Interview with
Brian Marsh
former Hackney Councillor
13/7/98

1.What are the dates that you were a Hackney Councillor?

1972-1982 Moorfields (home ward) elected as one of two successful Labour party candidates, other candidates included the National Front. THe HQ for their "national" organisation was at Great Eastern Street EC2.
1982-86 Stood again in Moorfields but with collapse of NF due to the successful planning objection removing their HQ increasing the Liberal vote making them the members for the ward. Switched votes and low turn-outs were militating factors.
My efforts were diverted to community management commitees of various voluntary bodies which I had helped found during my previous term of office. These still exist in the main. The difference is that they are now trusts or charitable companies limited by guarantee.
1986-1994 Elected in dalston ward and served two terms concentrating on environmental & community issues both at local and London wide level. This as a consequence of the Greater LOndon Council abolitrion and diminution of strategic responsibilities into Section 101 committees. These were comprised of delegated members from the 32 London Boroughs & the City of London. They were vital for the implementation of legislation eg. Road Traffic Act, Environmental protection act 1991. There was also a European representation dimension in liason with MEP's, Associuation of Metropolitan Authorities (AMA) & Association of London Authorities (ALA). The Greater London Arts Council and London Borough Grants Committee played a lower key and diminished role after the subsequent removal of the Inner London Education Authority.This was bitterly opposed as with the GLC but forced through the "paving" of bills. I played a part as LBH representative at various times. I was an Inner London Magistrate and Governor of various educational bodies throughout, this was not a consequence of elected membership but obviously connected. I was also active in International Twinning and Trade Union liason, again complimentary. I retired from the bench in 1996 after Adult, family Panel & Juvenile Court experience. I remain a School Governor and Magistrates member but more lower key.
1994-98 Elected as Labour Party member (one of two) for North Defoe ward in Stoke Newington.
1998 stood as Labour party candidate (one of three). My two colleagues were elcted. I narrowly missed out to a Liberal Democrat possibly because of unmerited but justified identification with 'old guard' Councillors.
My future intentions are as a Trustee of various environmental groups and bodies dealing with provision for the elderly with disabilities particularly in the Shoreditch area but with wider remits, where art can influence the "built environment" and greening" has been and will be a priority. I retain local interest and perhaps some influence in education across the age ranges, and in planning and environmental bodies in national forums.
My full time occupation was as a computer systems hardware engineer with GPO/BT throughout the above period and prior to it.This was working on contracts to large City firms and institutions. I also was an elected officer of the POEU/CWU City Branch over the period. I represented 2000/3000 members and I served in various capacities from Deputy Chairman to Welfare Officer. Various changes throughout the time leading to privatisation meant taking part in delicate and fraught negotiations.

2. Could You give some background to the Ellingfort Road Redevelopment and how over 15 years or so the plans have changed?

As above I represented a neighbouring ward during that time and served on the planning committee, as well as chairing the economic development committeee which was in the Chief Executives area and nominally could co-ordinate planning, leisure and community initiatives. Theoretically it could resolve inter directorate rivalries and jealousies. This with some limited success but more pertinently I started the site visit & local constituent liaison process. Following the Watts riots in California the UK government sent a Commons study group to examine the "have not" and deprivation through institutionalised racism comparisons with inner city areas in the UK. The conclusion was injections of monies (75% capital 25% revenue) spending to regenerate failing economies and voluntary networks. This from the DoE and DTI (environment and industry ministries central funds). This was later made more vital by the subsequent Brixton "riots" and the Scarman report. "Partnership" schemes with twinned neighbouring boroughs and joint projects of Greater London Council, Inner London Education Authority & the Local Health Authority were given individual project budgets. Discrete Council units were to co-ordinate these with advice from community "forums" of voluntary groups. These to be allied with Employment schemes of a temporary nature. STEP and YOP were two of such and lent themselves to the lifestyle of artists and educators, sometimes synonymous and were carried through "off the shelf" schemes which in some cases made real local pipe dreams. Local mobility arrangements through the purchase of mini buses by religious groups were another relevant feature enabling choirs and other similar performing arts to progress.
In the London Fields area CPO powers to create an Industrial Improvement Area created a temporary blighted housing stock, lasting almost to the present day. Squatted properties were recognised and regularised as short life licenses eventually to become cheap but not particularly salubrious accomodation attractive to low income artists. Inter locking communities of similar minded people formed with the added ingrediant of cultural centres such as the Chinese Centre, Asian Womens Advice and the All Nations Club (largely Afro Carribean). Broadway Market gradually revived with a sprinkling of ethnic retail businesses. In addition to residential properties used as studios many of the larger manufacturing buildings in former Eastern refugees ownership were converted into smaller units incorporating design and arts enterprises.The larger rag trade industry died on its feet having survived in constant liquidity due to fashion changes and enthrallment to the West End stores being terminated. This sector rose from its ashes with the new refugees from Asia and Africa with their distictive cultural attractions and self sufficiencies. The spin off's were reflected in Art forms and more enlighted activities in the local junior and primary schools and churches augmented by Partnership funding. Similar village type experiences were taking place in Dalston, focused on Ashwin Street and Ridley Road Market, Stoke Newington Church Street, Clissold Park, and Leswin Road Fire Station, Hackney Downs, Lower Clapton & the Huddlestone Centre and Hoxton Street, Hoxton Hall & Shoreditch Park, Finsbury Park & Gillespie Road & the Sobell Centre, Chats Palace, Chatsworth Road, Daubeney Fields & Hackney Marshes.
Co-ordinating bodies such as People in Partnership, ( later Hackney Community Action), Festival Support Group and Hackney Arts Forum ably abbetted by the Planning Directorate and the Further Education department of the ILEA, and the local police assisted the Network of Religious Groups, tenants associations, Arts companies, sports clubs and youth organisations.
Inevitably community politic, personality clashes, and rival misconceptions and corruption allegations flitted in and out but in the main the message got through and no serious conglagrations ensued. This apart from the traditional bonfire night event which took on an artistic form. Regrettably a small number of fatal racist attacks disd occur and were exploited to create some alienation but faults of individuals rather than organisations.
Across Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets a similar scene was being played out with resident artist groupings. With similar catalysts of street and open space Festivals and parades providing vehicles for local expressions and talents with a political message, not all bread and circuses however. The initial four year lifespan of the partnership was extended to a tapering off seven years co-inciding with the demise of three of the partners referred to earlier. Diluted legacies persist but a lot of confrontation has gone to be replaced by different challenges such as drug addictions, care in the community, and solitary isolation. New thinking in building design and community empowerement may address this with the arts still having a key role to play.

What do you feel is Council policy towards artists and creative people now?

As previously stated there has been an enthusiastic embracing of "best value" arrangements on a localised "neighbourhood" basis.Paradoxically this has meant a diminution of local arts groups. Some of the people involved have transferred into the tenant/resident groups working with surviving privatised council community empowerement units based on fairly large estates and acquanting themselves through estate committees and neighbourhood conferences. The resulting decisions are fairly swiftly put out to open competition with exhortation to spend quickly and stay within budget. Hurried schemes are offered by ad hoc groups of consultants using researchers not evidently familiar with local history and folk lore. The danger is that further mythology will be created and reflected in the ambience generated. Church restorations seem to be counterbalancing these moves by recording local realities, this has been a familiar pattern elsewhere in London. It is also difficulkt to pinpoint the "prime movers" who are almost certainly profit only motivated. The brave intention of raising community awareness through IT seems likely to reach only a small proportion of local consciousness. The renaissance of library/information centres may assist the competition process especially among younger citizens. Some of the incoming monies are for temporary exhibitions which could convert to more permanent ones subject to popular approval, these could of course be manipulated. Hardly "grass roots" but should not be discouraged because it is not so identified. If these sites are allied to the proposed clear zones improving already existing local inset schemes increasing as live/work developments are approved and recognised it could be good. The key to my mind, is traffic reduction and management. Not a novel concept but one which seems to be getting more universal acceptance including the council officer structure.Links to design in housing and employment are increasing with Holly Street being a fair example. Chickens coming home to roost? I hope so but time will tell if it is a useful permanent improvement. In all probability the creativity will not convert and be squeezed out as with Notting Hill and Covent Garden, the signs are already there in South Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

Do you have a particular memory or anecdote relating to your work in Hackney?

One personal amusing anecdote is that as a newly elected member being groomed for greater things I was asked to chair a working group selecting a local sculptor fopr a commission. It was a package funded work to be placed outside the new Leisure Centre in Shoreditch Park named "The Brittania" to commemorate a local music hall destroyed in the war. The panel consisted of Greater London Arts, local business an uninvolved local artist/teacher and myself. A "Javelin Thrower" in bronze by a local woman artist was selected, erected and remains there to this day.
When the time came for the official Duke of Edinburgh opening I was invited to be part of the welcoming group at the last minute (half an hour before) by the economic officer of the Councils Planning Department. Being at work in the City I rode my push bike to the centre which lies in a hollow, the front entrance being obscured by gates. On arrival at the top I was waved through by the local bobby well known to me through co-operative work on the local community festival. Negotiating the wide downward sweep of the driveway the delegation were amused to greet not the Royal Roller but me on a bike. That arrived three minutes later to the relief of the Mayor who was mildly embarrassed but later confessed to seeing the funny element. He remains a friend.

Back to Map

Other Educated Persons.