At the Millwall Café in Bermondsey, 72-year old Willow Winston is holding her first press conference after announcing her intention to stand for election. In the shadow of The Den stadium – the home of Millwall F.C. – Ms. Winston declares that she will be an Independent candidate for the Lewisham East constituency.
The soft-spoken visual artist may not be your typical Millwall supporter, but Ms. Winston is very much a dyed-in-the-wool Lions fan. Having lived in the area for 16 years, she’s as part of the furniture in Bermondsey as the Den itself.
What Ms. Winston and Millwall F.C. share in common is the threat of eviction from their respective homes. This is as result of the ‘New Bermondsey’ scheme, a council-approved plan to ‘regenerate’ the area. Essentially this could mean the sale of local houses and buildings to make way for a series of new (often luxury) developments.
For the past six years, Ms. Winston has faced the possibility of eviction from her home through the threat of compulsory-purchase orders (CPOs). Ms. Winston would be forced to sell her house at a low price to the council, who would then sell the land on to a development company called Renewal.
The Den is similarly under threat. In September 2016, Lewisham council issued a CPO which would have seen land surrounding the Den (which included a café, community trust and youth academy) forcibly sold to Renewal 2,400 homes in ‘New Bermondsey’. This was later successfully opposed by the council’s scrutiny committee.
Feisty presser for Millwall Community election candidate Willow Winston. Just called @heidi_mp "a traitor to her party and to local people"—
Barney Ronay (@barneyronay) May 17, 2017
Pro-Millwall candidate Willow Winston to stand in general election theguardian.com/football/2017/…—
JO WINDSOR (@joannewindsor) May 18, 2017
It’s no surprise that Ms. Winston’s campaign is backed by the Association of Millwall Supporters’ (AMS) group.
The Lewisham East seat is currently held by Heidi Alexander of Labour, who Ms. Winston has openly branded a ‘traitor’ for her involvement in the New Bermondsey scheme.
It is alleged that Alexander was involved in early consultation with Renewal on the New Bermondsey development during her time as deputy mayor. Alexander, however, told the Guardian that her role in the discussions was limited.
Tom Gale (@tomgale001) May 08, 2017
The apparent conflicts of interest didn’t end there: Sir Steve Bullock, the current mayor of Lewisham, is the director of a company associated with Renewal, while Renewal was set up and originally part-owned by the previous Labour mayor of Lewisham Dave Sullivan.
It is clear that Ms. Winston is standing in Lewisham East to protest Ms. Alexander and the Labour-run council’s complicity in the development.
Ms. Winston voiced the concerns of local residents, as well as Millwall supporters who fear the Den re-locating to Kent, when she said: ‘We form a community and we are very much under threat of having our place of work and living taken away completely.’
Whatever the result on June 8th, it appears Ms. Winston’s campaign has done much to highlight the challenges facing Millwall F.C., and local residents.