Kaye Wiggins, out taking photographs this weekend, noticed something funny in the Victorian-looking clock above McDonald’s: nowhere is safe from the golden arches…
Monthly Archives: January 2011
BBC World Service set up a radio discussion about Lambeth public service cuts at Rosie’s Deli Cafe last week. Kaye Wiggins took part and here she explains what was discussed
The BBC World Service set up a makeshift base in the brilliant Rosie’s Deli Café in Brixton Market on Thursday, to present an “austerity special” programme about public sector cuts.
Presenter Dan Damon described Brixton in his introduction as “one of the most cosmopolitan and at the same time one of the poorest parts of the capital.” He said it was worthwhile to look at what was happening in Brixton because cuts in services and public sector jobs would hit harder here than elsewhere.
“People love living here but also they know that the services that keep the place livable in, and a lot of the jobs, are provided in a large part by local government and those are going to be cut,” he said.
Cllr Pete Robbins reiterated some of the doom and gloom. Asked about the impact of the council’s funding cut from Westminster, he said: “There are going to be some immediate, fairly devastating effects.” (Interestingly, he also said two thirds of the £79m cut over three years would come from saving money on the council’s back office functions and administration costs. I’d be intrigued to see how this will work: what were they spending it on?)
Damon managed, largely because he’d spent several hours wandering round the area in the days before the broadcast, to also capture the brighter side of Brixton.
He said he loved the market’s cultural mix and he noted food and music from Ghana and the Caribbean, a Brazilian hairdressers (“although I’m not sure what that is,” he said) and a Japanese restaurant – I think he meant Fujiyama.
“Anyone who was fearful about the social impact of immigration should come to Brixton because 25 years ago this was a very troubled place,” he said.
“There were race riots here, the police were accused of brutality, of stopping and searching black people but not white people, and as a result cars were burned, there were many nights of unrest.
“But now what you see is a society that really does prove that immigrants not only can settle into an area but make it extremely colourful and diverse.”
Damon also praised the work of voluntary and community groups in the area, with a glimpse into the work of Livity, which aims to build up local young people’s skills and confidence by training them to be journalists. You can hear interviews with its co-ordinator Mira and one of its trainees, Celeste, about 28 minutes into the programme.
Damon said Brixton stood out because of the important role played by local citizens in holding the council to account using blogs, Twitter and other social media. “People can express themselves in different ways, they don’t rely only on local newspapers,” he said.
At this point I jumped in enthusiastically with my tuppence worth, saying dissatisfaction with Lambeth Life, the council-run newspaper, had spurred local people to hold the council to account themselves using blogs and social networks. “It means that the council is being scrutinised in a way that it never has been before,” I said – you can hear it here.
The programme managed to convey a serious, troubling picture of a place under threat from the loss of local services, but without losing sight of what people love about Brixton – the diverse culture, the food and music, the importance of community groups and the work of local bloggers and activists.
If Lambeth Council wants to make sure that Brixton’s reputation isn’t taken back to where it was in the eighties as a result of the cuts, it would do well to capture come of the positive story that the World Service found. Reminding people of what they love about their area, without ignoring the tough times it faces, might be a good place to start.
The BBC World Service ‘World Update’ facebook page features video interviews with Kaye Wiggins and Livity. See them here.
The full programme has now been taken down, but you can listen to Kaye’s audioboo here.
Alex Procter from Renegade Pictures tells us about their new documentary, ‘My Kidnapper’, to be shown on 11 February at The Ritzy
In 2003, Mark Henderson was one of eight backpackers taken hostage whilst trekking in the Colombian jungle. What started as an innocent tourist adventure ended up as 101 terrifying days of captivity and uncertainty about his future. Eleven months after his release Mark received an email from Antonio, one of his kidnappers, and one of his fellow hostages received a Facebook friend request from Antonio’s girlfriend, another of their captors.
‘My Kidnapper’ is an extraordinary feature-length documentary directed by Mark Henderson and Kate Horne. The film follows Mark and three of his fellow hostages as they return to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Colombia, and eventually confront two of their kidnappers. It’s an emotional journey into a kidnapping, told from all sides. Acclaimed by festivals worldwide, it’s about to screen at The Ritzy Cinema on 11th February.
If you are interested in the chance to witness this moving documentary, come along to the Ritzy on 11 Feb or check out the film’s website for other London screenings.
There’ll be a screening of ‘Street Food Kalkata – Why Not’, a documentary which charts the city of Kalkata through its street kitchens, at 5pm on Sunday and 7.30pm on Monday. But best of all, to accompany the film, there’ll be jhal muri, pulchas, channa masala and mango lassi – ‘falling off the screen and straight into your mouth’. YUM. It will all be cooked by Angus Denoon, who runs Street Food Kalkata. And for only £15 a head.
I’ve been meaning to blog about Whirled Cinema – part of an art foundation that includes artists’ studios too – for a while. It’s a 60-seat private members cinema. For £30 a year, or £5 for a week, you can see the films they screen every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for free. If you have the year membership you can even bring a guest for free. And you can join up here.
Thanks to Petra Barran from Choc Star for the heads-up
UPDATE 28/01/2011: It’s filling up fast. See comment below for how to get tickets
Ruth Miller wanted to organise a walk around Brixton murals, inspired by a thread about Brixton walks on the urban 75 forum, but when she set about researching the murals she found there was almost no information out there. So she ordered up books, searched the archives, contacted the artists and, in 2010, set up the London Mural Preservation Society. Now, finally, she can do those Brixton Mural tours – and she took me on one this month.
First up was the Brixton Academy Mural, above, completed in 1982 by Stephen Pusey. Like many of the murals in Brixton, it was commissioned by the council after the Brixton riots and its theme is obviously racial harmony. There’s something a bit tacky but undeniably endearing about it. The children are scaled up all wrong and the colours, having been painted in pure pigment, are still glaringly bright. Pusey took part in consultations with the residents in the area and, unsurprisingly, it turned out that they didn’t want anything too depressing in the post-riot landscape. So the bright colours are fitting. “If you watch an old Grange Hill, that’s kind of what the playground in this mural is like”, says Miller. “But it really was like that – the kids were a bit poorer and people weren’t that well off to buy their kids cool clothes”.
The mural cost thousands to make, but once it was built there was no responsibility on the part of the council or the owner of the wall (in this case the 02 Academy) to maintain or repair the painting. It is now fading, peeling and being destroyed by bad weather. This is a story we will encounter again and again on the tour, and one Miller intends to put right.
Can you see all the Lambeth symbols in the mural above? The bricks represent Brixton (think about the platforms at Brixton Underground), the Swan is Stockwell, the gates are there for Gateley Rd, and the Brixton Rec logo is in there somewhere too. This painting, along with the one below, is on Bellefields Rd and was painted in 1987 by a collection of women from the London Wall Art Group.
Ruth Miller has gone to great lengths to talk to the artists involved in the mural painting project of the 1980s – and there were an extraordinary number of them. When someone added to Wikipedia the names of the artists behind the Brixton Station murals (see below) – Angie Biltcliffe and Karen Smith -, she went on a hunt to find them. But Angie has just died in November 2010 and Miller still hasn’t been able to locate Karen Smith. Their works, however, are some of the best in Brixton.
“I really like these. You can see the one at the top of the stairs when the train arrives and they both really reflect the atmosphere of the market – the diversity of foods and strange things you can find there. But they’re not even protected by a varnish or anything.”
And now for the best of them all. Brixton’s most famous mural – Nuclear Dawn. It was painted by Brian Barnes and Dale McCrea between 1980-1981, at the peak of the Cold War, and this year it will be 30 years old. On 20 February, Brian Barnes will be giving a talk on the work at the Dogstar pub.
Nuclear Dawn was one of several ‘peace murals’ commissioned around London during this time, including Ray Walker’s peace mural on Dalston Lane. Nuclear Dawn features a frightening skeletal figure walking over London as nuclear bombs drop and, under the Houses of Parliament, the elected politicians including Thatcher hide in a bunker.
Sadly that bunker is now covered by graffiti and much of the mural has been damaged by trees growing too close to the wall. Ruth Miller succeeded in getting the trees cut down last year, but she is still hoping for some more extensive renovation to preserve the painting properly. “It’s my favourite mural”, she says. “As kids we were very scared of it”.
There were two more peace murals in Brixton, but they were covered over when new housing was built on Vining St and Rushcroft Rd. You can still get a glimpse of them if you look carefully:
This is by Fujiyama, facing Atlantic Rd. And if you walk in the opposite direction, along Vining Street to Rushcroft Rd, and look up, you’ll see this flash of blue:
It’s poor solace for what we’re missing out on, though. This flickr photo shows the original on Vining Street.
It would be a real shame if any more murals in Brixton were lost or destroyed. And there sure are more of them. Below is ‘Big Splash’ on Glenelg Rd, a rather joyful and idealised painting of life in Brixton. The river is based on the Effra, the vases around the side make reference to the Royal Doulton factory once based in Lambeth and the children are all local kids.
Our final mural is a surprising one. Tucked behind Acre Lane on Mauleverer Rd, it is absolutely huge. The picture below shows only one part of it. It was inspired by Brockwell Park, but the best bit about it is that a resident living opposite reputedly asked for a Caribbean beach view to be inserted into the Brockwell Park pavillion. The perfect view to wake up to every morning…
To find out more about the London Murals Preservation Society and to take part in Ruth Miller’s mural tours (which take in more than we saw here), visit the website: http://londonmuralpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/
Brian Barnes, who painted Nuclear Dawn, will be speaking upstairs at the Dogstar at 12.30pm on 20 February in celebration of the 30-year anniversary of Nuclear Dawn. See here for details.
Kaye Wiggins reports from the public budget consultation at Lambeth Town Hall last night
At a noisy meeting in the town hall last night, Lambeth residents vented their frustration about the £79m in cuts that the council will make from its £310m budget over the next three years.
The council’s plan for the event, a public consultation attended by about 60 residents, was that local people would suggest how they thought it should make the cuts. They could do this by writing their thoughts on a ‘post-it note wall’ and a ‘graffiti wall’.
The night didn’t get off to an easy start for the council. A Unison member interrupted during the introduction. “Labour councillors met last night and agreed to a detailed budget,” he said. “We have a right to know what they decided. Otherwise this meeting is a waste of our time.”
When several members of the audience applauded the Unison man, councillor Paul McGlone tried to explain. “Details of the meeting will be online tomorrow morning,” he said, causing an outcry that set the tone for much of the evening.
But when people were separated into small groups later on, they started talking more quietly about the services that should be spared from cuts. Libraries, children’s services and housing emerged as the big priorities.
McGlone told the residents the council had not made any final decisions on its budget, and would use their feedback to help it decide on its priorities before it announced the final figures on 23 February. He said the council particularly wanted to protect its budgets for children’s services, crime, schools, better homes and helping people to get back into work.
Nobody mentioned the council’s controversial adverts for the consultation process, which said: “The government has cut our money so we are forced to cut services.” But messages on the graffiti wall, like the one below might send a signal to the council about it.
There’s going to be a much more exciting event than the royal wedding happening in Brixton on the bank holiday weekend at the end of April…The Windmill is reopening. And in grand fashion too.
A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year – long fought for by the Friends of Brixton Windmill – has made possible the restoration of the interior of the Windmill so that it will be accessible to the public again. The Windmill was built in 1816 and leased by the Ashby family, millers producing stoneground wholemeal flour. It fell into disuse in 1935, but from May 2 we’ll be able to have a peek inside again. The Friends of Brixton Windmill will be celebrating with a procession up Brixton Hill and a big party in the Windmill park.
Two very different events on tonight that are worth flagging up:
There’s been some controversy already today over Lambeth’s advertising for the budget consultation, which says ‘the government has cut our money so we are forced to cut services’. The parliamentary private secretary to Eric Pickles has claimed the adverts are ‘a misuse of public funds’.
Kaye Wiggins will be covering the event for us, so you can read her blog post about it later this week.
Big congratulations to the activists who protested against TfL’s delay in fixing the lift at Brixton Station – eight months after the lift first broke, it’s finally been fixed and wheelchair users, parents with buggys and mobility scooter users can get into the station again.
Campaign group Transport for All first complained to Transport for London in May 2010 after the lift had been put out of order due to water leakage. TfL promised it would be fixed by August, but it took another four months to make that a reality. Activists were especially aggrieved by the lack of any signage at street level about the lift closure, and the fact that announcements were still being made on trains that ‘Step-free access is available at Brixton station’. TfL did eventually put up information about the lift closure just hours after Transport for All, together with London Assembly member Val Shawcross, protested outside the station.
Guest blogger Maria Hannah Bass interviews Brixton fashion designer Abenaa Pokuaa about her colourful clothing collection and the twin influences of London and Ghana on her work
With sequins, mesh and PVC glimmering amongst Kente cloth and vivid batik, the clothes inside Ohema Ohene boutique are almost as colourful as the street beyond. It’s on Brixton’s Atlantic Road, alongside halal butchers, trendy bars, Indian sari shops and Caribbean market stalls blasting ska, that designer Abenaa Pokuaa has found a natural home for her African-inspired fashion.
‘I always felt Brixton was the right place for my shop ’cause it’s just a melting pot of cultures,’ Abenaa enthuses. ‘In Brixton – in fact, in most places in London – you wouldn’t know straightaway what country you were in. You can see people from Bangladesh, from Italy, from Ghana, from Mauritius… You can’t help vibe off that. It makes you more creative, it makes you want to mix things together.’
Abenaa has perfected the art of ‘mixing things together’, creating beautifully cut and trend-aware clothes in traditional African fabrics. ‘I’m trying to fly two flags,’ she says: ‘the British flag and the Ghanaian flag. I’m proud to be British but I’m also proud to be Ghanaian. I want to fuse the two together.
‘I’ve always wanted to be a designer. I wanted to produce a brand that was wearable and relevant to who I am, British Ghanaian, born and bred in South London. I like to wear things that are wearable but also slightly unique. Topshop and H&M are great for what they do but at times you want something slightly fresh, slightly different.’ Abenaa picks up a shoe that looks like a Converse plimsoll, only covered in bright African batik print with a PVC cuff. ‘See this? Worldwide, everybody wears trainers like this. I didn’t see why I couldn’t do that but using my own culture.’
So fresh out of the London College of Fashion, Abenaa set about starting her own business. The start-up was completely self-funded – along the journey from student to businesswoman she designed for high street stores and even worked in the costume department for Strictly Come Dancing. ‘That was the total opposite of what you’re taught at uni!’ she laughs. ‘Ridiculously over the top with no budget, just do what you like!’ Finally founded in 2008, Ohema Ohene is now in its third collection and Abenaa recently opened the boutique on Brixton’s Atlantic Road.
Abenaa talks me through this latest collection, bringing out cocktail dresses in bold Ghanaian prints heavy with sequins or bandage detailing. She’s constantly got her eye out for seasonal trends to keep the look fresh whilst retaining that African influence. She’ll buy pink Kente prints when fuchsia’s in fashion and she made sure the cuts in her current collection reflect the vogue for body-conscious tailoring and underwear as outerwear. In a nod to the flurry of animal print that prowled this season’s catwalks, there’s even a mesh panelled dress covered in ‘Africanised’ leopard spots.
Men’s polo shirts and hoodies have the subtlest of Kente print trims and Abenaa promises a similar approach with her upcoming collection of soft tailoring. ‘The menswear is smart London streetwear. Think Tinie Tempah – he’s Nigerian but he’s also British and his look is just very London. That’s the kind of look that my menswear is trying to portray. It could be worn by anyone – black, Asian, Caucasian, whatever.’ You’ve probably already seen Ohema Ohene designs popping up in music videos but Abenaa has her eye on some more stars who could do with a little Afro-British fusion. ‘I’d like to dress somebody daring like Kanye or crazy like Andre 300. Men like Mike Skinner, Pharrel Williams… Someone like Jay Z might be a bit too hip hop for me! Colin Farrell or Dermot O’Leary would look good in the new menswear collection.’ Like her dresses, the future is bright for Abenaa and Ohema Ohene. With international fashion shows coming up in the new year and two other designers moving into the fabulous Brixton boutique, Ohema Ohene is putting Brixton at the heart of London’s multicultural fashion scene. Britain, Ghana, but most of all London is Abenaa’s biggest influence. ‘I love London. I miss it wherever I go. It’s so diverse – film, food, fashion – we’re just surrounded by so much choice and so much culture. And anything goes – I love the freedom of London, that feeling that you can do anything, wear anything.’
Maria Hannah Bass blogs at www.mhdbass.wordpress.com