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'Racism is no longer fashionable in Eltham'

REST IN PEACE: Well-wishers lay flowers at a memorial for Stephen Lawrence in Well Hall Road, Eltham

NEARLY TWENTY years after south London teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham, the community has said the area is no longer defined by racism.

At a debate to coincide with the upcoming 20th anniversary of Stephen’s death which occurred on April 22, 1993, the panellists who included Tottenham MP David Lammy, Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell and Deborah Mattinson, co-founder of Britain Thinks explored how the area has changed since.

Host Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “Having lived in Eltham during the 1990s, I was struck by how media portrayals of the area too often didn’t capture the whole story.”

“Twenty years after Stephen Lawrence was killed, we should reflect on how that campaign for justice changed Britain.

Students and residents from the local area alike attended and joined in the discussion at the event held at Harris Academy in Greenwich on March 27.

DIVERSITY

Many pointed to the diversity that has come about in Eltham over the past two decades, evidenced by the variety of restaurants and shops catering to ethnic minorities.

The 2011 Census showed that 19.1 per cent of the Greenwich population was Black Caribbean, Black African or Black Other, compared to 5.4 per cent in 1991.

Ros Lucas, executive director of the Migrants Resource Centre in London, was living in Eltham with her son at the time Stephen Lawrence was killed.

She said: “Eltham has always had a fantastic community spirit, but was portrayed really negatively in the press. It was not the true picture of Eltham and it isn’t now. I used to be ashamed to tell people that I Iived here.”

Lammy said he could relate to the residents’ frustrations, after his Tottenham constituency received similar coverage during and after the 2011 riots.

The Labour MP said: “When things go wrong in places like Eltham, the whole area is stigmatised. The responsibility lies with the journalists to come back and report on the progress.

“They don’t always live in the areas, they just arrive and characterise these areas in a certain way, and so I sympathise with this constituency.”


RESIDENT: Robert Ruki

Patrick Heisel, assistant deputy director at the Department for Education (DfE), was raised in Catford and moved to Eltham 10 years ago.

He said: The general perception throughout the southeast was that Eltham was a no-go area, because a young black man had been killed and there was a bit of BNP (British National Party) activist going on.”

Heisel believes Greenwich Council has worked hard to embrace its BME (black and ethnic minority) residents.

He added: “When Stephen Lawrence was murdered, for the first time ever, the nation was able to see the injustice from the eyes of a black person. The problem for me now is the disengaged youth of today.

What I fear is when my young lad goes out will he come home safely, but I think that is an issue in Eltham and in other areas.”

South Londoner Robert Ruki believes Eltham has changed, although admitting to experiencing racism himself.

He said: “Guys with tattoos of the racist SE9 postcode still exist, but it’s not fashionable anymore. When I lived in Thamesead, [black teenager] Rolan Adams was killed [in 1991] and when I lived in Kidbrooke Stephen Lawrence was murdered a few years later, so racism has always been around me.”

The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, set up by his family to protect his legacy, is offering Voice readers an opportunity to attend a private memorial service on April 22 as an appreciation for their ongoing support over the past 20 years.

Anyone who is interested can email their name and address to info@stephenlawrence.org.uk. Tickets will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

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