Brixton Green Community Benefit Society: Bradley Carroll

Brixton Green Community Benefit Society formed eight years ago to make sure local people had a say in the redevelopment of one of the key roads in the area. Next year the group will form a community land trust to secure the land into community ownership, with a proposed lease of 250 years. The plan is to build over 300 units, a chef’s school, children’s nursery and a community and wellbeing hub to knit together the diverse residents of the area.

What’s your name?

My name is Bradley Carroll, I’m the co-founder and volunteer director of Brixton Green Community Benefit Society, which started in May 2008 to make sure local people get to help shape the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. I work in residential property, which helps me with the project as I understand what’s involved in the long-term management of homes.

What’s the point of the CLT?

Somerleyton Road divides Brixton. On one side you have an area where two-bedroom flats are worth £600,000 and the other side is an estate where there are high levels of deprivation. When the project first started it wasn’t seen as a prime development site.

The only way you can access that whole area is from Coldharbour Lane or down an unwelcoming alley, despite the fact that it includes 1,600 homes, it’s a huge area and there are high levels of deprivation.

Somerleyton Road was previously the heart of the Irish and Jamaicans communities who came to Brixton in the fifties. The road was demolished in 1968 to make way for a new motorway that was never built. We wanted to create something that pulled the community together, which is a more complicated ambition than delivering profit. We wanted to develop in a way that knits the area together.

 It’s enormous, the difference this makes to people.

When did you decide to get involved?

I think it was May 22, 2008. I was aware of it before because a couple of us were lobbying Lambeth Council over sustainability issues. They showed us the proposals for the Brixton masterplan and we realised they didn’t realise the importance of Somerleyton Road and that we had to do something about it.

The idea for the project came together at a meeting between Chuka Umunna, Philippe Castaing and I. This was before Chukka was elected. We said we needed to do something different that pulled the community together.

How do you fit it in?

Like all the groups, it’s a huge sacrifice. Some weeks I’m doing 40 hours on it, it’s very difficult to fit in with jobs and family and stuff. I’m self-employed so I can fit it around that and do the two at the same time, but over the last eight years it’s been a lot of work.

What’s been your proudest moment?

There have been lots of really important moments. Partnering with Lambeth Council was very important.

But the thing that has affected me most is seeing how people’s confidence in their ability to change their area has increased dramatically.

When we started out I chatted with one woman who said, “What are you going to do to us now?” Which is such a powerless comment when you think about it, it’s awful. A couple of years later we had an event, a street party, and this woman came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, “We’re doing this.” It’s enormous, the difference this makes to people.

What’s been the hardest?

It’s been hard for a lot of reasons. It’s definitely the most challenging thing I’ve been involved in.

I think fake news is pretty tough, when people put stuff that’s untrue on the web. I hear this from other community groups as well. I really feel for councillors, especially women councillors, what they have to go through. In the last few years it got bad for everyone and it got bad for us too. They don’t stop saying things. But the truth comes out! And we’re still here.

Over the last eight years I have got to know so many members of our community. When you see Sure Start and other centres shut you know the families that will be hit and it gets you in your belly, you see that impact close up.

What keeps you going in those moments?

I have a passion for this and I want to help solve these issues.

When it was tough I thought some of the trustees would want to step down, but they surprised me and all of them said, “Absolutely not, we will not step down.” All of them increased their efforts. And our members too, they said, “We see what’s happening and we fully support you.”

There was a wave of support that was very encouraging.

What’s next?

Getting Lambeth Council to sign the lease.

The the proposal was for a 250 year lease. It’s a huge deal for Lambeth, it will be one of the UK’s biggest asset transfers. 

The CLT, which is called the Somerleyton Trust, will be formed early next year. Hopefully, the lease should also be signed in the next couple of months. Lambeth will then procure the contractors and start construction next year.

I was on the supervisory board for National CLT Network back in 2010. One of the points I made was as it was a challenge to access free land in an urban location, a long-term rental model may be a solution. The long lease stays within the trust and is democratically accountable to the community. The long lease is effectively owning the land, which is entrusted to the community.

On this land we will build 304 units. People paying different different rents will live side by side. There’ll be no “poor doors” or separate entrances for those not paying market (private) rents. All the tenants will have the same rights and quality of service.

Our vice-chair Dinah Roake has come up with an interesting proposal of setting the rents based on household income, dividing it into seven different income bands. Lambeth Council want 40 per cent social, 10 per cent affordable and 50 per cent at market rents.

Our ambition for this development includes households with a range of incomes. Segregating people by income doesn’t help social cohesion. It’s better to treat everyone the same and help knit the community together.

The long lease and the long-term approach to management are essential. There are a number of housing estates in London that were built 40 years ago that are already being demolished. The communities that live there are being dispersed. A long term structure gives people a chance to plan their lives. Short termism doesn’t suit homes and doesn’t strengthen communities.

How did you vote in the EU referendum and why?

I voted remain and so did 78.6 per cent of Lambeth, we were the highest after Gibraltar.

We’ll feel the effects. The big one will be jobs. Jobs are the best way out of poverty. But also I’m really sorry to see the amount of racism that is being kicked up.

We have a hugely diverse community in Brixton, and a lot of immigrants, and we’re happy with that, even though there are many boroughs who have fewer immigrants who want out. That’s one of the great things about Brixton, it’s a really diverse community and we like it that way.

How will the result affect you?

It will increase the pressure on the community because of cuts to child centres and services since the financial crisis.

Brexit will reduce the money and increase the cuts, so there will be even more pressure. One of the things about this campaign is a chance to see more of people’s lives, beyond just a cup of tea and chat.

Over the last eight years I have got to know so many members of our community and seen the various challenges they face. For example, one of our members is a mother of a disabled child. Now he is over 16 she has less access to support services and she is under huge pressure. And elderly people getting lonely because they don’t have access to the same services. That’s a big driver of what we do. When you see Sure Start and other centres shut you know the families that will be hit and it gets you in your belly, you see that impact close up.

Part of the project is plans for a community hub to give people better access to services.

The Hub will be used by the NHS, employment, education and voluntary services to deliver in a space owned by the community. There will be children’s centre, an Afro-Caribbean hairdressers, and a convenience store located nearby to help make this a heart for the community. The community trust will be the landlord and one of its priorities will be to ensure these services flourish. We now have planning permission.

This community hub will be located at the alley I mentioned to bring positive activity and make the alley more welcoming. This and all the other ideas have come from the Brixton community. Over 1,200 members of the Brixton community have become shareholders in Brixton Green. You have to live or work in Brixton to be a member of Brixton Green and each person has a £1 share.

What does community mean to you?

I guess it’s that sense of wellbeing when you live near people who know you and have known a long time.

A friend of mine lost her husband and said that made a huge difference to her, having people who cared around her. I don’t think we’re defined by local authorities, more it’s the way our lives link up and other shared experiences.

What would you say to someone looking to do something similar?

Brilliant, go for it. There is so much good work going on and so many people’s experiences to build on. I hope this way of thinking spreads. There is a lot of logic in providing homes this way.

And it feed into democracy. For example, one of our trustees lives opposite the site, he had nothing to do with politics and didn’t know who his local councillor was. He became a member of Brixton Green and started to get more involved. He stood for election and now he’s an active member of the community. 

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