Tag Archives: Brixton Hill

The Brixton Week Ahead (plus the weekend)

Tuesday 20: This one is for the film buffs only – it’s film quiz night at The Ritzy Upstairs bar. Tickets are on sale from 6pm. Competition is tough.

Thursday 22: Herne Hill’s live jazz bar, the Poet Bar on Railton Rd, plays host to the Collective Jazz Jam – listen along with a cocktail in hand and try to pretend the summer’s still here.

Friday 23: The Magic Tombolinos are playing live at The Hootananny. It’ll be a classic Hootananny night – gypsy, ska and Balkan music. And keep an eye out for Pete Doherty (though not in the Hootananny…), playing at the Brixton Academy tonight.

Saturday 24: The legendary Fridge closed earlier this year and today Electric Brixton opens in its place. For £15 with advance tickets, you can attend the Grand Opening and dance all night to music from Felix Da Housecat and Hannah Holland.

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Vox Pops: What’s the best way to tackle gang crime in Brixton?

We think the debate over at Shepherd’s Bush Blog is one we should be having more openly in Brixton too, so we’ve asked some locals (and even one Shepherds Bush resident on Brixton Rd) about what they think to open up debate here. Please do add your own comments.

Interviews by Kaye Wiggins and Zoe Jewell

Suriya Ramprasad, newsagent on Tulse Hill (asked not to be photographed)

“Working here at night, I don’t feel safe. People come in with guns and knives. They don’t care about other people and they have no respect. I don’t know what the solution is. The only thing that might help is more police on the streets, but they also need to stop the drugs problem because that is a big part of it.”

Lachie Gordon, bartender at the Hootananny

“I live in Oval and work in Brixton, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that looked like a gang, either when I’ve been at work or when I’ve been out at night. I remember reading that Clapham Road had been closed because of violence and I think that might have been gang-related but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not something that affects me.”

Nabs, 35, Shepherd’s Bush resident

“It’s more about schooling – get them early and get them right! Teach children well, from about five or six, and that will make all the difference. They need to learn how to interact properly with people. It’s about them getting into the right mindset from the beginning.”

Manuel Mendes, local resident

“I don’t see too much trouble, but sometimes around the main roads it can be bad. We need to give young people more of a chance to get involved in activities to fill their time. It’s also about giving them a better education in schools.”

Artor, 37, Brixton resident

“Is there much gang crime? They should educate the youth. I’m not so aware of the problem here actually, but I think essentially young people should have guidance. All these feral teens – in a way it’s a waste of energy because there’s lots of talent among them but somehow their minds aren’t opened to it. I think it’s very important for parents to push their children to achieve.”

Katem Alebranche, local resident

“I think the problem is more about individual people getting drunk and causing trouble than about gangs, although I think there is some gang violence. But what can you do about it? Not much. I don’t think having more police is the right solution. You need to go into schools, talk to the kids and educate the parents as well.”


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Unison Protest outside Brixton Town Hall

The cuts continue unabated and there was a double whammy of protests outside Lambeth Town Hall last night. Save Lambeth Libraries campaign demonstrated against staff cuts, reduced services and possible closures, while other groups lobbied the council over cuts to children’s services. Here are a few pics:

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Brixton Windmill opens its doors

The procession from Windrush Square up Brixton Hill – an extraordinary turn-out:

Photo (above): Kaye Wiggins

Chuka Umunna MP was there to open the Windmill with the Mayor of Lambeth Tina Valcarcel and a special guest – a descendant of John Ashby, the original owner of the Mill:

Photo (above): Kaye Wiggins

They were the first to see the newly renovated interior:

While the rest of the crowd waited very patiently in the sun:


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More videos from the anti cuts demo last night

One protestor’s view of the public spending cuts in Lambeth

Videos by Kaye Wiggins

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Photos from tonight’s anti-cuts demo, Brixton Town Hall

Blocking the road to protest against lollipop ladies losing their jobs

Photos: Kaye Wiggins

And a short video to give a taste of the protest (taken by Zoe Jewell):

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‘The government has cut our money’…so how are we going to cut services?

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.


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Brixton Windmill – May Reopening

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.


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Whose Shout?

The 'Whose Shout?' report from Lambeth CPCG

Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group have just released a report called ‘Whose Shout?’ examining the relationship between Lambeth’s residents and the police, investigating whose voices are not heard in the community when it comes to crime. ‘Crime’. That’s one big topic and imbued with political debate, from how many police we should have on the streets to how people should be punished.  But don’t be put off – this is an important document and it’s here for you to read.

So what comes out of the report? First, it is clear that crime in the borough really has fallen – over 30% since 2002. But, conversely, fear of crime has gone up and, says the report, “Lambeth remains a high crime area, with the third most recorded offenses of all London boroughs in 2008-9”. Only 23% of residents feel consulted on crime and only 25% feel that the police and local groups are succesfully dealing with it.

In April 2009, a new statutary ‘duty to involve’ was imposed upon councils – so policing departments now have to listen to and actively involve the community they serve. But how to do that? There are already lots of different crime-based community groups in Lambeth – from Safer Neighbourhood Panels, which are split up per ward and provide residents with the opportunity to talk to their local Safer Neighbourhood Teams, to Neighbourhood Watch Groups and the Lambeth-wide CPCG. The CPCG was established after the Scarman Report in 1981 and has always been relatively innovative in its approach. It is a monthly meeting open to any Lambeth resident; a place for a lot of grandstanding, but it’s also one of the few forums in which people can have their say about policing in Lambeth.

But not everyone wants to get up and speak at a public meeting and clearly not enough people in Lambeth feel involved in decisions about crime. Catriona Robertson, the author of the report, has talked to all kinds of people through many different means to see what they think of the current situation – video vox pops on social housing estates, a focus group in Angell Town and online surveys. And, because naturally we do not all speak as one, there are a wide variety of local concerns – some feel uncomfortable walking past drug sellers outside KFC, others want more CCTV cameras and a Youth Parliament was even suggested so that more young people can have a say than in the current Youth Council.

‘Whose Shout?’ is open-minded in its suggestions for improvement in police-community relations. There should be “different methods of engagement” [what a terrible, jargony word ‘engagement’ is]. One suggestion is to involve young people by getting them to text Stop-and-Search experiences to the CPCG Monitoring Group and be texted back with action points. More knowledge and information needs to be accessible to a wider group of people and that means diversifying the means by which it is disseminated, from online forums and radio stations to pamphlets and public meetings with different formats.

Most importantly, people need to feel like something actually happens to their comments and complaints once they have been filed – they need feedback or the whole process feels futile. This report is a fascinating read…or a skim-through if you don’t have time to wade through 91 pages. Here’s hoping its recommendations don’t fall by the wayside.

The next CPCG meeting is at the Town Hall on July 6 at 6pm and there is a meeting of the Brixton Hill Safer Neighbourhood Panel tonight.


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Interview: Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna on the campaign trail

Chuka Umunna arrives at Perfect Blend on Streatham High Street, slumps down in the chair and exclaims, “Oh God, I’m so tired!”  It is one of the only moments in the next 45 minutes when he reveals something more than just ‘Chuka , the up- and-coming new Labour candidate’.  He has just been at an estate in the Streatham constituency (which includes Brixton Hill ward) where he is hoping to become MP, meeting with residents and listening to their stories. As well as holding a part-time job as an employment lawyer at Rochman Landau, he attends tenants’ meetings, party strategy meetings, is a governor at Sunnyhill Primary School, sits on the boards of Sunnyhill Children’s Centre and Generation Next, twitters incessantly and, of course, goes doorstepping every week. He has a right to be tired.

Some politicians have a ‘line’ for the public; others are more honest  but subject to making life tricky for themselves by saying something out of ‘line’. Peter Mandelson might be said to emulate the first type; Ken Livingstone the second. Chuka Umunna is neither a Peter Mandelson nor a Ken Livingstone. “I don’t want to be one of those android politicians. I never have a ‘line’”, he says. Indeed, he is outspoken and, for many, even inspirational. But he is also a totally polished package. I’ve never met a smoother person. Even saying that he doesn’t want to be an ‘android’ – something he has repeated in other interviews – fits perfectly into the reputation he has built as a star of a new Labour generation offering something different in a climate of scandal and spin.

Chuka Umunna  grew up in Streatham and, if he is elected, he will be the first MP in the constituency to actually come from the constituency.  “I just love Streatham”, he enthuses.  It’s the second time he really breaks out of polished campaign mode and speaks with real gusto.  You can tell that he really cares about the people here – he has known many of them since childhood, he loves meeting new constituents and he embraces being out and about in his ‘patch’. What he loves most about Streatham, he says, is its diversity. “Not just the ethnic diversity, which is what everyone thinks of first, but the amount of different types of people from different backgrounds. Lots of people see Streatham Hill as just a road to go from A to B, but there is a lot going on here.”

Umunna is  taking over from Keith Hill, who retires this May after 18 years as Streatham MP. He and Hill come from very different Labour traditions. Hill’s voting record is overwhelmingly New Labour – he voted for the Iraq war, anti-terrorism laws and replacing Trident; he voted against an Iraq investigation. In an interview with the Guardian, Umunna claimed that 1997 was like a ‘birthday’. Now, 13 years later, he is vehemently anti-New Labour. “I’m just plain Labour”, he says.  How has he been able to stay Labour faithful at all? “There was a lot of soul-searching after the invasion of Iraq. I would never vote for an illegal war”. Yet he insists that Labour is not a one-trick pony and has members of many different persuasions. Umunna is part of what he calls the ‘soft’ left of Labour, a rising star in the leftwing pressure group Compass.

His policy ideas are certainly more progressive than we’ve come to expect from Brown and Co. He suggests that Trident should be the first to go in the round of public spending cuts to come after the general election, he is a fervent supporter of proportional representation and he has campaigned against higher student ‘top up’ fees. He cites flexible working times for parents of teenage children to encourage a more family-orientated community and prevent kids from areas like Lambeth finding a family-replacement in gang life.  For Chuka, we need to listen more to what young people say and he is critical of an approach – taking place under the Labour government of course – which has painted urban boys as hoodie-wearing thugs.

More specific to Streatham itself, Umunna has campaigned hard against Tesco’s provarications over the ‘Streatham Hub Project’. He is hazier about what exactly he has been doing in Brixton Hill, but cites his support for Philippe Castaing’s ‘Brixton Green’ project and the Q&A session on climate change he organised with Ed Miliband in Brixton Town Hall.

Is he worried about not being able to fulfil his promises to the Streatham voter? “No, not really. If I win, I am making a contract with the voter.” He stresses that even with a Conservative majority, he would work with his opponents as much as possible to get the things he has promised into law. He adds the obligatory qualification – “obviously I don’t think the Conservatives are going to do a good job”.

A week after the interview, I realise what has confused me about Chuka – he’s outspoken, he’s progressive, but he’s not angry. That’s why he can be so smooth. He’s wearing red-for-Labour tie and cufflinks, for goodness sake. For some people the fact that he’s a positive politician is a fantastic thing, but what if it is anger that ultimately creates real change?


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