Cardboard City – revisited 17/04/13

A man walks down to what was once Carboard City

A man walks down to what was once Carboard City, taken on the day Margaret Thatcher was buried

Of all the pictures I took today, this one means the most to me…
Growing up in London as a young kid in the ’80s, I don’t remember much of the hardships under the Thatcher government; I was lucky enough to live in relatively prosperous north London…
I remember Sockshop and Our Price, Wimpy and Little Chef, big hair and power suits, Filofaxes and Yuppies, and Delboy trying to impress the ladies and falling through the bar…
I’ve a vague recollection of the poll tax riots: I heard grown-ups talking about them, so knew they were going on, somewhere…. And I remember knowing there was some unhappiness amongst miners over losing their jobs, though not really being able to empathise, not really caring – after all, I didn’t know any miners, I was from London…
But one thing I do remember, vividly, is driving past a roundabout just south of Waterloo Bridge and asking my dad what the bit in the middle was.
“That’s called Cardboard City,” he said.
“What’s that?!”
“It’s a city underground where people who don’t have houses to live in stay.”
“Is it made of cardboard?”
“No, it’s called Cardboard City because they sleep in cardboard boxes.”
“Cardboard boxes!… But don’t they get cold?”
“Yes, I think so. Very.”
I remember being wide-eyed with shock and confusion as to why people would have to live underground and in cardboard boxes, especially when there were so many big houses and spare rooms for them to sleep in, and so much money to go around; I knew loads of people who were ‘rich’!…
I didn’t realise it then, and maybe I’ve only just realised it now, but that was the first time that I felt in any way political, the first time I thought – hang on, this doesn’t make sense, why aren’t people doing anything about this?!…
And I still feel the same way as I did when I was eight; we should be doing more to help people that need help…
I went down to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today, to see if there were any good pictures I could take. I took lots of pictures, but of all the ones I took, I’m most proud, most glad I took, this one… It’s a big cinema now but in Thatcher’s day this was Cardboard City, where thousands upon thousands of homeless people made it their home for maybe days, weeks, months or years at a time. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Because no-one would help them.
Of all the pictures I took today, this one means the most to me.