I love Street Art, it’s a brilliant way for artists to express themselves, react to social issues and create a vibrant buzz in an area. Brixton has always been a vibrant, creative community, a melting pot of culture. Music on the street, independent shops, amazing food and produce on the market, the smell of incense wafting under your nose and of course graffiti and street art. Stockwell Park Estate is full of amazing graffiti art and there are a number of murals all over Brixton. Most were commissioned in the early 80’s after the Brixton Riots, painted on the sides of houses, at Brixton train station and of course the huge ‘Children at Play’ Brixton Academy mural (By Stephen Pusey, 1982) which faces SPE, a painting I used to be scared of (hilarious in hindsight) walking towards my Nan’s and trying not to look at the scary faces of the children!
Wandering down Atlantic Road a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some striking street art on the shutters of shops under the arches of the railway bridge and starting taking photos. After a while I realised they all followed a fighting theme and was part of the campaign against Brixton’s gentrification and fight to save the livelihood of the shop owners under the Brixton arches. As I continued a local artist was creating a new piece on one of the bare shutters and one of the campaigners approached me and asked if they could take a photo of me for the #savebrixtonarches campaign. We got talking and I realised this is a real community affair!
A few months ago I had heard about Network Rail walking into the independent shops and businesses in the railway arches, as their landlord and telling the tenants they have 6 months to vacate before a refurbishment and regeneration work begins on the area. In partnership with Lambeth council, Network Rail propose to evict over 30 units and regenerate the area, over a period of at least a year and increase the rent by 300%. The long-standing tenants wouldn’t get first refusal on the newly-refurbished units and would have to apply like any other business.
I was disgusted and appalled that these people, whose businesses have stood for decades, some longer than I’ve been alive were being treated like this by their local council and a company that continuously runs a shoddy train service, despite rising fares and bonuses alike! This ‘refurbishment’ will essentially ostracise the very people who have served the Brixton and South London people, from their own community. A compensation of £1000 for relocation costs from Network Rail is a kick in the teeth for the independent business owners, who saw Brixton through the Riots and eras where Brixton wasn’t a ‘foodie central’ with a ‘village’; where hardly anyone wanted to visit, let alone live!
Last month I got into a minicab and whilst chatting to the driver, I mentioned that I used to go to college in Clapham common and noted how much the area had changed. The driver revealed he used to have a Deli in Clapham for fifteen years, he came here from abroad and set up the business, hoping it would eventually be a family business. What he didn’t anticipate was the landlords increasing the rent so high over time, he had to give up the business and was currently working as a cab driver to support his family. I felt his heart break again as he told the story, his voice cracked and his eyes stayed steady on the road. I had actually been in his deli as a teenager and told him. Standing on Atlantic Road, I couldn’t help but think of him and his story. The gentrification of areas like Clapham, Borough, Dalston and Brixton socially cleanse the area of the businesses and people who made these areas magical in the first place. London is one of the diverse cities in the world and part of it’s charm is the individuality of each area. Devoid of chains and huge conglomerates our high streets were full of character and we do not need every high street to look and feel the same, whether or not the new lovey dahling middle-class residents decide to move there and expect a Waitrose Local .
The buildings and architecture, the independent deli’s, shops, hairdressers and cafe’s and the PEOPLE make an area personal to it’s community. I can’t even imagine a Pret a Manger in one of those units. The glass front and doors, the rushed service… Ugh. I would hate to see Network Rail and the council win and evict these local people. You can join the campaign and support by signing the petition below (it takes all of 30 seconds):