Rare films show 1970s protests in the borough

Archival footage features Holloway residents’ fight for a children’s playground

Friday, 10th December 2021 — By Anna Lamche

Yvonne Connolly

Yvonne Connolly, the UK’s first black headteacher, features in one of the films

A RESEARCHER organised a screening of two rare archival films documenting grassroots protests fought in Islington during the 1970s.

The films were shown last night (Thursday) at Newington Green Meeting House and were chosen by Katy McGahan, formerly of the British Film Institute.

She selected the two films – Do Something! and It’s Ours Whatever They Say – from the BFI’s archives.

Filmed in 1970, Do Something! is the story of Holloway residents’ fight for a playground for kids – what is today known as Paradise Park – with shots of the space as a disused bomb site before its transformation.

Over scenes of children running through derelict houses in Caledonian Road, presenter Jonathan Power can be heard saying: “If you set out to find the part of London that has the most overcrowding and the least open space for children, you’d end up here [in Islington].”

The film features the late, great Yvonne Connolly, the UK’s first black headteacher recently honoured with a Freedom of the Borough by Islington Council. Last night (Thursday) the council discussed renaming Ring Cross Community Centre after Ms Connolly.

Discussing sub-standard housing and a lack of open space, Ms Connolly describes how black children came to feel “complete resentment” following the realisation that “if you are black, you have got to fight hard, and work hard.”

The film also features the UK’s first black prison officer, Basil Nobbs, who discusses the importance of direct action: “You’ve got to keep going at [the authorities] all the time. If you go to them, cap in hand, and say ‘please, we would like a playground,’ it makes it so much more difficult than if you just start a playground, get something off the ground and say to them: ‘Look, here, we’ve started building this thing which you should have done.’”

The second film shown, It’s Ours Whatever They Say, made in 1972, documents Loraine Estate residents’ plan to turn a derelict timber yard into an adventure playground, despite the council’s plan to build flats and a large car park on the site.

Ms McGahan, who is herself filming a documentary on local grassroots activism, said: “Campaigns do bring people from different walks of life together, which I did find really beautiful: from babies to people in their 80s.”

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