‘We don’t want slums back’
MP’s warning at meeting aimed at saving Finsbury Park from falling victim to the recession
ISLINGTON North MP Jeremy Corbyn has called for Finsbury Park to fight the recession and save young people from the danger of growing up in a “1980s-style slum where they waste their lives on benefits”.
He spoke out on Monday night at a packed public meeting called to discuss the effects of the downturn, attended by more than 200 residents, traders and business leaders in the area.
Mr Corbyn described Finsbury Park as a vibrant area with huge numbers of creative industries and people and a fabulous array of food outlets and restaurants.
The three-hour meeting was held at the Rowan Bowling Centre, opposite Finsbury Park station.
Mr Corbyn said: “This is an area with so much to offer and where people want to work. There are vast numbers of people coming into Finsbury Park every week, either to buy clothes in Fonthill Road, go to Arsenal, or visit a religious centre.
“We have shops and restaurants selling African, Algerian, Turkish and Caribbean foods. It’s a great area. I live nearby and I’m proud of it.”
Two of the major banks, NatWest and Barclays, were also represented at the meeting.
The audience heard that banking staff are being tarred by the activities of big financiers – but that they too are under threat of job loss.
Mr Corbyn said: “There are problems like unemployment and poverty in Finsbury Park. But the message is that there are an awful lot of people with skills, determination and enthusiasm who want to make something of themselves and of this area.”
Speakers at the meeting complained about litter, graffiti and “tackiness” affecting the area.
Courtney Bailey, chairman of the Finsbury Park Business Forum, who organised the meeting, called for major improvements.
He said he was pleased that the previous London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, had rebuilt access to the station, but disappointed there was no money under the present Mayor Boris Johnson for lifts and disabled access.
Mr Bailey employs a staff of 19 in an energy and entertainment company called the 8000 Group.
He said he called the meeting because a London Development Aid funding grant for the area had come to an end.
“This means that we in the Forum will now have to raise money and sponsorship,” said Mr Bailey.
The government-aided LDA provided business support and financed local projects.
Mr Bailey added: “But there is still a lot to be done. The Finsbury Park station railway bridge in Seven Sisters Road is a disgrace. It really brings the area down and desperately needs cleaning.
“Long term, we intend to carry on supporting business. Find out what they want. We have big problems with parking charges, which are putting people off coming to shop and eat in the area. Many businesses are struggling in the recession, but I believe things will eventually get better.”
NatWest representative, Julian Wells, said his bank was turning away from sales and providing financial advice to business in the downturn. He said redundancy should not be the first course of action.
“There are alternatives to redundancy,” he added. “There’s short-term working, temporary lay-offs, recruitment freezes and overtime bans.
“As with all banks, our staff are under threat of job loss in this recession. We’re not a big elite.”
Terry Harrison, general manager of Rowan Leisure, which owns the iconic bowling centre, open for 20 years, said business was down over the past two months.
He added: “Corporate entertainment is down and there are fewer non-weekend events.
“We’re reducing our prices to attract more people and introducing new ideas like Sunday karaoke.
“We’ve trimmed the hours of our staff and overheads. We switch the lights off at night. Everything helps.”
Ken Short, the retired vicar at St Mark’s church in Tollington Park, has been drafted in to help the parish.
He said that his daughter was unable to sell her flat near the Emirates stadium and is now facing negative equity.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he added.
Robert Fenton, who runs a number of small companies at the Business Design Centre in Angel, offered some hope.
“I have a modelling agency that’s not doing so well,” he said.
“But I have just launched a new retraining business for people who want to work on the internet. I’ve a number of unemployed people doing the course and it’s going very well. “I’m proof that by being creative and adaptable you can survive the recession.”
Azad Ayub, a property consultant, described the recession as a double-edged sword.
“On one hand, interest is going down, which is good, but there’s no money for those who want to buy property,” he said. “The banks must make it easy to obtain loans because properties have never been cheaper for the first-time buyer.”