More than 300 people, plus TV crews and newspaper reporters, turned out in South Norwood last night to show solidarity with Grenfell and reject racism. But who was the only one to talk to the reporter from The Sun?
KEN TOWL reports, main photo by CHRISTOPHER HOPE-FITCH
“It was that fucking video,” says Ian Bone, de facto head of the South Norwood Tourist Board, when I ask him why he decided to organise a silent march in solidarity with the survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire.
The SNTB has, until now, confined themselves to activities which border on the surreal, producing, for example, T-shirts with the logo “Don’t Fuck with the Tourist Board”, campaigning to have a local lake named after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes had lived in South Norwood once), and organising magical mystery tours around the neighbourhood.
The video Bone referred to is, of course, the widely circulated film made by members of the South Norwood Conservative Club (their rather contrite website now says it is “a friendly club with real ale and entertainment”. It doesn’t add “as long as you are white”. It seems to gloss over that part) which depicted the burning of an effigy of Grenfell Tower while those present made hateful remarks about the victims.
Bone goes on to say that, from a SNTB point of view, he felt shame and anger when he realised that South Norwood might become synonymous with hatred because of the actions of an unrepresentative bunch of racists.
And so the silent march was organised. On a chilly November evening, we gathered outside Norwood Junction station, the SNTB, some 300 or so local residents, the South Norwood Woodcraft Folk (and you know you are on the side of the righteous when you are marching with the Woodcraft Folk), the Croydon branch of standuptoracism.org, and a some Labour councillors.
All credit is due to Patsy Cummings (who represents South Norwood ward), Clive Fraser (South Norwood) and Niroshan Sirisena (Fairfield) for turning up and quietly joining the march.
There were, you will be unsurprised to learn, dear reader, no Conservative councillors who wanted to show solidarity with the victims of Grenfell Tower.
The march was accompanied, also, by a local television news crew, and some newspaper reporters, including one from The Sun.
She was shunned by most, greeted with cries of “Hillsborough!” and “Justice for the 96!” by many. Only one person was observed being interviewed by The Sun: the Labour council’s cabinet member for gentrification, Paul Scott.
According to SNTB people, Cummings – who may, or may not, be seeking to run as Labour’s candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the London Assembly election in 2020 – did ask at the end if she could address the crowd. “I said we weren’t having speeches,” said one of the organisers.
The procession headed past the South Norwood Clocktower and along Portland Road, running a gauntlet of upturned thumbs and smiles from shopkeepers and shoppers alike, to the swimming baths, a short enough distance but, as Bone said, he wanted to keep it inclusive, a concept with which the members of the South Norwood Conservative Club would no doubt struggle.
There were a couple of quick thank yous from the SNTB and from a representative of the Grenfell families, and it was announced that the Portland Arms was providing free soup to the marchers. This turned out to be not only a welcome show of solidarity but also an astute business decision.
The soup was fine, a nice detail on a cold night, but I have to confess to moving on rather quickly to the beer, a pint of Portland Ale at £4 per pint.
I joined members of the SNTB and found a friendly bunch of people who shared a profound pride in their local community and a keen sense of its fragile reputation.
This latest incident, they told me, had galvanised them into “really getting organised”. A message to those who think it is OK to propagate racist hatred: Don’t fuck with the South Norwood Tourist Board.
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