South London Hardcore: "I think the place is overdue some recognition beyond street crime statistics."

Rob Pollard interviews South London's biggest promoters.

South London is a fascinating area of England. It has a rich cultural history, and was the birthplace of many iconic people: from David Bowie and Rio Ferdinand, to Ken Livingstone and Daniel Day-Lewis. Despite this, South London is often viewed negatively. Sneered at for its perceived social ills, it has a reputation for being an area riddled with crime and feral teens, with those who live above the Thames looking down on those from below. It’s the Cinderella of the capital’s sub-regions.

South London Hardcore (SLHC) is a podcast which looks closely at the area’s history, celebrating the people, ideas and art that define South London. Launched in late 2011 by Jack McInroy and Steve Walsh, SLHC has already covered many aspects of South London’s past and present: a discussion with author Alan Moore and photographer Mitch Jenkins; an insight into Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, including interviews with their star midfielder and club historian; and a detailed look at the trilogy of Lambeth-based films: Me and My Girl, Passport to Pimlico, and We Are the Lambeth Boys.

Jack feels the negativity that surrounds South London is what compelled him to launch the podcast. “I think one of the reasons for concentrating on South London is the way it is seen by people on the other side of the river. It is widely looked down on, but we have a rich history and much to take pride in. From Michael Faraday, Tim Berners-Lee, Charlie Chaplin and Mick Jones: some of the greatest and most important people to have ever lived are from here.” A desire to re-assess South London and begin celebrating its achievements rather than dwelling on its stereotypes is also important to co-presenter Steve. “Once we started doing the show we realised that people have a very firm idea of what South London is. Unfortunately it’s an idea that is perpetrated by a cultural and media bias that requires South London to live down to some very unfortunate stereotypes. South London is too often used as cultural shorthand for poverty, ignorance and violence. What we try to do on the show is to examine the rich history of the area and celebrate the people, places and ideas that we can lay claim to. South London has given the world Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie and Enid Blyton. We’ve played host to William Shakespeare, Vincent van Gogh and Mary Wollstonecraft. Transpontine thinkers were innovators in electricity, computing and the Internet. I think the place is overdue some recognition beyond street crime statistics.”

SLHC’s slogan also feeds in to this theme, as Jack is keen to explain. “Our motto is Pluvis Lutum In Tibialibus Nostris, which is latin for ‘clay dust on our socks’, a reference to lesser known tennis players that arrive at Wimbledon with orange dust stains from the clay court season still on their clothes. The idea is wherever we go where we’ve been is always evident.”

The passion of the presenters to uncover the best of South London is what makes SLHC so good. It involves detailed research and a strong desire to uncover the best South London has to offer. Steve feels the possibilities are endless. “There’s no end in sight. It’s started to feel that the more we talk about the more possibilities open up for us. It didn’t take long for us to realise though that we had actually struck upon a goldmine of material and potential points of discussion.”

So, assuming SLHC continues to grow, who would the ideal guest be? “I’d love to have Danny Baker on the show,” says Steve. “I think he’s a cracking broadcaster and I was always fascinated as a kid that this guy from our area was basically allowed to go on telly and just be funny and cheek people. Jack, on the other hand, wants either “David Bowie, Rio Ferdinand, or Gary Oldman, but at the moment I’m trying really hard to get my mate Hassan on.”

Find out more about South London Hardcore here

On the south bank, looking North. Photograph: Getty Images

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.