BY ANTONELLA PILATO, PICS: ANTONIO SANSICA
When Mario Schifano opened his coffee shop San Marino on Brixton Station Road 20 years ago, he did so because “it was impossible to drink a good espresso in the area.” Now, of course, there’s a coffee shop on every corner, but there’s been another change too.
On Station Road, where Portugese cafes sit next to jerk chicken stands and Arabian delis, San Marino is the centre of a growing community of Italians in Brixton. “I’ve got a lot of Italian customers who come to the bar even though they live somewhere else. We’re a big family here”, he says. Mario, whose café is always full to bursting with post-Rec sweaty sports fans, friends meeting for a coffee and freelancers on their laptops, gets three or four Italians leaving their CV at the café every day.
The Italians in Brixton we spoke to have been attracted to the area by its warmth of character, its sense of community and, of course, its market. Paola Sibilia, from Turin, owns Casa Sibilia in Granville Arcade and has lived here for five years. “I found that here there were real street markets with fruit, veg, meat and fish stalls like in Italy. Then I noticed the mix of different cultures – not just Italians, Spaniards and French like in East London – and I loved that”, she said.
“In Brixton people help each other. When I opened the restaurant it was empty and a neighbor, who was refurbishing his flat, gave me his old kitchen stuff. At that time there were few stall holders in the ‘Village’ but a lot of team spirit among us. If any of us needed a pot or ran out of ingredients there was always someone ready to help. It’s still like that and that’s why I don’t think I’ll leave Brixton,” she exclaimed with a big smile.
Lisa Palla, 30, is a bartender from the island of Elba and squatted in Brixton for several years. She loves the area because “it’s like living in a little town, where all the people know each other and you really feel part of a community. “If someone asked me to live anywhere else, even in Italy, I would answer no because Brixton is my home,” she said.
But there’s one thing that might put a stopper on the growth of this blossoming migration from “the boot” to Brixton – rising rents.
Andrea Falletta, 28, photographer and swimming instructor from Rome, has changed flats ten times during his two years in London, but when he moved to Brixton a year ago he was sure he would settle there. “I found a cheap and beautiful house on Brixton Hill and I immediately fell in love with it. I found that the neighborhood was amazing as well, so lively and full of colours and with a great, vibrant atmosphere,” he said.
But then the landlord wanted his flat back and Andrea was forced to rent a room in a remote part of the city, because he could not find anything affordable in Brixton.
“I’ve just moved to the new flat but I’m still looking for a room in Brixton and if I found it I would go back tomorrow. Anyway I will keep going there to swim at Brixton Recreation Centre and listen to jazz at The Effra Hall Tavern,” he added.
Chiara Albanese, 28, from Rome, reporter at The Wall Street Journal, after three years in Brixton is now looking to buy a flat in the area. She said: “I’d like to set up home here but it’s not easy with these prices. I feel at home more in Brixton then in London. Living here makes you feel part of a family. Everyone is welcome and nobody is discriminated. People enjoy staying on the street, talking each other, socialising and this remind me Italy. I think Italians will invade Brixton when they ‘discover’ it.”