Introducing Exodus - Six-part Special - Pt. 2
A Movement Of Jah people ...In Luton
Squall 8, Autumn 1994, p. 41.
"To me, the only way to cope with the pressure is to actively resist it. To us every lick of paint, every word spoken, every dance put on, builds the positive. It's the only way forward. The defence against the negative attacks is to build the positive and it works, we've proved it" says Glenn Jenkins spokesperson for the Exodus Collective.
To get up to the Cavern Hills just outside Luton, you have to walk up a bridle way that crosses a golf course. Having dodged the flailing golf balls you reach the top, an overseeing position allowing you to survey the urban landscape and its environs. Acres of Bovis Homes stretch away, their formularised architecture punctuated by the high rise blocks of the Marsh Farm council estate. And going down into the middle of town you find the Arndale Centre, a roofed over mall with a Tescos, a MacDonalds and a Marks and Spencers etc. Some of Luton's youth hang around talking on the plastic moulded benches that are placed around the centre. There's muzak and plastic climbing frames for the kids, one big insidious package designed to make you think "I can do all my shopping here and then have an expensive cup of tea at the Arndale's plastic cafe" - the all in one commercial utopia.
Why then do the yute choose to hang out in such a numbing temple to formula shopping, best symbolised by the plastic benches on which they loiter with no intent? It is a desperately dull sight but then for Luton's youth there is very little choice. They don't want to play golf even if they had the excessive green fees, and they don't particularly get excited by the latest production of Cinderella advertised on the Arndale Centre's community arts' notice board. Unemployment and homelessness are high and opportunities to escape the stagnancy, low.
But by turning your head slightly at the top of the Cavern Hills, there is another sight that stands out proud and anomalous to Luton's nylon carpet landscape. It is HAZ Manor, formerly a derelict old people's home and now a thriving community and housing co-op. Going down into the Manor is a different way of approaching Luton. For under construction are a gym, a community room, forty bedrooms, a massive kitchen, an allotment and a repair/storage room for the prize possessions - the speakers that pump up the dance. What's more, there is an atmosphere of positivity that defies the bland and emasculating stagnancy of the surrounding area. It is the Exodus Collective at work.
The Exodus began over two years ago after the discovery in a Luton garage of three unused speaker boxes. These boxes were fixed up, taken to a nearby forest and set up to create the first Exodus party, drawing a couple of hundred people. Three years down the line and the Exodus Collective hold regular FREE dances, attracting around 6000 people from the area. The last party of the summer was held in a warehouse, owned but not used, by Marks and Spencer. Certainly beats the Arndale Centre for community contribution!
Exodus have also reconstructed a derelict farm into a city farm open to the public and an atrophying town into a place where you can dream and see those dreams realised.
Nothing has been made easy for them though. The telling of the Exodus story is an exposure of what can be achieved with positive community aspirations and also of the barrage of opposition and malicious plotting from the authorities, designed to steal the momentum of that aspiration at every stage of its development. Telling the story of Exodus is a testament to perseverance and a testament to the power of necessity breeding ingenuity. It is a new testament to "the only way forward".
To see Squall's full coverage of Exodus click here