Anything to do with social justice is what drives me. I think that it’s possible to get to a place in society where people get what they need, according to their needs but it’s just organised all wrong. Campaigning for me means talking to other people about issues that I feel passionate about, and issues that I feel other people will want to know about and be passionate about, and just spreading the word, really. With other people, you know you’ve got a better campaign; you know you’ve got a better chance of being heard.
I have lived in Tottenham since 1986. When I moved here, I moved because a friend of mine offered me a room and I had just moved to London. I wanted to live in a diverse area. At the time my partner was going to come to London from Swaziland, and we needed a place for him to land. That’s how we came to Tottenham. This area is a place that I call home. I feel it’s an area that I’ve grown into and it’s grown alongside me. I’ve been here for quite a long time, but I was an outsider when I came. It took a while, but I feel part of the community now. That’s what it means to me. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s important, and it’s more than family. It’s a place where I know people and people know me, and I have a role within the community.
The council refused to use the D word [demolition] for a very long time. I am happy that the whole of Haringey is under attack with the privatisation of council housing and public land because I felt like Northumberland Park was quite isolated. Some parts in Tottenham have a tradition of being organised and having a voice, and Northumberland Park has not. That is one of the reasons I wanted to get involved in this area specifically. That is why I started the Community CookUp. It’s to give people a voice, bring people together and give them a sense of pride and belonging in the area. So we’ve been doing our cook up and using it as a forum. A place to talk about the area, not specifically about demolition plans but really about how locals feel about the area, and space to say what they want to talk about.
That’s been going on [the Community CookUp] alongside the stuff that has been going on inside the council. The rebellion of some of the councillors, and the door-to-door knocking that Northumberland Park Decides has been doing in the area. In other parts of Tottenham, activists have become aware belatedly that it’s going to affect all of them as well. There is now an organisation called the Two Million Pound Gamble, to stop the Haringey Development Vehicle, and so we’ve now got a sense of action and activity. We’re moving forward to reach other people.
Many more people now know about the plans. Everybody knows that Northumberland Park is up for demolition, but the council have not apologised for calling us scaremongers. We’re still being called scaremongers – as if we made it up. They denied it, and it’s been a year since the group started, and our group has played a role in highlighting the issues to people. Until recently, we would go around to people and say, ‘Do you know the council has a plan to demolish the estate?’ and peoples’ mouths would drop. They would be so shocked and quite upset, and disbelieving because if you tell someone their home is going to be demolished, it’s massively shocking. The council are trying to play it down like it’s something we’re going to go through like it’s a new job or new whatever. But actually whatever happens, under these plans, this community will be demolished. In the sense that the people who live in this area and support each other in all sorts of different ways will not be able to do that anymore.
Being here, I have noticed, as much as people have their different issues and problems, people do come and support and know each other. People that are new to the area say, ‘I was a bit worried about coming here but I like it. People are friendly and welcoming.’ I hope that the Northumberland Park Decides group become a core group of activists (they already are). That will inspire other people to get involved as well. For the area, I hope that we win. I don’t think the council will see sense as such because they are very wedded to privatisation and they’re pre-Jeremy Corbyn Labour people. A Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn would mean that the plans to demolish council estates in London would change, which would be a really good thing but we can’t depend on him getting in. So we have to continue to build a mass movement from below. It feels like a long way off but things can change very quickly. For example, I am not advocating rioting but the day before the riots kicked off in Tottenham, people were not expecting a riot so what I’m trying to say is that peoples’ views and attitudes about society can quickly change. At the moment, people are feeling very demoralised, helpless, frustrated and undermined; that can quickly change.
This is a democracy, and the people who live here should have a say about the buildings they live in. I would like to see a true investment in the area and a community where the conditions that people live in are massively improved. Tottenham has always been the poor relation of Haringey, and I think Northumberland Park has always been the poor relation of the poor relation. I think that’s a shame. It’s a disgrace. People are ambivalent about whether they want to stay here or move somewhere else and that has played a role. I can’t say if it’s a deliberate strategy of the council but who knows how people think. I would like to see an up-and-coming area, and for people to get the help, they need like people that are marginalised and people who are living in unsafe and unhealthy situations and conditions. Housing around here is not great, particularly the price and conditions of private housing for families in multi-occupancy. People with alcohol and substance issues should get the help they need so there’s a lot, and it leads to anti-social behaviour, which some people worry about. There is so much more that can be done here.
The CookUp is open one afternoon a week. This is a council building that we use for free at the moment but if only we could be open with funding four days a week. For people to drop in and get support for things they need help with like making phone calls, to sort out their benefits and to eat free food. We underestimate it, but it means a lot to people.
Community CookUp, Tues 1-5pm
Northumberland Park Decides