‘Nitties on the Nitty wall.’ She flashes a smile and the group laughs. She is taking us on a tour of territory starting with the place she knows best. She takes us to her home designated by masking tape and pen on the sport hall floor. ‘This is where I live’.
‘Charity shop, rival chicken shops, barriers over there where all the young kids run round’. Turns out another Agent lives just up the road where Victorian houses and once council blocks tussle for the skyline. She likes it, and adds to the scene by introducing us to the ‘mandem by the alley’. The territory has a wealth of characters and locations that the perception of developers.
Next we get taken to The Square, at the heart of Winstanley where Marcella’s mum Mercy has worked for 17 years running a beauty salon. She talks about the time when a hundred people chased a man running away and she ran too but never knew why. Somehow we all see him running still.
We go to a football pitch where ‘a lot of Somalians hang out’. ‘Not being funny but they argue quite a lot. There are also football sessions run there that loads of people go to. Round the corner is the liquor shop and corner shop where everything is cheap, everyone goes there, everyone who shoots their music videos goes there because everyone knows it.’ He takes us to level 10 where gangmembers go to smoke weed, past the bench where the yardies chill and he doesn’t go any more. His tour is thorough and expansive. It’s like a pop-up picture book. A book where another Agent pops in.
She is taking us to Doddington. She is Tamil and when her parents came to the estate 30 odd years ago they were the victims of quite a lot of racism. People put bricks through their windows. This made her parents quite scared of neighbours but as the 3rd kid by the time they got to her there relaxed a bit. She notices how it has changed: ‘It’s less ethnically diverse now, very much more European on the estate’. She reads the cars and amount of breakfast bars on Battersea Park Road as signs of economically induced change in the area. All her friends from primary school seem to have moved out and on. ‘I definitely couldn’t afford to live in the area if I didn’t stay at home. No chance.’
Next we’re taken to a park where one of the other Agents used to hang out but doesn’t now. ‘Now I stay at home. I’m too old for the park’. He takes us up the road to his uncle’s studio. This is a key network for him. He’s a rapper. One with a big heart that can open up and silence the room. He already did that earlier talking about a gangmember who inspired him to follow his dreams, who said to him ‘Everyone has the capacity to change the world but it’s your choice whether you do it or not’. This person he spoke of with the utmost love, who he knew wanted to get out of the life he lived but never had the chance. He introduces us to Aunty J, the mother of the streets, who still brings food to kids playing football in the park, who looked after him when he was young.
We’re taken forward by Mohammed, to the tracks where he runs and the various schools he frequented, chased on by his stammer until Mr Smith changed his life, gave him the time and warmth to grow confident, get the highest grade in his year group in the SATs and develop a passion for the transformative power of education. He confesses to me at lunch he didn’t think he could speak for so long about these things – you never would guess. He has the making of an incredibly powerful orator with a wonderfully clear thought process.
Jumaimah takes us to Balham, an area she knows better, she lights up the room with recent fireworks, not always lighting the right places.
Marygold takes us by grins to her Aunty’s house, her Aunty who thinks ‘I am too young to have a husband,’ or a boyfriend, as does her Dad. She holds the room in giggles and gets a grinning interrogation from Zennae-Kay and Jumaimah about where she lives (Roehampton). All the girls tell her: ‘boys are more trouble than they are worth’.