Reporting from the ‘war zone’

I’ve blogged before about the Guardian being unfair about the Cally. Now the Independent has done the same.

I usually like reading the Independent, not just because it gives the Lib Dems a fairer hearing than most, but because it tends generally to have a sensible, humane, small l liberal approach.

Columnists like Deborah Orr give a welcome common-sense counterpoint to the hysterical hyping that can happen, particularly on issues like crime.

Not so much, however, in last week’s piece about Cally and Holloway by Amol Rajan. As its lurid headline “The war zone: How the notorious London neighbourhood they call the ‘V’ is fighting for its life” suggests, the article would not be amiss in the Daily Mail, from its description of “feral youth” to characterising the whole area between York Way and the Cally as a “war zone”. He even uses the phrase “tabloid stereotype” apparently without irony.

What’s the reality on the ground? No-one denies that the Cally has problems – hence the recent dispersal zone – but it also has many positive things going for it, not least its community spirit.

Last week I was door-knocking on the Bemerton estate with my team. Worries about lifts and leaseholder charges were the main issues. The week before on North Road, it was recycling facilities, the local park and bus routes. People worry about crime, housing, and making ends meet. Ordinary folk, with ordinary concerns; not a war zone.

On Friday morning I happened to have coffee with a friend at Gran Sasso, a neighbourhood Italian cafe on the Cally. We were talking about how, despite some high profile cases, the area is much cleaner and safer than it was when we first lived there years ago. Also in the cafe, two of the local Safer Neighbourhood Team were meeting a community activist who is a leading supporter of the Cally-based Copenhagen Youth Project. That’s typical of the area.

Every week there are examples of good people doing good things. On Saturday the York Way estate held its successful fun day; the week before it was the Lumpy Hill adventure playground fun day. On Thursday night I was talking with one of the community safety officers about progress tackling vice crime around Market Road. On Sunday I had tea with some members of Islington Veterans Association, who meet at Fr Jim’s church, just off the Cally. Tonight I’ll be applauding Islington Youth Theatre, based near North Road, as they perform at the National.

St Andrew’s School, which serves the Cally, is an outstanding school that has just appointed an outstanding head. This week Sparkplug, an excellent youth motorbike project, has its annual award ceremony. The Times Boxing Club is getting extra funding from the Council. And so it goes on.

Now the Indy has printed a response from the borough Police commander plus a joint letter from Cllr Terry Stacy, the Lib Dem council leader with Paul Convery (one of the Labour local councillors for the Caledonian ward) and Fr Jim Kennedy the well-respected local priest. They reject the idea that the area is a “war zone” and point to the good work of many local groups. But will their letters catch the eye the way the original article did?

Rajan’s piece is full of inaccuracies. He says the local landmarks are the prisons, without mentioning the Cally clocktower, City & Islington College or Kings Cross station. He talks about the Prospex charity being homeless, without mentioning that it’s been offered a home by a local church (subject to planning permission…). He calls the area the ‘V’, not a name I’ve ever heard used for the place, while in the same breath saying that it has no official name (er, what about North Kings Cross?) and then agreeing that it is known locally as the Cally.

The article strikes me as a tasteless piggy-backing on the death of Ben Kinsella, without any real understanding of the community that is still mourning him. There’s never been any suggestion that Ben was killed because he was on ‘someone else’s turf’.

The ‘V’ that springs to my mind for Mr Rajan is the one formed with two fingers.



  1. Islington Tory said

    This is a little bit pathetic isn’t it? From my knowledge, and from what he writes in the article, Mr Rajan has been putting in good work with Prospex to provide some support for young people in the Caledonian Road area. Whilst he may have written some things that have proven to be controversial or ill-advised, I don’t think that anyone from any political party should be sticking two fingers up at his efforts.

  2. bridgetfox said

    Hello Islington Tory!

    I’m genuinely angry about the way one sensational or careless article can undermine years of hard work by so many community volunteers.

    Do you think it is fair or helpful to call the Cally a war zone?

    And I’m all the more angry because this comes from an apparently reputable source: a former youth worker writing in the Indy. Both should know better!

  3. Councillor Andrew Cornwell said

    Islington Tory – the fact that Labour councillor Paul Convery, usually a bitter critic of the Lib Dem council and never one to understate the problems in his ward, and the Lib Dem leader Terry Stacy have written jointly to rebut this article might give you a clue that it is way off beam.

    The area is changing rapidly with significant public and private investment.

    Violence involving young people remains a problem across London but it is hardly confined to the Cally. Where were the articles describing Islington Green as a war zone when a young person was tragically murdered there?

  4. […] The Tribune has an article “Storm over ‘war zone’ jibe”, with responses from civic leaders and myself. They also print the joint letter from council leader Terry Stacy, Labour councillor Paul Convery and local priest Fr Jim Kennedy referred to in my earlier posting. […]

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