Everyone of a certain age recognises the name Stephen Lawrence. He was the black teenager killed in a racist attack in south east London in 1993. His death was followed by a botched police investigation and years of campaigning by his family and in particular his mother, Doreen Lawrence, to find his killers and to make policing fairer to all.
But out of this terrible tragedy something amazing was born: The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The Trust works with disadvantaged young people from all backgrounds to inspire and enable them to enter professions that might otherwise seem beyond their reach. So it felt like a tremendous privilege to be invited to the Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture held by the Trust last Tuesday.
Because Stephen wanted to be an architect, this annual event features respected architects talking about different aspects of architecture. This year the focus was on the relationship between architecture and the community, and the lecture hall at the Royal Institute of British Architecture was packed with architects – from those leading well-known successful practices right down to those still in training. It was basically an architects’ geek-fest.
There were some big names on the platform (the Chief Executive of Scott Brownrigg, one of the UK’s largest architecture practices, chaired it and award-winning architects Sheila O’Donnell and John Thomey were amongst the speakers). But the stand-out star of the show was Stuart Lawrence, Stephen’s brother. He took the theme of architecture and community by the scruff of the neck and gave a talk that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
He talked about a happy childhood growing up with Stephen and their younger sister Georgina, bombing around Woolwich Common on their bikes during the day and opening their bedroom window in the evening to hear the rumble of music and laughter when the funfair came to town. But most of all he talked about community, how mixed and diverse it was, how everyone knew everyone, and the friendships between them. In fact, until Stephen was killed, Stuart had no notion or awareness of racism.
Although our sense of community is often lost, Stuart spoke about his firm belief in the old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and that we need to design our environment to foster communities. He recalled the days when, like so many of us, he would leave his house in the morning and be out on an adventure with his friends till tea time. And he expressed the hope that we can get back some of the things that we all had growing up but which seem to be lost to our children.
Stuart’s final words were to tell the audience that community spirit is not dead, it is in each and every one of us, and just to prove it he brought tomatoes from his garden to share with everyone. You didn’t need to be an architect to know he absolutely nailed it. Thank you, Stuart Lawrence.
I actually really care about what the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust does. I know lots of people reading this will be in different jobs in different industries, and I firmly believe that young people shouldn’t be excluded from those jobs because they come from a disadvantaged background. If you agree with me, you can help. Maybe you could be a mentor, or your organisation could offer workshadowing. Why not have a look at their website? If you think you could get involved, or you want to find out a bit more, you can have an informal chat with the Programmes Manager, Chelsea Way, call her on 020 8100 2800 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her I sent you (I know her – she’s lovely). Maybe it will lead to nothing, but maybe, just maybe, it will lead to something amazing.