Mums drive out prostitutes from Spitalfields’ Flower & Dean estate

08:00 06 May 2012

Lily Islam

Lily Islam

Carmen Valino on-shift

The mothers of the Flower and Dean estate finally look like they’re liberating their families from the prostitution and loitering on their doorstep that prevents the kids going out to play.

They are reclaiming the neighbourhood from the prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and urinating loiterers they’ve had to put up with for 15 years.

This inner city housing complex in London’s East End, locked between Commercial Street and Brick Lane, has had its share of urban blight.

“We get the brunt of the bars and clubs,” says mother-of-three Lily Islam.

“Friday and Saturday are worst—the level of prostitution is bad, right on our doorstep. Strangers loiter, urinating outside our homes—it’s unsafe for the kids.”

The mums didn’t know how to deal with it until Lily, her neighbour Shabana Begum and two others from the estate went to a coffee morning at their kids’ school.

Shoreditch Citizens community network was running a ‘listening’ campaign, starting with the coffee morning at Canon Barnett Primary.

“We were impressed that they were listening,” Lily recalls. “They showed us how to take control, how to put a plan together to tackle issues one at a time, not everything together.”

Flower & Dean estate is an attractive location next to the City, just five minutes down Wentworth Street. But it sits cheek-by-jowl with the clubs and bars of Whitechapel and Spitalfields that attract men and women from all over London—strangers the mums say have no respect for the families and children.

The estate, opened by Prince Charles in 1984, was designed like a village with secluded courtyards and walkways. But that has partly been its undoing, with prostitutes plying their trade in its nooks and crannies which are also used by loiterers and rough sleepers as toilets.

Each morning, the mothers taking their children to school say they have to plough their way through the debris of condoms left after yet another night of prostitution.

They also feel overwhelmed by having three major charities for the homeless on their doorstep drawing in more strangers.

“There are not gates or CCTV on our estate, just alleys, arches and dark corners,” Lily points out, finally losing patience after 15 years of it. “We have young children and there’s the youth centre—that’s the danger with strangers loitering, urinating. We also get excrement. They’re disrespectful to the families living here.”

It led her to set up an action group after a two-day empowering course run by Shoreditch Citizens.

“We did our own listening campaign on the estate,” she explained. “We went door-knocking, gathering information, writing everything people told us from housing repairs to anti-social behaviour—it was all there.

“Empowering shows you how to deal with issues. Before, people tried tackling all their problems together with a ‘shopping list’—but that doesn’t work. Shoreditch Citizens showed us how to organise, how to prioritise and tackle one issue at a time. That works.”

They called their first meeting in January, then a second in February when they voted on what issue needed priority. The worst was the prostitution, then the drinking and strangers loitering, the urinating and filth. The families voted to deal with prostitution first.

“I chaired the meetings, but was so nervous,” Lily admitted. “I got through it—the training was useful.”

The training included a workshop at Toynbee Hall by the Safe Exit programme which gets prostitutes off the streets and into mainstream society.

It gave Lily an insight into reasons why women end up on the streets, often desperate economic problems that drive them to prostitution.

“They need help and support to get out of it,” she says. “We don’t want the problem coming off our estate and just going down the road. It needs a strategy.”

She organised a third meeting at the Attlee Centre on April 14 with Chief Insp Nigel Nottidge, head of Tower Hamlets’ neighbourhood policing.

He had brought in bail conditions a mile away in Vallance Road, Bethnal Green, where prostitutes and kerb crawlers are slapped with orders banning them from the neighbourhood.

The mothers wanted the same on the Flower & Dean estate. The police chief was as good as his word. Bail conditions were brought in three days later.

He has also increased Brick Lane’s police team and agreed in principal to more patrols before the summer’s London Olympics.

But it goes further. He is now inviting the mothers to take part in drawing up a strategy across the whole of Tower Hamlets.

Lily’s mission is being the voice of Flower & Dean, to clean up this inner city neighbourhood with its high deprivation.

It’s just a shame, she reflects, that it had been left to prostitution, pimps and drug dealers these past 15 years.

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