Late on a Friday night on Coldharbour Lane these days, it’s not uncommon to stumble over twenty-somethings puking on the pavement outside the market or to be shoved by leery lads on their way to the next cocktail bar up the road. But there, opposite the Granville Arcade, is a building whose rooms – now shut up and empty – hold a deep and wonderful Brixton history. It is the building which hosts the ‘Nuclear Dawn’ mural on its exterior wall. And there, for three decades, have lived professional artists, activists, and even community leaders in a housing co-operative that has now tragically come to an end.
It is with a heavy heart that we saw the eviction of Carlton Mansions Housing Co-op at the end of last month. When we interviewed residents for the Bugle last year we were struck by how they have impacted Brixton in unquantifiable ways over the past three decades. They were well known at community meetings, even protected Brixton’s murals and were an integral part of what now ‘sells’ Brixton to restaurant chains like Wahaca and property developers like Lexadon, who all appear in the paper this month. The Co-op contributed to Brixton’s diversity, its artistic streak, its political history.
There was the artist whose flat was filled with beautifully-coloured glass chandeliers, made from reclaimed materials, which refracted the afternoon light from Coldharbour Lane outside. She arrived in London aged just 18 in the 1970s, was fascinated by punk and remembers bumping into Damien Hirst when he lived in the Barrier Block just up the road. There was the brilliant young mother who still campaigns for the restoration of Brixton’s – and London’s – murals. And another artist whose video documentary of his flat at Carlton won him a fellowship to the Jerwood artspace. And there was the man who unfailingly strives to keep the council to account at public meetings, asks all the tricky questions of his local politicians and has proved invaluable to our own journalism countless times these past four years. All these people will – we hope – still continue to be part of Brixton life. But they no longer have a space to hold them. As rents rise, creative communities like Carlton are increasingly rare. Soon the building may become a sort of ‘cultural hub’ as part of the big redevelopment on Somerleyton Road. We truly hope that it does its history justice.
This editorial was published in the October 2014 Brixton Bugle