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Making community home

August 01 2023
An untitled artwork by Homeless Diamonds artist Sophia Rose Byrne  © Homeless Diamonds An untitled artwork by Homeless Diamonds artist Sophia Rose Byrne © Homeless Diamonds

A few words on communities new and old, and what it means to feel part of one. By Mat Amp

Recently I made a short film as part of the Listen Up project I work on with the charity Groundswell. The film is about my old home on Brixton Hill. What I talk about in the film is just how much I loved that place because it was part of a community based around the Windmill pub.

The awful thing about what people term ‘gentrification’ is the way that people from communities in central London have been priced out the areas they grew up in. The steep rise in the cost of housing, coupled with the selling off of social housing has meant that communities in London have died.

My old house in Brixton Hill, next door to the Windmill pub, was on an estate where people knew each other in a way that wasn’t in the slightest bit invasive. If you were short of money you could get an interest-free loan from the pub landlord or one of the neighbours. Both my neighbours had my phone number so if the music was too loud they could just text us and we would turn it down.

For the first five years we were at that place, we had in excess of £15,000 worth of electrical equipment in the house. People knew that as well because we were constantly taking it in and out of the house as we rented out sound systems for parties. The security in the house was appalling but nobody ever robbed us because there was a genuine respect on that estate for each other. I knew a guy on the estate who had been jailed several times for burglary but he would never have robbed anything from someone who lived on the estate.

It reminds me of our old house in Nigeria. We didn’t live in a gated community. In fact, we lived in the poorest area of Ibadan. We employed a nightwatchman, but he had nothing to do because people didn’t steal from anyone who lived in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile all the people I knew who lived in gated communities with security guards and checkpoints were robbed repeatedly.

That house in Nigeria was a beautiful place to live. My dad lived on the top floor, myself and my brothers, my adopted brother and a few friends who needed a place to stay were on the first floor with several artists who worked and lived in studios there. The cook lived on the ground floor with a welder from the factory my dad ran along with their families. They would invite me for dinner when my dad was away, and I learned so much about sharing and decent hospitality from the way we lived.

My dad had a few quid, but he shared everything with an openness of heart that created one of the most energetic and amazing communities I have ever seen. It was a privilege to be part of it and like I said, it taught me so much about sharing. Everyone with any money in Nigeria had a driver, a cook and a nightwatchman but my dad didn’t treat them like employees. They were part of the family.

Nowadays my local in Bermondsey is the closest I have to a local community. It took me 30 minutes to get to know the landlord there and he’s always up for a chat. Sometimes it’s invaluable to know that I can drop in there and shoot the shit.

And one last thing before I sign off: Don’t knock the internet. For people with mental health issues who find face-to-face connection difficult, the internet provides access to a community that is understanding, non-judgemental and supportive. It has also allowed me to connect with people from the past that I otherwise would have lost forever.

Community is about connection and the Pavement magazine is a focus for the community of people who have experience of homelessness. The fact that someone is bothered to put the effort in to collating, printing and distributing the magazine makes us feel part of something – part of the Pavement community.