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Meet the unsung hero of the canal

04 November, 2016 — By Gabe Evans

James Harris clears rubbish from the Regent’s Canal in the early hours of the morning

RUBBISH would be piled high along the Regent’s Canal if it wasn’t for local hero James Harris, 58. Every day for 11 years, James has gone above and beyond the terms of his 12-hour shift – tidying up the canal across Camden from 7am – to quietly care for Islington’s section in the early hours of the morning. “All the council guys do is change the bins a few times a week,” says James. “I really like doing the whole canal.” After arriving in Britain from Guyana in 1979, James pursued a career as an actor and dancer before sustaining a serious head injury falling from a three-storey building in 2002. He then began volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers – “It helped with the rearranging of my thinking,” says James. They steered him towards the Canal River Trust and eventually found him paid employment. Since then, James has taken it upon himself to care for Regent’s Canal all the way from the Islington tunnel to Lisson Grove in Westmin­ster. The local legend is decidedly modest, but when Lisa Tang – head of Cally Arts – pops up next to us in York Way, she makes clear: “We would literally be swimming in rubbish if it weren’t for James.” With two daughters now grown up and married, James uses his spare cash to travel the world – 10 days a year that are not good for Islington’s waterside.

Facetime at the farmers’ market

Beverley Isaacs with twins Louisa, above, and Charlotte, below

LOCAL artist Beverley Isaacs set up a special free Halloween face-painting stall at Highgate Hill Farmers’ Market at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Archway ( on Sunday to help raise donations for the charity Farms for City Children. £50 was raised – “Not a huge amount,” says Cheryl from the market, “but every penny counts!” Market regulars Louisa and Charlotte Segal, six-year-old twins, were transformed into a witch and vampire ready for Halloween. “Awesome!” say the girls. “We love coming to this market.” Beverley, a “cockney sparrow” whose grandparents, mum and dad were all brought up in the area, started face-painting a few years ago to supplement her career as an expressionist artist. She spent seven years in Mexico, which has come in handy of late with the increasing demand for Mexican Day of the Dead Halloween decoration. 

New kinder way to learn a language

From left: Speak Street volunteer Peter Knupffer, 34; founder Joanna Bevan; student Alexander Gurguliany, 60; volunteer Ella Kilgallon, 27; and student Fatma Oymak 

SPEAK Street pup-up language café has teamed up with the Kindness Offensive in Camden Road to offer English classes for refugees every Thursday morning. “We’re teaching with the mentality of kindness,” says Archway local and founder Joanna Bevan, 31. The group are making presents each week which they will be giving out to the public as “random acts of kindness” aboard the Kindness Offensive’s distinctive Routemaster bus on December 11. Three weeks in to the classes, there isn’t a seat empty in the room. “This is a great location,” says Joanna, “because it’s cosy, it doesn’t feel like a classroom.” Joanna, who speaks five languages, started Speak Street to create a relaxed environment where local people of different backgrounds could learn from each other. “Joanna is my hero,” says Fatma Oymak, 48. Fatma came to Britain from Turkey 20 years ago and now lives in Highbury. Mother of eight-year-old twins, Fatma would like Speak Street to run for children. “I want to teach my children other languages, because other languages mean other cultures,” she says. Speak Street is holding its second birthday at the Kindness Offensive on November 24. More details at:

Nursery open day

WHITTINGTON Park Community Nursery is holding an Open Day on Saturday November 12. This new nursery, opposite the astro­turf in Whittington Park, Archway, puts emphasis on enjoying nature and the outdoors with the two-year-olds it cares for. Saturday’s free event includes activities for under-5s.


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