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New novel highlights speed of change in London housing

"I'm going to get prices out of Islington", says author

06 July, 2018 — By Emily Finch

THE changing face of the borough and the conver- sion of a house where des- titute artists once lived cheaply into luxury flats was the inspiration for a new book out this month.

Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett spent her early childhood in a co-operative house in Archway where counter- culture movements thrived.

“What partly inspired me to write the book was walking past the co-op house which has now been divided into expensive flats. I thought, ‘what if I rented one of them?’ and this story is about a young woman who does do that,” she said.

Ms Cosslett, 31, who now lives in Tufnell Park with her husband, said she can “still remember bits” of her early life in the co- op. The co-op housing movement was popular in the 1970s and 80s when artists and punks took over derelict homes in the borough. They were given short-life rents from the council and some resident- led committees were able to buy the houses and rent them out cheaply.


She told the Tribune: “My mum speaks very fondly of that time – she was so happy, there were always people in the co-op and it was a very creative atmosphere with interest- ing things going on at the time. If you were a work- ing-class artist things were available to you to help you work and train. It was an exciting time to live in London.”

Co-op movement of the 1970s inspired Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, below

In her book, Tyranny of Lost Things, the main character – Harmony – returns to her former bohemian idyll in the sum- mer of 2011 as the London riots rage, and comes face- to-face with past traumas.

Ms Cosslett stresses her book is not based on her own experiences. “It’s inspired by Islington’s squatting movement,”she says.

A further theme is the changing face of the borough as young people and long-term residents get priced out because of rising property prices and living costs. Although set just seven years ago Ms Cosslett said it already feels akin to “historical fiction” because of the speed of change in the borough.

She said: “What the book does is contrast Islington then and now it flashes back to the 80s tail end of the particular co-op which existed form the early 70s. I think the whole city is becoming more soulless. The soul is starting to be ripped out in the middle. We need to have more affordable housing – we can’t continue to have austerity and cuts or there will be a borough full of rich people. What makes Islington is the normal people.”

She added: “I am going to get priced out [of Isling- ton], there is no two ways

about it. It’s some thing happening across London but it’s really marked here.”

The Tyranny of Lost Things is published by Sandstone and is out now.

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