by Peter Nolan
HALF a dozen play
groups, a teenage bedsitter project. a legal advice centre and a tenants' cooperative arc some of the fruits of one couple's fouryear residence in a London slum.
Mrs. Anne Power's first active involvement with social problems began when she visited Spain while taking a degree in modern languages at Manchester University.
She said: "1 went there to study Spanish and began working with the Vangaardia Ohtete, a movement fighting for workers' rights, at a time when it was quite normal for ten-year-olds to work in factories."
While studying at the University of Wisconsin, she and her husband Jonathan, a journalist and member of the Justice and Peace Commission of England and Wales. met the Rev. Martin Luther King.
Their experiences in his Southern Christian Leadership Conference led to Islington's first Martin Luther King adventure playground and the title of Mrs. Power's report on her community project: "I Woke Up This Morning"— an American Black Freedom movement song.
'TERRIFIC RESPONSE' In September 1967 Mrs. Power formed her first playgroup in Islington. "I just began by knocking on doors outside which I saw a pram, and got a terrific response." she said. "Our operation was better than each mother looking after her own child in a pokey little room by herself."
The project began with 16 lent by the Quakers. who also provided the premises, and mothers paid 73p a session. From the very beginning, Mrs. Power helped the mothers to organise things for themselves. and soon a grant was secured
from Islington Borough and one mother had begun a oneday-a-week play-leader course, to be followed by five others.
Mrs. Power's success soon involved her in other problems. "There are 400 families registered as homeless in the borough at any one time." she said. "But mere eviction or being thrown onto the street does not necessarily qualify you to be registered. The real figure for homelessness is much higher."
WORST HOUSING Islington's quarter of a million inhabitants, 90 per cent of whom are English or Irish, live "in damp, overcrowded rooms with shared toilets and the continued insecurity of renting from private landlords," she writes in her report, published this month.
The borough has the worst housing of any in London. and its children learn about life "amid dirt and heavy traffic, stairways and doorways."
Mrs. Power had been there a year when 500 private tenants in furnished accommodation received notice to quit from their landlords as a result of council redevelopment plans.
The council „refused to rehouse the tenants unless they had lived at the same address for ten years — a condition few could fulfil. The Powers backed a Housing Action Group formed by the tenants, which gained publicity for their case through petitions and public meetings. The council finally agreed to rehouse all the families.
SCANDAL The Housing Action Group continued to meet fortnightly to help tenants with their problems. The house used by the original play-group two more had been formed, and an adventure playground constructed by 1969 — also became a housing advice centre with lawyers offering their services free on a Wednesday night.
When the Barnsbury Park scandal occurred, the Powers were at the centre of the storm. Neo-Georgian Barnsbury Park in Islington was taken over by developers and provided homes for affluent middle-class professional people. The cost was the eviction of three local families for the conversion and resale of a house for one middle-class family.
Mrs. Power records an older resident who said : "They pulled up the cobbles 30 years ago and now it's f20,000 to put them back." The "fascinating mixture" of the area attracted the well-shod newcomers.
A . traffic scheme which would have "pushed traffic onto poorer. more overcrowded roads" outside Barnsbury Park was resisted by the Barnsbury Action Group, formed by local residents.
CONVERTED "They threatened to run rival candidates in the council elections unless Labour took up the problem. so they got action," said Mrs. Power. "Property development is still a problem. Developers creep in once an area becomes fashionable.'
More and more houses were being bought and converted, often with substantial grants from the local authority. more tenants being pushed out. But Mrs. Power's report notes: "Barrisbury has become a byword in planners' jargon for how not to implement urban renewal."
Islington's teenagers, hundreds of whom drop out of school "because there is nothing in it for them," hang around the area workless. Mrs. Power sees their predicament as one of the community's greatest problems.
"Even if they take up a job and work steadily after leaving school, they are fired at 18 because employers have to pay more for them. It is like being rejected twice — once by the school system and then by employers."
BED-SITTERS The Powers have helped to set up a teenagers' club in premises beside the adventure playground, used by playgroups in the afternoon. They now have a local teenager as a full-time worker, paid for by Christian Aid.
He runs the club with the help of an elected committee and will soon be joined by another leader, a West Indian, now training.
Other projects the Powers have helped include a teenage bed-sitter scheme, which ac commodates 30 girls in three houses and a tenants' cooperative whose 50 members meet fortnightly and collect information about houses corning up for sale.
The Powers believe there are tremendous human resources in the Islington community which have barely begun to be tapped. Since the arrival of Mrs. Power, who lives with her two young children in a very ordinary terrace in Liverpool Road, 17 different projects have been started, largely by local people.
Her report says: "Without a computer. the experts cannot take all the necessa ry factors into account. But the computer does not see the way we have to live . . . One tenant has no power with the council — but 50 have courage and have to be answered."