Caroline Russell: safer streets campaigner

20 Nov

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Having a baby 20 years ago gave Caroline Russell, the motivation to give up her art studio and retrain as a civil engineer. When her third child arrived she opted to be a full time mum, busy with the PTA at her children’s school and then as a parent governor, and chair of governors at Canonbury Primary School.  As the kids have grown she’s had more time to focus on local issues ranging from campaigning for 20mph limits to tackling air pollution and more recently working to get Green Party members elected on to the Council.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Caroline Russell: xxx

Caroline Russell: working in her office/kitchen.

“I’ve lived in Islington since 1986,” says Caroline Russell, 51, recalling her King’s Cross home with husband Roly Keating who now runs the British Library. “It was rough round the station and I remember when the amazing old potato market buildings were illegally knocked down one night. We had the feeling development was just about to happen and King’s Cross would be utterly transformed… it’s been a very long time coming!

Caroline claims the couple moved to Highbury by mistake

“We wanted to stay in King’s Cross, but saw an old shop on the end of Battledean Road, N5, and fell in love with it.

The next year I had my first child and became immersed in life in Highbury. It also led to Caroline cutting her campaign teeth. “With small children I became aware of how difficult it was to get around the streets if you were at all vulnerable. With a buggy you realize what it might be like for anyone who can’t get across the road fast – the older and the slower. If a driver has a moment of inattention they might kill someone, but if a pedestrian or cyclist has a moment of inattention they might be killed,” she adds.

Time to make roads safer
Down the hill from the Highbury home where Caroline and family now live, you can still see bouquets and a Road Peace flower motif tied to the railings by one of the few pedestrian crossings on Blackstock Road. The flowers mark the spot where little Zahra Adams was killed in her buggy, by a lorry.

“I think about Zahra Adams and her mother, Durrah, an awful lot,” says Caroline who is chair of Living Streets Islington, and also works part time for the organisation. “Zahra’s death in 2003 was a defining moment for me. We hear about people on bikes being killed by lorries all the time, the cycle lobby is good at speaking out. But huge numbers of pedestrians are killed in London and we don’t hear about them. It’s as if we accept our streets will see road deaths and life-changing injury. The pedestrians who are killed are young, frail or older so it seems like a social justice issue. It’s horrendous that people living in their area, walking or just going about their lives are in danger of massive lorries driving into them.”

Speaking out
“In Islington there has been investment – the pavements along Upper Street are good. But in Highbury Barn you see older people struggling to cross the road to get to the medical centre at Highbury Grange or to the flats at The Chestnuts, Taverner Square and Peckett Square. People want to cross at the north end of Highbury Barn and they do take risks, but I think we should be prioritizing the people who are getting around under their own steam, rather than driving through the area. Driving is a minority activity in Islington? Only 35 per cent of residents have access to a car or van, and many only use their vehicle rarely.”

It’s this sense of a wrong needing to be righted that made Caroline turn to mainstream politics in 2009.

“I stood for the Council for the Green Party in 2010, in Highbury, because I realise that you can do so much as a campaigner, but if you get elected you have more opportunities to effect policy and bring about change. Joining the Green Party is not the quickest way to get yourself elected!” Caroline says with a wry laugh. But she’s been campaigning hard on air pollution plus many local concerns since then, which is why she adds, “I hope we will see some green voices on the council after the next election in May 2014.”

Moonlight supermarket on Holloway Road gets yet another namecheck on Islingtonfacesblog.

Places Caroline loves in Islington

  • Le Peche Mignon on Ronald’s Road is great for a treat. It has proper food, cooked from scratch and very nice coffee.
  • I still love King’s Cross, especially the bottom of Caledonian road, where Housmans Radical Bookshop and the Italian deli Continental Stores have survived the regeneration of the area.
  • I enjoy walking by the canal – heading east or west on either side of the Islington tunnel. I don’t cycle along it, I’m far too scared of falling into the water, and it’s crowded. So if I’ve got my bicycle I push it.
  • I love Highbury Fields – it’s the village green where you bump into people all the time. Gillespie Park (behind Arsenal tube) is another green lung, but it’s where you go to feel as if you are not living in the city.
  • I’ve been shopping at Highbury Barn since I moved to Highbury in 1992. It’s lovely to see that the shops are thriving and we have a launderette, hardware store, key cutter and cobbler as well as more specialist foodie places – the butcher, fishmonger and cheese shop. The Health Food shop (Five Boys) is amazing – it has baby food, every sort of ingredient and stays open until about  8pm every night, so if I’m being experimental in the kitchen I know I can find pretty much anything I need.
  • I also love the Turkish shop on Madras Place/Holloway Road, Moonlight Supermarket. Their bread is completely fantastic and the veg and fruit really good value.

Whatever happens Caroline is certain that she’ll be an active force locally for many more years. “I can’t imagine leaving Islington. It’s a multiplicity of villages, far more like a village than the village in Hampshire where I grew up. Islington is home: you just feel part of a strong community, and that’s really special.”

  • Find out more about the campaigning charity Living Streets here.
  • To find out more about the Green Party use this link.
  • Housmans Radical Bookshop is at 5 Caledonian Road, N1, tel: 020 7837 4473, or website sales  here.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.

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One Response to “Caroline Russell: safer streets campaigner”

  1. Nicola Baird November 21, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    From Facebook:
    Andy F: Well done Caroline Russell . Really nicely written piece. Shame more people dont open their mouths / and or do something about the things most of us complain about.

    Simon H: Well done Speaking as a lifelong non-car owner, I very much appreciate the issues that you campaign on!

    Christian DeF: That’s terrific! Congratulations!

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