Ian Shacklock: CAMRA*, canals & campaigning

Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 6 seconds

Everyone has a story on the Islington Faces Blog.  If you remember the successful 2008 battle to stop Arsenal from scrapping the community sports centre, and the 2010 campaign to stop the Whittington Hospital from being closed or downgraded, then you owe some thanks to Highbury’s Ian Shacklock who put in so much energy – with others – to winning those two campaigns. Ian, 53, works full time but his passion for preserving local character, proper pubs and more recently Regent’s Canal means the press keep him on speed dial while he helps keep Islington special. Interview by Nicola Baird.


Ian Shacklock: camapign success include saving the Whittington Hospital, convincing Arsenal to rebuild a community sports centre and getting tough with Starbucks at the Regent’s Canal in Camden.


Ian Shacklock is one of many who don’t want to see Holborn Studios, Eagle Wharf Road demolished and then replaced with shops, restaurants and rental units. See this news report.”

“Every day another issue comes along,” says Ian Shacklock from behind the big wooden table in his sitting room where he masterminds campaign victories. There’s an old PC in the corner and cuttings piled up ready for attention. On the walls are the letters that meant success – sent by Islington Chief Executive John Foster and another from Arsenal Director Ken Friar agreeing that Arsenal would rebuild the community sports centre that vanished when the team moved to the Emirates Stadium (it’s being rebuilt and due to open at the end of 2014). And there’s a sweet framed needlework cityscape view, taken from the water, which Ian sewed for his grandmother years ago in primary school. Clearly he’s a man who knows how to store important information.

“Most of the work happens behind the scenes,” he explains. “A petition is the last resort, and these days I prefer writing letters, see this one about shops, or emails and holding meetings, as well as visiting the canal at every opportunity – did you know that until the 1970s no one was allowed on to the towpath?”

Ian grew up in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – about 20 miles outside London , close to the New River that has brought drinking water to Islington since 1613. He moved to the Finsbury Park area in 1987, where he still lives. “I just couldn’t leave now unless it became so polluted or the complete and utter social sterilisation of London drove me out,” says Ian.

“I had a motorbike accident when I was 22, two years after graduating in Maths at Imperial, and tore off my left arm through the shoulder,” he explains. “But instead of ending my life it began it. I became more practical and ended up doing things for a challenge. It made me value my job more too.”

Telling his life story it becomes clear that Ian is the master of metamorphosis for he took up campaigning only six years ago – and all because the terms of his job contract changed. “I was in IT working long hours on a temporary contract for nine years. Eventually they persuaded me to join the company and that meant paid holiday. I had 25 days paid holiday a year, which I wasn’t used to, and I thought I’d use it differently. It was CAMRA – the real ale campaign – that brought me into campaigning. I remember one of their newsletters showing how many shops and pubs were disappearing every month: it spelt out the reasons to support the Sustainable Communities Bill, so I went to the rally at Westminster. Slowly I got to know the language of campaigning, so it felt more like osmosis when I picked up the Arsenal baton.”

And then the Whittington baton – which in 2013 is set to face a whole new raft of campaigning attention, though this time not from canal-focused Ian. “I was thinking for that last Whittington campaign how I cycled to every independent pharmacy in north London – well 50 of them – and how I couldn’t do it now because there are so few railings to lock my bike to.” Ian laughs – he likes to remind London Mayor Boris Johnson that he is the “one-armed cyclist” that Boris subconsciously referred to in 2004 when challenged for using a mobile riding his bike*. “I am convinced that this was a result of seeing me with my kids in the playground at Highbury Fields in around 2000,” says Ian. “Boris was supervising his own kids at the time and I was towing a cycle chariot. I wrote to him about this in 2007 and on the two occasions that I’ve knocked on his door I‘ve reminded him. I think it makes him smile and squirm!”


Ian Shacklock: “This is one of my favourite photos of the Holborn Studios chimney I want to save. I took this in November. I like the way the whole building is reflected in the water.”

Canal campaigns
After taking over as chair of Friends of the Regents Canal in December 2010 Ian’s main focus is canal related as he attempts to mediate between the many different users of the canal.

Nose around the website here  and you’ll see ideas for bringing freight back to the canals – specifically as part of the gasometer rebuild projects at Kings Cross. A campaign success that saw Starbucks by Camden Lock persuaded to respect canal history, see here. Plus early efforts to thwart demolition plans for Holborn Studios – the elegant workspace complete with Victorian chimney – nestled by the canal but minutes from busy Old Street’s dot.com entrepreneurs.

“There are lots of issues happening with mooring spots on the canal. I don’t want to see boaters cleansed, or changes to the towpath that mean the cobble stones and grass is removed,” explains Ian. “Cyclists, who feel forced off the roads, don’t realise they can be bullies on the towpath. Pollution and noise is infuriating people living at Noel Road (which backs on to the canal). The residents feel smoked out of their own homes  by the fumes from diesel generators and burning of unseasoned wood by the people living on the boats. There’s also the problem of some boat people blocking visitor mooring spaces so other visitors can’t come to Islington.  It’s all about managing conflict.”

Conflict doesn’t daunt Ian at all. “I like the way campaigning is social. The more confrontation and debate you have the more chance there is of getting things right,” he says. “Sometimes at work it’s just bits and bytes with other geeks and very little human interaction.”  This may also be the reason he never drinks at home – instead he likes a pint from the nearby local pubs – The Auld Triangle, Bank of Friendship or the King’s Head on the corner of Monsell Road and Blackstock Road.

Like so many busy people Ian squeezes a lot into life – it’s not just the canal work and his full time job –he’s back and forwards to Swansea to see his twins Tom and Megan, now 16 – and rarely says no to a good idea. This week for instance (6-8 March 2013) he’s helping CAMRA with the London Drinker Beer and Cider festival http://www.camranorthlondon.org.uk over in Camden. No surprise really, after all it was CAMRA which convinced Ian he had what it took to become a really effective campaigner.


*CAMRA – the campaign for real ale

*What did Mayor Boris Johnson* say about “one-armed cyclists”? Here is a comment made by Boris in Dec 2004 when asked in an interview with the London Cyclist magazine whether he still used his mobile while  cycling, Mr Johnson said: “I do. And to hell with it! It’s not against the law… If I was a one-armed cyclist you wouldn’t kick me off my bicycle, and I’m just doing something with my free arm, aren’t I?”

And here are some words he wrote in a book called Have I got Views for You (which includes an A to Z of Dos and Don’ts of cycling in London, the proof is at P).

“P is for PHONE. I see no reason why you should not treat your bike as your office. Provided you hug the kerb, as St  Paul’s ship hugged the coastline of the Mediterranean, you should be entitled to make telephone calls. It is probably safer to use a hands-free gizmo, but to all those who want to ban the use of mobiles on bikes, I say this:  there are plenty of one-armed people in the world. Are we so cruel and discriminatory as to forbid them from using a bicycle? We are not. What is a mobile phone-user but a cyclist who has, effectively, only one arm? I rest my case.”

Over to you

What made you get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to make friends or something to be proud about doing?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.