Do Black People Feel Excluded From Brixton?
LOCAL LANDMARK: The street market in Electric Avenue, BrixtonDOWN TO: The market in Electric Avenue.
THERE WAS a time in this country when the mention of Brixton symbolised the experience of Caribbean people in Britain.
While this is still true to a large extent – Brixton is home to the Black Cultural Archives, and rightly so – it seems to be the only legacy remaining.
For a significant number of the children of the Windrush generation, their lives were about Brixton: where they went to school, where they grew up and made lifelong friends and where they ran into various scrapes that finally culminated in clashes with heavy-handed police in 1981.
However, when a large number of shops closed after the riots and Brixton was left almost derelict, a run-down no-go area, it was black professionals and businesses – accountants, lawyers, estate agents, recruitment consultants, newspaper publishers, PR and advertising agencies, builders and contractors, management consultants, researchers, restaurants, book shops – who staked their claim to it and helped regenerate the area.
It was to Brixton that all black VIPs and celebrities from abroad, such as Nelson Mandela and Mike Tyson, flocked to for a taste and feel of the black experience when they came to these shores.
But things have changed rapidly within a decade or two.
There have been complaints by many people, particularly in the Caribbean community, that they are being excluded from Brixton through a process of gentrification. Indeed, there are suggestions that this has led to a departure of many black families from Brixton to nearby Croydon.
Croydon with 31,320 residents has now replaced Lambeth as the borough with the largest Black Caribbean population in London, closely followed by Lewisham.
The 2011 Census figures show a dilution in the concentration of the Black Caribbean population in Lambeth from a high of 12.58 per cent in 1991 down to 9.53 per cent. The numbers of Black Caribbean people in the borough have also fallen from 32,139 in 2001 to 28,886 in 2011.
A study led by Equinox Consulting, sought to find out why Black Caribbean people were more dissatisfied with Lambeth Council than any other community.
Peer interviewers from the community were trained to interview over 220 persons that they already knew, who reflected the spread of Caribbean people across the borough from North Lambeth to Norwood, Streatham to Stockwell and Brixton to Clapham.
In-depth interviews were conducted with another 50 people and three focus groups were held with persons who were unemployed or young, people in business, and people who were in employment.
More than 80 per cent of the Black Caribbean people in Lambeth originated from Jamaica.
Respondents were generally older when compared to the black population in the country as a whole.
However, though they were as educated as the general mainstream population they suffered the ethnic penalty in being in lower paid jobs.
The major issues of concern to Black Caribbean people were the same as for most other residents in the borough – crime followed by lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing.
However their top concern was the lack of support for young people.
They tended to use the same services as the general population such as parks and open spaces, recycling, libraries and leisure and sports facilities.
But Black Caribbean respondents tended to rely more heavily on secondary school education, social services and the housing allocation and library services.
They also felt that the council did not provide value for money but the study showed that the dissatisfaction felt was more complex.
BRIXTON LOVES YOU: A man holds a sign welcoming Nelson Mandela to the area
When analysed further a framework for reporting this dissatisfaction revealed that there were three main drivers: poor council services (mainly expressed by those who relied heavily on council services including housing, education and social services); universal dissatisfaction (relating to services that affect all residents including crime and safety issues, planning and regeneration, the use of facilities and amenities) and underlying discontent (experienced from the impact of economic issues and distrust and discrimination were the main causes of this dissatisfaction.)
The reaction of respondents to the regeneration of Brixton was complicated. Brixton’s regeneration was specifically lauded by several respondents who hoped that other parts of Lambeth would be similarly rehabilitated.
A larger number of young Black Caribbean respondents felt that Brixton was now seen to be very cool. However, the impact of the redevelopment has been viewed with displeasure by the Caribbean community as a whole who felt that though they had supported the development, they have been excluded from the benefits.
While properties were torn down and new business spaces and housing created, as well as new leisure and entertainment spaces, these seem to have been allocated to people from other communities who now have the run of the place to the exclusion of the black community.
People expressed the view that these newer arrivals seemed to be preferred by the authorities as the new face of a diverse Brixton.
The market, once seen as the place where Caribbean fruit and vegetables and other African delicacies were sold, has now been completely transformed into flourishing European restaurants, bars and entertainment places.
These places do not seem to welcome black people and, a number of respondents reported being asked to move on by security and told that because the police have always had a problem with any congregation of young black people it is quite easy to move them on. But there was wider discontent. This was due to the discrimination and distrust of the system and the general economic outlook.
Respondents felt that the council promoted equality and diversity, but respondents saw this just as window dressing for publicity purposes and felt that though there were black people in senior positions in the council, these were tokens.
The reality of the situation was that most respondent still felt that despite the efforts of the council, they lived in some fear of discrimination.
Their distrust of the council was fuelled by the fact that they felt that it was complicit with others in undervaluing the presence of black people in the borough and trying to wipe their heritage from Brixton. These views seem to emanate from previous attempts by the community to work with the local authority and why they held the local authority responsible for wiping out all the black community groups leaving the community with no organisations that would give them a real voice and made them disenfranchised from engagement with the authorities.
A protest called Reclaim Brixton will take place this Saturday (April 25) from 12 pm at Windrush Square.