Monthly Archives: August 2011

Brixton Bank Holiday Weekend


A perfect, active start to the weekend – get your fingernails dirty at the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses (tip from @BrixtonBugle).

And then, if a month of rioting, rain and recession have got too much for you, lose yourself in the 1990s at The Windmill’s first annual ‘Retrospectacular‘. Bands will be performing their favourite albums from the year 1991 only (next year it’ll be 1992). That means covers of both Nirvana and Madonna…  The Windmill, Brixton, 4pm onwards, £5


John Brown and Friends are performing live folk music by Brockwell Hall in Brockwell Park from 2-6pm (tip from @Emmanusquelle). Or spend the day out west at Notting Hill Carnival (Sunday is usually the quieter day to go) and then come back to Brixton all fired up for the Deadly Rhythm Carnival After Party at Plan B. David Rodigan is heading the bill. Plan B Brixton, 10pm onwards, £10 


There are four showings of Almodovar’s ‘The Skin I Live In‘ at The Ritzy today – try to catch one. And you could even grab a quick pint afterwards at the newly refurbished Trinity Arms (tip from @loveiseveryone).


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TOP TIP: Makerhood Brixton

I discovered Makerhood Brixton last week, a brilliant online project connecting local makers and buyers in the Brixton area. You can buy everything from a Victoria Sponge to these cute necklaces, and for people looking to sell things they’ve made it’s a great forum.


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Livity is a Brixton-based marketing company with something more than just marketing at its heart – the company works with often disadvantaged young people to create youth-specialist campaigns, from Spinebreakers to Dubplate Drama. Now in its tenth year, we spoke to co-founder Michelle Clothier to find out more

How did Livity start?

We started as a marketing agency. Live magazine, now the life-blood of Livity, was one of the first briefs we picked up. Lambeth Youth Council wanted a magazine to communicate services to the youth of Lambeth. At first, it was quite a bland idea, but we asked them ‘Why don’t you actually talk to young people about it?’ We went down to youth clubs just to get an idea of what young people in Lambeth were into and decided out of that to make a mini publication to get young people to participate. On the day we came back from the printers with the first issue, the buzzer went at 9am. It was our young people picking up bagfuls of magazines to give out to their friends. And then a bunch of kids we didn’t know came along and said ‘we want to get involved too!’

How have the past ten years treated you?

It’s been interesting. We reached a tipping point at about six years into being Livity, at the same time as the recession. We have actually grown through the recession, because we have USPs coming out of our ears – we focus on youth, open our doors to young people and share our office with them. There’s a genuine formal and informal exchange that happens if you surround yourself with you target audience day in, day out. You have a greater chance of really understanding them, much more so than with an ad hoc focus group.

We’ve never tied ourselves to one discipline. From day one, ten years ago, we promised ourselves we would never limit ourselves to traditional market solutions. So we embraced social networks and were flexible about the way we think about things – that’s generated different income streams.

What do the young people who work with you get out of this?

The exchange is equal. Young people get as much, if not more, out of it than us. Often working at Livity is the first time a young person has been in a business environment. It gives them an awareness of why learning is a good idea in the first place. ‘Jobs? You can have fun in jobs?!’ We’re really interested in the relevance of education and, through the writing and design work the young people do here, learning starts to become a bit more relevant to taking them where they want to go in the future.

What’s it like being surrounded by young people in the office all the time?

It creates a real energy. At the end of the day, the office is just a big space full of IKEA furniture, but people feel and see something different – it has real atmosphere.

The rule is – if you’re in the office you need to be working. Sometimes that work isn’t related to us at all and that’s fine, as long as it’s work and it’s positive.

Are there any challenges?

In terms of behaviour, we’ve worked hard to set a tone here and people respect the tone. We don’t have much trouble or misbehavings. Our job is to make sure the experience and engagement is really robust. We give extra attention because we’re aware of the chaotic lives that young people have. There’s an energy in the office, but it’s a focused one!

We’re at a point now where we have to ask ourselves how we retain that amazing culture as we expand as a business. We had to change the model when the coalition government came in and the majority of our public sector income disappeared overnight, so we introduced advertising into the magazine. Live magazine is now on its way to achieving self-sustaining status – it’s a great example of how social enterprise works.

How do the young people you work with get to hear about you?

We work a lot through peer-to-peer advocacy – people bringing their mates along. And people who have been reading the magazine for years will get in touch with us and ask to get involved. We also recruit through adverts, outreach in schools and work with organisations such as young offenders’ units.

What are the next ten years looking like?

The next ten years are looking really exciting. There’s a real focus and vision. We’ll always have the additional layer of social benefit to our business models and that’s what brands want – it’s at the heart of what we do. We start with the social, it’s not an add-on.

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Riot week

After a week dominated by the riots, Emma Reynolds – who witnessed the looting in Brixton and was interviewed on the BBC last Monday – describes her experiences and looks back over the week’s events

As I was pushed up against KFC facing a man in a motorbike helmet striding at me with a metal pole, I wondered if I’d still feel quite so safe in Brixton any more. But mostly, as he demanded my phone, I was just praying that he wouldn’t hurt me.

After pleading, shamefully and falsely, that the photo was ‘for a friend’, I scurried desperately towards a male passer-by, who rushed away from me. Perhaps he reasonably didn’t want to get involved with the idiots taking pictures, but it was alarming how quickly survival instinct had taken hold of us all.

I should mention that both men appeared to be white – although it was hard to tell with the rioter in the helmet. Race didn’t matter – neither was feeling neighbourly right then.  The police around the corner were keeping their distance, too.
Luckily, I escaped the predicament I’d landed myself in and ended up with a colleague, Ailsa Leslie, watching as a burning Foot Locker was tackled by fire-fighters beyond a line of riot police that stretched across the high street.

The earlier crowd of screaming, running youths had been replaced by voyeurs with cameras, intermingled with excitable teenagers shouting that they were off to the jeweller’s. The supposedly organised looters still seemed a little haphazard, aimlessly banging makeshift weapons against railings and smashing shop windows, charging up and down, whooping and phoning friends to join them.

Social networking tactics now blamed by politicians hardly seemed the point at that stage – the rioters seemed to feel like marauding warriors, laying waste to the neighbourhood and revelling in their moment of glory.
Yes, consumerism and greed ran through all this – as they run through our society – but it seemed enough to merely be part of something big, to break things and slash and burn a street of shops into boarded-up junkyards.
Who hasn’t wanted to trash something when frustrated? It was a chance to mount a raid with few apparent repercussions.

Of course, you’ll have to ask a rioter about that, something that that few have done. Those who have spoken have vaguely claimed to be fighting for what they deserve from big, rich companies, or showing what they think of the ‘authorities’.
Many commentators have quashed this by saying the thieves were opportunistic, thuggish, even evil. Their haphazard logic does not seem to stand up, and they were attacking their own neighbourhoods.
But that is an extreme step – certainly one that has not been seen, even in the Brixton of bad repute, for decades. Someone has to be seriously troubled if they are not just hurting others, but destroying what is theirs.

Just as confused as some of the mob, we eventually realised they were running up Effra Road – where I live – and we tried to follow from a safe distance this time, filming on our phones as subtly as we could. Passing wheelie bins blazing in the road, Ailsa and I saw that the big target was now Currys, the electrical store in the retail park.

We stood sheltering from the driving rain under a tree on a hillock by the road, as masses of people clattered into the grill behind the now splintered glass. It was like watching a war, and while the police waited in their lines not two minutes away, the metal crumpled upwards and girls and boys swarmed through the car park carrying huge TVs and using boxed computers like umbrellas.

A few boys in hoods started noticing our cameras and got aggressive, chucking heavy chunks of granite at our backs as we walked carefully away. Only groups of rioters were left in the hushed streets, intimidating in hoods and balaclavas.
Later, we saw a high-spirited jumble of teenagers carrying items like vacuum cleaners alongside people with knives and other, more unpleasant, elements – a man ready to hit a 10-year-old to abduct his looted television. A helicopter hovered just above and the police finally moved in as screeching tyres, sirens and shouting kids rang out until 3am.

It was little in comparison to the shocking reports of burning Tottenham and Enfield. A night later, Peckham, Croydon and Clapham faced department store raids, burning vehicles and shops razed to the ground. Richer parts of London, such as Camden, suffered as much as Brixton. Then, the rest of the country.

Of course the events were concentrated around poorer areas, but earlier that day, while Brixton Splash festival was taking place, people had issued dire predictions for our historically violent area. Was it a self-fulfilling prophesy?
I’ll continue to tell people that Brixton is safe, diverse and vibrant – but I will also face head on the fact that some people living in the area feel disconnected from it and many of those who have grown up here, unlike Johnny-come-latelies like myself.

The riot clean-up drives have been inspiring and reassuring in such a bleak period, but warm and fuzzy gestures are not enough. If we care about Brixton, then we should do more than tweeting about the horror of it all before heading for an organic pizza in the market. As Brixton becomes increasingly gentrified, it isn’t right that the class divide should increase until people want to rip up phone boxes and set Nando’s alight.

We can’t change everything the government does, but we can keep volunteering, donating, getting involved in local activities, campaigning about the broader social issues and waking up to the fact that everyone who lives here has a right to share in this community.

Videos by @emmareyn and @subedited

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Brixton cleaning up after the looting

Kaye Wiggins reports on the clean-up efforts in Brixton last night

As I left work last night, I quickly checked Twitter for the latest on Brixton. For the first time since Sunday’s violence, the page did not fill up with rumours of riots and stories of trouble. Instead, there was talk about volunteers getting together to clean up the damage. I went along to help out – and to find out why it was happening.
Outside the Ritzy there was a group of around 30 or 40 people brandishing binbags, gloves and brooms. They chattered enthusiastically, sharing stories about where they lived and how shocked they were by the riots across the city and beyond. They grinned and cheered for the press photographer. Before long, I found myself with a glove and a binbag in my hands.
As we set about getting to work, we received some odd looks from passers-by and even police officers. Some teenage girls shouted “well done” to us, but when we said they should join us they giggled and said, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
We soon realised much of the damage had already been cleared up and there was little for the volunteers to do. We settled on clearing some broken glass from the doorway of the Vodafone shop. This rankled a little, since the volunteers weren’t in it to help capitalist giants save money. But we reminded ourselves that removing broken glass was, in any case, a good thing for Brixton.
Once the Vodafone glass was cleared, we scouted around for more work to do. Trouble was, there wasn’t much. We swept some scattered shards of glass from the pavement outside the station, and we tidied the pavement outside KFC. Then we retreated to Windrush Square for a quick gathering before wandering to the Effra Tavern to get to know our new-found neighbours.
Some Twitter users have already observed that this was largely (but by no means exclusively) a young, white, middle class affair. As @lascasartoris points out, we must give huge credit to the local businesses that reopened despite everything, the residents that went to a Monday afternoon meeting to discuss what should be done, and to the council and police for cleaning things up so that there was little for the volunteers to do.
Still, the clean-up tells us something. Plenty of residents, including those that work outside the area and cannot play a part in its everyday life, feel strongly about Brixton. They are willing to give up their evening to do a fairly unglamorous chore because they want to make that point. Well done, folk. 

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Sunday 7 August –

A festival by day and a riot by night. Brixton experienced two very different community events on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday morning. Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Rd were lined with soundsystems from 12pm until 7pm for Brixton Splash, an annual street festival with a theme this year of ‘Community Champions’. And a good community mood prevailed, with crowds of people dancing, drinking and partying through the rain.

But at midnight, long after the Splash had ended, looting sparked by the riots in Tottenham began on Brixton Rd. McDonalds, H&M and Morleys were all attacked and their windows smashed. Footlocker was heavily looted before being set on fire. It is now a mere shell of a building. The crowd – reportedly about 300 people – then moved up the hill to Currys, stealing widescreen TVs, computers and vacuum cleaners.

Many onlookers have reported a  slow response from the police in Brixton. Emma Reynolds, interviewed by the BBC, said: “There were riot police near Brixton station, but there was no police presence in Effra Rd for at least 40 minutes.”

See here for a map of the London riots as they unfold.

Below is a selection of photos from both Brixton Splash and the riot later. Although the two aren’t connected, I felt it important not to forget the positive community atmosphere at Splash before the looting started during the night.

Brixton Splash:

(Photo: Kaye Wiggins)

(Photo: Kaye Wiggins)


(Photo: Melissa Constantinou)

(Photo: Melissa Constantinou)

And, from midnight, the rioting:

Morleys boarded up, Monday:


Ritzy ‘open as usual’:

 (Photo: Tom Leighton)

And not so usual – Kači Peringer describes her photo: “Huge stack of Metros still outside the station at 8pm shows what a ghost town Brixton was today after the riots. Normally all gone by 8am!”

(Photo: Kači Peringer)



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Brixton’s best for running, swimming and cycling

Brockwell Park – a playground for runners. Photo by the author

Brixton is home to some top exercise opportunities. SW2 resident and keen triathlete Joe Coulson brings us his pick of the bunch.

Forget the Côte d’Azur. Whether you are a dedicated multi-sporter or a gentle Sunday stroller, Brixton has everything the athletic heart could desire.

Where else could you take a dip in one of the city’s best lidos, launch a mammoth ride into the Surrey Hills, or knock out a few laps around South London’s prettiest park, all in the course of a weekend?

The options are indeed endless. My list can only scratch the surface so do add your favorites below.

Brockwell parkrun. Parkrun believes that everyone should be able to run a free, timed 5K every week, anywhere in the world. Like all parkruns, the Brockwell Park edition is entirely volunteer-led and open to all. Saturdays, 9am.

Swimming at the Brixton Rec. There’s something special about a pool on the second floor of a building. Combine that with the gigantic windows and you’ve got an experience that feels as if it owes as much to flying as it does to swimming. And when you’ve finished, why not nip into one of Brixton Station Road’s cafes for the de rigueur flat white? The exoergic properties of caffeine are – after all – well-documented.

Laps of Dulwich Park. The perimeter path of Dulwich Park measures exactly one mile so if you want to tune your pace or easily keep track of distance, this is the place to do it. Coots and moorhens add an ornithological dimension to any run here, and it is one of the only places where you can still see tributaries of the River Effra above ground (editor: the Brockwell Park ponds are also tributaries of the Effra). The 2-mile jog from Brixton makes a great warm-up.

Brockwell Lido. A classic haunt for triathletes, the pool is open from April to October, climate-permitting. The Windrush Triathlon Club provide coached sessions throughout the season.

Cycling in Surrey and Kent. If you want to get your teeth into some big bike miles, Brixton is the perfect place from which to roll out. Plot a course via Crystal Palace and you’ll soon be out of the city. Box Hill and the surrounding area offer unlimited permutations route-wise; a loop via Westerham is another great alternative. Crystal Palace Triathletes organise Sunday club runs for a variety of paces and distances.


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