By Ann Storr
Pret a Manger has descended upon Brixton, Sports Direct is on its way and the Village is up for sale. Conversations about change, progress, community and gentrification are more charged than ever.
I met with a handful of community leaders to understand their take on the future of Brixton and how to bring about positive change.
Huge thanks to Binky Taylor, Shane Duncan and Linda Quinn for their time.
Shane Duncan is a director and cinematographer whose latest short explores the impact of gentrification on Brixton:
Opening my short film with a Sunday morning drone shot of Brixton challenges the viewer’s idea of Brixton. It’s calm and peaceful, and you get to see how big Brixton is as well as how close it is to the centre of town. I see the beauty and potential in a block of flats, and each person living there. I think it’s beautiful.
I learnt a lot about Brixton by making my film. My interviewees are hugely knowledgeable about the area and its people. Lincoln from Brixton Cycles is a great example: Brixton Cycles would have been forced to shut down after the rent hikes – a consequence of gentrification. The local population came to their rescue because Brixton Cycles have looked after them in the past. That’s real community.
It’s becoming impossible for born-and-bred people to live here. A lot of people are living with the sense that tomorrow can only bring disappointment.
It’s easy for people to make lazy assumptions about what a business looks like from the outside. ‘Dip & Flip’ have been around for ages, but they just re-vamped to appeal to more customers. Don’t jump the gun, do your research. A black Rastafarian man could own that fancy cheese shop that you’re criticising. My film presents a variety of opinions on gentrification because there are different opinions out there, and I wanted them to be heard. Solomon Smith, Karl Loco, Alex Wheatle MBE: I wanted to use relatable voices that don’t always agree, like life.
As individuals we can’t do anything alone, but together we’re strong. There are more people ‘downstairs’ than ‘upstairs’. If we really started talking with our neighbours there would be change. If we fully cared, not kinda cared, we would work together. Brixton is slipping through our fingers, so let’s band together and protect it. We can do this together.
More spaces like Pop and the Village would be great to see. Tourism is good for Brixton – if people shop at local businesses that brings money into the community, and we need that. Let’s have more communal spaces and places. Let’s join together the people who want change and the people who can make change.
There used to be a variety of local papers, but that’s all gone now.
Brixton has had a troubled past. Once, it wasn’t safe to walk home alone from the Tube at night. Back in the Victorian era, Brixton was actually very genteel, so it’s come full circle. The danger is that we go the same way as Hoxton or Hackney: After the young creatives come, businesses cashes in and alter the character of an area.
The local press is the voice of the community; without us no-one would have heard of Sports Direct coming, the Ritzy living wage campaign, the sale of the Village and the new hotel. Time doesn’t stand still but the community needs to galvanize to bring the changes they want to see. They can only do that if they know what’s going on. That’s where an active and knowledgeable local press is essential.
Young working-class kids used to be able to learn their trade on a local paper and then move on to a national. I’d like to see that to be a possibility again. The Bugle is trying to fund an apprentice who can learn the trade and carry the paper forward.
We need to move the conversation on about gentrification. People often fear change, but change happens organically. The job is to help engender a more positive and responsible community.
The reason we aren’t having the robust conversations needed is we’re all protecting our reputation. We’ve got heroes and villains, Us and Them. This type of dialogue leads to isolation. That’s why I decided to work together with Network Rail over the Arches; I wanted to understand the situation from all perspectives and not rest on assumptions or other people’s conjecture.
If everyone got to grips with the issue, rather than seek information that simply agrees with their worldview, we would have more powerful conversations. It’s not easy but it’s the only way.
There’s a pejorative view that any progress is bad, but we all have the capacity to shape progress rather than stop it. If small businesses in Brixton are going to survive, we need people with money to spend. You may object to Squires, but they opened up their space, brought the community in, and now there are an extra 250 people coming into Brixton who want to buy lunch or have a drink after work.
Every person with a Brixton Pound in their pocket is making a statement about their desire for change. Impact Hub shows a different way of working. But look closely at barriers: who isn’t seeing you and why is that? It’s okay to not know, to be confused. We all think we’re doing the right thing, so learn to listen. Being equally clear about what makes a place attractive and unattractive to others is vital, so that you begin to break down these invisible barriers. Keep the dialogue open.
Brixton Design Trail has proved to Lambeth that there is a burgeoning creative scene and that we can deliver. We’ve a community committed to positive social change. One of our most touching pieces in last year’s BDT was by AWMA; they wanted to communicate the love and reflection at the heart of Islam. Islam and Muslims are becoming demonised, so these men tried to change the conversation and give a voice for a community that isn’t often reflected in the creative sector. Anyone can get involved in BDT and through creating and listening, we can make change happen.
Sports Direct? Maybe it could be good, if it brings people here to shop and socialise. Whilst one can abhor Mike Ashleigh, don’t make that your focus. What we should be doing is asking Lambeth Council why they allowed this. And ask yourself: is this the future that you want for Lambeth and Brixton? If it isn’t, then what is your hope? How can you help to make that happen? It’s easier to blame Network Rail than it is to ask the shop owner about selling his/her store to Sports Direct. I don’t like this ‘poverty tourism’, – people thinking that they are living a ‘real’ life because they walk past a quiet shop that sells orange double breasted suits that no-one wants to buy any more. I don’t want one, you don’t want one. Ask the big questions, don’t create victims and baddies. Get involved.
By Ann Storr