Challenging stereotypes ‘South of the River’

Have you ever wondered why South London has gained such a negative reputation over the years? Have you ever wondered who’s really to blame for the rough portrayal of half of our capital?

South London is home to some of cheapest chicken and chip shops and 24-hour corner shops – and that is only a couple of the better aspects of the area.

Artefact tracked down individuals who were born and raised in South London, who have lived in there for a while, and who have recently moved to the area, to find out what they really think about the south of the Thames.

Jerome Watson*, 24, has been an Elephant and Castle resident from birth – he has been drug dealing for the past four years and feels as if it’s second nature.

“The news portray South London as a bad place”

Despite this, Watson doesn’t believe living in South London has had much of an impact on his current life choices.

Statistics from 2014 prove in Britain; around 1 in 10 drug users have sold drugs to make a profit. However, most people don’t buy their drugs from a dealer, but from friends who purchase on their behalf.

We asked Watson whether he thought the media were to blame for the negative portrayal of South London, “People like to believe that all bad things happen in South, but I don’t believe that. I reckon bad things happen all over London.”

Watson told Artefact that one aspect of his life in South London is that there are more police around certain areas which Watson does blame the media for: “The news portray South London as a bad place, so…”

Oluwatosin, 25, who grew up and still lives in Kennington, is the owner of a street-wear magazine website.

He spoke very passionately about the positive factors of South London; the main one being the diversity that the community held.

“I feel with South London it’s really diverse man, I don’t remember the last time someone was racist to anyone or anything like that, in terms of youth culture, maybe different with the adults. In terms of my age group, race has never been an issue. You can be living next door to a white person, black person, Chinese person etc. We’re all sort of going through the same struggle, together. So, in that sort of sense, it’s good.”

London is a very diverse city without a doubt. But over the years it has become obvious that certain areas in London are a lot more diverse than others.

In May 2014 racial attitudes in London had increased by 16%. This was the biggest change in attitudes this century according to The Guardian – racism isn’t dead, yet.

22-year-old Shack Adretti grew up in various areas around South London; he works in construction and has recently moved to Wood Green, North London.

He told us about his experiences whilst going to school in South. Adretti attended Harris Academy South Norwood, formerly known as Stanley Technical High School.

“It was crazy. I think it was my second day there and someone got stabbed. Only a couple of feet in-front of me, over nothing, then the guy who got stabbed walked away like nothing had happened, that was crazy.”

All three of the young men that we spoke to referred to their school experience as “crazy.”

Back in 2008 police were given permission to use a dispersal order to deal with pupils who attended certain schools in South London, which allowed police to deal with any teenagers in groups of two or more, that stayed in the streets after school had finished, by telling them to go home or face arrest.

South London is home to some of the biggest universities in Greater London, including University of the Arts London.

Chloe Smith, 20, moved to South London as soon as she moved to the capital back in 2014 to embark on her journey through university; “I moved to Brixton first as that’s where the cheapest halls of residence were based. Now I’m living in Walworth as it’s close to uni.”

The dangerous portrayal of South London has taken its toll on Smith while she’s been living in London.

She told us about an incident that took place where she lives in Walworth that “traumatised” her: “I wasn’t allowed into my flat as someone had been stabbed outside and my street was a crime scene.”

Kez Dearmer, 20, studies at Chelsea College of Arts and recently moved to Camberwell, because it was closer to his university campus.

We asked Dearmer whether he felt more endangered walking around South London after a night out compared to anywhere else in London; “Yeah, for sure. Although, you only have to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time for something to happen; I feel safer when there are more people around, so South feels less safe than Central.”

All in all, the portrayal of South London in the media has caused some outside the area to believe that it’s an unsafe place to live, and according to the people who live south the portrayal has been exaggerated.

The media have an immense amount of power; the type of power to lead people to believe what they want them to.

However, South London is like a big, diverse community, the culture is real, just like the people who live there.

Andretti and Oluwatosin both agreed that South London is one big community and a community that sticks together. “The love we’ve got for each other in South London,” Andretti explains enthusiastically, “everyone knows everyone, we’ve all got each other.”



* Jerome Watson is an assumed name – the interviewee did not want to give his real name due to past associations with drugs.

Featured image by Naveena Patel