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From Black History Month through to December this year, the black female owned organisation, Blacktress, have teamed up with Tristan Bates Theatre to bring a series of performances portraying stories about and written by black women. I attended one titled Regeneration. This play is based on the true story of an Eritrean mother, Rita, whose home on Loughborough Park estate in central Brixton, was being demolished in the process of gentrification. It tells of her journey to activism throughout her struggle to find ’home’ in the historically diverse district.
Gentrification or regeneration is the renovation of largely working-class areas and transforming them into a more modern, ‘trendy’ scenery. Often coupled with this is the significant increase of property prices, which leads to an influx of middle-class residents and businesses to the area. As the theatre piece reveals, in this process there are incidents of residents having to move out, as they’re home is being destroyed for newer high-rent builds. There are cases of people moving as far as the suburbs to find affordable housing because of this. Many millennials are being robbed of the opportunity to live in the area they were raised in due to these costs. This raises the question: who is regeneration really for?
As a born and bred South Londoner, I have seen gentrification happen across several boroughs. From the Windrush generation of 1948 to the many who immigrated to this locality thereafter, Brixton has long been known for its vibrancy and strong association with the black community. When the first wave of Caribbeans arrived to help rebuild the country after WW2, racism was very much apparent and one of the ways they experienced this was through their struggle to rent out property through landlords and estate agents. However, this generation and those who followed thereafter managed to work through this hardship and contributed to making the energetic community Brixton has come to be known for. The warm whiff of patties from the Caribbean takeaways and sound systems playing reggae from record stores, are reminiscent of my weekly visits with my grandma to Brixton market, now referred to as ‘the village,’ and are integral characteristics of what helped define the community. Albeit there have been negative connotations surrounding Brixton, such as high crime rates. However, we know this isn’t restricted to Brixton and can be seen across various areas, even on a global scale.
Adding to the uniqueness of Bricky is its activist spirit. Having been the main centre for the British Black Panthers from 1968-1973, holding reparation marches and the current Brixton soup kitchen serving the homeless, its citizens have formed a passionate culture of supporting each other and standing up for what they believe to be right. Rita had an Assured Shorthold Tenant (AST) contract meaning the Housing Association were not legally entitled to rehouse her. She and other locals then organised petitions, social media campaigns and press releases to raise support and draw attention to the situation. This was partially successful as she was eventually offered a home by the Housing Association. But, and this comes with little surprise, the offer was at an unaffordable price! This is just one of the many real-life stories of residents affected by gentrification. The sad reality is that many are pushed aside in the procedure. Lower classes and ethnic minorities already struggle with limited career opportunities and the shocking phenomenon of not only losing your home, but also effectively being pushed out of the area altogether, adds baggage to this adversity.
Notably, there are positive sides to regeneration as it has brought more cultures such as sushi bars, Italian restaurants, Spanish cuisines, and projects such as Pop Brixton into the area. The problem arises when the products sold in many of the new businesses are at rates that, like the housing, only support the lifestyle of wealthier classes. London’s leading estate agent, Foxtons, now has a Brixton branch, providing further evidence of the extent to which property prices have surged in the area.
So, with all of this, it seems the way regeneration is currently being processed is predominantly targeted at wealthier classes. This is unfortunate because the lively characters of Brixton, who tend to be ethnic minorities, working class and have come to call this place home, have made it into the dynamic district it has been recognised as. Property developers, the council and central government need to ensure those already in the community are considered and included in regeneration plans. Perhaps rent controls could help. Through considering community members more in this process, there’s a higher chance of moving forward effectively and collectively.