COMMENT: Ritzy’s use of Windrush Square

Our reporting of a neighbourhood planning meeting on Tuesday night sparked a debate online about the gentrification of central Brixton, focusing on the Ritzy’s use of public space on Windrush Square. Here we publish a response from the Ritzy – and tomorrow we’ll hear from Devon Thomas, Chair of the Brixton Area Forum

Photo by Damon Hope

We would like to respond to the interesting debate that has been happening about our use of the space on Windrush Square.

We appreciate the concerns being raised by residents, and of course, as a public space there is plenty of room for debate and comment as to its use. To clarify briefly, we have a licence agreement with Lambeth Council which we apply and pay for annually. This has appropriate caveats to preserve the space, access through it, and its availability for community use, which we are committed to.

Our attitude to the agreement goes beyond the mere logistics and legalities however, and we feel that, as a thriving, integrated and wholly accessible part of the Brixton community, we have much to offer. We provide a clean, safe and serviced seating area for customers, local people and families. We feel that this is a positive contribution (and many of our customers agree), particularly in light of the square’s history where a small minority had something of a negative effect on the space. We aim to serve the community and have a remit to engage with local talent in our film, music and events programming, as well as offering a wide range of entertainment for the public to enjoy – our café-bars providing free wifi and a pressure-free work and meeting space for local freelancers and businesses seven days a week. Fulfilling this remit is a source of great personal pride to our staff, the majority of whom are local residents.

We lease a small part of a large space. The square is open to all and the council are no doubt open to suggestions and applications for use of the majority which remains unoccupied. We would love to see more businesses and community groups using the space, helping to build and contribute to a lively, diverse, open public arena that offers something to local residents, visitors, businesses, charities and other organisations alike.

Going forward, we definitely aim to remain (as a Twitter user so aptly said) “a respectful and family/community cinema. This is what we all want and love”.


  1. 1. Their is an information vacuum about a lot of developments in central/East Brixton
    nowadays. The councillors and the planners seem to be hiding behind “consultants” who in
    turn seem to announce “consultation meetings” week by week with no notice. For example
    there is a Neighbourhood Improvement workshop @Kaibu on Tuesday 19th June, which I
    received notice of on Saturday – by way of a leaflet through my letter box (I live in
    Coldharbour Lane.
    2. With ref. to this “NIW” a neighbour who lives on the Moorlands Estate – only 100 yards
    away – revealed “We no longer get delivered with council literature on the estate.” She was
    surprised to hear that Lambeth Talk was still going (it was delivered through my letterbox at
    the same as the Neighbourhood Enhancement Project leaflet).
    3. In New York in 1789 an organisation was incorporated which has become a by-word for
    manipulation in local politics – the Society of St. Tammany. This led in due course to the
    phrase “Tammany Hall Politics” – the purpose of which was to advance the cause of Irish
    immigrants to New York – by fair means or foul. It seems to me that the current council has
    been similarly infiltrated by people who are most concerned to make a fortune assisting
    wealthy people priced out of Islington to colonise Brixton.
    4. As a Brixton resident since 1978 I can say that I get the feeling that we currently have a
    régime dedicated to advancing the cause of the middle and upper classes, who have been
    forced out of Islington etc. by high prices, and now seek to colonise Brixton (at pace).
    5. All this bullshit about Cooperative Councils is a throwback to George Orwell. You want to
    have a Ministry of War – call it a Ministry of Love, so as not to upset people. I have the
    definitive facsimile edition of 1984 in my bookshelf. This was hand-written by Mr Eric Blair
    (George Orwell) and all his crossings out, modifications and improvements can be clearly
    6. Our Cooperative Council have rebadged the present governments “Big Society” with their
    own more socialist sounding brand. No problem with that, you might think. But there IS a
    problem. The councils embers and officers seem to be fascinated by consultants. The
    councillors are supposed THEMSELVES to consult their constituents. That is what they are
    paid for – paid in the region of £40,000 a year in the case of so-called Cabinet members.
    7. Meanwhile the councillors’ consultants bring in their reports – sometimes webs of lies
    reflecting their own particular biases. And the consultants don’t even have to come from
    London, never mind Brixton. The council are doing things based on flawed consultations,
    which they themselves deny responsibility for. This situation is a travesty of local democracy
    and is actually leading to significant community unrest at the present time.

    The Ritzy benefited greatly from local council and central government investment in the early
    1990s. Moreover it started this process as a community based workers co-op showing
    EXCLUSIVELY art-house and minority films unavailable elsewhere local (Streaham Odeon
    I remember seeing the “Sex-change Parsifal” at the Ritzy in 1982 or thereabouts. This amazing
    Hans-Jürgen Syberberg film of Wagner’s Parsifal had the action taking place on Wagner’s
    death-mask – the caves were Wagners nostrils for example. The climactic moment when
    Parsifal is kissed by the doomed temptress Kundry and realises the pain of the sins of world
    was notorious in this film because at that point the naive young knight is transformed into a
    compassionate female knight. The whole film lasted 4½ hours. I simply cannot imagine the
    Ritzy showing such a minority and controversial film today. Remember when I saw it the Ritzy
    still had one big screen – with a much bigger auditorium than it is today. The film was
    appropriately enough shown on a Sunday for one day only – and was well patronised. And at
    £2 or £3 was the bargain of the month.
    Last time I went to the Ritzy I think I paid £14 to see a Werner Hertzog documentary – Caves
    of Forgotten Dreams in 3D. It was in screen 5 (which should be described as a microscreen).
    About 10 other people were present. £2 of the admission charge was for hire of 3D spectacles
    and non-refundable.
    Now I myself am not working, and not on benefit. The government expects me to spend all
    my savings before I qualify for Income Support – and so does the Ritzy. Who can blame me –
    and other like me for boycotting most new showings at the Ritzy and waiting for the DVD
    (which arrived yesterday from Amazon priced £5.97 – less than half the price of my original
    Ritzy “experience”).
    The Ritzy was the second most expensive Brixton Challenge regeneration project in the mid
    1990s. The most expensive being “The Foyer” a homeless young persons hostel and work
    project in Camberwell Green (YES!-Cmaberwell Green, Brixton, you did read that right). I
    think, by recollection both of these projects consumed £3 million of tax-payer’s money – not
    sure if this was EACH or Together.
    I recall being on a Brixton Society tour of the new cinema a couple of days after opening, and
    imminently before the coup which dispatched Mr Foster to his present entertainment interests
    in return for handing total control of the cinema to the Blackwell organisation Oasis Cinemas.
    And to think before the council got involved this was a workers co-op selling cups of tea to
    passing shoppers and cottagers for 30p in addition to its Art House main business.

    One thing which might help assuage the ill-feeling about the Ritzy’s new encroachment onto
    Rush Common land would be if it was made clear if any rent is paid for this and if so to whom.
    Mr Linskey of the Brixton Society maintains that Windrush Square comes under parks, and
    that therefore the Ritzy is NOT CHARGED for displacing other users of the Square.
    Is this true or can the Ritzy prove they are paying for the use of the land?

    I suggested to Mr Linskey at the AGM of the Brixton Society that we should get some sheep
    and exercise ancient grazing rights – right next your bar. Mr Linskey abused me for making
    this suggestion, but I have to say many local people support it (the suggestion that is).
    So if something is not sorted out, I promise you that I WILL get some sheep and form a
    deputation of shepherds, with the Sun, the Mirror, the SLP etc. And your drunken toffs will
    find themselves featured in the media in a way they may not like.
    Might I suggest peace talks?

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