When I walk up the steps from Brixton tube station to street level I drop my headphones. The sound of steel drums rains down on me and wide grin is guaranteed to grow across my face. Few things are more certain.
Sometimes, if you time it right, the sun shines down the street opposite, past the David Bowie mural and directly down into the station: a blinding gold exit flickering with dreadlocked silhouettes. It wraps you in a comfort blanket of familiarity reminding you why you chose to live there in the first place.
We all have that one particular pleasure we get from where we live. That piece of nostalgia that you will take with you through life and that has the power to bring so many other memories flooding back. For me, for Brixton, that will always be the sound of the steel band.
Unfortunately Brixton is a changing place bearing the rapidly spreading scars of gentrification. There are no guarantees of permanence for anyone: resident, publican, proprietor or steel band player. Last year we saw the loss of Kaff, an affordable bar that consequently couldn’t compete with unaffordable rents. So too, the continental deli was forced out by Network Rail’s visible hand and Nour Cash and Carry only survived because of a large on and offline campaign.
After Kaff Bar was forced out, my girlfriend and I were bemoaning the loss of a great venue. Then, remembering how infrequently we had been there in the past six months, we realised we had no right to complain. It brought home the certainty that businesses need our help if they are going to survive this torrid wave of gentrification which has brought champagne bars to the doorstep of a council estate.
The epitaph of the powerful film Food Inc. is that you can personally force change in the food production industry by changing what you buy, that each time you go to the supermarket you are implicitly voting. Voting with your wallet. The same can be said of preserving what you love in your local community.
If you buy everything from Amazon don’t be surprised if your local book shop closes down. If you buy your cycle gear at Rapha at twice the price because they also serve great coffee you have no right to be upset when the co-operative cycle shop has to move further out of town to cheaper premises. Pubs are closing down at an alarming rate yet cocktail bars are popping up left and right, one day you’ll want to play a game of pool over a pint and there’s a good chance you won’t be able to.
The pop-ups will come, enjoy them, but they’ll also go. When they do they’ll either take all the personality with them or the old town will remain, preserved underneath them. If it’s the latter, it will be because people didn’t forget why they moved there in the first place.
I’m going to make more of an effort to spend my money in places I’d hate to see disappear. It’s by far the easiest and most enjoyable way you can make a difference. To start with, I’ve begun paying off those smiles by dropping more change in my favourite open drum case.