Tottenham forges friendships, five years on from the riots

05 August 2016

DIOCESE OF LONDON

Keys: The Bishop of London presides over a ceremony to hand over the permanent premises of the Engine Room and St Francis Church, this month. He is accompanied by Tottenham MP David Lammy (right) and Michael Polledri, Chairman of Lee Valley Estates (left)

Keys: The Bishop of London presides over a ceremony to hand over the permanent premises of the Engine Room and St Francis Church, this month. He is ac...

ON ONE side of the busy Ferry Lane in Tottenham is the site where Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police, an event regarded as the trigger for the London riots of 2011. On the other lies Hale Village, a new housing estate described online as a “high quality regeneration scheme with an aspiration far beyond the conventional view of the area”.

Built by the River Lea, on the former site of the Harris Lebus factory — once thought to be the largest furniture manufacturer in the world — its multi-coloured towers house a diverse mix of residents: students, families in need of social housing, and private residents.

It is also home to the Engine Room at St Francis’s, Tottenham Hale, which the diocese describes as the first new Anglican church to be built in London in almost 40 years. Andrew Kwapong, a London City Mission missionary based there, believes that, five years since the riots, the Church has an important part to play in reconciliation.

Building trust and breaking down divides takes time, he explains. A 19-year-old, remembering how a police officer took him home after being injured in a football match a few years ago, told him recently. “You know what? Some police are OK.”

“That’s a step; that’s breaking down barriers.”

Football matches are just one of numerous activities undertaken by the Engine Room, which is still operating from a temporary home while construction is completed on its site on the estate. Mr Kwapong and his wife Martina have spent the past few years painstakingly building relationships with people and groups in the area, from organic-vegetable growers to artists. Successful activities include a pop-up café, trips to the beach, and art workshops.

The workshops have resulted in “really big inroads” into the Somalian and Turkish communities. Groups that once operated apart are now mixing, he reports, and this is reflected in the church service, where Baptists, Anglicans, and Ethiopian Orthodox worship alongside one another.

He is full of praise for the developers, Lee Valley Estates, who have kept their promise to invest in social and affordable housing, and pushed the council to invest in resources for the community.

People still struggle to trust the police, Mr Kwapong says: “Until there is transparency in a large organisation, then people won’t trust it. The police as an institution have a lot to answer for in that sense, and until some of that is happening, that old mantra will continue: No justice no peace.”

The report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the Mark Duggan case, finally published last year, after three-and-a-half years, was dismissed by Mr Duggan’s family as a “whitewash”. Last year, they won a right to appeal against the inquest’s finding that he was lawfully killed.

The Church must take “practical steps to reconciliation”, says Mr Kwapong, who points to the advocacy work undertaken by St Ann’s, South Tottenham. In 2014, the Vicar, the Revd John Wood, received an MBE for his work on community relations in the wake of the riots.

Hope in Tottenham at St Ann’s brings together people from across the borough to provide professional counselling in schools, youth work, mentoring, and police-engagement activities. Later this year, it will host a summit on gangs.

The Hackney MP Diane Abbott has said: “No single issue has poisoned relations between the police and the community more than Stop and Search.” Black people are still four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, government statistics say.

In March, the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, described in an interview with The Times being “absolutely terrified” when stopped in 2005. He is currently leading a review commissioned by David Cameron to investigate evidence of possible bias against black defendants and other ethnic minorities in the criminal-justice system. “What I do believe is that very decent people come to perceive black youth in a certain way,” he told The Times. "They become desensitised to the person and fall victim to the stereotype.”

A police sergeant for the schools team in Haringey, Simon Chappell, says that the police continue to work hard to improve relations with young people. Since 2014, each secondary school in the borough has had a dedicated officer, present on site all day to ensure children’s safety and reassure parents and members of the public.

“We are working hard to build the trust of the community collectively and the schools team works particularly hard with those children who may have grown up with a challenging view of the police,” he explains.

There has previously been a “degree of mistrust in the police”, he acknowledges. Tackling this includes his officers giving presentations in schools on a range of subjects including explaining how Stop and Search works; for example explaining that officers are often acting on intelligence received from the public. 

Across the road from Hale Village lies the Ferry Lane estate, built in the 1970s and home to Lorna Reith, one of three councillors for the area.

“The vast majority of people get on with each other,” she says. “I was very pleased to see in Haringey the Remain vote was one of the highest in the country and that is despite really dreadful problems with shortages of housing and pressure on health service and schools, which it would be easy for people to blame on outsiders.” New development is “exciting” she says, but also throws up concerns about disruption, and the question of “who is going to live there? And will there be stuff that we can access, and our children, or is it for people with more money from somewhere else?”

Walking along Tottenham High Road, you pass a hoarding promising a new market and flats for private sale under construction. Regeneration is a contested topic, as residents raise concerns about who will benefit: those who can afford to buy, or the many low-income families on the waiting list?

Just across from the shop which, aflame, became one of the iconic images of the riots lies St Mary’s, Tottenham, where the Vicar, the Revd Simon Morris, believes that the problems discussed in the wake of the riots are “not going to have been solved in five years”. Relationships “need a long time to be fostered”, he says.

He sees the need for a “huge national conversations about who educates our children. Who teaches them difference between right and wrong?” The church, which has about 80 children involved, is about to employ a new full-time children’s worker, and he would like to appoint someone to help reach out to members of the Turkish community (80 per cent of the parish are Turkish or Kurdish speaking).

Tottenham is known for two things, he says: the riots and its football club and this reflects a “difficult tension: one is about discontent and deprivation and another [is] paying individuals large sums of money to play a sport.” But his day-to-day experience is of “some of the most cheerful and welcoming and kind and faithful people I have ever met. I do not live here thinking is today going to be another riot? I don’t live here feeling unhappy about being here or frightened of the outside world. I love being in Tottenham.”

Back at Hale Village, children are eating lunch at the Engine Room, after a morning spent baking with Mrs Kwapong. The Priest Missioner, the Revd Andrew Williams, points out, behind wooden slats, the space that will house a nursery, café, chapel, and church hall with a capacity for 140. He is clearly a familiar face on the estate, greeting people, and directing one man towards the registration point for the new, much-needed health centre.

“It is very hard to find anyone who says they do not enjoy living here,” he says.

The Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Rob Wickham, cannot speak highly enough of the Church in Tottenham, where he is impressed by the “levels of creativity . . . which bubble up”.

“It’s not being in it just for self-preservation,” he says. “With our roots down in Jesus Christ, our walls are down to be able to work in partnership with all sorts of people . . . I see a tremendous sense of hope.”

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