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As part of my campaigning on housing I want to understand more about the links between poor living conditions and crime. These issues affect all of us, not just the people who live on estates with major social and criminal problems.
On a sunny spring day, I went to visit the Stockwell Park Community Trust in south London to find out how residents have turned round the fortunes of a once grim and crime-ridden estate. In the late 1980s it was named by the government as one of the top ten places most likely to riot and go up in flames.
It is now an estate where people want to come and make their lives and it’s being improved all the time. It certainly felt like a safe and cheerful place to walk around.
I know from my own experience how difficult it can be to get councils, housing associations and property developers to pull in the same direction when you are trying to get new homes built or improve existing ones.
Stockwell Park is a reminder to all of us that the ideas that make the biggest difference don’t come from the top down, they come from the people who live their lives here.
A lot of this is down to the work done by Julie Fawcett, the director of the trust who for decades has devoted her life to making things better for her fellow residents on the estate. Julie knows everyone and everyone knows Julie and she has a story to tell about every corner of the estate.
Julie and the other residents have achieved a huge amount, but there is still a lot to do. The estate has to deal with challenges like poverty, drugs and trying to bring in investment to keep the buildings in good shape and add new homes.
At the heart of the estate is the community centre where people can go for a bite to eat, watch television and meet people like employment advisers and drugs counsellors. A lot of residents have got massive problems and are struggling to pull their lives together. It could be hard drugs, domestic abuse, getting by on £20 a week or trying to get a loan for a new business when you’ve got a criminal record. A lot of them come here just for a bit of love and friendship.
It’s places like this that are the first stop for so many of the immigrants coming to Britain from all corners of the world. You can meet Somalis, Hungarians, Poles, Portuguese and Chinese people here to name just a few, as well as some of the descendants of West Indian immigrants who moved to Brixton and Stockwell decades ago. Stockwell Park is an extraordinary blend of cultures, even though that brings its own challenges as people learn how to rub along with fellow residents who’ve come from completely different societies.
I bumped into some wonderful professionals like Janice, the probation officer who is herself a former prisoner. So when she tells people they can get back on the right path she knows it can be done from her own experience.
What people have achieved here against the odds left me awestruck.
You can read the full story of the Stockwell Park trust here.