On Wednesday 27th of April, ten young people, from Haverstock School in Chalk Farm and Rosebery School in Epsom, and two Elders from different boroughs of London participated in the ‘Crossing Borders’ workshop organized by the Hanging Out Project and Full Spectrum Productions. The workshop was aimed to enable young and elders to share their thoughts and experiences on the entertainment they enjoy today and where they travel to in London to hang out.
Before the actual discussion, Lorna Holder, Sharon Rapaport and the volunteers introduced themselves and gave a brief overview of the project. Right after that, George Kelly, an artist from Jamaica who has been living in London since he was 14, introduced himself and talked about the way he used to hang out when he was young. In his words, ‘I was fortunate as a young boy because my mother gave me money to buy a motorscooter which gave me the freedom to move around and to travel between different areas in London and was not confined to Brixton.’
‘Step out of your safety zone and don’t be afraid to experience new things’
Another thing that enabled him to travel around England was his band, ‘Samandi’; ‘people liked it and we toured a lot around England’. He stressed that ‘people valued each other’s lives’ a lot more than they do now; they would fight, but not to a dangerous extent.’ The greatest change in Mr Kelly’s life came when he was 19 and he explored the West End of London.
The other volunteer elder was Ann Femi, an African woman from Nigeria born in 1949. ‘My parents were strict and wanted me to live a sheltered life but I was naughty and adventurous’, she said. Although not allowed, Mrs Femi narrated that she used to hang out with her older sister or other older relatives and went out secretly, without the permission of her parents. ‘Being different back in the 60s had its own powers and qualifications. Now young people are afraid to be different’, she mentioned. Indeed, the discussion that followed proved exactly Mrs Femi’s point.
"Don’t be fake; be yourself"
After the elders introduced themselves, Mrs Rapaport, the oral historian, opened the discussion from the volunteer’s point. Lee, a university student at London Metropolitan, said: ‘It has always been an event to come to London. My mother gave me usually £10 in order to buy a McDonald’s and probably a T-shirt. I spent my day walking up and down Oxford Street.’
Gire, another university student, said: ‘I lived a bit outside London and whenever I would come to central London, I spent hours doing nothing; just walked around. I remember the picture of a group of boys following the group of girls.’
"Oxford Street was something different to do; we were just looking around but could feel the different atmosphere"
When the discussion came to relationship of people within the same community and between different communities, the two students said: ‘Epsom is a quiet area to live, so people respect each other within the community.’
"I don’t feel safe in other areas to stay late, whereas within my area, I know how people behave, I know how people act and I know how to talk to people. I feel safer"
Ann Femi, noticing the difference between now and then, said ‘people are a lot more integrated than they were in the 60s and relationships are hugely improved between people from different backgrounds.’
Most of the students at Haverstock school in Chalk Farm, agreed that ‘Camden is not really a place that Camden locals regard as a big thing. We go out more, buy stuff from shops or meet at Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath and hang around at the parks.’
Julie, a volunteer from the Metropolitan archives oral history workshop, asked the volunteers how easily they interact with people from different communities. Contrasted to what the elders and students from Epsom had said, most of the students argued that ‘you can’t really go around London cause there is a lot of violence and gangs. It’s hard to mix well with other boroughs because they will look at you as a foreigner.’
"Maximise the energetic young self by focusing on your positive side"
George Kelly expressed his dissatisfaction about the way things are nowadays. ‘Life is about expanding one’s being and imagination. Now that there is no racial separation, I can’t see why one would be afraid to cross the borders. Meeting people from other backgrounds has always enabled me to expand my horizons-young people have lost that. Hunger to discover places is replaced by an atmosphere of fear which is strengthened by the media.’, he said.
A student who grew up in Chalk Farm argued that ‘the problem is not about ethnicities; you can’t be racist while growing up in Camden. It basically has to do with the fact that people are unsure of the area.’ The next thing that the volunteers discussed had to do with the preparations that they do before going out. At this point, there was a clear difference between the elders’ perspective and the youngers’. Ann Femi, expressing once again her gratitude towards her older sister, said ‘resources to go out came from older sister; I didn’t get dressed at home cause I was going out secretly.’
George Kelly familiarized the young volunteers with the ‘made to measure’ concept, which was completely new to them. Being himself a dedicated follower of fashion, he had his favorite tailor creating and measuring clothes on him. At the age of 29 he realized that he should get out of fashion cause it costs too much. The only thing he remained committed to, was to avoid ‘things British’ and to enable the creation of a different culture within the existing one.
The volunteers, mostly the female ones, agreed that nowadays it takes time to dress up because it involves doing the hair and taking care of the make-up. Unlike older generations, the students said that they care more about fitting in with the style of their friends than about imitating celebrities and fashion icons.
The final question that the volunteers were asked was about social networking. The majority of the volunteers agreed that social networking has proved helpful in planning nights out, inviting people and organizing events although many argued that ‘it has made people more anti-social, than social.’
The elders, although less familiarized with the, realized that ‘networking has become extremely instant now and that things have become really fast.' In addition, Ann Femi recognized Facebook’s contribution in ‘getting people to think politically and socially’ by referring to the recent example of the Student Protests.
The discussion was an interesting result of ‘clash of different experiences’ that enabled everyone to create a more rounded view of what is happening in areas other than they ones they live and what was happening decades in terms of experiences on going out, meeting people and socializing.
The workshop ended with everyone sharing a message. Almost all messages were narrowed down to ‘Don’t be fake; be yourself’, ‘Step out of your safety zone and don’t be afraid to experience new things’ and ‘Maximise the energetic young self by focusing on your positive side’.