Sunday, February 8, 2015

A walking tour of Brixton

I don't know about you but when I think about Brixton my mind automatically thinks "riots"  (then I think about pizza but more on that later)  There have been four riots here -in 1981, 1985, 1995 and 2011.   We met our guide Mohammad at the David Bowie (a Brixton lad) mural across from the tube station. 

From there we walked over to the town hall and nearby Windrush square.  The name commemorates the arrival of the ship Windrush from Jamaica bringing what some say were the first immigrants (492) from the West Indies.
Mohammed in front of the town hall - he says he is going to be Mayor of London someday and I can believe it

The square has been regentrified - notice no benches - only chairs facing away from each other to discourage gatherings of groups. 

Mohammed is an impassioned young man who has become very involved in the community while furthering his own education.  He and a friend opened a soup kitchen in Brixton and he is on several committees including being a liaison between the community and the police.  Brixton is the most violent area of London and he himself has been a victim.  Walking along the street a bullet meant for someone else ricocheted off a building and hit him in the shoulder.  The press labeled him a gang member without even investigating - he was a science teacher at the time. 

We visited the famous Brixton market which has a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, restaurants galore and shops selling everything but the kitchen sink. (and maybe that as well). Some of the shops were closed being a Sunday.  I was expecting the market to be more outdoors but it was mostly an indoor market.  It is a totally private market and all new vendors have to be approved.  Brixton has been gentrified in the past five years or so and many new businesses have come in.  As Mohammed said as long as the locals are included in this it is all good.  Of course housing costs have gone up which is not a good thing for the locals.... that issue I know of personally at home as well. There are a lot of differing opinions amongst the locals on this issue. 
We made a quick stop at a local book shop and a few of us ladies got left behind briefly when we had to go in and see Rosie, the doggie in the window and after all... it's a book store! 
Mohammed then took us to an outdoor gym that a friend of his opened - all free of course for the local young people.  As well as a tiny street library and some great artwork...

Mohammed then took us through a housing estate - last year there were 11 stabbings on that estate, four of them fatal.   He informed us that we could not do this tour at night as we would be regarded as a threat.  I did not take any photos of this housing estate as didn't think it was appropriate plus I was a little bit nervous !  We did get a few strange looks and he said that is because a group of people on the estate is never a good thing.  Even though there are street lamps they are mostly blown out and at night it is a very scary place.  There is an elementary and secondary school as well as a daycare either on the property or one block away.  All balconies face inward and there are only two exits from the huge tower block.  (that has incredibly small windows). Children grow up together and form a tight bond but because everything is nearby there is really no need to leave the estate or the area much so they become protective and this is how gangs form. They do not get to know the outside world be caused of the isolation.  Even nearby parks are not easily accessible.  It was really an eye opener.  I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a house with a stable family life and always felt safe. 
He  then took us to the soup kitchen that he runs.  I had thought we were going to go in for a look but unfortunately not so we only got to see the outside.  It is run totally on donations. (and no, he didn't ask for any but I have a feeling the cost of the walking tour went towards it) 
At the end of the tour everyone was going to a bar for drinks and a meal but I wanted to visit the original Franco Manca - a pizza joint that has some of the best pizzas in London.  I had visited the Cheswick branch during my last trip to London but visiting the original Brixton branch was on "the list".  It did not disappoint... sour dough crust...mmmmmm....

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