How we won the fight to make ourselves heard – the voices of Brixton tell their story

By Toby Porter

Coldharbour – a virtual reality film which really does show what the reality was like. Brixton Library, SW2 1JQ from October 18-27 and from November 14-16 *****

It’s been home to a lion of black consciousness, a glittering pop icon and the ultimate in dull prime ministers.

Linton Kwesi Johnson, David Bowie and John Major have lived in streets a few yards apart.

But it is the people who have lived there who gave colour to the creativity and ambition of those globally known residents.

“Go to any part of the world and mention Brixton and it resonates. It stands for something. It is a beacon of what’s possible,” says Paul Reid, one of dozens of Brixton residents who features in a virtual reality documentary that takes viewers beneath the skin of Brixton: Coldharbour.

Coldharbour is a 360˚ VR film that takes viewers under the skin of Brixton’s Coldharbour Ward. The immersive film forms the centerpiece to a broader oral history exhibition at the Brixton Library that takes viewers on an immersive tour of Coldharbour Lane and the Brixton Markets, meeting people along the way who have shaped Brixton’s strong and symbolic cultural fabric over several decades. 

Produced by the Independent Film Trust and Booted & Rooted, the participatory project has involved local people at every stage of the production process. The Coldharbour project started with six months of free workshops in research, 360˚ storytelling, recording oral histories and exhibition curation. From these workshops, over twenty local participants signed up to join the community production team that produced the final film and exhibition. 

The Coldharbour project takes viewers on a journey through Brixton Market to the Express Cafe in Market Row, Universal Roots Records, Coldharbour Lane, Railton Road (the Frontline), and the Sports and Social Club. Along the way, we meet Alex Wheatle, S I Martin, Felix Buxton (Basement Jaxx), Ricky Ranking (musician), George Lightfoot (Nasty Rockers), Linda Bellos (First Black Leader of Lambeth Council), Michael Groce (poet), the Legs Eleven Sound System and the Brixton Immortals Dominoes Team, as well as market traders and customers. 

“It was incredible watching just a few untold stories that make up the history and fabric of Brixton and I am honoured to be part of it”, said Author, Alex Wheatle. “I really hope this documentary inspires others to record their own experiences. What it has taught me is that all of our personal narratives are important and as valid as anyone else’s.”

Community production team member Michelle described the process as “an amazing opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and creatively work on a project together that benefits the community as a whole.”

The production process has offered an intensive training opportunity that will enable more heritage and VR projects to be made locally in the future. 

But more than that, it is a highly charged and emotional journey around some of the characters and places which make Brixton so vivacious and fascinating – with some astounding performances thrown in.

The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and by the University of the Arts London. 

To find out more about the project and to book a place at the exhibition, go to independentfilmtrust.org/coldharbour or follow @independentfilmtrust on Instagram.

The Independent Film Trust (IFT) is a UK charity that supports the cause of independent film production. The IFT exists to empower those typically underrepresented in mainstream media and cinema to use film as a powerful tool for self-expression and social interaction.   

  • The Coldharbour project will be exhibited at the Brixton Library, SW2 1JQ from October 18th to October 27th and from November 14th to 16th at International House Brixton, SW97 QD.

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