A new BNP presence mobilised local anti-fascists in Bermondsey recently by delivering a spiteful leaflet warning that immigration might lead Bermondsey to “end up like Peckham and Camberwell”. A picture showed a west African shop front. Having surveyed nearly a thousand households in Peckham in the past six months, I can see the power of this appeal because the character of Peckham town centre was by far the most frequently raised issue. But how to respond to the BNP whipping up racial explanations?
Southwark Green Party have recently published our action plan for Peckham, detailing 17 ways that we could improve the town centre. I hope that this positive and practical response to peoples varied and valid concerns, very few of which seemed motivated by racist or xenophobic views, is exactly the kind of thing that can help counter the BNP. Like it or not, a lot of people are unhappy with the way that Peckham has developed in the past decade, and the most visible change is the growth in West African churches, nail bars, hairdressers and food shops.
Just labelling “concerned of Peckham” as disgusting racists (which the BNP hardcore are, of course), or laughing them off, won’t convince those hundreds of people who feel that they have lost their town centre to traffic, litter, shops that don’t serve their needs and unwelcoming roads, in a city where housing and public transport is becoming ever less affordable.
We need more anti-fascists to come forward with local proposals and action plans to respond to local concerns. They should put, at their heart, the idea that a supported local community can revitalise and take control of their local area. This surely must be the best way to win people back to positive politics, and away from the politics of hate.
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I lived on Peckham High Street for two years, just moved very recently. I read over your plans for Peckham town centre and while they sound nice I don’t see it fixing the main problems. And I think those problems are partly racial, simply because the area has such a high concentration of recent immigrants who can’t afford to live anywhere else. I’m not surprised the BNP are getting a toehold in the area, I loathe everything they stand for but living in an area like Peckham really pushes home the problems that can be created by sticking a large concentration of poor, unintegrated foreign immigrants in one small area. Of course the BNP’s answer is the wrong one.
I lived at 1 Peckham High Street, a corner plagued with violence, drugs and dubious night clubs. Every night people peed on my doorstep and Thursday through Sunday the music pounded out of the basement nightclub from 11pm to 5am. If I got up early I got to dodge the drunks still leaving the club. Most of the shops in the area didn’t bother opening till late in the morning cause most people didn’t get up till then. I had people stabbed in my doorway, people shitting on my doorstep. There were constant mounds of rubbish dumped out the back of the row of shops we lived above, with rats running around freely. There were about 4-8 non-existant flats that got mail through our downstairs door, people creating addresses for reasons I’d rather stay well out of but that I always assumed were highly dodgy. Not that the local post office were much cop at posting your mail to the right house, I ended up having anything important sent to my friends shop in town as so much post went missing.
What’s the answer? I don’t know, but cleaning up a few shop fronts and picking up some litter isn’t going to change that street corner. Revoking the nighclubs license, increasing the police presence, putting in some public toilets (since it’s treated like one anyway), preventing the shops from leaving rubbish out the back… there are things that would help, but not that would solve the problem.
Social outreach and education, a change in the way immigrants, the poor and the unemployed are treated, a change in the way immigrants are integrated into our society, a crackdown on antisocial behaviour yes… but by finding something to change people not with fines and jail sentences which only further ostracize people who already don’t want to listen. Make counselling and one-to-one therapy more available, at the moment someone with non-life-threatening mental health problems gets 6 hour long counselling sessions then has to sort things out themselves, you can’t accomplish anything in six hours. Get the local schools and businesses involved in cleaning the streets, these are the people who are partly responsible for littering them after all.
Anyway, good luck. I wouldn’t want o be the one tackling that mountain.
Marysia, that sounds like a pretty horrible experience. You’re right, our modest shopping list for the town centre won’t turn these wider problems around.
Something else I’ve been campaigning on for a few years is getting more people off the minimum wage and onto the London Living Wage. I spoke to a mum on the Pelican Estate the other day who had to work evenings to get by and couldn’t afford child care, so had to leave her children at home alone. The stress of overcrowded homes and poor pay aren’t good for families, and that knocks onto other people.
Thanks for the other practical small suggestions. I do think we can do something to make the town centre serve people’s needs better, even if we can’t reverse the council’s cuts to community centres and altogether stop the likely cuts to police, counselling, etc. that the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour all seem likely to make in the next five years.
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