A few weeks ago, I noticed a new chicken joint in my area, Brixton.  This had replaced a Portugese delicatessen which my father had frequented to buy their custard tarts.  The opening of the chicken joint, with its spotless windows and gleaming paint, got me thinking about how much Brixton has changed, even in as little as the five years I have lived here.  To me, the gentrification of Brixton is symbolic of the changes of our entire world; as the desire for profit is growing, that vital sense of community is becoming less and less apparent.


To investigate the changes that are reshaping Brixton, I took the long, weary, painstaking journey next door to discover what my neighbour, Barbara Black, has to say about the happenings of the neighbourhood she has been living in since 1974.  I started by asking her why she has remained in Brixton as long as she has. She responded simply yet meaningfully: her love of Brixton is "because of the cultures it represents" and its "strong sense of community; it made me feel safe as a young black woman in the 70s and 80s".


Her use of the word "safe" was remarkably interesting to me, having so many friends who wince at the prospect of visiting Brixton because of its infamous history of the Brixton Riots in the 1980s. To Ms Black, however, Brixton is not its crime figure, but a long-standing community which protects all members of its family, at any cost. In this way, there is something superbly beautiful about everything that Brixton stands for, in the way that it sticks together.  Indeed, her three words to describe Brixton were "bright", "energetic" and "enthusiastic"- and I would agree.


But when I asked her whether Brixton had at all changed in the 46 years she has lived there, there was a tangible change in her tone. "The sense of community has gone" she reflected. "And instead younger people are moving in who are more interested in work rather than nurturing the community, despite pretending to care". I came away, therefore, feeling a fresh motivation to go out and build that which Brixton, according to Ms Black, has so tragically lost.


For instance, Ms Black spoke of a yearly party on my very street which used to take place for the children who could not attend the carnival. And "that estate across the road used to be an expanse of grass where people would congregate to have a chat in the summer".  She also talked of the Indian bakery she used to buy her bread from, which has now closed. And Kemble's black travel agency, which has been replaced by an expensive wine parlour. According to Ms Black, there are now only three places in Brixton market which sell "true West Indian goods".


When asked if there were any positives about this gentrification, Ms Black did concede that Brixton’s progress was not totally downhill.  She commented that, in some ways, Brixton market was moving in the right direction. “But”, she quickly added, she did not consider the ethnic backgrounds of the Brixton market shop owners “a fair mix”.  “I don’t buy stuff from the market anymore- it doesn’t represent me, as a black woman. I think Brixton is going in the direction they want it to go, but not the way we want it to go.”  


Despite claiming that the spirit of Brixton has been ‘eaten away’, it seems it has not totally vanished.  Her son, for instance, will always love coming to Brixton no matter the social demographic. “Brixton is a large part of his cultural identity and he holds on to that”.  Once more, there is beauty in this; how a single neighbourhood can hold a special place in one’s soul. And when I think about the man who cycles around the streets waving at everyone and simultaneously singing, I finally understand why Brixton is such a significant part of her son’s identity- and indeed, in many ways, of my own.


Overall, talking to Ms Black has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my entire life: I have had an opportunity to speak to someone who has watched so many come and go.  Her final comment was to say that ‘emotionally Brixton has changed, and physically Brixton has changed.’  The sad part of this is: I know I am a part of that change. Their dejection and resentments are understandable, but you only learn that by talking to people.


Allie Gruber