Friday, 15 February 2013

Pubs and mosques

I spent the entire day today on the White City Estate. We walked for miles and miles and met some hugely interesting people including two street dancers who refuse to charge kids for the classes they run, a woman who works for an HIV drop-in centre, an astonishing Somali woman who campaigns against female genital mutilation and a man who runs a music programme in a homeless shelter in Goldhawk Road: saints, the lot of them.

This is turning into another one of those projects that it’s a privilege to be part of. The White City estate is genuinely home to a community who knows how to look after itself. I suspect much of this is due to adversity. Many are unemployed, there have been issues in the past with drugs and racism, and the buildings they live in are damp, which has caused a great many health problems with the estate’s residents.

We spent the morning speaking to a set of "community champions" to get suggestions from them on the sort of film they’d like us to make; the stories they feel we should be telling, the question we should be asking and the tone of the piece in general. There’s a call for quite an urban, “grimy” sound to the music, which will pose an interesting challenge for me.

The most fascinating part of the day was a visit to the Egyptian cafe, which sits in a grand Edwardian Pub in the middle of the estate. When Mostafah, its owner, purchased the building, it was boarded over. It had been a den of iniquity, fashionable with drug pushers and petty criminals, who even used its garden as the venue for sex parties! The building was a wreck with holes in the ceiling, but unfortunately the powers that be insisted that it remained – at least partially – as a pub. Mostafah had created a fine Middle Eastern restaurant and a wonderful Egyptian-style cafe, where local people could play Backgammon whilst smoking hookahs, but the powers refused to budge, so he begrudgingly installed a bar in a corner of the building, which he leased out to another landlord. Within a short period of time, however, the pub had started to attract drug dealers again, and was (unsurprisingly) closed down – again – by authorities. Mostafah has now turned the bar into a prayer room for local progressive Muslims, and we met the Imam as we were shown around. I’d love to see the authorities trying to argue with that! How many other pubs have been turned into mosques, I wonder?  I can’t wait to tell this particular story in song!

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