Brixton on the BBC

BBC World Service set up a radio discussion about Lambeth public service cuts at Rosie’s Deli Cafe last week. Kaye Wiggins took part and here she explains what was discussed

The BBC World Service set up a makeshift base in the brilliant Rosie’s Deli Café in Brixton Market on Thursday, to present an “austerity special” programme about public sector cuts.

Presenter Dan Damon described Brixton in his introduction as  “one of the most cosmopolitan and at the same time one of the poorest parts of the capital.” He said it was worthwhile to look at what was happening in Brixton because cuts in services and public sector jobs would hit harder here than elsewhere.

“People love living here but also they know that the services that keep the place livable in, and a lot of the jobs, are provided in a large part by local government and those are going to be cut,” he said.

Cllr Pete Robbins reiterated some of the doom and gloom. Asked about the impact of the council’s funding cut from Westminster, he said: “There are going to be some immediate, fairly devastating effects.” (Interestingly, he also said two thirds of the £79m cut over three years would come from saving money on the council’s back office functions and administration costs. I’d be intrigued to see how this will work: what were they spending it on?)

Damon managed, largely because he’d spent several hours wandering round the area in the days before the broadcast, to also capture the brighter side of Brixton.

He said he loved the market’s cultural mix and he noted food and music from Ghana and the Caribbean, a Brazilian hairdressers (“although I’m not sure what that is,” he said) and a Japanese restaurant – I think he meant Fujiyama.

“Anyone who was fearful about the social impact of immigration should come to Brixton because 25 years ago this was a very troubled place,” he said.

“There were race riots here, the police were accused of brutality, of stopping and searching black people but not white people, and as a result cars were burned, there were many nights of unrest.

“But now what you see is a society that really does prove that immigrants not only can settle into an area but make it extremely colourful and diverse.”

Damon also praised the work of voluntary and community groups in the area, with a glimpse into the work of Livity, which aims to build up local young people’s skills and confidence by training them to be journalists. You can hear interviews with its co-ordinator Mira and one of its trainees, Celeste, about 28 minutes into the programme.

Damon said Brixton stood out because of the important role played by local citizens in holding the council to account using blogs, Twitter and other social media. “People can express themselves in different ways, they don’t rely only on local newspapers,” he said.

At this point I jumped in enthusiastically with my tuppence worth, saying dissatisfaction with Lambeth Life, the council-run newspaper, had spurred local people to hold the council to account themselves using blogs and social networks. “It means that the council is being scrutinised in a way that it never has been before,” I said – you can hear it here.

The programme managed to convey a serious, troubling picture of a place under threat from the loss of local services, but without losing sight of what people love about Brixton – the diverse culture, the food and music, the importance of community groups and the work of local bloggers and activists.

If Lambeth Council wants to make sure that Brixton’s reputation isn’t taken back to where it was in the eighties as a result of the cuts, it would do well to capture come of the positive story that the World Service found. Reminding people of what they love about their area, without ignoring the tough times it faces, might be a good place to start.

The BBC World Service ‘World Update’ facebook page features video interviews with Kaye Wiggins and Livity. See them here.

The full programme has now been taken down, but you can listen to Kaye’s audioboo here.


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