You wouldn’t expect to find homelessness and knife crime in the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames.

It is usually seen as a posh and affluent area, but amongst the swanky riverside terraces pockets of poverty also exist.

The government’s latest report on deprivation showed that the area around the Cambridge Road Estate in Norbiton is one of the most deprived in the UK. 

Local Democracy Reporter Sian Bayley visited the estate to meet the community and hear about what it’s like to live there. 

The campaigner

Sophie Kafeero is a community campaigner who works on the estate. 

Her son, Derick Mulondo, was murdered there in 2017, and ever since she has been running ‘Drop the Knife, Save a Life,’ to help steer young people away from knife crime. 

She said: “There’s a lot of denial in Kingston, because everybody says Kingston is a rich borough and knife crime does not happen in rich areas. But it can happen anywhere.

“We need to address knife crime from a positive angle. It is happening everywhere. Not just the Cambridge Estate.”

Earlier this year she helped to create a mural by the estate’s playing pitch to brighten-up the area and discourage young people from carrying knives.

She says she struggled to get the anti-knife crime message on the mural as people thought it might stigmatise the estate:

“I told them, you know what, you are the people with the stigma, not the people at the estate. Let’s wait for them to tell us whether they think there is no knives here, no guns, no drugs.”

She is now working with young people to tell their story about how knife crime has affected them, and promoting the estate’s strong community spirit:

“Living on a council estate, you’re a human being. You’ve got needs.

“You want the rubbish to be collected, you don’t want people selling drugs on the estate, you don’t want people to be knifed on the estate, you want the buildings to be painted. You want the kids to have somewhere to go to play.

“Boxing people in small boxes and stigmatising them is totally wrong.

“People are so encouraged to see the art mural. It made the area look beautiful, you can’t miss it.”

The community centre

Poverty and homelessness are other key problems in and around the estate.

Every Tuesday afternoon, the Cambridge Road Estates Community Group (CREst) and One Norbiton offer a free hot lunch at Piper Hall, which sits on the bottom-left corner of the estate. 

CREst Chair Jill Preston, who also lives on Cambridge Road, explains that guests come for a warm meal, as well as sandwiches and food to take away, food bank vouchers, and even games of snooker. 

She says the new Liberal Democrat administration has helped to promote the group, but more funding is always needed.

She said: “Friday is a very busy day because the food bank is closed. They are desperate, often because they have been refused credit.

“We had a case of a pregnant lady who miscarried and had a breakdown.

“She missed payment, but had four kids and didn’t know what to do with herself.”

Volunteer Mary Graham says the hall is a place of safety for those in need: “It’s a place for them to be able to relax.

“We have one gentleman who comes in to lie down and have a sleep because he is on the street, but here he can get a safe couple of hours.

“The rest keep him a bit of food for when he wakes up. Everybody supports each other.”

Former GP Michael D’Souza is also there to help guests with their mental wellbeing. 

He said: “Throughout my career I was very attached to the estate because that’s where most of my patients with quite severe problems came from.”

He believes that the situation has improved over time, but that a number of people in the area are still homeless or on a low income, meaning that 40-50 people turn up to Piper Hall every week for a hot lunch.

“Some are homeless for a while, sofa-surf, then get housed, but they don’t keep what they’ve been offered for a variety of reasons.”

He explains that many people struggle with mental health problems, and often turn to drugs which leads to further issues with addiction.

He hopes that community initiatives like CREst and One Norbiton can offer people a place of safety where they are encouraged to get better. 

Local Businesses

Norbiton resident John Carleton says the Cambridge Estate has also been classed as deprived, and he has noticed a lot of shops disappearing in recent years.

He said: “It’s had some small shops in the estate before. But they have closed.

There used to be a hairdresser’s, a pub, but that was turned into apartments a few years ago. Two or three pubs have gone in the last few years.

“People are really nice, I’ve got friends here, I manage the Sunday football team.

The community is good, and I don’t hear of a lot of trouble coming from there now, but there needs to be more room for housing and more schools.”

The councillor

Norbiton Councillor Olly Wehring agrees, and says while there are a number of primary schools, it’s a real “black spot” for boys’ secondary schools. 

However, Cllr Wehring, who lives a stone’s throw from the estate, is careful to point out people’s misconceptions. 

“It’s been awarded this sort of reputation from people who don’t know, which just doesn’t ring with people who know how it is here.

“Yes, there is crime, predominantly drug-dealing, and there are horror stories that can be told that foster that perception, but it’s nowhere near justified.

“I absolutely love it on the estate. 

However, he does believe that regeneration is needed.

“It is very old. Around about 75 per cent of all case-work that I get as a local councillor is related to leaks and draughts and the condition of the housing.

“To help improve that with modern building standards is a major plus.

“The other is designing out crime. Pretty much all of the low-rises are interconnected, there are little rat runs and allies.

“If you want to hide from someone on this estate it’s very easy to do that. The third is the increase in social housing.”

Cllr Wehring says there are now many cases of overcrowding on the estate with families with four children only having two bedrooms to sleep in. 

While he understands some residents’s concerns about the way regeneration programmes have been handled in the past, he believes it is the best way forward to improve the area.

The residents’s ballot will take place in early 2020, and if it goes ahead will deliver nearly 2,000 new homes as well as community facilities, which the council hope will revitalise the estate and its surroundings.

A spokesperson for the council said it is their priority to address the needs “of socially excldued and disadvantaged communities,” and that they are delivering an action plan to target those with the highest need.