This time last year I was working in Brixton and chatting with people from the area. When they found out I was from Luton they gave me funny looks and asked how things were up there. I didn’t really understand what they meant – I knew there had been some trouble in Luton over the previous months but didn’t realise it was far reaching. The news of gang rivalry between the Marsh Farm and Lewsey Farm Estates (where I grew up) of Luton had travelled to, and shocked the people of, Brixton. I was amazed that the people of Brixton (somewhere I had always associated with trouble, the riots of ’81 and “Bloody Saturday” considered Luton to be an unsafe place to be, whether living there or visiting – “I’ve got friends up there and I won’t go there !” was just one comment) would be interested or shocked at little old Luton.
The idea of Luton being a rough, but more to the point, unsafe, place to visit surprised me. I gave it some more thought and started a photodocumentary on the area where I grew up. Lewsey Farm never seemed unsafe to me but maybe that’s because it’s where I grew up, it’s where I played knock down ginger as a kid, I knew the area and I knew the escape routes should I need them, so maybe my familiarity with the area was giving me a false sense of security. I decided to get around and meet a few shop owners in Dominic Square – you know the type of place, local shops, small supermarket, a betting shop and a bakery, where Grandad gets his paper in the morning and where kids in hoodies on BMXs sit around and talk when it gets dark.
I spoke to 3 or 4 of the shop owners and they all confirmed what I thought – that Luton and more to the point Lewsey Farm was not full of racketeers and gangsters terrorising the local people. So had the press blown things out of proportion ? This was very possible but there was evidence to back up the bad stories the people of Brixton had heard. On 5th September 2012 Delaney Brown, a 19 year old man from Lewsey Farm was mown down by a car mounting the pavement and knocked off his bike, he later died in hospital. This sparked a number of tit for tat attacks and fatalities between youths from Lewsey Farm and youths from Marsh Farm. The trouble and tensions went on for about 6 months, there was a lot of news coverage and sitting down to watch the 6 o’clock news I would be wondering what the next Lewsey/Marsh Farm story was going to be.
Over the first few months of 2013 there was a huge police operation and it combined with community leaders in and around Luton to combat crime on the two estates. Armed fire arms officers were patrolling the streets during the day and at night, community leaders were out and about on the streets talking to kids, the local radio got involved and ran programs dedicated to the subject and a rally was held in Luton Town Centre to bring awareness of the troubles and the ongoing fight to bring law and order to the streets of the town. All in all a huge effort was being made to calm things down.
A year on and I think things have calmed down, Luton is very rarely on the 6 o’clock news so I no longer have that dreaded sinking feeling when it starts. I had a cup of tea and sat and talked to Kath who works in the bakery while I was at Dominic Square yesterday. She’s been working at the bakery for a year, she’ll be 60 next month and would have been looking forward to retirement if the retirement age hadn’t been extended to 67 by the government. She gets up at 6 every morning to be at the bakery for 7 to arrange the loaves and cakes for the days trade, she lost her husband after a long illness 4 years ago after nursing him for 10 years and has been forced back to work but as most people around here she would rather get up at 6 and trudge through the rain and snow than sit at home and claim benefits. And I think Kath is the type of person that sums up Lewsey Farm, hard working, honest, tough but all the time doing it all with a smile on her face. I take my hat off to Kath and all like her in and around Lewsey Farm.