Signs of the times – Columbia Road residents take direct action to fight drugs blight

The anonymous “Columbia Road Cartel” took direct action early this morning by erecting fake streets signs to highlight the unchecked drugs crime in the Columbia Road area of Tower Hamlets.

Community activists erect hoax street signs in residential streets near Columbia Road. The anti drugs street art campaign called the Columbia Road Cartel has been commissioned by the Weavers Community Action Group.

Real problem, fake street signs

The “Columbia Road Cartel” erected fake street signs saying “Crack pick up point”, “Give way to oncoming drug dealers”, “Needle free zone” and road markings denoting parking bays “Drug dealers only” across the their neighbourhood.

Issues the “Columbia Road Cartel” anti-drugs street art action is trying to highlight are:

  • Drug dealing on doorsteps day and night
  • Police resources cut to a point where they can’t cope with the issue
  • Large groups of drug users congregating on streets intimidating locals and committing petty crimes
  • Drug users accessing insecure council residential block stairwells to use drugs then leaving a trail of blood and drug paraphernalia
  • The booming local night economy is not properly managed and is believed to fuel the problem
  • Heroin in Tower Hamlets is said to be the cheapest in Europe
Drug dealers and users in Weavers Ward

As in Wapping the law-abiding people of Weavers Ward feel powerless and cannot look to the police, council or other borough authorities to protect them.

Community activists erect hoax street signs in residential streets near Columbia Road. The anti drugs street art campaign called the Columbia Road Cartel has been commissioned by the Weavers Community Action Group.

“We have to pick the needles up each day”

“I have to change the way I walk home from work as there are so many picking up drugs at 7.30pm. Where I work they sleep outside every night in Florida Street, we have to have the needles picked up each day”

An anonymous resident, James Hammett House

Drug dealers and users in Weavers Ward

The area of Tower Hamlets in question is a high density residential area on the fringes of Zone One, adjacent to Shoreditch High Street, Old Street, Brick Lane and the increasingly busy Hackney and Bethnal Green Roads. The Columbia Road flower market runs through this.

Many of the properties residents live in are managed by Tower Hamlets Homes , the Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) created by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to manage social housing.

Night-time economy move from Soho blamed

In the last two or three years the drug trade in this area has boomed, residents consider that a key problem is that Shoreditch has largely taken over from Soho as London’s busiest night-time economy but the boroughs that border the area – Hackney, City of London, Tower Hamlets – are not working together to address the problem.

“One corner of our street is used as a drug collection point 24 hours a day. Heroin and crack addicts gather in small groups waiting for deliveries which arrive by speeding car. It is barely possible to avoid walking around or through these gatherings when leaving or returning home.

Six months ago my stepson Jake was victim of a hit-and-run by one of the dealers. His ankle was badly smashed and he is still unable to return to work. The authorities seem to be powerless or uninterested to act.”

Jonathan Moberly, resident, Chambord Street.

Drug dealers and users in Weavers Ward

Increased late night activity generated by the night-time economy has attracted drug users, the homeless and beggars to the area to work the streets.

These numbers have grown as drug, mental health and homeless services have been cut back and closed through austerity cost-cutting.

Drug dealers have moved in to service the market and as police numbers have dropped (by 200 officers locally) they have not had the resource to tackle the problem properly.

The diagram below shows the community action group’s take on how this has culminated into a perfect storm to cause the problems that residents now have to endure.

Shoreditch and factors contributing to the ‘perfect storm’ drug economy. (Click to view larger image)

Drug dealing is brazen

The Weavers ward community action group state that “the brazen nature of the dealing in our neighbourhood is almost unbelievable and shows that the users and dealers have little fear of being caught and charged.”

“Since July 2015 I have been a victim of crime due to incidents outside my property… It is quite usual for there to be up to 10 or 15 druggies outside my house waiting for their drug drops, every day 24/7. I am suffering from acute fear, stress and anxiety and now my elderly mother who is 89 is living with me as she has dementia, I fear for her health and wellbeing.”

An anonymous resident

Drug dealers and users in Weavers Ward

As in Wapping the community action group in Weavers have been using their own WhatsApp group to exchange information and pass it to the police.

Problem is a lot of the time there are no police to pass the information to.

Community activists erect hoax street signs in residential streets near Columbia Road. The anti drugs street art campaign called the Columbia Road Cartel has been commissioned by the Weavers Community Action Group.

Update 07:58 17 September

Cllr. Andrew Wood

Many thanks to Cllr. Andrew Wood (Conservative, Canary Wharf) who is tabling a motion to council this Wednesday when the issue of How to reduce ASB in TH is to be debated Wednesday night in full Council.

Now that should be interesting! You can see Andrew’s motion here [PDF].

Included in this motion are the following proposals:

  • Set up new phone & email instead of 101
  • Copy Sunderland & have a new online reporting tool
  • Copy Lambeth to ban NOX
  • Review CCTV numbers & location

It would be good for all residents involved in this issue to attend the Town Hall on Wednesday to hear what our representatives have to say.

We find Andrew’s twitter account to be one of the most helpful and informative of all the politicians in the borough and recommend you follow him on Twitter as @Andrewwood17

Update 12:50hrs 17 September

The signs may not have lasted for very long but they certainly served their purpose.

Drug dealers only road fake road markings being washed away this morning.

LW Comment

All the above will be sadly familiar to Wapping residents who can no longer use their parks with any feeling of safety.

The recent numerous incidents of women being threatened with violence in Wapping Gardens is just one symptom of a failing system of law and order across the borough.

The Weavers community action group have been actively working with the police and council to tackle the drugs problem but the reality is there are not enough police officers on our streets.

LW would be very interested to hear from other groups across Tower Hamlets who have had to form their own community action groups to try and deal with rising crime in their communities.

Please email us hello@lovewapping.org and tell us your stories and how residents are working together to keep your communities safe.

We love Wapping but we love Tower Hamlets too.

Community activists erect hoax street signs in residential streets near Columbia Road. The anti drugs street art campaign called the Columbia Road Cartel has been commissioned by the Weavers Community Action Group.

Note: This post was amended at 15.35hrs on 16th September 2018 to reflect the fact that the anonymous “Columbia Road Cartel” was responsible for the erection of the fake street signs, not the Weavers Community Action Group. 


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5 Comments

  1. I live opposite ion park near Colombia rd. we have drug dealing going on, have done for 4 years now. But we have no cctv. Not like the other residents who are complaining. At least they have the cctv to fall back in. How do we get cameras put up. Not like I’ve not asked.

  2. Exactly the same on Buckhurst St in between Whitechapel and Bethnal Green.

    Police do f*ck all, just drive by…

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