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Harlesden boasts highest number of minority-owned businesses

MR MAYOR: Bobby Thomas

COUNCILLOR BOBBY Thomas, the former Mayor of Brent (2014-15) now represents the Harlesden ward.

Here he speaks on why he loves Harlesden.

Aside from work, explain any other connections that you have to Harlesden?
Well, I was born in the UK and went to live in Jamaica at the age of seven, for 10 years. I returned to live in Harlesden in 1975. My four children went to school locally and I still live here.

The area has been praised for its vibrant Caribbean culture. How easy was it for you to acclimatise upon returning to the UK?
I found it easy! Brent is the most diverse borough in Europe and Harlesden is the area where the most Caribbean people are and Jamaicans, in particular. You felt comfortable, there was no discrimination because everyone just appreciated everyone’s culture. Even now, it just feels homely and warm. The shops have the food you want. In the summer time, you can go out and get a sky juice, just as you would back in Jamaica etc.

Where’s the best Afro-Caribbean takeaways?
You’re spoilt for choice! I frequent One Stop, Mister Patty, Trinidad Roti and Hawkeye.

‘Spoilt for choice’; so one could assume that Harlesden has a lot of black businesses?
Absolutely, I’d say so. About 90 per cent of the businesses here are minority owned and I’m not quite sure if you’d find that percentage in any other town centre.

LOTS TO OFFER: Harlesden

It’s been unofficially named London’s reggae capital. How far do you agree with that notion?
It is. I worked with a trade and development agency for the UK and global reggae industry called FORM (Federation of Reggae Music). From the 1960s onwards, there were more studios and outlets in Willesden and Harlesden for up and coming reggae stars, than anywhere else in the country. They were making hits in the area that were going to Jamaica and being number one. Artists such as Bob Marley and Dennis Brown have lived in and had a musical connection to the area.

Was Harlesden ever the bloodbath that many outsiders thought it to be, back in the early noughties?
I think the media over-exaggerated on that a bit. Back in the day, Brent as a whole did have a ‘loony’ image. They’d call it ‘Barmy Brent’. Lambeth and Hackney had the same image. It’s like, where black people congregate, they perhaps have to try and stigmatise the area and it’s not true, really. There were issues but not on the scale of how it was portrayed.

How has Harlesden progressed over the years?
Harlesden has retained its cultural identity and that’s not to its detriment. Now, you can see that people are moving into the area because they like its diversity – people from all backgrounds. TFL have just spent £5 million transforming the area, renovating the town centre, encouraging it to be more people-friendly, nice benches, streets that can be closed off quite easily for events and wide pavements.

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