout Britain? It’s rampant commercialisation trampling over history.

While most of the buildings are no longer in use the Trust has put forward a plan that would utilise the streets for the benefits of the local community and retain the cultural aesthetics of these historic buildings which are a solitary, honest remnant of London’s past. The courtyards and alleyways that have been carved by the footsteps of London’s gritty characters, the last bastion of a capital being slowly devoured by commercialisation, is standing tall under the stare of the encroaching, glittering glass walls of the city. And rightly so. “If you destroy these areas,” says Oliver Leigh Wood of the Spitalfields Trust, “They’ll never be rebuilt.”

This article was originally published on The Culture Trip London.

I thought flirting was consent – it took me years to accept I’d been raped

To a passing stranger we might have looked like any young couple stumbling out of the club and into the “throes of passion” down an alley. Maybe someone would have thought it sweet how he was leading me by the hand and steadying my falls.

Or perhaps if someone knew we were strangers they would shake their head at the “situation” I had “gotten myself into”. I certainly spent years suffocated by that blame.

I was 16 when a man spent ten minutes trying to enter me in an alley at 2am, but it was another three years before I understood it was sexual assault. I knew the legalities and violence of rape but the concept of consent and my right to withdraw it at any time was foreign to me, and I believed because I had flirted with my rapist I was obligated to follow through and spread my legs when he wanted me to.

Even that word – “rapist” – was too heavy and defining for my situation. How could I put that on someone when I was to blame? He certainly didn’t look like a rapist – he can’t have been more than 20 – and he didn’t act like one initially. He was good-looking and funny, not a violent thug who could leave me dead.

But somewhere in between Prince Charming and violent sex offenders are a group who take advantage of the grey area surrounding consent and the pressure put on young women to follow through and put out.

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I didn’t at any stage in the night want to have sex with him, and I certainly didn’t want to be fucked in an alley by this stranger, but because I’d flirted with him and kissed him on the dancefloor I felt obliged to submit to his desire – after all, I’d been winding him up all night.

I first saw him on the street flyering for the nightclub we ended up in and probably winked at him. The club was dead, we were underage, so we spent our night going between the bar and the bathroom where we’d stashed our coats and money. I was the smallest so it was my role to slide under the locked stall door every time.

He met me on the dance floor and, thinking of the boy who had dumped me two days before, I let the booze loosen my tongue and lapped up the attention of this older guy. And yes, I did fantasise about going home with him. It was a fantasy that haunted me for months because it rationalised his behaviour as my choice. I thought my drunken desire must have been written all over my face waiting to be taken home – or, as it happened, just outside.

He wanted me to come home with him, I said I couldn’t because I was staying at a friend’s. He pushed me to find a solution, I felt safe because I knew there was no way I would end up in his bed.

When he went to buy some drinks he insisted I stay on the dance floor. He refused to let me taste his but urged me to finish mine without taking a sip from his own. Whatever was in that glass was too sweet for me so when he turned away I emptied most of it out.

To this day, I don’t know if that drink was spiked. I didn’t want to think it was for a long time, so I insisted the entire night, resulting in a sordid fuck, was directly because of my choices. I couldn’t stand the thought of being powerless. When I did eventually accept I wasn’t in control of what happened I felt guilty because I didn’t know if I was drunk or drugged, and didn’t want to victimise myself in comparison to other survivors of sexual assault who had been through much worse.

It didn’t occur to me at any point that it wasn’t my actions that resulted in my assault – it was his. It wasn’t until I told an ex who demanded the boy’s name because “I’ll find him and kill him” I realised the perpetrator of my rape wasn’t me. It wasn’t until David cried and told me “you were a kid and that bastard took advantage of you” I realised I was excusing my attacker out of my own ruined self-worth.

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Before, I had parroted the phrase “I know it isn’t my fault” but felt guilty sticking the “victim” label on myself because I had flirted with and kissed him. I thought that flirting was consent, and whether or not that drink was spiked didn’t matter because the outcome was something I brought on myself. I certainly didn’t believe at 16 I had the right to change my mind at any stage – from that first wink I gave him my body to do as he pleased because I was scared to disappoint him.

Isn’t that ridiculous? But it was a belief held by many of us when we were young because consent is an overlooked concept in young people’s education. Brought up in a society in which female sexuality is packaged for male consumption and being exposed to the sexualisation and dehumanisation of the female form, you need to re-learn your body is yours alone to do with what you want – including withdrawing consent.

But with his hand on my chest keeping me balanced against the wall I felt my choices had been taken from me. As he struggled to insert his penis fully inside me muttering “you’re so tight” I started hazily plotting my escape, each thrust bringing more clarity to the fact I didn’t want to be there. But I couldn’t find the word “stop” and instead prayed my slumped body language would betray I didn’t want to continue.

It didn’t. He turned me round and pushed me face first into the wall gripping onto my shoulders for leverage. It wasn’t until he tried to enter me anally with no prior warning I squirmed and said “no”.

He complained “But I’m still hard” and I became painfully aware of how much more sober, bigger and faster he was, so to get him out of my inner thighs I offered him a blowjob. He happily pushed me to my knees.

When he orgasmed he put one hand on the wall to steady himself and one hand on the back of my neck so I couldn’t move away and said something about “swallowing”. Despite everything it was that moment I felt most dirty, most used, most inhuman, and I spat his sperm onto the condom he had abandoned with venom.

He had his jeans around his ankles and I saw my way out. I bolted as he yelled at me, still leaning on the wall, and ran back to the main street where my worried friends were waiting outside the closed club. They were panicked and furious. All I could say was: “I think I lost my underwear.”

In the morning I cried in the bathroom when I saw my vagina was swollen and raw. I felt deformed and ugly. I panicked that I had contracted some disease, unable to remember if I’d had sex with him or what had really happened.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. He called me the next morning to try and have phone sex (apparently I wrote my number on him earlier in the night) and laughed at me when I told him to leave me alone because “we fucked last night”. I took a chance and said: “We didn’t have full sex.” He paused and agreed.

I was ecstatic when he agreed initially, but him conceding “we didn’t have full sex” then hollowed me. I used it as a buffer between myself and the attack, and my pain became painful confusion as I didn’t allow myself to feel hurt because I hadn’t been raped by normal standards. I couldn’t see a middle-ground between drunken fumble and violent rape, so I chose drunken fumble.

I dropped the bravado act of calling it a “one night stand” 18 months later when I saw him on the street. I had imagined for hours what I would do if I saw him again, ranging from breezing past to kicking his head in. In reality, I froze and felt even colder than I did that February night. I put my head down as I passed the bus stop he was waiting at, fighting the urge to run to my school gates.

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It hit me then I hadn’t wanted to have sex with him, but my instinct was still to blame myself entirely for letting it happen. And I didn’t learn – even years into my active and happy sex life the concept of consent confused me and I caught myself having sex with men out of duty rather than desire. When I mention it to my female friends it’s astonishing the number of heads that nod in agreement – we live in the assumption a woman gives her consent unless explicitly stated otherwise, and there’s a thin line between that mode of thinking and the belief a woman’s body is the right of those who desire her.

Of course, it’s not a fight separated by gender. Despite being assaulted I can count numerous occasions I’ve pressured men into having sex with me despite them being tired or ill or nursing a broken collarbone (sorry, David) just because I was in the mood. But the second that mood translates into entitlement it is no longer a mutual, respectful act – it is a selfish, dehumanising demand.

It’s not that we should exclaim “I consent” every time we do want to fuck, that would be bizarre. But we desperately need to educate and normalise refusing to give consent, and encourage exercising that right whenever necessary. Because sometimes you’re just not in the fucking mood.

That night isn’t something I think about often, and when I do it’s not the assault that upsets me, but rather how I treated myself then and in the years after. I hate to think of the other young people feeling pressured into sex or not allowing themselves their pain because they didn’t say no.

Maybe my drink wasn’t spiked, maybe he was a good guy that wanted my number to take me out to dinner, maybe he just got carried away that night. What I finally realise is my position as a victim of sexual assault isn’t dependent on his as a stereotypical rapist. Maybe he wouldn’t even consider his behaviour rape, which shows how desperately important it is to teach each other and younger generations what consent is and how to respect it – and personally I will never again let “obligation” come between me and my consent.

We must open this discussion that victims’ identities do not depend on the identity of their attacker. When our choice is removed our identity is taken from us as free people, and it is painful and difficult to piece your self back together when a part of it seems stolen. But when you hold your own image in their eyes you still labour under the same understanding that led you to feel you owed your body to that person. And if you cannot identify them as “rapist” how can you ever let yourself feel the pain of “victim”?

There’s still a stigma of shame and “damaged goods” attached to sexual assault, reinforcing the notion a victim in some way consents to being attacked. Being assaulted and raped is nothing to be ashamed of which is why I’m waiving my anonymity. Your pain is your own just as your body is your own, and we should celebrate and reclaim both together, because in choosing not to feel ashamed we are no longer defined by our lack of consent.

This article was originally published on The Tab.

‘It’s about love, not sex’: The rise of ‘polyamory’, where you have more than one sexual partner

“Polyamory is about loving, everyone’s perception of love is different – the main crux of poly is you discuss that shit.”

I’m talking to Frank, an Aberdeen student who practices polyamory, “the practice of engaging in multiple relationships with the consent of all the people involved”.

While the open relationship is a well known arrangement among students, polyamory – which practitioners say is more about love than sex – is still quite a new idea.

Frank is a “non-binary, queer, anarcha-feminist”. Non-binary transgender means Frank doesn’t identify as male or female and the word “queer” focuses on “mismatches” between sex, gender and desire. Anarcha-feminism combines anarchism and feminism.

They said about their experience in polyamorous relationships: “Polyamory is about communication, it’s about honesty. In polyamorous relationships you discuss everything.”

Polyamory is a multi-dimensional term and covers many types of relationships, ranging from consensual non-monogamy between partners, to having two – or more – primary partners.

Frank says: “Within polyamorous relationships, it’s about time, and how much time you can give someone. I have two primary partners, L and J, who I make a lot of time for and love, but I also have a tertiary partner. We see each other rarely – whenever I offer any free time I might have – and there’s no expectation to support each other emotionally.”

Between primary and tertiary partners are secondary partners. People who “mean a lot to you, but respect that you won’t give them as much time as your primary partner.

“In poly relationships, when we promise someone our time, we keep that promise. When you’re monogamous, there’s an expectation of someone’s time, but in poly relationships you have to make it. Breaking that promise is akin to cheating and lying in poly relationships.

“Of course, cheating and lying are also possible, but what matters is that you keep to promises of time and don’t prioritise something else instead.

“At one point I had two primary partners, two secondary partners, and a tertiary partner, who I still see. Google calendars can be very useful!”

I have always considered myself pretty liberal sexually, being unopposed to one night stands and believing that you certainly don’t need an emotional connection to have great sex. But the concept of loving more than one person is something I struggled to grasp, and asked Frank at length how they dealt with jealousy:

“Jealousy happens all the time in relationships, poly or not. Just because you get jealous doesn’t mean that you’re going to split up, or are failing at a poly relationship, it just means there’s something to discuss. The main crux of poly is that you discuss that shit.

“In my first poly relationship the guy I was seeing was also seeing a very attractive person. In comparison, I felt like I was coming up short.

“There was one night they were going to this really cool film screening and I got very jealous. But I realized that I wasn’t actually jealous of him being with the other person, I was jealous that they were doing something that I also wanted to do. It wasn’t actually them, but they were the thing I was pinning my insecurities to.”

It was this man who introduced Frank to polyamory, what he described as an “anarchist relationship – one where you have the ability to self-determine and self-identify”, when they were 22:

“I had polyamourous friends online but I thought it was bullshit. In my late teens I found out that my parents had been consensually non-monogamous, and my father wasn’t actually my biological father – but he had been around as my step-dad. I thought my mum hadn’t considered anyone else’s emotions and had been selfish.

“But when I was in a relationship between the ages of 18 and 22, I cheated on my partner a number of times. I didn’t feel guilty – and still don’t – because I felt emotionally monogamous towards them. I hated the sense of ownership in that relationship. Sleeping with other people felt right at the time for my body so why shouldn’t I be doing it?”

However, while it might have seemed to be the next natural step, starting out in polyamorous relationships was in no way an easy transition for Frank: “I was with the guy for a couple months before I met someone else I wanted to be with, and then it was new and exciting. But then I fucked up. I won’t go into details but I suppose I’ve learnt as I was going along.”

Three years on, Frank is very happy and secure in their polyamorous lifestyle, although not all of their partners are poly like them: “One of my partners is really quite monogamous – they had negative experiences with open relationships in the past.

When we met they described themself as “almost territorial” which set alarm bells off in my head. I sat them down and said to them: “my body is not yours”, but it wasn’t what they had meant to express.

“We’ve tried to explain monogamy and polyamory to each other many times, but it’s difficult when your brains are just wired differently. Anyway, they’ve always maintained that they’ve never felt lacking or unloved in the relationship, they get what they need from it.

“It would be unreasonable for them to ask me to be monogamous, just as it would be unreasonable to expect me to change my sexual orientation. I could end up hurting them by doing something that feels natural to me. For me, polyamory is like a natural extension, like holding someone’s hand, or kissing them.

“Everyone’s perception of love is different, as is everyone’s perception of cheating. For some people, flirting in a bar might overstep the mark, but for others it’s fine. Each person’s idea of intimacy is different so it’s very important to discuss that in poly relationships.

“But you also have to discuss what you want to know. I’ve had relationships where we’ve talked about our sex with other partners, but it’s not something I would do with every partner.”

After a whirlwind romance, Frank is moving abroad this summer, which leaves L, who is also poly, in Aberdeen.

“L is very supportive but of course they’re disappointed. They have a family wedding coming up just before I go, and I’m making sure I go with them because it’s important to give them that time.

“Being poly is all about concessions and consideration for that other person. With monogamy, there’s a lot of unspoken expectations, whereas when you’re in a polyamourous relationship everything is discussed.

“There’s a lot of diplomacy in poly relationships.”

However, Frank’s relationships have not always been met with understanding by the public: “I’ve been kicked out of bars and clubs when I’ve been with two partners. It’s not like we’re having a threesome on the middle of the dance floor – it’s more like I’m holding hands with both of them, or kissed both of them before going to the bathroom. There’s too much sexuality for people to handle.

“It’s funny, though, I get less shit walking down the street with two partners than I do with a woman. Maybe people don’t know how to deal with what they’re seeing when there’s three of us, but when I’m read as female and holding hands with a woman I get harassed about being a lesbian.

“Once, one of my partners came to class with me, and I was also talking about how another partner was coming up to visit. When my classmates looked confused I explained I had two, and one girl’s first reaction was to call me a “slag.”

“When I called her up on it she laughed and said she was joking, but why is that funny? That’s like if someone were to say they were gay, and someone else to call them a “fag” and try to laugh it off. It’s not on.

“I get so little autonomy in society it’s really important for me to have it in my relationships.”

When I asked Frank to differentiate between polygamy and polyamory in their head, the answer was immensely diplomatic and educated:

“By definition, polygamy is about marriage, about having more than one spouse. Polyamory is about love. In fact, monogamy should really be called monoamory nowadays!”

As well as the obvious differences between poly and mono relationships, there are heightened risks in terms of sexual health:

“Sexual health is really fucking important if you’re going to be fluid-bonded – excuse the horrible phrase – with someone. You and all of your partners and all of your partner’s partners should be tested regularly. If you don’t, someone can’t consent to sexual contact with you because you haven’t given them all of the information. It’s imperative you’re open about sexual health.”

Frank said it was important to note that they weren’t speaking for the entire community:

“I can only speak of my own experience, I can’t communicate for everyone off my own shoulders. For example, there are polyamorous asexuals who have romantic relationships but don’t have sex. But poly relationships are about communication, and the benefit is when you can talk about how you feel in a safe environment, it helps you explore yourself even more.

“Of course,” they laughed, “it’s also a huge fucking ego-boost when someone is in a relationship and also wants to make time to spend with you.”

This article was originally published on The Tab Aberdeen.