Whoever is elected as the next Mayor of Hackney will face a stiff challenge – leading the borough’s recovery from the pandemic.
Independent candidate Gwenton Sloley, who campaigns under the Hackney People Before Profit banner, wants to see more help for people suffering from the last two years.
“The whole community needs access to trauma support,” he said.
Sloley believes talking therapy and drop-in services could help people whose mental health has deteriorated during successive lockdowns.
He said these could be funded by the proceeds of crime fund.
“A lot of people do not know what help is there,” he added. “I run sessions online and a lot of people take up the online support.”
He said the stigma surrounding mental ill health is being overcome.
As one of the founders of the London Gang Exit programme, he works to help keep young people from getting involved in crime.
He arrived in Hackney from Jamaica and grew up on Gunton Road in Stoke Newington.
As a teenager he got into trouble and ended up in prison, and he said people wrote him off before he turned his life around.
He has written about his experiences in his autobiography From the Streets to Scotland Yard.
Sloley has fought two council by-elections in Lewisham and said he wanted to stand for mayor in his home borough.
“I wanted to raise awareness in the community and empower people that it is their democratic right to run for election.”
He said he would be delighted “if I empower one other person in the next 10 years to say ‘I saw Gwenton run so I will give it a go’.”
He also wants to give voters an alternative to the mainstream parties.
The top issues residents have raised with him are lighting, traffic, drug-dealing, and the fear of violence that the latter can bring.
One of the election’s key issues are Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), which have divided opinion.
Sloley said he was concerned that shutting some roads to motor traffic “causes more pollution and more congestion” elsewhere.
“It is creating mini dual carriageways,” he added.
He said he would not scrap LTNs, but that they need to be looked at again.
“I would strategically put them where they are not going to cause the amount of congestion and pollution.”
He wants to see more communication with people who are unaware of the changes over the last two years and who are getting tickets, especially those who are digitally excluded.
If he becomes mayor, he also wants to see more council homes and truly affordable houses built to prevent people being priced out of the borough.
He also wants more transparency about what happened during the ransomware attack that hit Hackney Council in October 2020 and saw criminals publish some sensitive data on the dark web.
If elected, he’ll see that more work is done to prevent pupils being excluded from school, which can lead to some of them getting involved with gangs.
He said there should be more mentoring for young people if they are arrested, to divert them from crime and help them get back on track.
“If we can prevent someone from going down there, we do not have to be reacting to the crime.”
He recalled the violent crime in the area when he was growing up and shudders at the thought of it.
If elected, he would draw up “clear guidelines to tackle crime” and have a knife amnesty.
He will also help support teachers, parents and carers spot the signs that children are heading for serious trouble.
“This has to be a key issue,” he said. “It takes lives, exactly the same as the pandemic.”
He would also take a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime.
Sloley has been involved in a Hackney football team, Global, which celebrates the power of sport to bring people together.
He added: “My message for people out there is never sign anyone off, because you never know what the future holds.”
Voters go to the polls on 5 May to elect a mayor and councillors.
More information about registering by the 14 April deadline is available here.