Back in the city for a few days, my body aches and senses are dulled. One one hand completely overwhelmed, on the other feeling (perhaps for the first time) grounded in this big old cranky town. Wondering how on earth I existed here for five and a half years, each step feels steadfast and firm on the concrete pavements. Feeling rooted from two months living in a village I reflect, on how like so many others I came here to seek my fortune; a learning journey and valuable life experience. On how along the way the slow realisation came that I was following a path which was driving me crazy.
Sitting in Brixton Village having coffee, I try to work out a new perspective on this place which is still very close to my heart. In the years I lived in this area, spending time in local cafés used to be one of the highlights of my day. Now that experience is a little empty, although rich with memories. This space was regenerated from being over half-empty in late 2009/early 2010 by the organisation Spacemakers, and is now a thriving melting pot of independent businesses. Getting involved in the early part of the project changed my life. Through art pop-ups, Come To Your Senses community mapping, and illustration projects with businesses in the arcade my reality altered dramatically. I made a new group of friends, met some really inspiring people, fell in love, realised what it means to do community work, have creative community, and for a short time shared a studio in the arcade with a painter. At the time, this incredibly creative, diverse, hands-on, grassroots atmosphere filled all our souls with inspiration, colour and life.
Saddened by the recent news that artists are to be evicted from the space (after helping to make it it what it’s become) I meditate upon my learnings from Brixton and hopes for it’s future. Seeing Spacemakers work, I witnessed the sheer number of people they engaged in this context. From this I learnt how much energy, creativity and community can be generated by a small group. On top of that, after time has passed I see that the bonds created by projects like this don’t go away, even though the space might change. Reading local news and hearing first hand about rising rents from shopkeepers, a less joyful learning is that the power of owning property dictates the future of such work.
I question, what will it take for independent businesses and the community to triumph over greedy landlords? How can a space like this thrive in a way which is authentic and honours it’s cultural context? Brixton Market, my fingers are crossed for you. I hope you continue to thrive but can do it in a way which sustains independence and avoids gentrification. I hope the old market traders can cling on to that which is rightly theirs and Brixton doesn’t forget it’s roots. I hope the landlords come to their senses and realise that when you get rid of the artists, it’s the beginning of the end.
As a sideline I think about where I live now; a village where there is also much creative independence, coupled with unfortunate dependence on Tesco. Future ramblings will probably pick up on contrasts, similarities and cross-learnings between the city and rural contexts.
Despite some rather gloomy thoughts, there’s still a lot of love here. Relationships sustained me in London. Friends, partners, ex-colleagues, collaborators and local acquaintances…people really are what matter most in our life journeys. I am trying to honour all those connections, tie up loose ends and catch up with all…but there isn’t enough time or energy. Most important are those most meaningful connections; the dear friend recovering from an operation, and my oldest friend in the world who just found out she’s having a baby. Reconnecting with a couple of others is wonderful…and soon enough I am spent. Not having the space to catch up with the whole world, I hold a space here:
London friends, I love you dear
Our learning and memories
I value and yet I fear
my time here has passed.
May the seeds we planted
Flourish to form
Creations, dreams (yours and mine)
And lifelong friendship.
With gratitude, I hope we meet
Further down the line.