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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The rebirth of Broadwater Farm

Let's not pander to the BNP's and other right-wing movements that ethnic communities are beyond hope. Things can and will change to improve communities and unite otherwise divided peoples. No matter their race, colour or creed. For every Burnley you can point to a Broadwater Farm. This is not wooly minded socialism, molly coddling liberalism. This is true liberty. When all people can live along side each other in a vibrant and forward moving society.

Twenty years ago today, Clasford Stirling awoke to the sound of breaking glass and screaming sirens outside his home on the Broadwater Farm estate. He then witnessed from his balcony the riot which within 48 hours turned 12 low-rise housing blocks in Tottenham, north London, into a byword for urban decay, crime and racial tension in Britain's inner-cities.

The youth worker, then 26, had his nose broken by a police truncheon as he tried to calm the rioters amid flying petrol bombs and burning barricades in gloomy car parks that had become the private domains of drug dealers and street robbers.

Today, Broadwater Farm - the one-time no-go estate which entered infamy after PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death during the riot on 6 October, 1985 - could hardly be more different.

At a time of crisis in faith in multicultural Britain - sharpened by claims from Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, that the nation is "sleepwalking to segregation" - look no further than "the Farm" and its vibrant community of 39 different nationalities for evidence that ethnic diversity in rude health.

Mr Stirling coaches a youth football team, Broadwater United, which has produced 25 professional footballers in the past five years. The father-of-two said: "There was complete shock and grief at what took place in October 1985. But we picked ourselves up and took up from where we had been. Now look - this is officially a low-crime area, it has decent facilities and is one of the most ethnically diverse places on the planet. It is a place to be proud of."

The transformation of the 21-acre estate, completed in 1970 and currently home to 3,000 people, is on one level purely physical. Gone are the concrete walkways that linked each of the 12 housing blocks above ground in what designers hoped would be a master stroke of social engineering by lifting inhabitants away from cars and roads.

The reality by the early 1980s was less utopian. The walkways formed a warren that could not be policed while the car parks underneath were stalked by crack dealers. Now, each of the housing blocks has a secure entrance hall with a concierge service. Green spaces and play areas punctuate the blocks, renovated at a cost of £33m.

But it is only when its inhabitants talk that the true nature of Broadwater Farm 2005 becomes apparent. Yesterday, a £1m Children's Centre was opened next to its existing community centre and primary school. Jennifer Kamara, 35, a mother-of-four who has lived on the estate for 12 years since coming to Britain from the civil war in Sierra Leone, said: "This is not paradise on earth, we still have the same problems as anywhere else, but people have been given back their purpose and dignity. The kids have their free time occupied and we enjoy the fact that so many different cultures are here. My neighbours are Turkish, my kids walk to school with their Bangladeshi friends. We are one big family on Broadwater."
So the questions are? Is multi-culturalism perfect? No. Is there any alternative? No, not unless you consider annexing the Sudetenland and invading Poland a constructive step.

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