Catford Green: the power of framing

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In July, after years of saving, my wife and I bought our first flat, a modest two-bed in Catford, South London. An estate agent would describe Catford as an ‘up and coming’ location for a young couple. And when a place is ‘up and coming’, a shiny housing development is sure to follow. The first of these developments is being built right now. I see it from the station platform every day as I wait for the train. It has a name: Catford Green.

‘Green’ is not a word I associate with Catford. When I think of Catford, the first image I see in my head is the brutalist town hall, surrounded by the swollen river that is the South Circular.

‘Catford Green’ suggests another place entirely. A place far away from roads and sirens. The developer’s website sells this suggestion, showcasing mock-ups of the development with carefully selected photos of the area – a flower stall on the market, the tennis court in a nearby park – treated with ‘sunny’ photoshop filters and placed side-by-side to suggest that they’re closer together than they really are.

I’m interested in that name: Catford Green. As the BBC points out, developers and town planners have been ‘modifying, extending or ‘borderising’ postcodes’ for years to make them more palatable to a certain audience. It’s why people swear blind that they live in East Dulwich rather than Peckham. It’s why, a few years ago, Staines added ‘upon-Thames’ to its name.

Lots of people have told me that Catford is a dump. But I grew up in a very similar place a few miles away and never thought of it as a dump – it was my home.

The frames we put around ideas have as much power to influence our thoughts as the literal frames put around paintings before they’re displayed on gallery walls. Frames can change how we act. They can even bend reality itself. Studies have shown that branded analgesics are measurably more effective at reducing pain than their generic counterparts.

Finding the right frame can take an abstract problem and make it real. It can supply the context, telling your audience: this is where you fit in. This is why we say to clients that it’s usually better to tell people to ‘get ready’ for a change than ‘prepare’ for it. It’s why it’s more effective to talk about a pension as a way to ‘keep getting paid when you’ve stopped working’ than ‘a way of saving money’.

Back in Catford, we just had our first outdoor cinema screening. Local people are turning industrial land into community gardens. Yes, ‘Catford Green’ is a stretch, if we want to be strict. But it’s also a call to action. A glimpse of what might be. And by showing you what might be, you’re galvanised to make it happen. Catford isn’t green. But calling it Catford Green might help make it so.

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