Heygate Estate

posted by on 08/07/2013

*Dad walks past me as I edit Heygate images on Lightroom* Dad: Where’s that? Me: *gulps* ‘It’s an abandoned estate in Elephant & Castle. We climbed to the…’ Dad interrupted me there with ‘VVHAT!’. To Indian parents, such things are a no-no and even if you’re going there to practice your craft. Alas, that isn’t going to stop me from doing more of this. It was fun seeing the city from a very different angle, especially in area there really isn’t much to see. Sorry E&C residents, I’ve had no reason to return to Elephant & Castle since graduating from LCC 2 years ago.

So why did we chose to come here? It’s abandoned and from what I remember – it’s easy to get into. Yang and I did a pretty amateur shoot for a photography module at university over three years ago. The appeal was the adventure and the photography options on offer at Heygate. Especially the view from the top but getting there was a challenge since everything was boarded up by the local council as the estate is due for demolition in 2015.

So let me give you a bit of history on the estate, most of you’ve probably seen it in a lot of cliché grime videos and a few big movies like Harry Brown, World War Z and Attack The Block.

Failed Utopia is what some refer to the estate as. Constructed in the late 60s, it spans from Walworth Road all the way down to New Kent Road. The post-war building was built as part as a major regeneration project which started in the 60s as a lot of the suburban streets lined with Victoria terraced houses were left damaged and destroyed as a result of the German bombings during WWII. Many of the families were displaced from their houses and the council decided to demolish and rebuild instead of repairing due to the extent of damage.

Heygate estate and others like Aylesbury represented a new beginning, a hope for the future through safe housing and community orientated brutalist architecture. For many who moved in there, it was the first time they had access to amenities such as indoor washing facilities and central heating.



Heygate also boasted an impressive community space outside with play areas for the kids, outdoor garden space and even an on-site NHS doctor’s surgery. They were really pushing for the modern day utopian aspirations with the whole concept.

20 years later in the 1990s, the estate was renowned for its high crime levels and anti-social behaviour. The inclusive design made it easier for criminals to run through and hide away from the cops. The estate went from being a popular place to live to one with a reputation for crime, poverty and dilapidation. By the early 2000s, the estate had reached a state of severe disrepair. Maintenance and repair cost would have been around £7.2 million in comparison the demolition cost of £8.5. Structurally the buildings are in great shape but everything is in tatters.

It’s so sad to see what it has become. Once a dream location with spacious modern accommodation which cost several millions to build has turned into this. It’s already cost the local council around £50 million to start demolition work, buying out residents and planning the redevelopment. Crazy.

As soon as we reached the estate, the first thing we noticed was EVERYTHING was boarded up. All the doors, bridges, staircase entrances were boarded with metal and anti-climb paint (grease). Gah, Folaju and I were in appropriate attire for jumping over fences like free runners. However my friend Melody who was in town from Singapore came down in an all white ensemble. Yep, that was my reaction too but it was partially my fault for not explaining what we were about to do.

So eerie and quiet.

Boom! it took us a while but we managed to find a building with entry point to the top. We headed to the estate via the Walworth Road entrance which was a tad more tricky as it required us to jump over a few fences. Not an issue for us but when you’re wearing all white everything – it’s a problem. On the way out, we found an easier entrance to the estate via New Kent Road. If you come out of Elephant & Castle station (Mall side), turn right and walk down till you cross the road and see the estate. There’s a hole in the fence that you can jump through.

Hint: The building parallel to New Kent Road is the one pictured above with the entrance. You’ll have to jump over the fence to get access to the walk way bridge. Easy peasy.

We decided to head to the top as soon as we entered, getting up there wasn’t too much of an issue but it’s quite eerie to begin with. So quiet and so dead. Unfortunately we never bumped into any squatters or dead bodies – that would have made the experience even more surreal. We were walking around as if it was a scene from Silent Hill/Resident Evil. You never know what kind of zombie may appear, ever been to Elephant & Castle Mall next door? All kinds of strange human behavior going on there.

London’s epic urban jungle in the middle of all the estates. I’d love to see what this place looked like when it was first constructed in the late 60s. It doesn’t seem like the building is that high but trust me, for someone who’s afraid of heights going close to the edge was mission impossible. A bit like this dog.

Above: The old with the new. Gentrification.

Below: The opening to the roof. Urban exploring at it’s best.


My friend Melody of missingavenue.com discovered Y&Y through my Instagram a year or so ago and we’ve kept in touch since then. So when she said she was going to be in town for a few weeks, we just had to show her around. Her blog is all about food, fashion, craft and her life. Check it out – stunning visuals all throughout the site. Be warned, the food photography will make your stomach rumble. You know how I always take photographs of my food from above? She styles her food before taking that shot. That extra detail.

Oh, she’s a damn good model too. FJ will be able to cosign how serious Melody’s switch from normal bubbly self to pose/fierce mode is. So photogenic, I must practice how to pose using a mirror. My selfie game is non-existent at the moment.

Before you make assumptions this isn’t a high fashion shoot. She just happened to be somewhat dressed up on the day!

We headed back down to the 14th floor to see if we can get into any of the apartments. Weirdly every single apartment on this floor had be broken into, all the other floors were still mostly boarded up. Naturally, like in any horror film – we sent in the black dude first. Luckily FJ came back alive haha.

Above: All Nike everything. Halfway there to FuelBand goal.

Follow them!

Melody – @Meowiee | MissingAvenue.com

Folaju – @GeekySneaks | Folajuo.com

So dark, so gritty. Perfect for films. Not surprised so many shows and movies were shot here. It’s sad that most of them have used the estate for a similar ‘urban’ crime plot lines which probably made everyone think Heygate was an uninhabitable place. Whilst researching for this piece, I came across several stories from former tenants who say otherwise. Sadly we’ll never know the truth, the media and politicians have already got their way.

The view from the 2nd floor. Is this the future of Elephant & Castle? Heygate’s set to be demolished in 2015 to make way for ‘affordable luxury apartments’. Most of which have already been sold to an Australian based company.

“Selling abroad at very high prices the first homes to be built to replace the council homes is just a further insult to the local community,”

Enough said. It seems like the council just wasn’t bothered with redoing the estate – especially now that figures have leaked showing the demolition process will cost a hell of lot more than it would have done to redo it.

Who remembers the Australian show The Tribe? The one that aired on Channel 5 on Saturdays around 11am. The estate reminds me so much of the city the kids used to live in on the show, especially in the image above with the dancers rehearsing. I think they were dancers, could have just been random hippies.

That’s all folks. What do you think of the feature? Is this something you’d like to see more of? I thoroughly enjoyed exploring London from a different angle, so much fun to explore and capture. Hit us up at @yinnyangtweets.

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