Friday, 6 January 2012

Stephen Lawrence: Memories of the Brook Estate

This is a guest post by Lee Cox who grew up on the Brook Estate, Eltham which alongside the neighbouring Progress Estate was home to the racist gang which killed Stephen Lawrence.

Despite this week's convictions, and two decades passing, these estates have struggled to overcome the reputation that follows them in newspaper headlines to this day. Here Lee Cox shares his own rather different memories of growing up on the estate at the time:

Memories of the Brook Estate by Lee Cox

I grew up in a family of four brothers, and for 21 years, always lived in the same street, on the now infamous "Brook Estate."

So to the memories, which can be funny things, often romanticised, sometimes chronologically askew, but all very personal, and these, are mine of those years.

It was a council estate, and for all of my childhood my parents rented the accommodation, and with many other occupants were working class people (I always struggle nowadays to know if we should or shouldn't categorise by class, but these are memories so I'll stick with it.) Mrs Thatchers right to buy initiative changed that in the eighties.

Dad, after living a 'jack of all trades' existence, became, through the guidance and support of mum and his friends who helped him attain the profession through city and guilds classed at night school, a plumber, in the employ of the local authority. 

Mum did what many wives did and, still do, working one or more jobs in the evenings, to help swell the coffers and fund the ever rising cost of feeding 4 "growing lads".

We were all taken to the local toddler group, all went to the nearby primary school, and would play on the green (although of course "no ball games allowed") next to our end of terrace house.

We were close to our immediate neighbours, played in each others gardens with their children, and there were various street party's to celebrate the Queens jubilee and the wedding of Charles and Diana.

There were the run of the mill events, minor burglaries, accidents in the two uprights of the ladder configuration of roads that comprised the estate. 

The estate was a rat run for traffic on the Rochester Way/A2, so these accidents and other pressures brought to bear the relief road being built in 1988), yet we always felt safe in our surroundings.

In addition to school, we were encouraged by our parents to try various other activities, these included the local youth club, boys brigade and most extensively and life affirming, the Scout Association, which I personally was involved with from the age of 8 until I was 25.

None of this was easy for my parents, to either support financially or logistically, but ways were found, clothes were handed down etc etc.

We were always aware of the 'bad boys' and 'street rakers' that lived on or near the estate, but frankly this was never an overbearing problem for us or our parents as they always knew where we were and what we were doing, and more importantly, they were interested in these details. 

The estate was populated by families from a range of ethnicities. I never felt an overbearing sense of racial tension, this wasn't the 60's, I have always felt that I live in a multi cultural society and the Brook Estate epitomised this. At no time did I perceive a large presence of police, it was normal to see them on the street from time to time of course.

The only recollection I have is of my eldest brother being stopped and searched on his way home one day, as he matched the description of someone who had burgled a house on the estate.

I think it's extremely sad that the events of 1993 occurred, and that only now any semblance of a resolution has happened. It’s my strong belief that the parental guidance, love and at I and my brothers received is the reason that we never brought any of the disappointment and dark clouds to their door that have surfaced in the press in recent weeks.

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