Community action in a London neighbourhood


A chance discovery of thousands of photographs in a council’s archives has brought back to life a local community’s fight for survival. A new exhibition opening on 29th October (2021) tells the story.

‘Blackfriars SE1 in the 1970s’ highlights an extraordinary period of community action in the 1970s and 1980s in Blackfriars, North Southwark and Waterloo along London’s South Bank. For many it was a fight for survival as businesses moved out and land was earmarked for office development, leaving isolated communities struggling to maintain their way of life.

People find their voice

It was a period of huge empowerment for local residents. Campaigns, protests and direct action were the tools to make local authorities and developers recognise the communities’ needs. Estate tenants formed associations to negotiate with their landlords and community groups flourished. This community action tackled a multitude of issues including poor housing, redevelopment pressures, lack of shops and open space. Both SE1 Community Newspaper and Blackfriars Photography Project helped local people find their voice.

There were great successes like at Coin Street with new housing, Colombo Street Sports and Community Centre and the saving of important facilities such as chemists, post offices and launderettes.

Rich source of photographic reporting

The exhibition is presented by SE1 Stories, an umbrella group of people who were active in the campaigns of the time. The group came together in 2019 when thousands of photographs were discovered in the archives of Southwark and Lambeth councils. Many of the fascinating pictures were taken by members of the group for SE1 Community Newspaper, a monthly paper produced by and for local residents. Many more come from the innovative Blackfriars Photography Project that gave people the equipment and skills to be photographers.

The exhibition focuses on the area around Blackfriars Road as part of Southwark Council’s Blackfriars Stories initiative. SE1 Stories plans to present further exhibitions to highlight the rich stories of community action in Waterloo, North Southwark and Bermondsey. Other organisations that provided support and assistance in putting together the project are listed in the exhibition web pages.

Header photo is of Peabody Blackfriars Tenants Association meeting 3rd April 1974, photographed for Blackfriars Photography Project by Paul Carter.

Visit the exhibition

See our Blackfriars SE1 in the 1970s web page for more information, including details on further showings.

‘Blackfriars SE1 in the 1970s – community action in a London neighbourhood’ ran from Friday 29th October to Thursday 11th November 2021 at Blackfriars Settlement, 1 Rushworth Street, London, SE1 0RB; Morley College for16th November to 20th December.