Moving stories from a Leytonstone estate

Filmmaker Liza Fletcher on telling the story of the Avenue Road Estate

A screening at the Leytonstone Film Festival (credit: @treenicola)
A screening at the Leytonstone Film Festival (credit: @treenicola)

Last March, two thirds of residents on the Avenue Road Estate in Leytonstone voted in favour of the council’s plan to demolish and rebuild their home. At the same time, my work – as a filmmaker and visual anthropologist – began.

I spent twelve weeks filming and working closely with residents on the 1960s estate, some of whom have since become my friends, to create Moving Stories. Having grown up in a council estate myself, I was determined to have the Avenue Road community see themselves empowered on screen and have a say in how their stories are told, rather than see them shaped by outside forces. The 20-minute film, created in partnership with the Immersive Storytelling department at UCL and drawing on archive images and years of my own research, is an attempt to tell the decade-long story of their community ahead of dramatic change in the coming months.

Credit: Patrick Dowse

While the exact shape of the estate’s future will not be fixed until September, when Bellway Homes’ plans are expected to appear before councillors for approval, consultation with residents suggests it will include a mix of social housing and affordable flats rented on the private market. There are currently 90 flats planned for the private block, compared to 125 in the social housing block, creating two unequal communities who will have to live alongside one another in future. During filmed interviews and chats on the balconies of current residents, I could not help but notice the breathtaking view to the estate’s south, taking in the Olympic Park and London’s financial district. Using drone footage, I was able to capture these high-rises offices that dominate the skyline, a visual reference to the power that sits behind the growing regeneration of urban communities.

Farhan Samanani’s book How To Live With Each Other: An Anthropologist’s Notes on Sharing a Divided World documents the life of an estate not dissimilar from Avenue Road and opens by posing the question of how we can live in community with those who are different from us. The estate in Kilburn that forms the centre of his research has been thrust together through historical events such as Windrush, recessions and the movement of refugees due to wars abroad and his work explores how close living with diverse neighbours influences the estate residents’ view of our world.

Similarly, the residents I met in Leytonstone hailed from a huge mix of global locations and embraced the multiculturalism of their neighbourhood to different extents. Drawing on the questions raised by Samanani, my film further asks how regeneration plans like this one, which threaten to preserve homogenised groups in separate communities, will change how future residents understand the world and learn about differences.

My hope is to raise funding to film the progress of the regeneration project, expected to start late this year, and its impact on the Avenue Road community. Many current residents tell me that they will move on from the estate and, certainly, it is likely the area will never be the same again. The changes set in motion last year will have an untold impact on future generations that grow up there, together and yet apart.

‘Moving Stories’ will be screened at the Homerton Short Film Festival on 7th May