Residents of the Andover Estate in London are on a mission to change perceptions of their home (Picture: Melissa Cross)
A tangled network of narrow streets lead through the Andover Estate. It’s easy to get lost if you’re not from the area, with towering buildings, pinch points and a myriad of small paths weaving between hundreds of homes.
Once described as a place where ‘people sit on people’s doorsteps smoking crack pipes, doing drugs in their groin,’ the area has a reputation that’s hard to shake.
Located in the leafy Finsbury Park area of North London, the Andover Estate is a stone’s throw away from houses worth millions. One, a three minute drive away, is currently on the market for £2,700,000.
In contrast, this sprawling housing complex is jammed with 1/2/3 bed flats- the majority of which are council housing. Standing starkly in the centre is the 10-storey high Dibdin House, famed for its pyramid design and holds 61 homes.
This concrete jungle first hit the headlines 15 years ago, when many young people on the Andover Estate were branded ‘hoodies’ following a visit from MP Ann Widdecombe for a documentary.
She lived with locals for three days before heading to the Brixton’s Myatts Fields in South London. At time, the documentary described both as the ‘most crime-ridden estates’ in the capital.
Widdecombe compared the Andover Estate to a ‘dump’ and fumed that the atmosphere was ‘very nasty, very threatening.’
In one scene, the former MP and Strictly contestant met a young man outside a shop and demanded to know why his hood is up. Eventually, he replied: ‘I wear it to feel safe. I want to scare people who scare me. Not old ladies.’
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Ann Widdicome demanded that young people on the estate expain why they wore hoods (Picture: ITV)
For many, they responded it was simply a feeling of security (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
In response to the controversial documentary, a powerful film called ‘Beyond the Hoodie’ was made with the support of young residents, who felt the documentary took things out of context and gave ‘fake’ pereceptions.
Today, people living on the estate still face issues over drugs, crime and negative behaviour. Places like these are still a target for county lines gangs – it’s a short walk from Finsbury Park underground and rail station, offering easy access for drug dealers.
However, there’s far more to the development than meets the eye.
Although the housing complex has been synonymous with crime in recent years, it was considered ‘luxury’ when first built.
Constructed in the sixties, after the local council cleared post-war slum housing, the estate was part of a scheme to build ‘up’ to create more homes.
Three large triangular buildings soon merged into the skyline, named Didbin, Noll and Docura Houses. Blocks were christened Andover, Barmouth, Chard, Methley, Rainford and Yeovil after regional stations.
Researchers professor John Gabriel, Dr Alya Khan and Gulser Rose Kaya recently delved into the history of the area as part of a project with the London Metropolitan University. They interviewed 40 people to get a true insight into changing perceptions.
A typical image of how slum housing in London looked (Picture: (London Picture Archive)/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Dibdin House at the centre of the Andover Estate. In white, the community centre can be spotted (Picture: Joe Newman/SWNS)
‘I spoke to one lady who had been moved onto one of the upper floors in the sixties. She felt like she was in Buckingham Palace living so high up,’ Gulser tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Each flat had an indoor toilet, which was pretty revolutionary at the time. Before [in the slum-style housing] people had to run into their back garden, even in the middle of winter.’
Despite the development’s growing notoriety over the last few decades, for the young people living within the Andover Estate – it’s simply home.
‘Yeah, I know what people think [of us]’, 14-year-old Reon tells Metro.co.uk.
In his school uniform and a Nike jacket, he’s shielding from heavy rain in the estate’s Community Centre. The lights are dim, and a rogue firework has just been let off outside. Windows illuminate blue, signalling the all-too-familiar sight of the police arriving on the scene.
Reon remains unfazed by the commotion.
‘I’ve been on the estate for three years now,’ he continues. ‘I used to live further west in the city. People will see a bunch of Black boys living here and think a certain way based on how we look or how we walk. Police come up to us for Stop and Search even though we haven’t done anything.
Reon is all to aware of the prejudices Black teenagers face on a daily basis (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
‘If I’m chatting to someone online and they ask where I’m from, they kind of respond “ooh” when I say Andover Estate. Like they’re a bit scared, or something.
‘Sometimes people bunk school and chill in the estate. That’s when they can start going down the wrong path. They might start smoking, and if you start smoking you might start selling.’
Reon and the other kids on the estate are all too aware of the brush they’ve been tarnished with thanks to their address. However, many of them are determined to change their own narrative.
Such an opportunity has been afforded through a local youth club which was launched last year to ‘bridge a gap’ within youth provision for primary school leavers.
While younger kids can visit nearby adventure playgrounds after school, there are minimal areas on estates for older children to congregate safely.
Knowing that when teenagers start secondary school they can be at a higher risk of being exploited and drawn into serious youth violence and other criminal activity, the founders of the club wanted to find a way to counteract that.
The youth club at the Andover Estate Community Centre, managed by Triston Thomas, is a place of sanctuary for kids like Reon (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
Khalil Taipow wants to be ‘the adult he never had’ to children at the youth club (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
Lead youth worker Khalil Taipow still remembers the struggles he faced growing up in Camden in the early noughties.
Now 23, he’s disappointed at how little has changed in the perception of Black inner-city teenagers.
‘It’s quite upsetting,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I feel I’ve definitely fed into that narrative in the past because I was in and out of trouble growing up. But I beat the odds against me and now do what I can to help others. If I can do it, anyone can.
‘At the youth club, we want to give kids the opportunity to not only rebrand themselves, but also realise their potential. I try to be the support system for these kids, someone they feel comfortable speaking with or opening up to.
‘I want to be the adult I never had.’
His words resonate with Laura Thomas-Hockey who works as Head of Partnership and Development at the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, which operates the youth club.
Laura sees herself in the young people navigating the complexities of life (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
She hopes to start a trainer and tracksuit bank at the youth club – but she needs donations (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
As teenagers file into the youth club each week, she’s reminded of her own tumultuous upbringing in South London.
‘I had a lot of negative experiences growing up,’ says Laura, 44.
‘I was hanging out on the streets and didn’t go to school. So I was seen by my school as “bad”, by my parents as “bad” and by society as “bad.” I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
‘When I look at these young people, I almost see me and my friends for some reason, even though I’m in my forties now.
‘A lot of the kids on the estate are positive, clever and building themselves an incredible future. But you can’t shy away from the fact they are living at a disadvantage. Growing up on the Andover Estate is not the same as being raised in a lovely semi-detached house just two streets away.’
Laura hopes to field donations of new trainers and tracksuits for a clothing bank at the youth club, as these are two items commonly used by gangs to entice vulnerable teenagers.
She adds: ‘I hear young people talk about the ‘Gangster’ lifestyle which has been really glamourised and, as a result, can lead people down a bad path.
‘It’s easier for that to happen to kids who are economically and socially challenged. I’m careful to use those words as we don’t want kids to think that’s the only option for them.
The sprawling streets of the estate can act as a getaway route for criminals (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
‘I think having a trainer and tracksuit bank is something really positive. And the kids are excited about it as well, they’ve been talking about doing a fundraiser. With every project we do, we want it to help young people here – and also people across the borough.’
It’s a struggle for council-funded projects such as the Andover Estate youth club which – like many community services in the UK – lies in the firing line of government cuts. Staff operate on a shoe-string budget and rely on donations.
But for the Andover Estate kids, they are hopeful.
They’ve seen several former residents go on to forge success. They include former EastEnders TV actor Marc Bannerman and close-up magician and artist Fay Presto.
Skinnyman, one of the UK’s top rappers, grew up on the nearby Six Acres Estate and spent his younger years with friends wandering through the Andover Estate.
Reon feels he is now surrounded by positive role models. He’s determined to make them proud.
The 14-year-old enjoys free school meals at school thanks to the efforts of England footballer Marcus Rashford, and cites the Manchester United forward as one of his inspirations in his hopes of changing the world himself one day.
‘My life has changed in the last year. I feel I can follow my dreams now,’ he explains. ‘Youth club is just a calm place. There might be gang members outside, but we’re inside, together.
‘If there was no youth club then loads of people would be going down the wrong path.
John Gabriel, Gulser Rose Kaya and Dr Alya Khan at the Andover Community Centre (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
Hundreds of people call the sprawling Andover Estate home (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
‘Instead of activities here, we’d be chilling on the estate outside and people from other places would come. Gangs and that.
‘We support each other on the Andover Estate. Some people can be mean though, I’d say half the people you see on the estate live in the area, while half aren’t from here.’
Dr Khan, who spent time volunteering with community groups ahead as part of her research, adds: ‘Everyone is aware of the headlines they’ve read about the estate, but they have positive memories and experiences. With the youth club and other groups here, people here are building a strong sense of community every day.
‘We spent a lot of time here and got a feel for what it’s like to be on the Andover Estate. But there’s nothing like talking to the people themselves.’
For Triston Thomas, the manager of the Andover Community Centre, he knows the difference the building is making in providing a safe haven for residents.
‘Even if we help one person, it’s worth it’, he tells Metro.co.uk.
Triston Thomas hopes kids on the estate can realise their full potential (Picture: Dominic Whisson)
‘That’s one person who will be inspired to create positive change for others. When I was 15, I had no direction. Going to a youth club in Kilburn stopped me from committing crimes or joining a gang.
‘I’d have been in prison if it wasn’t for my youth club.’
Triston, 37, learned to DJ and enjoyed a successful music career in his twenties. He met lifelong friends and soon found himself in a good place, so decided to give back.
‘I knew how lucky I’d been, so wanted to do my bit,’ he explains. ‘I bumped into my first youth worker a few years ago. He had become head of youth services in Camden by this point. That was a great full circle moment, I’d made him really proud. In the same way he gave to me, I wanted to give back to others.
‘I know how tough it can be out there. When I see these kids, I don’t want them to get lost in that darkness.’
The Andover Estate youth club runs from 4.30 to 7.30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you can support the club in any way or would like to get involved, please email Laura here.
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Local residents are on a mission to change the narrative of the Andover Estate.