I remember in 2014 when the online magazine Brixton Buzz ran an April Fools story that Brixton was soon to be re-named East Clapham, and for a brief, sad moment I really believed it might be true. Such is the pace of gentrification in the area that nothing seems out of the realms of possibility, what with the redevelopment of the railway arches and the rising cost of rent.
All of which has been noticed by local creative and social enterprise The Champion Agency, which has decided to capture the unique diversity of Brixton before it gets washed away and homogenised. Called Great Brixton, it is a collection of images from local residents and photographers capturing headline events as well as everyday life. It's a not-for-profit book that gives £1.00 of every sale to the Brixton Fund micro grant scheme, and is backed by local initiatives like the Black Cultural Archives, Brixton Bugle, Brixton Buzz, Brixton Pound and The Brixton Society.
I spoke to Champion's creative director Scott Leonard to get a bit more insight into the book.
VICE: What was the idea behind the project and book?
Scott Leonard: Brixton is one of the most vibrant communities in the UK and is changing fast. We decided we might not be able to change the change, but we can document it before it changes beyond recognition. We invited everyone to join us in telling the story of Brixton and what makes it so special, and thousands of images later we had a book's worth of memories.
You mention that buildings are "listed and protected but that you think cultures should be too". How do you think that should happen?
Some cultures get housed in great buildings such as museums and art galleries, while other cultures are sadly allowed to be demolished. We owe future generations to preserve all of the examples of culture we possibly can, to help them build even greater diverse cultures where difference is celebrated and embraced. Quoting Champion's recent blog article by Charles Olafare, the big question is: "Who's up for the Chief Cultural Officer's job?"
How and why do you think Brixton has changed recently?
Brixton is now a tourist destination. Not long ago it was a dangerous place. It once represented a powerful cultural melting pot, but today that culture is melting. We're embracing the future by documenting its past. Two copies of Great Brixton will be preserved in the British Library forever.
How do you think the book might help keep the spirit of Brixton alive?
We hope the book creates more dialogue between those new to its culture and those embracing the new culture of the area. We recently got an email from a stranger that read:
"Dear Madam/Sir, I am writing to tell you how much I love this book. I recognise many people in the photos. In particular, Sam on page 185. Unfortunately he passed away last year. He wasn't alone, he lived with his stepdaughter. His funeral was at West Norwood cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.
All the best,
Collectively, the final 273 images created their own community, captured by those who lived those moments for people like Maggie to enjoy – keeping the community of Brixton alive.
Great Brixton is available here.
See more photos below: