The Heygate Estate is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric urban spaces I’ve been in, so I was thrilled to be able to arrange some spooky storytelling in the ‘Urban Forest’ growing among the concrete walkways and broken windows. Unlike most of my commissions, this was unpaid – it was just for my own storytelling enjoyment.
I knew I wanted Nigel of Bermondsey’s heartbreaking songs from ‘Ghosts of London’, but what story should I tell…? I decided to leave aside traditional tales and create a new modern story especially for the space: a nightmare encounter on the thirteenth floor. It was long, site-specific and took me ages to learn. A real labour of love!
The South London Press ran an article on the event and Time Out named us as a ‘Critic’s Choice’, and suddenly I found my email so overwhelmed with bookings that I physically couldn’t answer them all.
I knew that a film would be shooting in one corner of the estate, but this never usually causes problems with access. I imagined it might add a bit of colour to the tour.
On the Thursday I wandered into the ‘forest’ to have a last-minute practice. That was when I discovered that Brad Pitt’s zombie blockbuster was so concerned with security that they had annexed the entire estate and the Brandon Estate across the road as well.
I rang the Southwark Film Office who confirmed that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere AT ALL nearby on the Friday night. It looked as if we’d have to cancel.
Biting back the expletives, I called Lyla and Richard, who are part of local eco-group the ‘Urban Foresters’. They were instrumental in setting up the gig and campaign to preserve the ecology of the area. We thought and walked and eventually decided to re-locate in an unsatisfactory nearby park.
I wrote to all the people who had booked, explaining that they could choose: either come for stories and songs somewhere outside the estate on the Friday OR I’d do the full urban forest tour and tell the story at twilight on the Sunday. (Secretly I was glad of two chances at the story.)
In the end we had hoards of people turn up for both nights – and amazingly, Lyla and Richard saved Friday by scouting out a sneaky forgotten glade in the estate to hide in. It was VERY dark and scary – we were glad of our candles and torches. Over the road, loud bangs from World War Z made us jump out of our skin.
The atmosphere was brilliant, largely thanks to Lyla, Richard and the wonderful audience, who really entered into the spirit of things!
If you missed it, don’t worry – there’ll be an opportunity to hear the whole thing on Resonance FM in the next few weeks.