Monthly Archives: April 2010

South London Democracy Club questions answered (only by some)

The Streatham page on

All that time ago in February (remember the snow?), South London Democracy Club put ten questions to local candidates on issues ranging from stop and search to a South London tram network. The answers from candidates on these issues have now been uploaded onto so that voters can hold MPs to their word after the election. Upsettingly only the Green candidate has completed it for Dulwich & West Norwood. Things are better in Streatham, although Labour candidate Chuka Umunna has not answered there. Why have some PPCs not answered, I wonder?  By collecting the data, the South London Democracy Club wants to ensure transparency in the future, but it can only work if the PPCs open themselves up to that scrutiny too.

Find out what your local candidates have answered (or if they have) here.

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H&M vox pops

Despite protests outside H&M yesterday against its store in Israel, the inside of the shop was manically busy, with queues stretching around the clothes racks. What did the punters think about the new store in Brixton? Is it a good thing for the area?

Stacy, Stockwell

“I think it’s brilliant. We’ve finally got something in Brixton that we can get stuff from. It’s good to have something so local. It’s good that a big chain store is here, because it will bring a lot more people into Brixton and slowly they’re opening up and fixing the market, so it’s just getting better all round really.”

Patricia, Clapham Park

“I think it’s really nice and very pretty. The closest H&M apart from this is in central London, so it’s good to have something local.”

Chloe, Tulse Hill

“It’s good for Brixton because it’s reasonable prices and Brixton doesn’t have that much variety of clothes shops. Having said that, it would also suit the feel of Brixton to have more independent shops, but I guess that H&M is pretty ubiquitous, so it’s something you can’t really avoid anyway.”

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H&M lands in Brixton

The new H&M is here!  Here’s the photo from last night, before it opened its doors. Right now it’s super busy. Luckily no riots a la Ikea or American Apparel yet…

H&M last night - the calm before the storm


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Top tips this weekend:

Brockwell Park in the sun

For the activists:

Windrush Sq will be a hotbed of political activity on Saturday. Campaign for South London Citizens, who want a Living Wage in London, at 12.15pm or question your MP candidates in the Blow Up Politics event from 2.30pm.

For party-lovers:

Severino of Horse Meat Disco will be among the disco DJs at the PARTYAFTER at Plan B tonight (a semi-afterparty for LCD Soundsystem @ Brixton Academy), while the Sunday Jam returns to the Hootananny on…Sunday – “an interactive, good vibe, participatory jam”.

For the cultured:

I’d recommend the Greek black comedy, Dogtooth, at The Ritzy. And so would The Guardian.

For everyone:

Enjoy yourselves in the sun! It’s set to be 19 degrees this Saturday…

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Brixton business signs

Guest blogger Ian Duncan takes us through the aesthetics of the Brixton shopfronts

Despite the best attempts of chain stores and franchises, local businesses still dominate in Brixton, which means there are some happily off-message approaches to signage. I’m not one of these quaint small town types who gets upset by Tesco and WH Smith forcing out the little guy, but in terms of purely aesthetic appeal small shops definitely hold the edge.

Walking around it’s hard not to notice the dilapidated shop fronts that have outlasted their useful purpose or businesses that, against all the odds, seemed to have survived the decades remarkably well – it’s hard to imagine anyone picking the 1980s videogame inspired type on Coin Op laundry today.

It’s not hard to find all sorts of similar quirks. Just Yams etc. So more than just yams then? Or the pentecostal church on Acre Lane keen to spell out that the ‘I’ they’re touting is none other than Jesus himself.

Kennedy Fried Chicken is another favourite of mine – it trades on both a well known chicken brand and a popular American political dynasty, with the statue of liberty thrown in for good measure.

Of the now defunct establishments, Errington furniture has a tantalising sign which appears to have been partly painted over so we’ll never know what the third prong of their offering is: “Bought, sold or rubberised”?

So while you get ready for the advent of H&M, spare a thought for PJ’s barber with it’s cryptic reference to Genesis 14:18 – “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God” – and all the other little stores that make up the landscape.


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The circus comes to town/Brockwell Park

Zippo’s Circus is a circus in the grand old tradition. A travelling company of acrobats, horse-trainers and clowns entertaining audiences across the country with misplaced humour and always mildly disappointing – but still fun – acrobatics. I went seven times as a child. In the interim years, we have become more disapproving of circus animals and more scared of clowns. The horses are there, but  Zippo’s Encore – a new show for the circus currently showing at Brockwell Park – doesn’t have an old-school clown. Surprisingly little else has changed. There is something bizarrely comforting in the fact that, despite changes of government and unknowable leaps forward in technology, Zippo’s will probably still be making its regular visits to Brockwell Park in another few decades.

Photos: Damon Hope

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Brixton films: Top Girl

A lovely film featured by Future Shorts about being a teenage girl in Brixton. Made by the not-for-profit production company, Fierce Productions, which makes films with community groups.

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Interview: Steve Reed, Leader of Lambeth Council

Steve Reed

Don’t be surprised if you read through the reports on Conservative manifesto policies and get a sudden sense of deja-vu. ‘Mutualism? Public sector co-ops? Collective strength? Where have I heard it all before?’, you might think. Well, that would be almost exactly one month ago, when Lambeth Labour launched its plans for the ‘John Lewis’ council amid much publicity. The Tories and Labour seem to be swapping policies around like FA Cup player stickers at the moment. ‘Mutualism’ might just become one of the buzzwords of the election and Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council, is the man fronting the Labour brand.

Reed has one hell of a job. Lambeth is the second largest inner London borough and the 19th most deprived borough in England. But he is experienced – he has been a councillor of Brixton Hill for twelve years – and he is confident about his plans to improve the area. Let’s start with the John Lewis council, or the ‘cooperative council’, as he prefers to term it.  This was launched as a creative solution to the inevitable cuts to all council funding after the election. “Councils are generally working on the assumption that it will be about 15-20%, which is a lot of money. When you’re facing cuts like that, there is only a limited number of things you can do.” The Tories have gone for the ‘easy Council’ in Barnet, with bogstandard services to all and the possiblity to top-up if you have the money. That doesn’t seem fair on those who are most needy and yet most unable to pay.

Reed believes he has found a better way: involving people in the running of their services with the possibility of financial recompense later on. He cites some co-operative schemes already running in Lambeth – the Lilian Baylis community centre and Freshview, which provides resources to clear derelict land and has allowed residents in Josephine Avenue to set up their own community garden.  “It works really well. People have a real sense of ownership and people sometimes for the first time know the names of their neighbours. All of that for a lower cost than if the council had come in and done it itself without those other benefits.” Reed believes that if the same values are applied more widely across the borough, there will also be better services  and “more community empowerment” costing less money. His future plans include community trust schools, “where the community has an ongoing relationship with the school as an alternative to the academy model.”

Co-operative intentions haven’t always worked in Lambeth, as the Lambeth Living experience has proved. I put to him that it could become a way of passing on accountability; “It’s not passing the buck at all”, Reed insists. “It’s not the case that people have not wanted this. We could do a Freshview every week there is so much demand.” What happens if the co-operative services start to fail? At what point does the council step in? “What we must never do is de-professionalise services. If for instance any school under whatever form of ownership sinks below a minimum standard then it will remain the right of the local authority to step in. That’s very important, because you can’t allow people to have a sub-standard education.”

The John Lewis council still has a way to go in a very short space of time. First, a commission of experts and users will publish a white paper and identify areas to pilot the model. Part of that will be a public consultation, although Reed is cagey on exactly when it will take place – @Jason_Cobb blogged today that it will be after the election, which means that voters won’t know exactly what they’re voting for in May. “We’d want the commission to come back with the first set of proposals by July so that we can roll them out from September. We’ll learn from the pilots and be able to apply them more widely to other areas.”

Funnily enough, the area where Reed admits to the most problems during his Lambeth tenure is where an ALMO – a semi-cooperative model – is in charge: housing.  He doesn’t blame the cooperative model for the problems and, of course, he does his best to take the blame off Labour.”There were already deep-rooted problems to do with the management of the housing service that go back years. Then the new IT system for Lambeth Living was implemented badly, so a lot of the data about leaseholders, vacant homes and repairs suddenly were no longer on the data systems. The work for that data system was done under the Liberal Democrats. The IT system has now been sorted out.”

Reed admits it’s a big challenge to improve housing even with the IT problem fixed, but is confident enough to say it will be sorted within 18-24 months: “At the moment 10,000 of the ca. 30,000 council homes don’t meet minimum government standards. We’re due a quarter of a billion pounds from the government to bring it all up to minimum standards. Then there’s the other side of the challenge, which is giving tenants a better day-to-day service. That means better repairs, re-letting vacant homes faster, and issuing bills to leaseholders accurately and on time.” An admission that Lambeth Living hasn’t gone quite as planned is implicit in the Lambeth Labour manifesto, giving the ALMO 12 months to improve or else.

It is difficult to interview any politician in the run-up to the election. Reed was certainly in campaign mode – the implication was often that Labour can do no wrong and it’s all the fault of the Lib Dems. Having said that, he is articulate and sure of his argument.  The debate about to be unleashed on co-operative government could change the way we engage in local government. It doesn’t seem quite right that we are unlikely to have any idea what it will really look like until after the election, but who knows, Lambeth could be at the start of something exciting.

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Brixton Acre Lane blacks out

Acre Lane (below) and other parts of Brixton were in the darkness this evening after a power cut, which lasted a few seconds to a few hours, depending on where you lived.  One half of Acre Lane got its power back within a few minutes, while the other half remained in darkness with buses and cars as the only source of light. Very eery.

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Quick work on the T-Mobile shop…

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