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Broadwater Farm: the legacy lives on

Community hero: Anthony Steele, artist, musician, ping pong champ and kung fu master

TOTTENHAM IS not necessarily a place you would expect to find a castle. But indeed, the north London town is home to Bruce Castle, originally built in 1514.

The ancient manor house is currently hosting an exhibition about life on Broadwater Farm; the Tottenham area, well remembered for the riots that took place in 1985.

Created by local community worker Odin Biddulph, the exhibition tells the story of the area through photographs, home videos and paintings on loan from the people who live and work in Broadwater Farm.

Putting together this display due to the blatant lack of local history in the area, Biddulph feels that the public must share responsibility in maintaining local heritage.

“It’s not good enough to say there’s been a void and that they [the people] have been marginalised,” he says.

“The community shares a part of the responsibility in terms of its lack of engagement with museums and history,” Biddulph says. “It’s not that people don’t respect history; they want and need their story to be told. But they don’t necessarily respect the custodians of history. I want people to really engage with their past and to feel that the museums are theirs and they have ownership of the local institutions.”

Passionate: Odin Biddulph

Dedicated to the cause, Biddulph used a government grant of £700 and spent six months knocking on doors, begging people for the artifacts.

“The absence of recent history in the area is largely to do with funding. People were overwhelmed that someone had actually bothered to take the time out to assemble documents, put pictures up and bring their story to light, because they are usually ignored.

“With some proper funding, I could develop the exhibition to give the community the full respect and attention it deserves. I think the exhibition at the moment is just a glimpse of the rich and varied cultural and social history.”

Response from some members of the public was reassuring for the curator, who was worried the subject would outrage some people. For many, Broadwater Farm is well remembered for the riots that took place in the area 26 years ago; the result of long-simmering tensions between the police and the black community.

Art imitating life: Boiling Point by Bernette Hall

Anger came to a head following the death of Cynthia Jarrett; a 49-year-old black woman who died almost instantly after police, who had earlier arrested her son, entered her home to search it. Jarrett’s death was one of the main triggers of the riots that followed.

Understandably, Biddulph had concerns about how members of the community might feel about re-living the area’s notorious past. But thankfully, the exhibition has been well-received. And Biddulph believes that the more recent riots in London proved that ignoring the past only stores up repeated problems for the future.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he says of the responses the exhibition has received. “That’s one of the most rewarding things, because there was so much fear and pressure from the council, who didn’t know how people would react.

“I like people to feel it is [the riots] an acceptable subject to talk about and it can be opened up to the wider community. It might be painful but there are issues that won’t go away without being opened up for debate.

Everyone was like ‘don’t talk about the past, don’t talk about the past’ – and then the high road burnt down [during the more recent London riots].”

Pioneer: Clasford Stirling, a founding member of the Broadwater Farm Youth Association Festival

Reflecting on the real issues behind the more recent riots, Biddulph puts the unrest down to unemployment, substandard housing and a lack of discipline. He believes the riots were a wake up call but feels the government has pressed the snooze button.

“There’s a lot of mythology about Tottenham; that everything that is bad today in Tottenham is because of the riots. They don’t talk about the mass unemployment or the huge football hooliganism problem. They don’t talk about all the issues and the danger of that, is that it then becomes a race issue, despite that fact that there were other races involved in both riots.”

Determined to bring to life the area’s rich history, Biddulph’s exhibition shines a compassionate light on the well-known area in Tottenham and offers a unique perspective on the controversial past of Broadwater Farm.

The Broadwater Farm exhibition is at Bruce Castle, Tottenham, London N17 until March 2012. For more information visit

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