Brixton protest! The 25th April 2015 was a pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon, with a familiar inner city backdrop of red double decker buses and high street chain stores. Brixton High Street was the stage and Reclaim Brixton protest, was the name. After weeks of warning in local press, the people took to the streets in planned protest. Angry at various aspects of gentrification, including selling of social housing land to private developers and rising rents for local independent business as demand for retail space in the area increases, the protesters made their presence known!
As I walked between two prominent landmarks, Lambeth Town Hall and McDonalds, with a couple of shopping bags in my hand, I saw the mass crowd at the junction, literally stopping traffic by walking in the middle of the road. Chanting, waving banners and blasting ‘old skool’ garage music from a ghetto blaster, they swayed along in solidarity, upset about the demise of Brixton’s heritage and culture. For a protest located in what I thought was a majority minority area; from the slide lines I noticed the sparse sprinkling of ethnic groups within the crowd.
What do you think about that?
Unofficially known as the black capital of the UK, some of Brixton’s older residents who have been allowed to come since the 1940’s have taken advantage of how much a property in Brixton can sell for and cashed in by moving out, with some emigrating back to their home countries. As usual there are always those who are left behind, the children of these immigrants and generations of white families who have also lived in the area for many years.
There has always been a fight for social housing (as in other areas of London), but now that Lambeth council is apparently selling land to private developers, there is less social housing to go around and those in the middle are being squeezed out. These ‘middle men/women/families’ have incomes which are too high for them to be entitled to social housing, but too low for them to afford renting privately or get a mortgage. Time (and money) waits for no man; as the big chains such as Starbucks, Wahaca and Costa move in (and pay high rents), landlords see pound signs and of course what to increase rents for existing businesses (apparently triple rent increases are due to be enforced). If you are a global company such as Starbucks, paying high price for a place on one of London’s ‘up and coming’ high streets isn’t going to cripple you, but if you are an independent business it could push you to the brink of extinction.
“Change is the only constant in life” and whether we like it or not, Brixton is moving in a different direction. Over £250 million is to be invested in Brixton ‘Town Centre’ including, ‘Pop Brixton’ a new community campus for small local businesses and community organisations. With a similar blueprint to Boxpark in Shoreditch, Pop Brixton will be created from low-cost, shipping containers, and there have been promises that the rents will be ‘affordable’. Pop Brixton will have its grand opening on the 22nd May 2015.
I’m sure every Brixton resident wants to see the area improve but not at the expense of the African-Caribbean culture and history, which has made Brixton one of the most famous areas in London.
Can gentrification and the African-Caribbean culture co-exist?