Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Doing the Lambeth Walk

Yesterday I had to go to Brixton in the borough of Lambeth. I always have mixed feelings whenever I visit this area. Like most London Bobbies who were in service in the early 1980s, my first experience of Brixton was seeing it from behind a perspex shield as bricks and bottles clunked off my riot helmet and Molotov Cocktails burst on the ground at my feet. Brixton was one of the epicentres of the early 80s race riots and I spent many many hours of my early service on public order duties there. Consequently, it became a place that held nothing but bad and, I'll admit it, scary memories for me.

But time has moved on and so have the people of London. Concerted effort by the police and the public has built some strong bridges of trust and, 25years on, it's not such a bad place to be. Certainly, I don't feel nervous visiting the area any more.
Confidence in the area has been growing. The Carling Academy (above) - formerly and, to be honest, still known as the Brixton Academy - is one of the best rock and comedy venues in London and anyone who is anyone has played there from Coldplay to Kylie, from Johnny Vegas to The Mighty Boosh.

There's some great architecture around too. Wonderful old redbrick and sandstone buildings with towers and minarets and crenellated roofs. Sadly some of the nicest buildings have been buggered about at ground floor level and you need to look above the plasterboard and glass of the Pound Shops and McDonald's to spot the little gems. Take this one for example (below).

If you can't quite see it (or the photo won't enlarge when you click on it), the upper half of this shop tells us that it was once a branch of a company called Sanders that were silversmiths, goldsmiths, watch and clockmakers, diamond merchants and, incongruously, qualified opticians.

But Brixton still has issues that need addressing. Knife crime is a real problem among younger people in the borough and Lambeth has been the site of too many tragedies in recent years. It would be nice to think that if I returned in another 25 years, there would be no more need for knife amnesties. If the good work that's been done continues, I'm very optimistic.


Persephone said...

Ah, you were just to the north of where my late father-in-law was born on Saltoun Road --- way back when Brixton was a bit less culturally diverse...

Debby said...

I was quite young when the race riots occured in our country. I remember vividly, standing in front of our black and white TV watching the fires and the shouting and the policement heading in with clubs. It scared the heck out of me. I did not realize that your country had the same difficulties after ours began to ease back. I'm so glad that the world is different these days. Did you ever get hurt during the rioting?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Persephone - It really is a nice place these days and getting nicer by the year. certainly, house prices are exorbitant now!

Debby - It all seems a life time ago now and those kinds of riots don't happen any more. As for me, the worst I suffered was five stitches in the head. Some of my colleagues suffered far worse and one officer, Keith Blakelock, was hacked to death with machetes. Nasty.

Debby said...


SweetPeaSurry said...

I am thankful that I live in a place that has a relatively low crime level. However, recently that's been, disturbingly, on the rise. Shootings and robberies being among the most prevailant. I suspect it has a lot to do with the uncertainty of the country and people's fear of the future.

It could be that people are just nutso though.