Talent Mundy-Castle runs the voluntary community group Ladies of Substance, which holds meetings for local African women to share experiences and discuss how they can stop their children getting involved with gang crime. She also owns the specialist African food shop Wa-Zo-Bia Tropical Foods in the Reliance Arcade
“I’ve been trading in Brixton for almost 30 years. I’ve seen Brixton in and out, in good times and worse times. Right now, it has changed drastically – hopefully for the good but from what I’ve got from a lot of locals, it’s put them off the home they know.
In the old days, by 9am, I’d made £2000 in my pocket at Wa-Zo-Bia because I deal with very rare commodities that they can’t get anywhere in the country. That makes people feel at home.
I’ve had four different shops in the market – then things went down and down, and then they picked up again. At the same time, I was bringing up my five children.
A lot of parents don’t know their duties – no love, no care, lack of identifying with a child when they need help. That’s where black children go astray. And these are the things I have concentrated on, since I was brought up as an orphan. My mother died when I was four days old, my father died when I was nine. I was born among eight brothers in Nigeria. I was the ninth child and the only girl.
Having said all this, I thought of giving back something to the community, because there have been lot of problems with black children shooting each other. I remember vividly a child who had dinner with some friends I was visiting– they were all eating together and the next day he was found dead. All this has affected a lot of mothers in this community. We can’t just blame the government. If I reflect back on where I’m coming from – there’s a set of aids we can get here, which we can’t get in Nigeria. So you as a mother, it’s your responsibility to say ‘I’m ready to have a child and I’m willing to commit myself in bringing up a child.’ You don’t just leave it to the government.
Because of my own trauma in life, I decided to study counseling one day a week for four years. While bringing up my children, I was studying and working at the same time. So if I can do it, why can’t these women do it?
I thought of pulling a small group together. What have I got to give to these women? Empowerment. Because sometimes you’ve got the energy but you don’t know how to tap into it. I started with calling parents and their daughters, because a lot of killing out there is about girlfriends and boyfriends, crossing over territories. I know all the names of the gangs in Lambeth. Most of these boys get into bad gangs because of girls and I got this from the youths. I’m particularly about women, not the boys. It’s to help them, to make them feel like changing themselves. I told the women my intention – if we get together and talk about our experience of bringing children up, then we can impart it to our own children.
If you ask me how did I do it? Why didn’t they [my children] go on the street? I would tell you one thing. We are friends. We are a happy family and therefore there is no point in causing probem to other people in the community. We share, we talk, we play and we work as well. So I said to the ladies, if we start talking to these children – our culture is totally different from this culture here, so the way I was brought up, I cannot impose it on my children. To start with we had sessions with just the mothers. Then willingly some of them brought their daughters too.
The government make it so difficult for grassroots organisations like us and I haven’t got the slightest time to fill out forms – I don’t like it anyway, the thought of it puts me off. So I did it on my own, spent my savings running these sessions. It came to the point where the mothers are now becoming friends. I put music on and we all dance – if you relax and do something different from normal, you are better for it.
Some girls I used to get at the bus stop, give them £5 and say ‘listen to what I have to say’. That’s how I started up my youth sessions and all of them now are back into employment, some are at university. This is what Ladies of Substance is all about – women helping other women.
Last year, I slowed down with the sessions – it was costing me quite a bit. Right now, I cannot pay for a hall anymore for the sessions.
There is a lot to be done with the gangs. When we thought everything was getting better, that’s when the attacks [the riots] started last year. It was organised. And they are building again, because not enough is being done. The crime is still there and they’re brewing, every one of them is brewing – they’re going to explode one day, because everything has been taken away from them now. For people like us, who can manage this work [with the gang problem] well, there is no help whatsoever. The government need to really do more for people with skills like us. We’re not charging anything! We just want to see the black communities -put it that way – happy.
People in Brixton can help the situation by encouraging us. One way to encourage us is to give a free place to lecture. I’m stopping everything, just to have a meeting every now and then when I can afford it, but that’s not the way it should be because this is a key point here.”