Stop knife gun sign in Brixton shop window

COMMENT: London’s bleeding

Stop knife gun sign in Brixton shop window

16-year-old Saara Yearwood Hadadj says government should not be banning music, but opening youth clubs

Over recent years knife crime in London, has become a major issue of public concern. Despite its significance to society, not much is known about the factors that drive it.

In 2015 knife crime had been declining to 25,000 offences a year, but through 2016-2017 the rate of knife crime offences had increased to 37,000 in England and Wales. Reports indicate that there were more than 50 homicides in London in the first 100 days of 2018.

Last year 39 teens in the UK were killed by knives – more than half in the capital. The rise in crimes involving knives are seen in hospital records. In the five years to March 2017, stab wounds increased by 13% in England and 17% in London.

Everyone is searching for the answer to what is really driving knife crime? But it seems like it’s in plain sight, there are not enough extra-curricular activities in our society. In April this year, I carried out a survey “Social Awareness”, questioning the youth on how they feel about knife crime. I asked them how significant they felt in their community. Some 79.31% did not feel like a significant member of their society, which shows why they turn to crime in order for them to feel included in something (gangs).

I then asked what changes they would like to see within their community and I came to the realisation that they all thought that their communities need “more youth clubs” – which would help them in reality as it would take them off the road. Some also responded to this question saying that they want somewhere to be able “to vocalise our thoughts in order to create opportunities for us”.

Following this question, I asked them how they feel about the influx in knife crime in London and their responses consisted of: “Vulgar”; “Scary”; “Shocking”; “Horrible”; and “It disappoints me”.

This goes to show that the youth want change and they do not like the influx of crime and that extra-curricular activities set in place could help them focus on something.

There are loads of unsettling reasons that may drive knife crime ideas of children coming from broken homes, or the belief that the music industry is influencing the youth to commit crime.

But some see music as a gateway for them to do something with their time and life, as they are able to express their feelings through their own words.

For example, Santan Dave is seen to show how he feels about the society we live in today, speaking RAW facts, which would influence the youth to think like him.

But there are also repercussions as some musicians rap about violence, but it usually isn’t acted upon.

The government’s idea of taking drill/grime/rap music down is creating a larger gateway for the youth to commit crime as they are no longer focussing on something and then have time on their hands.

Rae Stoltenkamp (right) with Ruskin Readers member Tracey Cameron

Carnegie Blues – and it’s not just the cold

Writer Rae Stoltenkamp on returning to the re-opened Carnegie library near her home in Herne Hill

Rae Stoltenkamp (right) with Ruskin Readers member Tracey Cameron

Rae Stoltenkamp (right) with Ruskin Readers member Tracey Cameron

I’ve been avoiding Carnegie Library since Lambeth council announced its so-called re-opening.

This morning I was forced into the ravaged building to attend a meeting. As a representative of the charity Ruskin Readers, I went to find out if there’s any hope of this ousted community group returning to the library.

Standing in the icy entry way I have serious doubts. Once beyond the swing doors my fears are not allayed. Where are the librarians? Well, you’ll have to ring a number for their assistance. Hands-on librarians will only be available at limited specified times – notified by a leaflet posted on a pillar.

Together with myself and the three other meeting attendees, there are 12 people in the library. Three of them are security guards – one nursing two standing heaters, another patrolling in an Arctic-style parka, a third – statuesque in a body warmer – acts as bouncer at the entrance to what used to be the wonderful wildlife garden.

The lack of people emphasises how much our community has lost by the closure of this much-loved building for far too long.

My Raynaud’s Syndrome flares, despite the fact I’m wearing my obligatory fingerless gloves. There’s no way I can remove my coat or beret during the course of the meeting.

Besides this, I’m welling up as I remember previous vibrant Saturday mornings spent teaching an Inkhead course here, or just catching up with people during one of the regular tea and cake stalls run by the Friends. I’m heartbroken and inconsolable.

So what else is missing?

Well, there is no disabled access, no access to public toilets, no possibility of mums with prams gaining access, no kitchen.

And what, I wonder, lurks in the screened-off side rooms? I suspect damage to walls and floors from water ingress.

This is what Lambeth council considers a viable substitute to the wonderfully run Carnegie Library we once had.

Brixton Road breaches annual air pollution limit in one month

Traffic on Brixton Road

Traffic on Brixton Road

Writing in the Brixton Bugle earlier this month Mums for Lungs, the grassroots air pollution campaign said air pollution on the Brixon Road although better was still very bad. What they meant was that as of 18 January there were five breaches of the hourly limit set for nitrogen dioxide compared to 19 in the first five days of 2017. Under EU law only 18 such breaches are allowed each year.

However this morning ( 2018) 30 January, when Mums for Lungs campaigners met with Green Assembly member Caroline Russell yet again the heavily congested Brixton Road had taken the dubious honour of being the first road in London to breach annual air pollution limits in 2018 – for the second year running.

Russell said: “Only this morning I met with mums on Brixton Road who are extremely worried about what growing up in a high pollution area is doing to their children’s health. They told me their toddlers are coughing far too much.

Green Assembly Member Caroline Russell with Mums for Lungs campaigners

Green Assembly member Caroline Russell with Mums for Lungs campaigners

Earlier in the month Mums for Lungs had said: “We watched, slightly perplexed, as a number of internet tools designed to track pollution levels showed what appeared to be a slow start to the year’s build-up of bad air in Brixton.

“Speaking with a number of experts who monitor air pollution in Lambeth – some of the worst in London – there appears to be several explanations for this year’s figures.

“First, there was the windy weather in the week after New Year’s Day which helped to disburse the toxic pollutants.

“Secondly, the new low emission bus zone (LEBZ) through Brixton to Streatham Hill was launched by London mayor Sadiq Khan in December.

“Other factors such as higher standards for lorry engines and the way the new year bank holiday fell may have also played a part.”

So what’s our message?

“Of course we are pleased that Brixton’s air is that little bit better this year as we push our babies around in prams. We are pleased that measures such as the LEBZ seem to be having an impact.

“But much more needs to be done.

“Although the news on the hourly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits is better, the annual mean for NO2 for Brixton Road is terrible.

“A monitor located right outside Mothercare on Brixton Road reveals that the annual mean currently stands at 85ug/m3 – that’s micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per cubic metre. This is more than double the limit set by EU law (40ug/m3), and only slightly better than the 96ug/m3 average for 2017.

“Although the mayor’s office was claiming credit for the “best air quality in London in ten years” we fail to see what the difference really is. Brixton’s air is still twice as bad as it should be.

“We’re calling on candidates in Lambeth’s upcoming local elections (on Thursday 3 May) to pledge to make air pollution a priority.

“We’re also encouraging anyone concerned about air quality to complete TFL’s public consultation on the plans for extending London’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) on the website. The consultation closes on 28 February.

“We believe that for this measure to be effective the zone needs to cover the whole of London, and not just stop at the north and south circular roads. And we want the zone to be implemented before the end of Sadiq Khan’s term as mayor in May 2020.”

Facebook: @MumsforLungs. Twitter: @MumsForLungs.

Lacey resident of Electric Avenue

Electric Avenue resident Bea says times have changed

Mother and daughter Lacey and Be from Electric Avenue

Bea, who has lived in Electric Avenue in central Brixton for 50 years, spoke to the Brixton Bugle and Blog about her life there and how change has affected her formerly indominatale 83-year-old mother Lacey

My family arrived in Electric Avenue in 1966, when I was nine-years-old. My mum was born in Brixton. Housing had been very hard to get hold of and this was her first flat ever and the first time she had a flat large enough for us both to live in.

It was stunning. The Electric Avenue mansion flats then were great. There was a bedroom for each of us and a lovely balcony that I used to play on. I had a friend who lived next door and we used to play together through the bars on the balcony.

We also used to play out on the street – the days where children played out on the street. We spent a lot time up on the roof tops too, which perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas, but we were like cats. I grew up in Electric Avenue, with Jack and James my half-brothers who were born and grew up there. My older brother Richard joined us, so mum lived there with her four kids together.

It was a bit rough and ready, but all the family were at last in one place as a family. Obviously, the market was noisy in the day. Regular street market shouts about the apples and pears started in the morning and lasted the rest of the day. This went on from Monday to Saturday, with a half day on a Wednesday and a day of rest on a Sunday. The market was busy with barrow boys and even the well-known prostitutes.

Lacey resident of Electric AvenueEverybody knew each other and looked out for each other. But, without fail, the market was packed away and squeaky clean by 6 pm The brushes and sprayer would come through and it was done – ready for us kids to play in the street. The other peaceful days were bank holidays and public holidays like Christmas. Our lives were intertwined with the stall-holders and shops. The street was full of families, and of course we shopped in the market.

I vividly remember the night before Christmas Eve, which was always really special. The fruit and veg stalls changed to Christmas decoration stalls, selling the biggest and the best giant multi-coloured balloons and paper chains, which gave our living rooms the most sumptuous colour and festive spirit. Christmas Eve itself was a huge day for the shops and stalls. The stallholders and shop owners had a big bonfire in the street on night of the 23rd, and the traders slept in the street close by their stalls. I remember the stallholders speaking in hushed voices as they were aware of the people in the flats either side of the street.

The smell of the bonfire and roasted chestnuts was magical for us kids. All that meant the stall-holders could open up really early and work flat out the next day, then close up early and go home to celebrate Christmas.

But now there is no peace, and the noise never stops. My supremely resourceful mum, who would take no nonsense from anyone, has had enough and is avoiding returning to her beloved home in Electric Avenue. The noise never stops: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

I am absolutely clear the sleep deprivation from the continuous noise was a key factor in pushing my mum into a delirious psychotic episode. She was seeing and hearing horrible things. The shouting and the chopping from the butcher’s shop and the constant smell of rotting meat gave her terrifying visions of people being hacked to death in the street. She is a tormented soul.

It was a while ago that mum started telling me about what she called posh boys and girls turning up and shouting their way down the street. At first we joked about them. She also complained about the constant banging from the butcher’s shop below her. I didn’t realise how bad it was until it was too late. I didn’t realise how ill Electric Avenue was making her.

Electric Avenue lightingA refurbishment of the street left her with the brightest of lights shining in her bedroom window. I can’t understand why a residential avenue needed so much night-time illumination and why it was placed on the wall by the room that she slept in. Who thought that was a good idea? For a long time I didn’t realise how ill she was.

It turned out she had been going to the doctors for months, telling them she was anxious, but she was getting under the radar. I had tried to get her to move many times before, but she loves Brixton. She doesn’t want to leave, doesn’t want to go anywhere else. She always joked she wanted to be carried out feet first, but now she is terrified and doesn’t want to go home.

My brothers and I are really shocked by her terror of a place that holds so many great memories for her. My mum says: “My flat in Electric Avenue is a place where even the smallest nook and cranny has happy memories. But now I can’t bear to be there“. Electric Avenue is a place my mother loves so much, and has been her home for so very long. But this incessant noise has made it unsafe for her to come back here. It is devastating for all of us.

Pollution protest on the Brixton Road

Sorry … But we had to act over the deadly pollution in Brixton

Local resident Jemima Hartshorn, founder of Mums for Lungs, explains why she joined others to block Brixton Road last month.

Pollution protest on the Brixton Road

First of all, I would like to say sorry to anyone who was trying to get home on Brixton Road at 6pm on Thursday, 14 September. As part of a group who closed the road for a few minutes to raise awareness of air pollution, we knew that we would not endear ourselves to all commuters.

Still, I was shaken when a woman came up to shout at us that we were stopping her from getting home to her children. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do. But many of us also use the Brixton Road regularly – taking our children to school or childcare – and we are desperate to do something about it. That’s what motivated me to set up the campaign group Mums for Lungs, and why we joined with Stop Killing Londoners to hold a Road Block Disco outside Brixton Underground Station.

If you walk or cycle down Brixton Road, you will know that the pollution is noticeable. One parent at the event told me that she could smell it when she opened the windows at home. This is not just one of the most polluted roads in London, it’s one of the most polluted roads in Europe, having reached the legal annual limit of toxic nitrogen dioxide within the first five days of 2017.

And that pollution is deadly: 9,500 Londoners die prematurely each year because of it. It is affecting children and their growing lungs the most, with children growing up in polluted areas like Brixton developing asthma and stunted cognitive development. Studies show that their lungs are 10 per cent smaller than those of children who grow up in areas with cleaner air. Yet the government is doing nothing.

Stop Killing Londoners protest. Young women with umbrella slogansEnvironment secretary Michael Gove recently unveiled a plan to tackle the issue, after the Conservatives were ordered by a court to improve their weak initial proposals. But while some of this sounded radical – banning diesel and petrol cars by 2040, for example – it will do nothing to help Londoners for 23 years. There was no offer to pay drivers to replace the diesel cars that they were encouraged to buy for environmental reasons (we now know that diesel creates the most harmful NOx, especially in traffic). And there was no legislation for clean air zones.

At a local level the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s target is to ensure safe pollution levels by 2030. That is far too late for our babies, who may suffer reduced lung capacity for life. His plan also extends well beyond his own term, with no guarantee that future mayors will implement it. If this was the responsibility of a private company, it would have been shut down.

Governments have known for years that traffic pollution is killing people and groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Client Earth have been campaigning to get them to do more about it. Yet still they have not taken action. As citizens, we can write letters (and at Mums for Lungs we urge everyone who cares about this issue to email mayor@london.gov.uk to register their concerns).

We can vote for parties that take a stronger line. But, in the short term, none of these “obedient” methods will stop congestion on Brixton Road at peak times. Would we block the road again? It’s a valid point that stopping traffic increases pollution, and perhaps we didn’t win over many commuters on that September day. For these reasons, we will not be holding regular road block discos in Brixton.

To those who were inconvenienced, I can only say sorry again – and hope that you understand this was an action to raise awareness among all road users that driving in London kills Londoners. To get involved with Mums for Lungs, visit our Facebook page.