Wayne James, who works for a local community interest company based in Brixton, says the proposed development on Pope’s Road could offer opportunities for jobs, improved safety and local investment
This time last week, I was in our Brixton offices with a softly spoken 16-year-old who had reached out for help finding his first job.
Polite, creative, in his first year of college, and dedicated to the roles he plays in his church, he is one of many who regularly reach out to local providers to get help entering the workforce. I was excited to help him get started.
Twenty minutes into our search, the not-so-romantic side of our beloved Brixton presented itself in the realest terms.
First, a search for suitable entry level roles resulted in exactly zero opportunities locally here in Lambeth. That’s right … zero.
These are difficult times for many of us, regardless of geography, but those who work on the frontlines here in Brixton will tell you that this is nothing new for our area.
Later, as we discussed a local supermarket opportunity I’d learned about, he hesitantly shared the heartbreaker: “I don’t think I should get a job in Brixton because … bad things happen to me when I’m in Brixton”. He has my full attention now and is looking me straight in the eye.
“Because of the school I went to, some people think I’m part of that gang or something and then … well, I don’t think I should work in Brixton.”
Nothing more needed to be said.
Limited opportunities and the feeling of being unsafe where you live are just parts of the reality that many local residents face on a daily basis.
You can understand why I and many others who work on the frontlines are always excited to hear about new projects that present opportunities for jobs, improved safety and local investment.
Even though there has been significant business growth within Brixton for many years, there are a few key and missing components required to begin attracting the larger and enriching industry that one could argue, best suits our residents.
One of those components is office space that is available in the right quantity and in the right configuration.
The missing word here of course is … yet.
Enter the Pope’s Road development proposal, which if you have read much of the published commentary online, is apparently the worst thing that could ever happen to Brixton and must be stopped at all costs. Really?
The public conversation has been dominated by those that shout the loudest, control the local media, and are savvy representatives of the “resistance”.
One would hardly know that there are a growing number of residents who absolutely support this project – and they appear to be similar in number to those currently registered as objecting to it.
Concerningly, these voices don’t appear represented on the Lambeth planning website or in the local media to the same degree as those opposed to the development.
I encourage you to do your own searching for the arguments for and against.
The latter will jump out at you before you finish typing “Pope’s Road Development” in your search engine and the developer’s site is likely the best source of the reasons why this project should happen. (Apply reasonable filtering and wariness in both cases.)
For many locals, this feels likes a decision between abstract ideals and nostalgia, and the very real, human needs of residents; many of whom are the visible minorities who are routinely left out of the debate. Residents like my sixteen-year-old jobseeker.
They’re not afraid that change is coming to Brixton, because they know it’s already here.
Like everywhere else in London, its influence is inevitable and already being felt by our most vulnerable.
We can fold our arms in defiance (and eventually get run over) or choose to play an active role in steering it so that it meets the needs of local people, including those who are necessarily preoccupied with day-to-day life, rather than just those with loud voices, deep pockets, and the resources to rally against the latest villain.
For me, this means doing more than rejecting new opportunities out of hand.
It means rolling up our sleeves and coming to the table willing to put in the work to turn opportunities into successes. Not just for this proposal, but for any that present an opportunity to provide meaningful value.
There are local organisations who are ready to do just that: partner with the Pope’s Road developer and Lambeth council to ensure delivery of the proposed community benefits.
You can read for yourself how one such organisation, with deep and extensive roots in the community, has been vilified and branded as sell-outs by those who claim they alone are representative of the area’s residents.
Vilified for daring to try and be part of the solution? Is this how we do things now?
From my own personal experience, I know the developer behind this has a demonstrated willingness to work with and invest in local organisations who want to help deliver “wins” as part of their development strategy.
I think we have the opportunity to embed both accountability and support into an approval of this project so that we can increase the likelihood of success and address the more serious concerns.
In the end, the decision will come down to seven people voting as the council’s planning committee.
What will be going through their minds when they cast their final vote?
Will it be based on what they truly believe is best for Brixton and its residents?
How much influence will the familiar pressures of politics and re-election have on their willingness to do what is best for all? There is nothing easy about that responsibility, I’m sure.
For my part, I guess I’m joining in with the sleeve-rollers.
I’m reminding myself that the passion and emotion in this debate are most importantly, reflective of the love that many have for our Brixton. And I’m hoping we’ll choose to use that passion and vision to take positive action.
To do. To try. Potentially to fail, but at least to try.
From where I stand, our Brixton deserves as much.