Interview with Brixton resident and member of Brixton Windmill, Sonya

Here is a summary of our notes from the interview. These are not the exact questions we asked her it was just the most effective way of displaying the notes.

We also managed to record Sonya. We will go back over the recording later to find good quotes.

  • How long have you been living in the area?

Since the 1950s. She was born in Jamaica and then she moved to Brixton with her family when she was a child (7 members). Her mother owned a house on Ashmere Grove (just off acre lane) which is where she grew up.

  • Do members of your family live in the area?

Her family members no longer live in the area.

  • What is your profession?

She is a home economist.

  • Would you say that you usually shop in supermarkets or markets?

Said that in the 1950s her family would shop at the markets, just like every family living in Brixton did, and they knew everyone. Her mother would stop and talk to all the market owners and everyone knew everyone. She said that back in the 50s corner shops were the only place you could buy things from on a Sunday, because there were no supermarkets in Brixton. Now she shops in the supermarket, because it is more convenient and easier to park.

  • Have you seen your community change over time? If so how?

She said that people lack the connection with people today, which she said is potentially why there is less market culture. The market used to be where the community was. Back in the 50s people used to use their neighbours as childminders and you knew that you child was always safe on the streets because everyone knew everyone and would look out for them. Her family used to shop for the neighbours and help them out, but now community is not like that. She said that in her opinion today you can die and be left in your house for weeks, because no one knows each other. Today she feels like there is a conscious effort to bring community back to Brixton through workshops. She feels like gentrification has caused a separation in society, a conflict amongst residents. Because there is more movement today, more renting rather than owning, people don’t make the effort to get to know there neighbours and there is no chance of forming a community. Her intention with the Windmill project is to bring the community together and teach about different cultures, for example through food.

  • Do you think Brixton is safer because of gentrification?

She said that gentrification has made Brixton safer for some people, but not all. It is safer for predominantly white middle-class people and made less safe for young black people because they lack the community. She said that she felt safer in Brixton in the 1950s than she does today. When she was a child there was one road (Railton road) where drug dealers hung out (mostly just weed) and “bad stuff” happened, but if you didn’t want to be a part of that you didn’t have to. Whereas, today in Brixton there are drugs everywhere and more violence.

  • Do you feel that Brixton is no longer catering to the lower wage workers it originally harbored?

We talked about how working class people have been outpriced of Brixon, for example in the market.

  • She described to us all the buildings she experienced changing over the years:

Hootananny (a bar) used to be a pub, Electric Brixton (a concert venue) used to be a cinema called ABC which showed cheap films for children on a Saturday, Brixton Academy (a concert venue) used to be a cinema called The Academy and The Ritzy was the same, but she used to call it the ‘Flea Pit’ because it was so run down you would get fleas if you went in. She says that some of the old is still in Brixton, for example Morleys department store where we met for the interview, which she has been coming to all her life.

  • Did you hear about the Reclaim Brixton protest that took place in 2015 where residents were protesting against evictions and gentrification? Were you a part of it?

She was not a part of the protest. She thinks that the protest was probably a good thing, but that it will not change anything, because you can’t go back once gentrification has taken place.

  • The people in the protest were saying that they are not opposed to change but the way that change is taking place. What is your opinion on change in the area?

She thinks that change is inevitable. She says that there are good aspects to gentrification like renovation. She thinks that change is good because its brings more multiculturalism to the area and an effort for people to learn about different cultures.

  • What is the price of gentrification?

She believes the price of gentrification is homelessness. She says that she is on the committee for housing and she does not believe that the percentage of houses promised to social housing are actually being allocated. The rise and prices and the lack of social housing are creating homelessness in Brixton. Another cost of gentrification is its effect on young people. Her daughter was on the housing list and got a flat which she could later buy, but today this is no possible, which gives young people no stepping stone. She knows two families in her adopted son’s school who share a one bedroom flat with three children, as they are on temporary housing while they are being put into council houses. Another price of gentrification is the busyness. She said that today she avoids Brixton and prefers to go to West Norwood, because Brixton is too busy and there is no where quiet.

  • Do you think the quality of life improved since gentrification?

She says that gentrification has not improved the quality of life because there are more homeless people than ever in Brixton. Services are better but who are the services for; the services are for those who have and those who have not are no longer important. The people on lower income wages are unable to afford lunch in the market where they used to.

  • We are interviewing you for a presentation on gentrification. Our thesis is that the theories around the subject don’t reflect the lived experience of gentrification. What do you think?

She said that lived experience is always more important and that the best way to show the reality of gentrification is through documentaries on people’s lives who are affected by it. “He who feels it, knows it” is what her mother says.

  • What do you think the responsibility of the council, if any, is in the process of gentrification?

Main responsibility of the council is to build enough council houses

  • We think that Brixton is a positive example of gentrification (Pop Brixton, Brixton Pound, Brixton Windmill) would you agree?

Believes Pop Brixton is a positive example of gentrification. She said that she went to a workshop the other day called We Rise which aimed to get young people to network with local businesses in Brixton (Pop Brixton, Hootanany, Brixton Academy).

  • Additional points she made:

She says that people don’t want to share their space anymore. She questioned why it is so hard for people to share.

Gentrification changes the atmosphere of a place.

She expressed nostalgia for the old Brixton she knew. This was reminiscent of Alex Wheatle’s nostalgia for reggae music in old Brixton.

“Gentrification is good… the look is pleasant.” Gentrificaiton is good, but the wealth need to be shared and the community needs to remain intact.

  • Questions we did not manage to ask her:

What do associate with gentrification? Would you say that you are affected by it in any way; positive or negative?
Do you think Brixton has retained its identity?
Do you commute to work, or is it within walking distance?
Do you think people generally rent or own the property that they live in?
Do you have any particular criticisms or appraisal for how the gentrification process was carried out?
Do you think that the debate is exaggerated?

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