“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.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.