CELEBRATING BROMLEY'S COMMUNITY
A photography exhibition to celebrate some of the most prominent and recognisable members of the BAME community in Bromley Town Centre.
Photographer: Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend is a London-based photographer with a voluntary sector focus. His practice blends photography and community engagement to document communities, relationships, and subcultures.
Agnita Oyawale, 63, town centre chaplain, Bromley
Agnita was born on the sunny Caribbean Island of Antigua and came to England as a baby with her Cockney Jewish mum. Agnita’s father was born in Dominica and came to England as part of the Windrush generation working at Ford Motors in Dagenham. Agnita grew up in the East End.
Agnita started attending a Church in Bromley in 1981 while she was a student reading Theology at King’s College London, she then moved to Bromley in 1991 where she worked as a teacher for a number of years, both full time and supply. Currently Agnita works part time as the Bromley Town Centre Chaplain representing Churches Together in Central Bromley and is often seen walking around Bromley. Agnita loves Bromley, and feels it’s a great place to be. She can also be spotted on T.V and in films as she also works as an actress/model.
Agnita’s late husband was Nigerian (Yoruba) and she has four adult children and one granddaughter.
Agnita enjoys researching black history and is delighted that it is being celebrated in Bromley. She admires many black people who have brought great change but would like to focus on Ruby Bridges who, in November 1960 at the age of six, became the first African American child to go to an all white elementary school in a Southern state of the United States of America. She was very brave and changed history. Agnita says “if one small girl can make a difference, so can you, so can I.”
Ibrahim Rilwan (JJ), 52 - JJ Jerk Chicken Centre
JJ runs JJ Jerk Chicken Centre as part of the Charter Market in Bromley, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
JJ has been working in Bromley for about 10 years and lives nearby in Swanley. JJ used to drive a minibus for a restaurant and was inspired to start doing events of his own. This went well so he decided to do it all the time and now he runs JJ Jerk Chicken Centre three days a week and is even considering expanding at some point too.
JJ feels that Bromley is a busy and vibrant town centre, perfect for his business. It wasn’t as busy when he started out a decade ago but now he has lots of regular customers who come back week after week.
JJ is inspired by American Civil Rights leader and Nobel Prize winner, Martin Luther King.
Beverley Blugh , 59
Beverley has lived and worked in Bromley since the 1980s.
Bromley is very central and has easy access to London and surrounding areas. I loved Bromley in the late 80s. It was very green, and the population was older. It was quiet and serene. It has changed a lot and is more built up and less peaceful. Now it is like walking down Oxford Street … It has also become more diverse in comparison to when Beverley moved here in the late 80s when the academic research that formed part of her degree, revealed the population was far less diverse with only 4% black and Asian and 2% Chinese.
During lockdown Beverley successfully secured funding through a community voting process from the London Borough Of Greenwich and Public Health. This funding was to deliver a project call “More Than Words” and “Fam Jam” to support the wellbeing of children and families through COVID in the Plumstead & Glyndon Community. Since then she has brought the project into Bromley and has also been working with another charity in the area to deliver food to those in need in the area.
Before lockdown Beverley ran a ZUMBA fitness programme and taught Cuban Salsa to both adults and children in Bromley and other areas in the South East. Since the pandemic Beverley has worked with Start Up Bromley and used these dance skills to set up NUVitalityKidz (NVK) Dance & Creative Enrichment CIC to support children, especially those with challenges in school. NVK aims to increase confidence and help children to shape their future through dance and creative enrichment (The Arts). Beverley has 25 years experience teaching Latin Dance and finds the children enjoy something different to street dance . Salsa speaks a different language. It uses all the muscles in the body and can help with memory sequence and co-ordination and support the creative side of our brain. NuVitality Kitchen has also been developed to help children develop their culinary skills and create nutritious food and snacks. This helps them to understand how nutrition impacts dance and physical activities and which parts of the body need to be supported by particular nutrition. Beverley is hoping to secure more funding with the support of Start Up Bromley and will be raising some funds through the sale of her food
Beverley first heard of Black History Month in the late 90s as at her school they sang God Save the Queen and learnt about Christopher Columbus rather than any Black History. For her Black History means that she has the opportunity now to acknowledge, appreciate and honour the achievements of her people.
When Beverley came to England in the 70’s she discovered no one had ever heard of her home country, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). She remembers going into John Menzies when she was 10, trying to find St Vincent on the Map so she could go back home to her grandmother, but she couldn’t find it. It is a little gem of the Antilles and you need to look hard to find it on a map. The first time Beverley heard anyone talk about St Vincent and the Grenadines in the UK was on Blind Date with Cilla Black – she says she guesses everything takes time to be discovered.
The SVG population today is around 10,938. You can now learn some of the history of SVG online, but the real history comes from the old Islanders.. We are Carib and Indian (Garifuna). SVG are indigenous people, one of the first slave countries and one of the last to be colonized. The historical gardens host the first breadfruit tree which fed the slaves back over 100 years ago. The people of SVG are very proud of their Island and its traditions, it is the Gem of the Antilles.
Beverley is inspired by her Grandmother Makie Estella Charles. She was well respected and looked up to, everyone on the Leeward side of SVG knew her. She was a highly favoured and Anointed woman of God, who had very strong moral values, etiquette was always helping and supporting others. Beverley feels that some of this has rubbed off on her and is reflected in the work she does today.
Darren Springer, 49, owner of Lolli’s Sweetshop
Darren first moved to the Bromley area in 2007. On his daily commute to Holborn he used to pass a sweetshop that never seemed to be open and he dreamt of taking it over. When he told his partner, she told him about franchise opportunities with a national sweetshop brand and, after a lot of hard work, research and dedication, by 2016 Darren was the proud franchisee of Mr Simms on Bromley High Street.
In 2021 Darren took an even bolder step and rebranded his shop as Lolli’s, creating Bromley’s very own independent sweet shop. He has since built on the success of the Bromley store and expanded Lolli’s, opening a store in Romford too. He is really proud to be able to offer employment to local residents in Bromley and beyond. Darren is also an active charity fundraiser and he and the customers of Lolli’s have raised money for causes including CCLG, Sickle Cell, Prostate Cancer, Pink Ribbon Foundation and Natasha’s Law. He has just shaved his head for MacMillan too!
Bromley is important to Darren. It is the birthplace of his first business venture. It’s a great shopping area and Darren is passionate about making Bromley a destination. Darren sits on the board of Your Bromley and wants to help fill the empty shops in the town centre and bring in more visitors to the town centre. Bromley is also home to Darren and his family.
Black History Month is really important to Darren. He says:
“I wish we didn’t have to have a month and it could be ongoing but having been born in the UK and grown up here, I know that what I was taught at school wasn’t representative of the whole story – you only get a snippet. We don’t celebrate the positive things that Black people have done, we’re just left with a story of slavery and there is so much more to it. Black History Month gives us a chance to celebrate.”
While Darren was born and bred in the UK, his parents both come from Guyana in South America. Darren was recently gifted an Ancestry DNA test and was fascinated to discover more about his heritage and his DNA story which breaks down as:
40% Ivory Coast & Ghana
35% Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples
7% Benin & Togo
Darren is excited to be part of this exhibition and looks forward to welcoming new faces into Lolli’s.
Alison Emmons, Manager Krispy Kreme
Alison is connected to Bromley through her work, she has worked in the retail sector in Bromley for over 10 years. Alison works for Krispy Kreme and is very active in promoting the brand and engaging with customers in Bromley.
Alison is thrilled to be recognised as part of this project. Alison enjoys recruiting and working within the Bromley community, and thinks it’s great to be recognized as a prominent member of The Glades team.
Alison is a dedicated full-time university student and an accomplished retail manager with more than 25 years of experience in the retail and hospitality industry. Throughout her career she has organized various events ranging from weddings and book signings to VIP parties. She has also been involved in the successful launch of the “Made Fresh Daily” campaign for Krispy Kreme, and is eagerly looking forward to celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Krispy Kreme in Bromley. Alison has worked in various departments during her career and has received recognition for her exceptional work in music by Southwark and for her community involvement with young people in Bromley.
Being a woman of Jamaican and St. Vincent and Grenadines descent, born and raised and educated in this country, Alison feels that reflecting on the impact of Black history on our communities today is a valuable experience. As someone who lives in Southwark and works in Bromley she appreciates the welcoming approach to engaging with the Black community. Alison takes pride in her family history every day and passes on the lessons her mother has taught her. The significance of Black History Month lies in the opportunity to celebrate and share genuine, unfiltered emotions with everyone, irrespective of skin colour.
Pax et Justitia (Peace and Justice)
Out of many One people
Alison’s family has a strong and solid history. They make sure to instill their core values and culture in their children right from birth. Like many in the black communities, they hold strong faith and believe in speaking up. They also give priority to helping others during tough times of hardship.
Evarist Nwaokafor, 55, town centre cleaner for Veolia
Evarist lives in Plumstead but has been working for Veolia in Bromley for the last 9 years. Evarist is a prominent and recognisable member of the town centre community. Evarist loves the area he works in and the job he does and gets at least 5 thank you’s every day from people for the work he does keeping the community clean.
During Covid Evarist was recognised with an award after he spotted a lady with a heavy shopping trolley and took time out of his day to carry it all the way back to her house for her. The Your Bromley team know first hand that the town centre community really value Evarist’s work. People notice when he’s not around and ask where he is.
Evarist was born in Nigeria where the two languages spoken are English and Nigerian Igbo. Evarist then moved to Germany, looking for greener pastures, where he went on to meet his Polish partner. Their son was born in Germany and they decided to move to the UK in 2005 to give them all more exposure to better English. His son is now in his third year studying graphic design at Royal Holloway University and also works in Bromley at the weekends so the town is central to his family life.
Evarist feels Black History Month is a good way to recognise and remember what has gone before. He is inspired by Martin Luther King because he talked about black people and condemned places where people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin and because he talked about treating black people as normal people saying ‘we are all human’.
Evarist goes on to say that he believes the UK is not a racist country and he finds he is treated well and recognised because of what he does and not because of the colour of his skin.
Charmaine Beneyto, 37, artist, director, writer, CB-Art Advisory
Charmaine is an artist, director, writer and curator. She also runs an agency called CB-Art Advisory that works to elevate, support and nurture underrepresented and emerging artists. Charmaine lives and works in Bromley and has noted that the art scene here is very quiet – CB-Art Advisory are going to run a pop up space in the near future. The mission is to deliver arts projects within Bromley and the surrounding area.
Bromley is the first place Charmaine has settled since leaving home in her late teens. She has been blessed to live in many places and meet a lot of people along the way, however Bromley is the first place that has truly felt like home. Charmaine finds the town really down to earth, it has a unique vibe between being part London and part Kent which suits her just fine seeing as she was born in Kent but requires London as a creative. Charmaine loves the juxtaposition between being countryside in one direction and the city in the other – to her this is the best of both worlds. Bromley is diverse and multi-faceted and she feels like she can join in with the local community – Charmaine has made many friends but also it’s big enough to blend in with the background. Basically, she is happy here.
Charmaine originally trained as an actress and started her career in theatre, however she decided to go back to school and get her degree. She went to the University of the Arts London and this opened up her world to fine art and cultural critique and criticism. Over the years she has interned and worked at a number of arts institutions and received her MA in Film with Practice – as time went on, she developed enough experience to start forming her own ideas and opinions. Charmaine now feel ready to educate and inspire the next generation of artists wants to give back by championing those who are underrepresented and marginalised in the industry.
Black History Month means alot to Charmaine. she thinks it is an opportunity and reminder to look back and show gratitude for those who have come before us and paved the way, not just for all the good in society but just for acknowledging your ancestors and your family. She also thinks it is a chance to pause and reconsider who and what you are grateful for and where you might be able to create more change or make an impact in some way. And of course, it is a chance to look forward – there is still much to do. Charmaine is a great advocate for it being BHM every month, but every October, it always feels that much more prominent.
Charmaine recently discovered more about her paternal Grandmother who came to England from Jamaica in 1953. Sadly she never got to meet her because she died when her Father was a child, she was only 28. Her name was Charlotte Maud Hawthorne and upon discovering new photos of her, Charmaine realised we bore a lot of resemblance. Charmaine never knew her maternal Grandmother who also passed before she was born and she named her theatre company Carol & Maude in memory of them both. She likes to think that there were so many people who travelled here from such far away places and their lives would have been somewhat simple and ordinary and yet also extraordinary in many ways. Charmaine can’t imagine leaving everything she knows to start a new life in a country that exists in such different cultures and traditions. She thinks her Grandmother must have been brave and also very inquisitive and filled with alot of hope.
Charmaine is inspired by Whitney Houston. She loved her dearly and still finds her music the most uplifting and touching. But also many of the early Blues and Jazz musicians, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Etta James, and of course so many more – they all have inspired her journey in some way.
Michael Clarke, 66, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Macmillan Cancer Support & Race Equity Board Member for The Scouts
Michael is an expert in Equity & Equality, Diversion and Inclusion with over 20 years experience working in the field. In his current role for MacMillan Cancer Support, Michael uses this experience to help enable people with cancer from all backgrounds to experience cancer support, guidance and information which are increasingly more accessible, more inclusive and more culturally sensitive than the Black community realises.
Bromley resident, Michael, was born and bred in nearby Lewisham, SouthLondon. His parents moved to the UK from Jamaica in the mid-1950s as part of the Windrush generation. Michael remembers first hand the problems his parents and their friends had, suffering racism at work and on the streets, discrimination in employment, housing and finances and much more.
Michael admires the Windrush generation for their dignified response to this hostility, crediting them for paving the way, giving his generation, and those to come, the inspiration to follow authentic dreams, coming out of comfort zones, overcoming barriers, and achieving success whether in chosen careers or in entrepreneurial pursuits.
Through his own career, Michael has been inspired to help right the wrongs of the inequalities and indignities his parents and the rest of the Windrush generation faced. Through his work across many organisations he wants to help more of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren flourish with access to resources, information, support and opportunities those who travelled here in the 1950s and 1960s were often denied access to.
A member of The Tab Church for 46 years, a local transgenerational, multicultural church known for its pioneering, empowering ethos and support of local community initiatives, Michael combines his role there as Trustee with volunteering for The Scouts. Michael sees The Scouts as a great opportunity for more Black children, young people and adult volunteers in Bromley to gain access to opportunities through the Skills for Life programme government funding makes possible. Each week over 3,200 young people in the Bromley community aged between 6-18 are provided an active and exciting programme supported by over 700 adult volunteers in one of 46 Scout Groups across the London Borough of Bromley. This Black History Month, Michael would love to connect with more Black families to introduce them to skills opportunities his parents’ generation could not access.
Rachel Oyawale, 23, opera singer
Rachel grew up in Bromley, it is her home town and her early memories feature the town centre, in particular Cornerstone Church, Bromley Little Theatre and The Churchill Theatre.
Rachel then had time away from Bromley during her time boarding at Woldingham School Girls where she held music and drama scholarships and developed as a singer.
At the age of 16 Rachel started seeking independence and wanted to earn some money so she began busking in Bromley town centre. She did pretty well making money and, crucially, discovered that quite a few English National Opera company members lived or shopped in Bromley. When she was 17 she was given the business card by one of these individuals and through a series of other factors, she later went on to work professionally with the company.
Rachel would busk on Sundays after church, singing a combination of art songs, French chansons and Mozart arias. Her voice is continuing to develop.
Rachel feels that Black History Month is necessary both to spotlight what has been achieved and to take time to honour what has gone before. She doesn’t feel it’s something that should only be celebrated for a month.
Rachel is inspired by many prominent figures in the BAME community. Three in particular spring to mind:
- Mi (Maya Angelo), an activist who wrote and sang and brought many black female memoirs to the forefront and really demonstrated that your background doesn’t need to limit you.
- Grace Bunbury, a black opera singer. Rachel had never seen a black opera singer before and used Google to find Grace
- James Baldwin, writer and activist