Seeing Broadwater Farm from Lordship Rec for the first time, a visiting friend asked “What’s that building? It’s beautiful.”
The sky was blue and vast, tinged with a glowing pink marking the impending sundown. The open expanse of the fields casts a unique magic over everything in such circumstances. But still. I had never heard anyone say that about Broadwater Farm. And it made me think.
The Farm looms over my family’s walks to and from school each weekday, and our regular trips to Lordship Rec on weekends. So it is an everyday presence, even if I don’t consciously see it. I feel comforted by its aesthetic – not pretty, but unashamedly urban.
I haven’t ever lived on the Farm, but we go back a long way. I remember visits to the estate as a child. The place felt imposing, edgy, electric. The fact that I had seen it on TV many times probably fuelled my emotions more than any lived experience. I can’t remember ever feeling threatened.
We lived in Edmonton back then, having gone ‘upmarket’ from our much-loved flat on White Hart Lane in 1984. We still came back to visit my Nan who lived on Tynemouth Road, and to see various uncles, great aunts and friends, some of whom lived on the Farm.
I have a distinct memory of visiting on one particular night when it was raining and being told to wait in the back of my mum’s blue Ford Escort. Weird. I must have been inside the flats at some point, but have no other strong recollections.
Tottenham had soul, a West Indian soul, dare I say a Jamaican soul. Bruce Grove, West Green Road, Body Music at Seven Sisters with its rows of quality soul, reggae and rare groove on vinyl, and we’d travel up to Ridley Road market in Dalston sometimes too. I loved those shopping trips. The sights, the sounds, the music. It felt like I, and people like me, belonged here.
My family are part of Tottenham folklore – not because they did anything out of the ordinary, rather the opposite. My grandparents came here in the 1950s and 1960s. They found work, raised seven kids, put food on the table, earned an honest living, made friends and tried to set an example to their children.
They did all that in a strange country, frequently encountering hostile faces, rules, expectations and weather. They are part of why I love Tottenham and am so happy to call it my home.
Now, as I walk some of those same streets with my children – including Winchelsea Road where my grandparents had a ‘huge’ house – I often feel like I am stepping through time. Nowadays I find myself keenly taking stock of the latest restorations going on to many Victorian terraces.
At the same time, I make sure to greet the few older West Indian residents still left with a hello and a lingering smile. I want them to recognise that I appreciate what they have contributed to Tottenham. We were always taught to respect our elders.
To me, the Farm is an integral part of the Tottenham of my childhood. It’s one of the only elements that remains, now providing homes for new friends and their families.
“The unique cultural heritage of Tottenham”
The estate bears testament to community and particularly the unique cultural heritage of Tottenham for the past four decades. It has survived many ups and downs. Problems with its design and concerns about crime as early as the mid-1970s, when people were refusing offers of housing. Riots and racial tensions in the mid-1980s. A £30 million investment programme in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
By 2005 there was practically zero crime on the estate, and crime rates remain comparatively low to this day. The community living in and around the Farm feels strong and stable, and is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country.
There is an active church on the farm, an inclusive learning campus incorporating a wonderful award-winning children’s centre, a primary and special school, a community centre and Harmony Gardens.
A strong campaigning base is provided by groups such as the Broadwater Farm Residents’ Association, Friends of Lordship Rec and the Broadwater United Sports and Football Academy. These organisations have worked more closely following the publication of Haringey Council’s Local Plan in 2015…
I remember last spring when rumours emerged that the Farm was going to be knocked down. Demolished. Likely to be converted into private flats with only a tiny inner core of social housing. I was appalled.
What would it mean for 3,800 people, over 70% of whom pay council rents? Of course, they would all be forced to move outside London where many council tenants are being pushed to, following the enormous local authority budget cuts since 2010.
“The Farm will forever polarise opinions”
Putting aside my immediate reaction, I had the novel idea to actually speak to a friend who lives on the estate about the proposals.
Her take was: the sooner the better. She mentioned the appalling maintenance within her block and the backlog of repairs never dealt with.
On top of that, her circumstances – a single mum with several children, living in a one-bedroom flat – dictate that the desire for better living conditions and opportunities for her family defines her every waking hour.
It struck me that I had been incredibly naïve. I would feel exactly the same in her shoes.
Other residents raise the issue of safety. Friends I have made at the school gate of various ethnicities – Turkish, Ghanaian, Albanian – have mentioned feeling insecure.
No matter whether their concerns are real or perceived, they exist and that is enough. I have also heard there is a serious problem of illegal squatting in empty units, causing residents considerable distress.
The Farm will forever polarise opinions about its looks, its merits as an estate and its sustainability. But I would be very sad to see it go. I have a personal connection, yes, but the bottom line is that homelessness is one of the biggest social problems in Haringey, and knocking down the Farm is likely to make the problem more acute.
I am someone who has Tottenham in their DNA and wants something of the area’s heritage and distinctive struggles to remain. I am someone whose children go to the great school and nursery on the estate. I am someone who is inherently suspicious of what ‘regeneration’ means to my friends and where they might end up.
But then again, I admit that I may feel differently about the Farm if I were someone who lived there.
Words: Ebony Riddell Bamber
Images: Ebony Riddell Bamber & André Ainsworth