‘Scary’ new job for borough’s Queen of Play

Campaigner will advise police after recent scandals

Friday, 15th July — By Charlotte Chambers

Anita Grant IMG_6745

Anita Grant: ‘I’ve always been able to speak up for others. I’m not easily intimidated’

THE Queen of Play – who spearheaded the campaign to protect adventure playgrounds for children in Islington in perpetuity – is set to leave her post today (Friday).

After 16 years in her role as CEO at Islington Play Association (IPA), Anita Grant will start a new career advising the police on burgeoning reforms following a series of recent scandals and a report by the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), that uncovered “a culture of misogyny, harassment, racism and homophobia” in the Met.

This followed the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens, along with their handling of protests surrounding her death. Racist, misogynistic and homophobic “banter” between officers at Charing Cross police station were also laid bare in the report, which described these incidents as “not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few “bad apples”,” but instead “not isolated or historic”.

It led the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to criticise the Met chief Dame Cressida Dick, who subsequently resigned.

Last Friday Sir Mark Rowley was announced as the Met’s new Commissioner, along with a pledge by home secretary Priti Patel to recruit just under 2,600 more officers to London’s streets.

Ms Grant – who moved to Brighton 10 years ago and has been commuting into London since to carry out her role at IPA – said she is looking forward to starting her new “scary” job working for Sussex Police as it will give her a chance to make a difference at a key time in ­policing.

Having seen first hand during her time in Islington the negative relationships people have with the police, she is determined to try to improve relations between the police and “people of colour and women” – and said it was “the one thing” that would “make a big difference”.

She added: “I think policing is really important and one of the projects I spoke about was a project we did at Crumbles [Castle, an adventure playground between Caledonian Road and St Pancras station]. We were speaking to children in the Cally area and they said they were very worried and didn’t feel safe and when we asked who they’d turn to they never mentioned the police. When I asked [why not] they said absolutely no way – the community’s distrust of the police is so big it causes them more distress because they’re not using the support systems available to them but it’s totally understandable.”

Ms Grant will chair the new joint board for the Sussex and Surrey police force, which have set up their own race action plan in response to the IOPCs report, which will run alongside a national race action plan being chaired by barrister Abimbola Johnson.

Growing up in Camden and Islington in the 1970s as one of three children to a Jewish mother and an Indian father, she said she experienced “a lot of racism” – both within her extended family and beyond in the playground where she was bullied and “called the P-word” – but that those formative experiences had also made her who she is today.

“The positives – and the reason I’ve been so grateful to Islington – is it’s [also] been a place where I’ve been able to rise through the ranks and be accepted for who I am,” she said of the borough she raised her three children in.

“I’ve been able to challenge and speak truth to power, and that’s given me the confidence to do this big scary job I’m about to do. I’ve always been able to speak up for others. I’m not easily intimidated.”

A passionate advocate of “risky play” and keeping mums and dads out of Islington’s 12 adventure playgrounds to ensure children were not held back by “fearful parents,” Ms Grant said she is most proud of securing the land for the playgrounds in perpetuity – meaning they can never be sold or built on, and will always remain a place children can play.

No other part of the country has achieved the same success, she said, and praised former council leader Richard Watts for his support for her vision.

Holly Toft of Islington’s Youth Commissioning team paid tribute to Ms Grant’s “powerful legacy”.

She said: “Working with [her] has been a roller coaster, mainly in a good way – in the way that you are sometimes screaming to get off but once the ride is ended you just want to get back on again!”

Ms Grant will continue in her role as co-founder of Islington4Women, a campaign group aiming to make Islington a better place for women.

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