“Finsbury Park won’t be divided by terror”: notes on a diverse north London community

Monday’s vigil. Image: Getty.

Finsbury Park is a bustling, diverse and vibrant area in north London. It is a neighbourhood which typifies the multicultural metropolis that has emerged in cities across the world as a result of globalisation. Over a hundred languages are spoken in the area and foodstuffs are on sale from every corner of the world.

After an atrocious terror attack on Muslim worshippers leaving Muslim Welfare House after breaking Ramadan fast in the early hours of the morning on 19 June, hundreds of people attended a vigil in Finsbury Park to lay flowers and show solidarity. They held signs saying “United against all terror” and “#WeStandTogether”.

The mood in the area has been understandably sombre since the attack, with Muslim communities concerned by the very tangible threat of Islamophobia. And yet Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque near the site of the attack, echoed a general sentiment: “We all have harmony in this area, and these people try to divide us, but we tell them that ‘we will not let you do that’.”

Never static

The recreation ground of Finsbury Park was opened in 1869 as the first public open space in Hornsey for Islington Parish’s urban and overcrowded residents. In the decades that followed, the area became rapidly urbanised, built up as a commuter suburb for the new middle classes. By the 1920s the area had fallen on hard times, many houses became multiple occupancy and working class communities moved in from other parts of Islington. As a result, by the 1930’s in streets such as Campbell Road, 30 per cent of houses had become overcrowded.

Many migrant communities found their home in the area after World War II. It moved from being a largely Irish area to an Afro-Caribbean one in the decades following the war, as a Monserratian diaspora settled there. As time went on, Greek Cypriots and later Turkish Cypriots became established, developing the rag trade centred on Fonthill Road. As the Cypriot populations began to move on, Turkish and Kurdish communities made the area their home, particularly to the north in neighbouring Green Lanes. By the 1980s and 1990s, Somalis refugees had began to settle.

Seven Sisters Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Today, depending on how you define the boundaries of Finsbury Park, it is home to some 30,000 to 60,000 people across the boroughs of Islington, Haringey and Hackney. The area now has a large population churn, and as one Finsbury Park community worker told me as part of my ongoing PhD research on the diversity of the area:

There’s a lot of migration, that’s what I hear from people, they’re here for a short amount of time, whether it’s [due to] housing or whether it’s to a better place.

A superdiverse neighbourhood

The area could now be called "superdiverse”, meaning the migration has become more complex, and is no longer in the form of post-war waves of people coming for specific jobs. Diversity has many forms and residents vary by religion, ethnicity, legal and employment status, sexuality and class.

These days Finsbury Park is recognised for its North African presence with the top of Blackstock Road being colloquially called by some “little Algiers”. But a resident you meet on the street could equally be Polish, Congolese or Venzeulan. Languages spoken in the neighbourhood include Amharic, Portuguese and Albanian.

Through my research in the area I have found one of the biggest threats to Finsbury’s Park way of life is gentrification, the displacement of working class and migrant communities. It is clear the area is changing and the influx of larger corporate supermarkets, coffee chains and developments threaten the uniquely independent character of the area.

It now includes pockets, just streets apart, which vary from being among the 2 per cent most deprived in the country to the 50 per cent least deprived, in part due to the diversity of housing provision, ranging from social housing flats to sought after period houses in close proximity.

Rotisserie chicken on Seven Sisters Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Yet amid this change, the multicultural metropolis shows no sign of receding. It is there to see on the street, at the convivial café, newsagent or park and through community and social interactions. Finsbury Park’s streets are superdiverse not just through the bodies moving through them, but through the goods that are sold there, the languages spoken, the smells of different foods cooking and through the interactions that occur.

You cannot walk down the street without being exposed to the multitude of lives being lived simultaneously. It is a place of intersection and exchange and it facilitates mobility, particularly as tens of thousands of people move through Finsbury Park every day through its transport hub.

International names inscribed on the street on and around Stroud Green Road, 2016. Image: author's photograph.

Amid all this, residents maintain respect for others and the area’s multiculturalism, often because they appreciate the difference of their neighbours. For example, in 2013 after women from St Thomas’ church and Finsbury Park Mosque realised they were based on the same street and yet hardly knew each other, they decided to set up a sisters group, meeting every couple of months to share lunch and tea, chat and practice a unique form of inter-faith solidarity.


The ConversationThese gestures of everyday multiculturalism show that Finsbury Park won’t be divided by an attack on its freedom precisely because its residents celebrate their differences. It is a neighbourhood which doesn’t seek sameness but thrives on variation and refuses to be defined. In the face of hate it unites, not in spite of, but because of its diversity.

Katherine Stansfeld is a PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A brief history, and the murky future, of Britain’s almshouses

The Hibbert Almshouses in Clapham, south London. Image: David Curran/Flickr/Creative Commons.

On a slightly meandering walk through south London, I was surprised to stumble across a row of almshouses. I thought these institutions had been left in Dickens’ London, abandoned in the rise of social housing during the 20th century, yet there I was admiring the striking line of terraced homes that is the Hibbert Almshouses.

London is in fact dotted with similar such buildings. Long before social housing became a responsibility of the state, it was almshouses that provided a home for the most vulnerable members of society.

We know the tradition stretches back over a thousand years, with St Oswald’s Hospital in Worcester, the oldest almshouse still in existence, established in 990. Having originally had deep connections to religious institutions, the almshouses took a battering during the dissolution of the monasteries. Yet they were always needed, meaning benefactors would ensure some could stay open.

It was during the Georgian and Victorian eras, when the UK underwent rapid urbanisation, that these institutions really developed. Some 30 per cent of the country’s almshouses were built in this time.

Usually set up at the behest of wealthy donors, they were a direct answer, along with the more notorious workhouses, to the rampant urban destitution of the time. Of course the donors would then bag the glory by lending the almshouses their name; the Hibberts, for example, were two sisters, local to Clapham, who named the houses after their father.

Often there were eligibility requirements imposed; the Hibbert Almshouses were built solely to house elderly impoverished women, but as the years have passed these requirements have somewhat relaxed. But not entirely.

Most almshouses still require people to be from the local area and over the age of 60, which is very understandable. More worryingly some still have requirements of religious beliefs, which you can imagine was far less problematic in the 19th century than in the multi-cultural society in which we live today. Despite the best intentions in the world, the fairly opaque selection process involving a board of trustees and relying on constitutions established in a different era, means government-organised social housing will most likely be more egalitarian.


The country’s current tapestry of almshouses is patchwork at best. Around 1,600 individual charities run 35,000 homes – each with their own management structures. The smallest charities run one or two dwellings, while the largest, the Durham Aged Mineworkers’ Homes, owns 1,700 in the north-east of England. The Almshouse Association unifies these groups, offering advice and lobbying for policy change through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Almshouses.

The number of almshouses may appear small compared to the four million social houses provided by local authorities and housing associations, but they are still an important contribution to the texture of the UK’s social housing landscape, as well as being an important aspect of the country’s heritage (over 30 per cent of almshouses are listed buildings).

Pretty buildings aside, in the face of a housing crisis that is magnified in regards to social housing, almshouses offer an essential home to thousands of people in need. The failing in governance of the individual charities were identified in an independent report as one of the key threats to their longevity.

A more involved Almshouse Association could not only ensure the survival of these important housing providers, but also insist on fairer eligibility requirements: bringing this ancient and valuable institution into the 21st century whilst ensuring its future.