Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 51 seconds
Everyone has a story. A year working on the Stronger In campaign, managing 45,000 volunteers, has left Benali Hamdache in an unexpectedly positive mindframe – and the time and skills to be the electoral co-ordinator for the Islington Green party. Interview with Nicola Baird.
Benali Hamdache is proud to have won the Young Greens pub quiz twice, but even though he’s clearly super clever, a huge fan of psychology and adroit at campaigning he’s also easy to chat with. Over spiced chai latte at Finsbury Park Costa Coffee on Seven Sisters Road, Benali uses his campaigning expertise to ask me about the Islington Green Party. By the time I start to ask him Islington Faces questions he’s got me to volunteer willingly for all sorts of tasks. And made it seem like a pleasure.
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Benali reckons he honed these skills as a Green Party volunteer. After completing a BSc in Psychology, “which I’d always wanted to use to make a difference,” he says, “I began studying for a PhD in Brighton, but it wasn’t for me. In the end I dropped out. I wondered ‘what am I going to do next?’. So I fired off job applications and got a sales job, where I worked for two and a half years. I didn’t like sales that much, so I started turning up at Green Party meetings and offered to help on a survey, and that led to me working for the official Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. Volunteering unlocked so many opportunities.”
“It was a really interesting year,” says Benali reflecting on his time with Stronger In. He began as Field Operations Executive, a grand name for the volunteer coordinator, and within four months had been promoted to become Training Manager.
“It was exciting to work on the Referendum as it always felt personal. It was empowering and I worked as hard as I could,” says Benali. “I’m really proud of the volunteers – there were 45,000. That’s the fastest growing grass roots movement in the UK. A lot of people had never been involved with politics, but six months down the line they were public speaking and running stalls, so I’m hoping that a new generation of experienced activists are going to step up and make a difference.”
Places Benali Hamdache likes in Islington
- My favourite place to eat is the wonderful Ethiopian restaurant, Lalibela by Tufnell Park (137 Fortess Road, NW5). It’s so homely and inviting. They do a wonderful combo of meat and vegetarian platters with injera bread.
- I’ve a great affection for Holloway Road. It’s where I do most of my shopping. It teems with what Islington is – there are all the pound shops and a Waitrose. It’s got all the Turkish restaurants at Archway and as you go from the top to the
bottom at Highbury Corner it tells a story about Islington.
- I’ve lived three years now in the Tufnell Park area – it’ s the first place in London where I felt settled. The Tufnell Park Tavern is my local – I like the fact that it’s got families, they do nice food (I love their roasts) and have an art gallery above and the farmers’ market in the car park on Saturdays (11am-3pm). It’s also one of the first places I went to in Islington, to help Caroline Russell (now councillor for Islington East also Green London Assembly member) in the Archway by-election. Going around this area made me realise I’d be quite happy to live in Islington.
- I love to cook so I like the Chinese supermarket on Junction Road, N7. It’s a nice place to grab something unusual like kimchi, plum wine or pre-made dumplings.
- I worked around Old Street Roundabout (it’s not Silicon Roundabout) for two years, and as it’s also where the Green Party HQ used to be I’ve spent four years hanging around Old Street (it’s now in SE16). Old Street is somewhere that encapsulates what’s good about London: the innovation, pop-ups and people involved in the third sector. It’s also all about London’s problems: luxury housing, homelessness and traffic pollution – and I’ve had my fair share of near misses on my bicycle here too.
Benali, 28, may not have liked the result, but he’s not in despair over Britain’s Brexit choice, seeing it instead as opportunities to get what people want, and also a chance to keep the best elements, such as the Erasmus programme which encourages student exchanges.
Maybe Benali’s own family story has helped his positivity? He grew up in Nottingham because, “Dad, who was born in Algeria, came to do a PhD where he met my Mum. We used to go every summer for six to eight weeks to meet grandparents and my uncles. “I’ve been to Algeria 18 times,” explains Benali who can speak French and some Arabic. “It’s a family of physicists, doctors and businessmen. But the person I found most inspiring was my granddad. He was put into prison for two years for resisting the French occupation. During that time two of his children died because of common childhood diseases. It’s why he didn’t like the French, and why my Dad came and studied in England…”
Benali didn’t expect to settle in Islington, but he’s now a huge fan after finding a place on the Bakersfield Estate by Holloway Prison. “It has panoramic views. You can see right across Tufnell Park and out to Holloway Road, Alexandra Palace, Woodberry Downs and the Arsenal Stadium. I love the way it is surrounded by green and has got squirrels and foxes, but that no delivery man or taxi driver can find it!”
- Find out more about Islington Greens at https://islington.greenparty.org.uk/ or Facebook for Islington Green Party.
- If you are a paid up Islington Green Party member see here (closed Facebook group)
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.