Broadwater’s story starts in the late 1960’s. Another concrete city grown with high ideals and not a lot of forward thinking, a good idea gone bad, amongst many others of its kind, this was Broadwater Farm Estate.
By the early eighties, the housing was poorly maintained, the concrete had began to rot, ageing electrics failing, and the inherent design flaws made blind spots and pockets for crime - a dangerous area to live. Unemployment and injustice was rife; many of these types of estates existed, seething with anger and resentment brought on by institutional racism and poverty.
In September 1985 a riot blew up in Brixton. This caused a ripple effect of tension into Tottenham and Broadwater Farm. A month later an event eerily similar to the one in Brixton, where a local mother died in the hands of the police, sparked a riot exploding across Broadwater Farm, ending with a policeman, PC Blakelock, being murdered by a gang with guns and machetes. In the aftermath of these events the community was shaken, spooked, desperate and disturbed by these incidents.
The council had talked about knocking these estates down, but the tenants refused to move out. So born of these traumatic events, the local council decided to invest £33 million to renovate the estate spending it on new designs, individual identities to the housing, getting rid of the dangerous walkways, relocating the shops and redecorating the area.
This was all part of the big push to pull Broadwater Farm out of the misery and despair it was living in and amongst these changes a mural was commissioned. Painted on the side of Rochford block in 1987, this mural depicts three giant busts of Gandhi, John Lennon and Bob Marley in a park with children playing and a mountain in the distance, with Martin Luther King at the summit of the mountain, deep in thought.
This mural still stands today along with another painted mural and a mosaic mural created around the same time period. Broadwater Farm’s efforts to pull itself out of the doldrums has paid in dividends; it is a beautifully renovated area, with very low crime rates in comparison to its past. Perhaps the four wise men of that mural had their part to play; it would be nice to see this piece renovated as it has faded over time.
Back in the Eighties Broadwater Farm was described as one of the worst places to live in the whole of the United Kingdom. Today Broadwater Farm has out-grown that label and has gone on to become synonymous with racial harmony boasting 39 different cultures in its community and at the start of the new millennium Broadwater Farm shows the capital that estate communities have the potential to turn it all around and become vibrant, safe and wonderous places to live.
It would be nice to think that perhaps those four figures of peace helped to inspire and encourage a peaceful way forward.