Brixton Recreation Centre

Regroup and Renew?

Exploring how Brixton might move forward through the lens of one of Brixton’s most iconographic and historically significant buildings.

An interview by Amanda Carter, member of 81 Acts of Exuberant Defiance Steering group, with Steadman Scott, founder member of the nationally acclaimed Afewee Training Centre Brixton Recreation Centre; which for 20 years has run on the dedication of volunteers offering subsidised football and boxing sessions for local youngsters.

What does renew and regroup mean to you, thinking of the past and the future for your community?

STEADMAN SCOTT: What changes could be done to improve things for the community, what would I like to see?

You ask what changes could be done to actually improve things for my community and what we mean by renew.

Being one of the first generation to be educated from the Windrush generation, I think my point of view is very, very important, because as far as I concerned, it was my generation who actually put all the hard work in to reach here, so it was my generation that ask what we want next.

Being in the, what you call, a race… without identity, no direction, didn’t belongs into the country. And then all of a sudden, we were told that no, you’re part of the country. What do you need? Now for people who have never been recognised and so on I know you said, “What do you need?” We won’t know what we need. So we run around like chicken without heads.. in the end have given us youth centre on Railton Road open. That’s it, okay. prove to us that you can do, you can control your own. Now, if you have a child who hasn’t been educated, and you put him .. how he’s going to survive? So that was what we was like. So it was a form of ways, things that the system set up for us to fail After the riot I think they give us maybe 15 years of things to let them look good. Now we couldn’t get insurance so therefore it was it was like wasted time because the area have just been through the riot so therefore nobody ain’t gonna give it no insurance so really is like saying you really cater us to be a failure.

Then with the Recreation Centre, after 15 years, they [Lambeth Council] decide that they want to sell the building, by put it where pop Brixton is. They hoping to put a leisure centre there, something that look like Clapham Common, which again, is for the middle class and for the upper class coming in… knocking down our beautiful spot that we fought for, and turn it into a block of flats and some fancy shop downstairs getting rid of the real Brixton.

Image of the Brixton Recreation Centre Sign courtesy of Brixton Buzz

So we with, Topcats [ a grassroots basketball organisation] and users group organisation have to fight hard with the community to make sure this building is listed.

Now what we need of this building…

As I say to many people, I look on this building here not as a recreation centre, but as a re-creation centre. What I mean is it was meant to re-create my generation: I have done that so I think I’m entitled to state what is needed next, right. To me, re-creation means that I’m going to come in here, I’ve got to re-create myself from the negative image of what the system did by not giving me opportunity when I was young OK…forced me into end up with a criminal conviction and have no hope. So therefore, I have to put something back in. That’s when the recreation centre was really, really useful. It get me off the street, I spent 10 years in here, until eventually decide, I don’t know if it’s a spiritual thing, that I decide I must get qualified. And now after get qualified, I now come back in being in charge of football, but I didn’t know what was needed because I was involved in Dick Shepherd Youth Centre, seeing all the negative things taking place, but didn’t know where it was going.

So what we did is, I come out after Her Majesty’s confinement, and I decide, so OK put my plan in action. What is needed? We decide to do our football as a test run, to see if we are on the right path. And 20 years later, I realised I was on the right path. The Football Club now… I’ve given over 100 young people, boys and girls, to the professional game. We have players in all part of the world from France, America, Scotland, Germany. Okay, boys and girls, right? Canada. These are what Afewee, we have done. Okay, we have players that play for England in all different levels from under 16, under 17 to the full team. Why? Because we build an organisation, an environment that we know our youngsters need. We was never exposed to successful environment. We was always put into environment where one was going just to have fun, that is a loser environment. What Afewee have done, we have created environment now when young people comes in, the environment is catered for you to be successful. A successful environment isn’t there for you to come in and have fun. And that’s what our youngsters need. So that’s what Afewee have done. And during the 20 years, Afewee has been around, we have been so successful that the Council and GLL have decided to sponsor us with a boxing club downstairs.

Image taken on the day that the REC received it’s Listing from Historic England by Sean Harris-Macintosh

So what is needed now is for we to make sure we want the building, but to be for everybody. But if I wasn’t here, if Topcats and Jimmy Rogers wasn’t here, this building wouldn’t have been here because we know that… so even though the Council and all these people say, okay, they’ve got our interests, they haven’t got our interests because we haven’t seen it done. If they do put.. yes, they put a lot into the community but it’s like flinging money down a, what you call, a well without any form of bottom… it’s a waste of time. There’s no money is put into Afewee, just passion, spirit and love for your community. That’s what Afewee is. We have created an environment that actually give kids dreams. Now we have a boxing club downstairs and we got a young lady who is England Champion and we got a young man now who’s going into be professional. I’m hoping that he will be World Champion soon. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about giving our youngsters dream why they mustn’t fail again. Why, because everywhere our youngsters look, it is a negative environment. It’s an environment where you haven’t been taught how to be successful, you haven’t been taught how to have your own business.So what we want to see from the council now is … we don’t need the council to come and think what’s best for us. We need them to come and sit down and talk to us and ask us what we want.

There is a path, Beehive Place on the side next to the Recreation Centre… there’s an entrance in there. Underneath that part there is a massive empty spot there and all the Council do is have the office furniture stuck in there. Why can’t the Council work with Nike, Adidas, all saying that they want to give money back into the community to help the black youngsters. Please, if you want to do that, put the money into that building there, so we can have that space, so we can have like a youth centre like Afewee Centre where we can have drama, education, history, Boxing Club and music studio so we can now take control and help our kids at the same time. The other part of the building can also be for everybody else, but we know that if we don’t have somebody like Afewee into the building, don’t matter what the Council said they won’t really have the interests of the real community, who the building was put here for.

The audience for the visit of South African President Nelson Mandela to the Brixton Recreation Centre on 12th July 1996. The event included a 78th birthday tribute with speeches and performances. ImageCourtesy of LB Lambeth Council, from Public Relations Photographs Ref: PR Photos 2004/3

My generation was a generation who was wild on the street. That’s the reason why we are confronting with the police. Our youngsters now frightened, they cannot leave their own place. We want to know that this building is open up with organisations here so these kids can have opportunity to come in here… it’s like a neutral ground. In all the time we have been here, there hasn’t been no serious fight from our community in this building here. When you consider there is what you call postcode, but yet there have never been any serious postcode problem from our youngsters by killing each other in this building here. So that means it is a spiritual building. So we should use it as that.

I know if I don’t help these kids, you, who think your kids are safe going to private school or going to a different area, when this kid grows up, they’ve got to meet up in the same place, they’re the same peer group. Right now, when you think your kids are safe, these kids that we ignore, didn’t give a chance, didn’t put nothing into because as far as we’re concerned, it’s not our problem, they will come back around later on and damage our kids, kill our kids, rob our kids. That’s what going on. So we must look and say all kids must be your kids if you want to safeguard your kids. So far as I’m concerned, this is the only building that I think, as a black person, we have say into and I think it must be used as a beacon of that.

Perspectives of the REC by George Finch, images courtesy of his son Sean Harris-Macintosh

Background info on The REC:
The Brixton Recreation Centre, designed by George Finch in 1970 and constructed between 1974–85, has been awarded a Grade II listing by Historic England.

A committed socialist, Finch was best known for his post-war housing projects, which were grounded in his belief that architecture, and high quality social housing, had the power to transform lives. The recreation centre was similarly built out of these principles, and has become an important social and cultural hub within the community. More here.

Amanda Carter, member of 81 Acts of Exuberant Defiance Steering group and Brixton Recreation Centre’s Users Group interviewed Steadman Scott in September 2020 in Brixton.

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