South of the River – Ten years gone

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015. I’m not sure what this year will hold, but I know Beeston will find itself in the media spotlight again in July.

7 July 2015 will be the 10th anniversary of 7/7, the London bombings. Three of the four young men that blew themselves up, killing 52 innocent people and injuring 700 more, lived or worked in Beeston and Holbeck. Beeston will be forever linked with the atrocity.

South Leeds Life has decided to mark the impending anniversary by talking to some key local people about the events and the ten years that have followed. We will be publishing the articles in full on the blog next week and in an edited form in our January newspaper, which will be out next week.

We decided to do this because we know the big media will write about us and we wanted to get our version out there first. Ten years ago, journalists, at least some of them, seemed to have written their story on the train up from London leaving a few gaps for names, dates and street names. They didn’t try to find out about our community, they’d already made up their minds and found evidence to back up their version of the story.

I interviewed four people for the articles and I’ve read the other three pieces. I found the process very interesting and the subtle differences in perspective genuinely enlightening. The eighth offering is this column. I don’t claim to be a key person, but I was then and am now a ‘community activist’. I was involved in a small way with Beeston’s reaction to being thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. So here’s my take on it.

I’ll let others talk about the media frenzy and focus on the community reaction. I’ve written about this before, but there was a determination and angry energy about how people responded. The media implied that Beeston had bombed London. We hadn’t and we wanted to show that lots of good things happen in Beeston and that the bombers didn’t represent our community.

That feeling was present from the first vigil on Tempest Road, the trip to London to lay a wreath at Kings Cross and the peace march into Leeds city centre. It lasted several years afterwards too. There were meetings held to discuss how we could work more closely together. South Leeds Community Radio was launched as a result. I was involved in putting together Tiger11, buying and refurbishing the Hillside school building. It wasn’t a coincidence that the first board was so diverse or that we adopted the strapline ‘Together Moving Forward’.

Hillside might have been primarily an economic regeneration project, but we were all clear that we wanted it to reach across the different sections of the community and to benefit everyone. I wanted something else too. By creating a quality meeting venue, I wanted to get people from other parts of the city to visit Beeston and find out how ordinary it is (in an extraordinary way of course). I wanted them to have a positive experience, discover it’s safe to get out of your car in South Leeds and that your car won’t be stolen whilst you’re in the meeting.

In other words I wanted to help people overcome their fears of something ‘other’.

In the years that followed we mostly just got on with our lives. If asked about Beeston I would say we had excellent community relations, just look at Beeston Festival. But then in the last eighteen months I’ve seen another side of community relations with the Aspiring Communities project and the reaction to their plans.

Most people who oppose the development have genuine concerns about traffic, parking and noise. However, it was quite clear in September’s public meeting and in some of the comments published on this blog (and especially the comments we didn’t publish because they would put us outside the law) that some of the objectors hold racist views.

I think there is a genuine fear amongst some people in Beeston that what appears to be a bunch of men with dark skins and long beards want to set up something round the corner from their homes. These people look like the terrorists that they see on the television news and in their newspapers.

The shame is that the project is precisely trying to overcome that gap, that fear of the ‘other’ and help improve integration. Something else we’ll see in 2015 is whether the Aspiring Communities project is allowed to proceed or not.

But I want to go back to 7/7. The question we will be asked is what has changed in Beeston and the sub-text will be could more bombers come from here?

Since 2005 I’ve been saying there was nothing special about Beeston. I believe there are small groups of young men in inner city neighbourhoods right across Britain. They look at the problems in the world, be it Kosovo, Palestine or Syria; they say we must do something; and then they draw the wrong conclusions and head down the cul-de-sac of extremism and terrorism.

The only thing that marks out Beeston is that our little group wasn’t spotted and managed to carry out their plan with its horrendous consequences.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

3 Replies to “South of the River – Ten years gone”

  1. Another unbiased report from the Author !!! . Aspiring communites are so glad they have you on board and now you are calling the racist card . When you said the words ” that some people ” how many people are you talking about . I was at that joke of a public meeting and ” that some people ” was an elderly man who was actually told to be quiet by everyone at the beginning of the sham meeting . How many “that some people ” actually think dark skinned people with beards are terrorists . Your comments are a disgrace . I look forward to your reply .

  2. Whats the easiest way to stop an argument you are loosing?,,get out the racist card.
    Unaspiring conmunities must have thought that they had won the lottery getting a rose tinted spec wearer like you on board jeremy .
    I cant get over the way you have been duped into thinking that the barkly road mosque will ever be anything other than a mosque.
    What planet are you living on ??
    And your statement about dark skinned men with beards .
    Isnt it these types of men going out to fight jihad , beheading people ,blowing people up and molesting kids ??
    So yes the people on the barkly road side of the park do want to keep these undesirables out of the area

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