A Thursday afternoon at Maida Hill market sq. is crammed with pensioners fortunately chatting and enjoying playing cards whereas having fun with the sunshine.
However, over the previous yr the sq. has been on the centre of an ongoing row between a few of its regulars and Westminster council.
Last yr, Ernest Theophile, a 73-year-old black man who commonly performs dominoes with different locals within the space, was summoned to court docket by the council and accused of being too noisy and inflicting a disturbance.
This resulted within the council initially being granted a particular injunction that banned social gatherings. Although the injunction was overturned shortly afterwards, Theophile and his mates may nonetheless face jail in the event that they breach a court docket order by “playing loud amplified music, drinking alcohol and shouting and swearing”.
“The square is very important to me. I come here virtually seven days a week,” mentioned Theophile. “I’ve grown up there all my life so I don’t know any other. To me, it’s like home away from home.”
For Theophile, the sq. is a haven for older folks, primarily from a West Indian and minority ethnic background, to seek out firm and spend time with likeminded people. According to Theophile, they don’t have interaction in delinquent behaviour resembling ingesting, shouting or swearing. Rather the primary goal of their gatherings is to play dominoes with each other, a culturally important pastime within the West Indian group.
“The loneliness was one of the biggest factors as to why we gathered there. That’s why the square was ideal for us,” Theophile mentioned. “Sometimes the younger generation come here and congregate, but we just want a place where we can socialise and play a few games to pass the time.”
Theophile’s barrister has argued that the court docket order, which threatened jail sentences, is “likely to be indirectly discriminatory”.
“An injunction restraining the activities of a minority of black people in a public square where there is a theoretical power of arrest and sanction of imprisonment is indirectly discriminatory,” Tim James-Matthews advised Central London county court docket.
Theophile believes that being taken to court docket was “absolutely racially motivated”. He mentioned: “It’s because it’s mainly groups of ethnic minorities who come here, and that’s the reason why I think they wanted us out.”
Although Westminster council have claimed that they’ve provided a free house the place dominoes could possibly be performed, that is one thing which has been denied by Theophile and different locals.
Tony Edwards, who’s in his 60s and has been dwelling within the space for greater than half a century, agrees the sq. is just a spot the place many individuals from the West Indian group come to “mingle and socialise”.
“I go to work, and when I finish work, I come back here to socialise,” he mentioned. “I’m here all the time, seven days a week.” He added: “All we do here is play a little cards, a little dominoes. That’s all we do, we don’t trouble anybody. We’re peaceful, we’re a family.”
Others say the truth that many pensioners use the sq. as a social hub is a results of a scarcity of group areas within the space. “We have no where else to go and gather,” mentioned Ashworth, a retired safety officer who commonly visits the sq.. “We only really have this place here, where we can sit outside and play a little dominoes, or a little backgammon too. We’ve been to the council so many times to ask them to give us a place, but we still only have this square.”
“The square is used by many different people because there’s nothing here for anybody,” mentioned Jacqui Haynes, a group organiser primarily based in Maida Hill.
Haynes, who runs a meals financial institution primarily based in St Peter’s Church in Maida Hill, says she and different native folks have commonly approached Westminster metropolis council concerning the lack of social and group areas within the space.
“There are a lot of older people who go to the square not because they necessarily want to, but who go there because there’s nowhere else,” Haynes mentioned. “I’ve been battling with the council to provide social activities so that the people that don’t want to be there necessarily won’t have to. But people go there because there’s nowhere else.”
A Westminster council spokesperson mentioned: “Claims that Westminster city council has banned anyone in the square from playing dominos and backgammon are untrue.
“The order applies to amplified noise and assorted antisocial and illegal activities, such as urinating and drug dealing, that the local community has seen taking place in and around the local area.
“Since the introduction of the court order this public realm has held a number of family-friendly community events, that had previously not been able to take place.”