Brixton is an amazing part of London. Such a mix of peoples and a strong, established Afro-Carribean community. The markets buzz every day, stallholders lining the streets, shopkeepers in the arcades with their displays, hawking to passersby, small, cosy coffee shops between them, fishmongers, 2nd hand clothes shops, odd and ends, bits and pieces, all for sale or trade.
In some ways, the Afro-Carribean community feels somewhat closed to an outsider. But, given the history of this area over the last thirty years, that’s not surprising really. Race riots and the level of poverty in the area is not something easily forgotten.
The streets around Brixton are such a step out of my experiences anywhere. Such a strong, connected community, the likes of which i’ve only really experienced, on a much smaller scale, in Inala on the outskirts of Brisbane. An identifiable Indigenous community, Inala has experienced waves of migration and refugee intakes over the years and is as multicultural an area as Brisbane gets. But it’s nothing like Brixton. There’s so much Afro-Carribean enterprise evident, from the Brixton Markets, winding its way between the streets and arcades, to the many hairdressing salons, cafes, snackbars, galleries, clothing stores, phone shops.
I’ve been trying to connect with people in Brixton wherever I can, but its tricky as an outsider in a tight community. Most people are friendly enough to say hello, and have managed to share a beer or street conversation with a few. I was walking past an older Afro-Caribbean guy the other day and said hello and smiled, to a response of “just keep walking”….. made me laugh. I understand where it’s coming from – no need for me to take offense!
I did get to spend a bit of time with Tigermoth Tim, from Brisbane, who also happened to be in town for a week. We headed to Brick Lane, found a nice lil spot to share a few beers and talked away a few hours. He came back to Kim’s, where i’ve been staying in Brixton, for a while after. At 2am, when he went to head off, we realised there weren’t any trains any more and he was up for a looooong skate home….just plotting it in google maps and taking notes to guide him took over half an hour! He made it, with the insight that London is rubbish for skaters, thanks to anti-skate cobblestones and street furniture throughout the city.
Leeds with my uncle Paul, partner Claire, and kids Esme  and Yoshke  was great also, in a really different, family-times kind of way. While the kids can be full on, it was actually pretty easy to communicate to them when I didn’t have time to hang out and play. Staying with Paul and Claire is such a treat, I really value their politics and insights, and the conversations we have. They’re quite healthy also, so I got to eat and [mostly] sleep well while there for a week or so.
My time there also involved meetings with community arts and festival agencies. It was great to also meet with Patrick from Urban Biz [www.urbanbiz.org.uk/], an enterprise facilitation organisation who work to support local people in Chapeltown, mainly Afro Caribbean, to develop their skills and create enterprises. They have a drop in centre with resources, computers, meeting rooms and support for people with ideas. Enterprise facilitation is such an empowering framework from which to work with people, connecting social justice with practical actions to build people’s self esteem and to help them look after themselves through an income and focus. This was also a very special meeting, a space where we were able to talk for real about local and global issues that make this work difficult, particularly in areas like Chapeltown which is predominantly comprised of Afro-Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani peoples. It’s always refreshing to meet someone new and be able to talk frankly in a way that gives space for the truth of the work that we do and why it is important to link up each others experiences across the planet.
I also met with Community Arts North West. They produce the Exodus Festival, a community event that has taken place in Manchester annually for the past 9 years [http://www.can.uk.com/exodus/exodus_events.htm]. It’s motivated by the needs of migrant communities in the area and the importance of raising the profile of their needs and what they contribute to the community. It’s grown to be quite a massive affair, with 12000 people attending this year’s event. Katherine and Cilla met with me for almost two hours to talk through the festivals origins and links to community, as well as how the event is designed to create awareness about local issues migrants face and general social change needs of the Manchester area.
In Blackburn I met with Julian from Action Factory Community Arts [http://www.actionfactory.org/]. Operating for over 25 years, their work is powerful and transformative, coming from a place of empowering the local community to engage with their culture, the environment and to collaborate to create awareness and cultural outcomes, like murals, installations, books and performance pieces, that people can celebrate and share. Such an inspiring meeting this one, and the first time on this trip I’ve really, genuinely felt as though I could live in this area if I could work with someone like AFCA.
There’s also an amazing network of cooperatives in the Leeds area. Radical Routes [http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/] is a network of “radical co-ops whose members are committed to working for positive social change. The network is made up mainly of housing co-ops of various sizes, a few workers co-ops and a couple of social centres.” Their connectedness and activist base to all the work they do really impressed and inspired me about being able to bring together general social change work with a more radical vision and approaches.
It was actually quite sad to leave Leeds to head back down to Brixton, as much as I love to spend time there also. Yorkshire, despite some difficulty in understanding the accent at times, is a really beautiful area, full of great people doing great work – I’m already looking forward to returning.