"In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I made these photographs, I was living in a squatted Victorian tenement block, Fieldgate Mansions, in Whitechapel, London.
Frequent homelessness, rotten housing conditions and oppressive housing laws gladly implemented by an uncaring local council all added to a feeling of exclusion among myself and my friends. As Tower Hamlets council ‘decanted’ the old, impoverished residents of Fieldgate Mansions we took over the empty flats and we squatted nearby houses kept empty by owners only interested in their investment potential.
Whitechapel and Spitalfields were very run-down. The area was a magnet for the homeless, the dispossessed, the lost and the angry people struggling to stay afloat in the backwash of Thatcher’s rapidly yuppifying Britain.
In that sink or swim world, the wet crypt at St Botolph’s Church and the, then anarchic and unregulated, Christmas shelter opened by Crisis At Christmas became an essential support for those who were sinking. The swimmers squatted. Fieldgate was populated by artists and mechanics, jewellers and writers, architects, escorts, dealers and photographers. It became a vibrant, self-supporting – and sometimes self-destructive – community.
With almost 200 empty flats and the Bengali community beginning to establish itself in the East End, Fieldgate became a safe, welcoming multicultural and secular neighbourhood. As so many times before, a new population took root as the original squatters moved on.
In 1982 Fieldgate was acquired by a housing association and slowly became more regulated. Rents were imposed and grew higher, some properties were demolished, but squatting saved much of the housing that we see there today.
As the area settled into its next phase, I moved on to photograph other people making their voices heard."