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The many faces of Brixton

Immigrants who arrived aboard the Empire Windrush awarded to the area that multicultural aspect that made it famous. Today it is threatened by the arrival of the middle class.


Los múltiples rostros 10Olga Briasco


Located south of London, it is a bustling neighbourhood that revolves around Brixton Village Market, a labyrinth of shops run by the immigrant community in the neighbourhood.

“We are traders from all over the world and sell our products to people of all nationalities,” says a Congolese seller. Like many others of different nationalities, he has his own opinion about this area of ​​London. It is precisely this miscegenation that “makes Brixton and this market special.”

This economic activity was developed by immigrants who arrived in London between 1940 and 1950 from the British West Indies (Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia,…). They did it aboard the Empire Windrush on June 22, 1948 (after the end of World War II).

Los múltiples rostros 8That story is contained in the “Black Cultural Archives,” whose purpose is to collect, preserve and celebrate the history and culture of black people in Britain.

As stated in their website by the Lambeth Town Hall, the building will be opened in the spring of 2013. One way to preserve the history of this neighbourhood, for his career, resembles Harlem (New York).

Its creation is a way of recognizing their important role in British society and how it has changed some aspects of its life. One example is the Carnival of Notting Hill and Brixton.

People of Windrush, their children and grandchildren, helped to broaden the definition of “British” to all those people that have their origin in Africa, the Caribbean, China, India, Greece and Latin America.

Those first immigrants settled in and around Brixton and, over the years, created families. In fact, in the late twentieth century the black Caribbean community had become one of the largest ethnic groups in London.

Los múltiples rostros 13According to the last census (2011), about 345,000 people of African origin living in a city that is home to 7.7 million people. This represents 7% of all Londoners and 61% of people of Caribbean descent in the UK.

Reggae and African music

The vast majority live in Brixton. One in four of its 65,000 residents are black, a figure that also includes the communities of African-American migrants who have come from the former British colonies in the Caribbean (especially Jamaica).

Black people (Caribbean and Africa), is the largest with 24%. They focus their activity in retail and hospitality: Caribbean food restaurants and music stores.

Trendy and so-called “Independent record stores”, combining the classic record store with spaces for reading or coffee.

Los múltiples rostros 1The legendary “Supertone Sound System” (1969) stands out. “People come from the whole world because they know we have the best music made in Jamaica,” said Benjie, one of the employees.

This is the case of the Jamaican man Fire, which since 2005 works in a record store and vinyl near the station. “My parents immigrated to London in the 70s, so I grew up here,” he says noting that “London is my city.”

But the neighbourhood is also a small Babel. There are over 130 languages ​​spoken on its streets. After English, Portuguese and Yoruba are the most common languages.

High unemployment

Los múltiples rostros 4According to official statistics, the rate of social needs of the people of Lambeth is the highest in the country. It is ranked as the seventh poorest area of England and the twelfth in the UK.

“Brixton still has many problems and limiting them to a few lines would be complicated,” says a worker at a Volunteer Centre of Lambeth, noting that “unemployment is probably the main problem.”

His words match the latest data published by House of Commons Library (July 2012). They show that the number of people who claimed unemployment benefits for a year or more increased by 68% (Streatham and Vauxhall) and 59% (Dulwich and West Norwood).

Similarly, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that youth unemployment in Lambeth increased 291% in the last year, from 110 to 430 people.

Los múltiples rostros 7The ONS figures also show that the number of jobless people in Lambeth has risen to its highest level since 2010, with 39,900 people in the city (18% of the population). With respect to 2011, three thousand people out of work.

For its uniqueness, the Brixton pound stands out among the measures taken to boost small businesses. As noted by the website of the currency, it was put into service in 2009 with the goal of “helping to maintain the diversity and uniqueness of the shops and the Brixton market.”

New winds

brixton1“Brixton’s neighbourhood is not the same as it was 10 years ago,” says John sadly, a man who runs a second-hand book shop. He emphasizes his words specifying that “it has become more posh and modern.”

He is right due to the fact that the English population of middle and upper-middle has been attracted to this area because of its proximity to central London, the supply of cheaper housing and the new “alternative image”.

This arrival is causing a shift in the popular classes in the neighbourhood who are migrating to more distant neighbourhoods of the capital where housing is still cheaper than in Brixton.

Brixton marketFurthermore, the Council of the London Borough of Lambeth is developing an urban regeneration plan (Brixton Master Plan) to provide the new neighbourhood with commercial areas, rehabilitation of buildings, expanding green spaces, underground metro routes and creating new public spaces.

A regeneration and gentrification of the neighbourhood that is rejected by the people, especially with regards to the elimination of Brixton Market. They have joined forces under the creation of the “Friends of Brixton Market.” Their objective is to maintain the foundation that their ancestors settled into.


(Translated by: Sophie Maling – Email:

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