Surprisingly maybe, for a Kent girl brought up to appreciate birds and flowers, I have long felt huge affection for my adopted home of Tottenham.
When I first arrived in the area it was to a long skinny flat at the bottom of Mount Pleasant road, five of us, then six, squished into three bedrooms. My friends and I had picked it after an evening staring at a tube map, finally deciding that, although none of us had ever been to Tottenham, it seemed to be the only place from which we could all sensibly travel to work. And it was cheap of course – the Broadwater Farm riots a few years earlier had clearly left their mark and the general atmosphere in the area was depressed and suspicious. Work on the leisure centre by the town hall had been suspended for lack of funds and it lay half-completed, surrounded by brightly painted hoarding, and on every street there were abandoned shopping trolleys: as relatively few residents owned cars it made perfect sense that this was how you got your weekly shop back from Tesco. Our local was the Hobson’s Choice (yes, really!): a sticky-carpet pub with a pool room, friendly staff and an astonishing decor of support columns made to look like tree trunks and painted chocolate brown. When we asked why there were always so few customers we were told that “it got a bit quiet after the stabbing”(!)
When our house of friends split up and went separate ways I wanted to stay in the area. My first taste of London had been the vastly more glamorous Kew, where I was a student at the Botanic Gardens, but although I clearly couldn’t afford to move back to west London, there was in any case something I really liked about Tottenham. Despite everything I found people friendly and welcoming and in the few short months I’d lived there I’d quickly started to feel at home. My boyfriend and I moved a few roads away to a ground-floor flat with a sunny garden.
Twenty-something years have passed since then and while I still live in the same flat all around me Tottenham has changed beyond recognition. Not quickly at first (unless you count Tesco’s remodelling of the landscape by putting coin locks on their trolleys!) but lately at a dizzying pace. Heritage Lottery Fund money has allowed Lordship Recreation ground to blossom into a park with a river flowing through it and a much loved eco-build community centre. Some lovely cafes have sprung up. There are dozens of community groups and events these days and the area positively fizzes with energy (something I’ve always loved about the place). There are some great places to eat and even a farmer’s market on Tottenham Green.
And one last surprising change that is taking some getting used to: I no longer get pitying looks when I tell someone where I live.
Main pic: moving in with the use of the late 1980s free Tottenham transport system (thanks, Tesco!)
Pic above: article by Lisette Allen in Tottenham Community Press, Jan 2017. TCP launched in Nov 2016 and is a free community newspaper, by and for local people.