Brixton: ‘Everywhere else feels tame to me’

Creative, energetic and direct, Alex Holland is a Brixtonian with a lifelong and active involvement with the place and its people, history and future. Simone Richardson talked to him about past and present ventures 

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Alex Holland

Like so many Brixton people, Alex Holland comes with a rich heritage including, in his case, Scottish and Gipsy.

He was bred, born and grew up in Brixton and lives and works here to this day.

He has also travelled the world with overseas stays as a freelance journalist.

He worked in London for the BBC, New StatesmanTime Out and others before travelling to India for The Hindustan Times and to Caracas for Venezuelaanalysis.

Now Alex is back in Brixton where he lives in the Loughborough Estate.

He has moved on from journalism and explains why: “It seemed like everything I could wish for, but I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t right.

“Then one night I had a dream that I came home to Brixton and the market was being demolished to make way for an Asda superstore.

“In the dream I fell down to my knees and cried out with horror to the sky. It was about the worst thing I could imagine.

“In the weeks that followed the dream I tried to understand what it meant.

“To me, Brixton Market represented the things I cared about most deeply in life – community, creativity, enterprise.

“I realised I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore, reporting on other people doing stuff.

“I wanted to be more actively building these things myself.”

So Alex left The Hindustan Times and returned to Brixton in 2008.

It turned out his dream was not far wrong.

London and Associated Properties, which owned both of Brixton’s covered markets from 2007 before selling them to US finance giant Angelo Gordon in 2018, was planning to demolish Granville Arcade (Brixton Village) and replace it by a 10-storey block of flats with a private park.

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How the redevelopment of Granville Arcade would have looked. The Laundry building is on the right
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Alex Holland when chair of Friends of Brixton Market in Electric Avenue with campaign patron Levi Roots
Alex (back row, centre) with local councillor Rachel Heywood and market traders

The campaign group Friends of Brixton Market, founded by Alex, traders and residents organised a successful campaign to defeat the proposals.

“I started and led the campaign to stop Brixton Market being knocked down,” says Alex.

“After two years of blood, sweat and tears and an amazing coming together of hundreds of different people, I’m glad to say we won, and the market buildings are now Grade II listed so they can never be knocked down.” [Editor’s note: we sincerely hope so].

Alex’s “passion for history” must have contributed to where he is today in Brixton. 

A degree course in history at Kings College led him to study for an MA in leadership for sustainable development with Greens Who Do BusinessForum for the Future.

Then, says Alex, he “created the world’s first Tea Pub” with a crowdfunder appeal.

The pub, Brew, became Crowdcube’s most-shared start up, earning 35 media mentions and raising 127% of its target funding.

After getting off to a great start, the Tooting business had to close when Alex’s business partner passed away.

Alex was devastated but got thorough it with work.

“A friend called, saying how they were impressed by how successful The Tea Pub’s branding had been and asked if I’d help market their brand.

“That’s how my current enterprise, Merlin Branding, was born.

“We help businesses that combine purpose and profit to get more customers by understanding who their best ones really are, so they can build a bigger tribe of them.”

Setting up Merlin helped Alex through the lockdown, together with “a walk in a green space every day with a different friend”.

Brixton has been his support in many ways and also helped him through the lockdown.

“Brixton is my home,” says Alex

“When I lived and worked in far-flung parts of the world, I always felt Brixton was written on my heart and that it helped me overcome the challenge I’ve faced.

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Alex Holland in Brixton

“I love how friendly and fierce Brixtonians are. How wild and fun and direct we can be. Everywhere else feels tame to me.

“My favourite place in Brixton (no surprises) is the market.

“No matter how down I’m feeling, my cheeky traders always manage to pick me up.”

While he has left journalism, Alex has not given up his writing skills.

He has set up a story-telling society “to inspire the radical  change we need” by telling “thrilling tales from better futures”. It’s called SolarPunk Stories after the solarpunk movement.

Alex says his aim is to convert the stories into films for a wider audience.

Blog readers who sign up for the SolarPunk Stories newsletter before Sunday (30 May) will be able to get a special pre-release edition of SolarPunk Detective Episode One before the general public.

If you think that Alex’s vision and energy might help your business, he’s at alex@merlinbranding.com.

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