These people have the sheer force of will to transform Angell Town
... and the Standard's project will allow them to get on with the job, finds Evgeny Lebedev as he visits the estate
There are flowers wrapped around a lamp post on the entrance to Angell Town that spread out across the asphalt and on to the road, beneath the picture of a young man. For most people that pass here — if they pass here at all — somebody else’s tragedy is a warning sign. Danger of death. Keep out.
The Heathrow traffic is low in the sky as it passes over Angell Town, and if you look up you can read the names of the airlines on the undercarriages of the planes: Qatar, Thailand, Singapore.
Some of the young people who grow up in this corner of the capital have never even clapped eyes on Big Ben or the Houses of Parliament. It’s 10 minutes away by bus.
There was a community centre once. Now it is derelict and there are signs in the window that warn security is in operation. The chipboard is cracked, the windows are shattered. Keep out.
But it’s an elusive word — community.
There is one here, hiding almost in plain sight. For the past four months, this newspaper has been working behind the scenes to identify — and now support — the makers of change on the estate. People for whom their community is everything. People like Kamika Nathan, Andrea Brown and Lorraine Jones, who has opened her home to me today.
Those flowers at the entrance to the estate are the latest in a constant commemoration that has marked the place where Lorraine’s 20-year-old son Dwayne Simpson was stabbed and killed last February, not far from his front door. There are more flowers, and pictures of him too, by the entrance to his house. A boxing glove pendant dangles in front of it.
On a table in the hallway is a book in which she writes daily notes to her son. Dwayne ran non-combat boxing classes for local children. He saw one of his friends being attacked, intervened, and was fatally stabbed.
“After Dwayne’s death the road was filled with people, including kids from different gangs,” Lorraine recalls. “I had 30 people come to my door and ask, ‘What will we do now Dwayne isn’t around?’ They were congregating here, during my bereavement’.”
In the end Richard Wood, the Police Borough Commander for Lambeth, came to see her and appeared to discover the same thing that everyone who meets her discovers: Lorraine is persuasive. The conversation ended with her gaining temporary access to a disused railway arch in Brixton owned by Network Rail for Dwaynamics, the scheme she founded in her son’s memory. It continues his noncombat boxing training and prepares young people on the estate for the world of employment.
“One of the instructors is an ex-gang member,” she says. “The police had him listed ‘as a threat’. They’ve ended up writing a reference for him. We have classes for mothers too. One of the instructors for that, he had been found with a pellet gun and was charged with possession of firearms and ammunition. Now, he has been funded by the police to get a licence to train the women’s classes, and a judge has thrown his case out.”
She had an unbeatable charisma, combining natural authority with warmth and an engaging manner that is certainly capable of uniting the whole community.
“We are transforming lives,” she says. “So far we’ve done it all through volunteering, but we need quality, durable equipment.” This week, I wrote that the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund and global banking group Citi are together supporting a series of projects to develop a sense of community in Angell Town, of which Dwaynamics is one.
Andrea Brown, a married mother of seven and a former resident of Angell Town, will establish a new weekly community market on the estate run by residents and offering an affordable range of “Lambeth-made” fresh produce, clothing and crafts.
“Money is important but community is more important,” says the Rev Rosemarie Mallett, wearing her trademark dog collar and leather jacket. She has been the reverend at St John’s the Evangelist Church, Angell Town, for the past eight years, and was one of several residents to host the Evening Standard’s David Cohen when he stayed on the estate.
“If these projects bring people out of their homes, and encourage people to live as a community, then that is what matters,” she says.
“This is an estate built without a community heart, with nowhere to gather. You have to find ways to create community. I feel like this is what has been absent. When there is no community, it is only the bad news that spreads, that gets out.
“Some great things have happened here. Five people went to university last year. Somebody graduated with a double first in astrophysics. Someone else went off to Cambridge. But these are not the things that ripple out, only the bad stuff. Part of what we hope this project will be about is allowing the good stories to be shared.”
The one place young people congregate is at the football pitch, which in its present state could hardly be more underwhelming. That, through this newspaper’s special project, a proper 3G Astroturf pitch is going to be installed might not seem important — but its current rundown condition is revealing.
FOR YEARS, many of its users have been asking the council to do something about a tree that hung over the top of the fencing. “It used to pop all the balls,” says Timon Dixon, one of the leaders of the campaign for the new pitch. “It’s gone now, but no one did anything about it. The wind blew it down in the end.”
When it blew down, Timon told me, it also smashed one of the floodlights, which lay on the ground for months and was only recently replaced.
At the start of the summer, Timon’s 24-year-old brother Gora was shot and killed on Angell Town. Revamping the pitch and putting in place twice weekly organised football training will not bring his brother back, but it will help the younger generation keep out of trouble and even nurture their talent.
Angell Town is not entirely unlike Les Ulis, an estate in Paris, but for the fact that Thierry Henry, Patrice Evra and more recently Manchester United’s Anthony Martial all grew up there. And they did not play on a pitch like this one, with rips and divots in front of the goals. France regards sports facilities as a public service, like health and education. They understand better the benefits these facilities bring, the problems they can solve before they begin.
If Angell Town is hiding real football talent — and why shouldn’t it be — it would have likely remained hidden, an easy-to-spot example of potential going to waste.
But it was what Kamika told me that struck me most. Another Angell Town resident, a single mother with five children, she has set up a group called My London, which will also receive funding in this new project.
What it does is simple but entirely profound. She organises day trips, not only for children but for residents of all ages. Boat rides down the Thames, ice skating at the Natural History Museum, the sort of thing that will give many of these people their very first glimpse at what they might not even realise is their home. “Some of these kids,” she says, “they have never even seen Big Ben.”
But for the high-rise council blocks and the odd luxury tower in the way, you would be able see it from here. It is barely a mile away. The estate’s horizons are quite literally narrowed. It’s clear these people have the determination and the sheer force of will to deliver change on Angell Town. It is thrilling and humbling to know that, thanks to the generosity of Citi, and Evening Standard readers through your contributions to the Dispossessed Fund, they can finally get on with it.
What grants have we approved so far? ¦£18,796 to install and maintain a 3G Astroturf football pitch £11,500 to Football Beyond Borders and Lambeth Tigers for football training £17,341 to Dwaynamics for boxing training and job readiness £15,000 to Block Workout to install outdoor gym bars and do fitness sessions £12,940 to Tree Shepherd to provide business start-up training for residents £5,000 to It’s Your Local Market to launch a weekly market £5,000 to My London to deliver field trips into London Grants are managed by The London Community Foundation, fund-holders of the Dispossessed Fund.
Who is funding the project? The £250,000 programme is backed by £100,000 from Citi banking group, £100,000 from Lambeth council and £50,000 from the Dispossessed Fund. Why are we doing this? To focus attention on the positive potential of our housing estates, which are impacted by gang turf war and poverty, and home to 20 per cent of Londoners. Will more grants be given out? Yes, up to £40,000 is available in an open funding round. If you are a charity or community group operating on or around Angell Town, go to www.londoncf.org.uk/grants/angell-town-.aspx to apply for grants of between £1,000 and £5,000 by November 23.
TO FIND OUT MORE GO TO: www.standard.co.uk/estates