Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 45 seconds
Everyone has a story. Cycling across the borough to work and shops helped Talia Hussain find a flat and volunteer for Cycle Islington. Now sheâs helping strengthen the Canonbury community vibe through street associations and of course a Jubilee street party. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill.
As a university student Taliaâs first visit to Islington was on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with her Canadian parents who were holidaying in London to search for old pottery at places like Camden Passage and the antiques market that has just become an Amazon Fresh. Fast forward 20 years and sheâs settled in Islington as a full-time resident and community activist whoâs even stood as a candidate for Parliament in 2018 and a few times as a local councillor.
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Endlessly busy Talia Hussain may not yet have become an MP, but sheâs still managed to do a huge amount locally, first as a campaigning committee member of Cycle Islington (until 2021) and more recently organising neighbourhood street associations around Canonbury. Sheâs also midway through research about clothes shopping for her PhD. âIâm focusing on the fashion industry and the role of retail practices in sustainability and unsustainability,â she says wearing a fabulous ensemble of a Squid Games-shaded aqua long-sleeved jumper with cosy cowl neck set off by fingerless gloves that sheâs also knitted using a paler blue wool.
Places Talia Hussain loves in Islington
- Mildmay is really nice, because it is close to everything: Newington Green, Upper Street and Dalston.
- I love Regentâs Canal. Everyone likes it when itâs peaceful and quiet. I like to see a heron, the swans and all the little water birds. I also love the New River, especially when you notice there are some fish. I find staring at fish mesmerising!
- I really love the Island Queen, 87 Noel Road, N1.Â I was there in February for my first Sunday pub roast lunch in two years. Those mirrors they have with the plants painted on them makes it feel so luxurious and glamorous.
- I do like strolling down Upper Street: itâs got such a vibe. I like Essex Road as well.
- I also really like the tower just off Canonbury Square. I sometimes walk that way home, enjoying that bit where you turn off the busyness of Highbury Corner and walk towards the tower and you feel youâve suddenly entered somewhere quiet.
- I have a friend who lives near White Cross Street food market (Monday -Friday, 11am-2pm) and weâll go and get random food and sit in the park or his flat eating amazing food.
Taliaâs a big fan of street association. âThese are not super new â theyâve been happening around Canonbury for a while,â says Talia. âAbout four years ago I got this knock on my door from a community worker, Nicky, who with a small group had got a little bit of funding from the council to pilot a project to set up street associations. This area of Canonbury has a lot of on-street council housing, not an estate, so there are no tenants/residents associations, but the idea was to get something like that together to build the community and get people knowing each other.â
With Nickyâs help her street made a WhatsApp group. âThere are about 10-12 of us now and thatâs enough to organise Christmas drinks, a street party, even a jumble sale and there are plans for street planters, a bench on the corner, a street party for the Queenâs Jubilee and a nice party in September when three streets come together. As each group of people becomes a little bit more self-sustaining, Nicky organises another street by knocking on their doors. This time last year one of the group organising this â left to become ambassador to Cameroon â so they were looking for someone to help, organise and be responsible for budgeting, and report on how we were spending money to council who was local to the area. I was suggested, so I got recruited from being a member of the street association turning up to hang bunting to being on this organising committee,â says Talia.
She puts the groupâs success down to it being a stress-free, low-key way of people in a neighbourhood getting to know each other. âIt wasnât easy during covid but then we organised a September street party and people brought cakes and baking and we got lucky and had extremely sunny weather. Itâs just nice to chat to the neighbours and have a sense of community. Nicky is an amazing bundle of energy and helpfulness who knows everyone. So, when Nicky does a door knock you have a momentum and is a lot easier to keep going with thingsâŠ and once you know people itâs easy to go to them and say who is in? I need three others to help me do this thing. Once you are organising a street party the bar to entry just gets lower and lower. You donât have to do anything, you can just come and if bringing a cake too, that is just wonderful.â
For Talia one of the highlights of having a Street Association is the street party where a street is blocked off and neighbours meet up for chat, food and fun.
âWe did the sassiest dog competition and one of our councillors was judging and went âall the dogs are winnersâ! Normally on the street the cats are in chargeâŠ We have good hardworking councillors in Canonbury, not every ward is as lucky as having such hard-working councillors [which is why Islingtonâs] bike hangars are now the most expensive in London. There needs to be accountability and opposition,â she says â a feeling that inspired her to stand as a local councillor for the Greens in the May 2020 elections.Cycle love
Raised and schooled in Canada, Talia is both artistically skilled (helped by her Fine Art Batchelorâs degree in Fine Art done at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design which taught print making, drawing, sculpture and even welding) and the possessor of an MBA business degree which she took in London at Imperial College.
âLiving in Islington is just a coincidence,â says Talia who has mostly worked in design and production. âI was looking for a place to live and a friend moving to Brighton suggested we move into his flat in Mildmay. Because I was working at an agency in the Old Bus Factory near Cally Road station, and living off Newington Green I ended up cycling across Islington. The overground wasnât open then so it was a 20-minute journey by bike but much longer any other way.â
By chance she then ended up buying a flat in 2005 on her bike route to work, âthough by then I was working in Brixton, on what is now the Q2 (Quietway cycle route from Walthamstow towards Bloomsbury and on to east Acton). Itâs a tiny little wedge of leafy streets between Southgate Road and Essex Road thatâs just lovely: sweet, quiet, leafy residential areas.â
âThe number of people using this route for cycling when I moved here at first might have been 15 or 20 people a day and now you will see 15 people at a time going down the street! I think partially thatâs just a huge increase in people wanting to cycle and wanting exercise and not want to be crushed on to the tube,â she says.
Talia isnât keen on lycra-clad cycling, seeing bike riding as an enjoyable way to get around London, whatever you are wearing. Together with her partner, Ossian, she does a weekly shop on the bikes filling her panniers. âWe can fit enough shopping for two into one and half panniers, though you do have to plan. When Iâve visited friends in America who have to drive to the store, all of a sudden you have 48 cans of pop! People worry how will I get enough food home to feed myself? But for a lot of people thatâs not really an issue â more of an issue is not wasting food, especially fresh produce. We try hard not to do that so we plan our shop according to what weâll make during the week. Veggie lasagne with pan fried aubergines on Sunday dinner will becomes lunches for the rest of the week.â
Another reason Talia loves to bike is for the exercise. âI donât want to wake up knowing Iâm going to sit on a bus then sit at a desk all day. I enjoy seeing the city as I go around, and Iâve seen huge numbers of people enjoying this more and more including studentsâŠ Now with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) the number of people you see cycling with small children with cargo bikes or kids seats has increased. You wouldnât dare cycle like that three or four years ago. My neighbours now have a toddler so instead of using their SUV they bought a bike with a toddler seat. They were able to make that change because the council has introduced LTNs that make it feel safer.
Talia may have ended up in Islington by chance, but now she canât imagine: âWanting to move anywhere else in London. Being here in Islington itâs so close to everything. Itâs not far to get to places like Lea Valley or the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford or down into Soho. I really love using quiet cycle route streets that takes me all through these new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) all the way to Walthamstow or down to Soho.
- More about Street Associations in Islington https://www.helponyourdoorstep.com/good-neighbours-schemes
- Also see the interview with Nicky Ludgate from the Good Neighbourhood Scheme
Over to you
Also if youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via email@example.com Thank you to Ernie, our newly appointed Islington Faces chair (April 2022) for suggesting this interviewee. If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola