When I read that Lewisham, my home borough, had been ranked the most violent place in Britain, my first reaction was embarrassment - my university friends from all over the world and the UK that I had been trying to convince of Lewisham's greatness would now be laughing in my face.
"Come over to my house," I'd always say, their usual response being, "No, Lewisham is way too far away, I don't have a travel card that reaches that zone.." This would now be replaced with, "No! Lewisham is the most dangerous place in the UK, I'm steering clear."
But for the past 21 years, I have lived and been educated in the 'blue borough' - growing up in the quaint village-esque chasm of Ladywell. I used to refer to my old road as London's 'Wisteria Lane' - yummy mummies would wave to their neighbours across their perfect Victorian mini mansions. The children would play in the street all day long in the summer months, growing up together peacefully in this 'violent' neighborhood. I was aware from a young age of Lewisham's multiculturalism, and this just made it seem a much more interesting place to grow up. Indeed the hipster new labour parents seemed to lap this aspect up.
I certainly lived in a Ladywell bubble for most of my childhood and early teens - attending Prendergast school for girls, idyllically located on the top of picturesque Hilly Fields. Lewisham seemed like the perfect place to live, with a real sense of community, a great school, and a nice house. My dad was the manager of Lewisham Shopping Centre, so I felt like Lewisham was really ingrained into my soul. I used to revel in going to the shopping centre as a kid, seeing my dad in his office and making my mum drag me around the centre. It was home.
As I got older, going out drinking in New Cross became a standard weekend occupation, and all the young South East Londoner's jostled together, basking in their Lewishamness. But the perceptions the rest of the world had for Lewisham became gradually more apparent. The sneering comments from other Londoners, the news broadcasts of gang crime - I found myself having to stick up for Lewisham the majority of the time. I expected comments like, "Oh, I didn't think someone like you would come from Lewisham." Well what did you expect someone from Lewisham to be like? Because I have plenty more friends like me being churned out of this wretched borough.
The reputation Lewisham had was unfair in my eyes. Sure I saw gangs hanging on street corners, but this was no more different than other scenes in London. I never witnessed any crime. I felt safe. This was my home. But then I was mugged. And my opinion of Lewisham changed for a little while. It was outside Lewisham Station and a group of boys cycled up to my friends and I and snatched my phone out of my ear. It was traumatising at the time, I was only 14, and there were many similar incidents I had heard of like this from my friends. But I thought that this was a risk of living in a big city, perhaps a little naïve, as I'm sure kids living in Chelsea don't have these problems. But it didn't take long for me to feel safe again. Seven years later and I still use Lewisham station everyday and this incident hasn't been repeated.
This stereotype that Lewisham holds is imbalanced, with a small group of people ruining it for the rest of blue boroughs citizens. I want to ask the rest of London to come and see this 'most violent' area for themselves. Blackheath is beautiful, Brockley is bustling, New Cross is cool and Lewisham Town Centre is vibrant and energetic. Some might argue I haven't witnessed the 'real nitty-gritty' of this borough, but for the last 21 years, I have lived here in peace, and haven't turned out so bad. I certainly have plenty of friends and neighbours who are proud to call Lewisham their home. This is my experience of Lewisham. I would only suggest not to believe the hype.