Posts Tagged 'Islington'

Asa Butterfield: star of the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Sitting across the sofa from Asa Butterfield it is hard not to feel very young. The 11-year-old star has the uncanny ability, common to so many pre-pubescent boys, of reducing me to my gawky teenage self.

asa-butterfield“So what do you want to ask?” he says, fixing me with his blue eyes. His blithe unawareness as to why I want to talk to him makes every question seem trivial.

We are sitting in the basement kitchen of his home in Islington, north London, while his Mum, slightly confusingly called Jake, cooks dinner. In this homely setting it is hard to imagine him as Bruno, his character in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, staring through the barbed wire fence into the horror of a Nazi concentration camp.

But Asa is a born actor. Listening to him describe acting in a film about the holocaust, it is hard to believe that director Mark Herman chose him for the part because of his innocence to the subject matter.

“The last scene was horrible; I almost threw up,” he says. “It felt like I was going through it, though nowhere near as bad.” But the role has brought him fame, two nominations for a British Film Award and a London Critics Circle Film Award.

This part is the latest in a long string of parts that would make many grown actors turn green with envy. Asa has been acting since the tender age of seven at the Islington-based Young Actors Theatre, where he got his first part in the 2006 television drama After Thomas, followed by the 2007 children’s comedy Son of Rambow.

He begins work on his next film, The Kid, a true-life story of desecrated childhood, next month. In it, he plays a young boy who suffers terrible abuse at the hands of his mother. “It’s sort of horrific. I’m abused really badly. My mum beats me until she’s too tired to carry on. She breaks my hand in a mangler,” he says earnestly.

I say it must be hard to act in a scene like that and his previous scorn returns: “Well I haven’t done it yet, so we’ll have to see.”

But, as for many child stars before him, Asa has had second thoughts. In an interview with The Times he said that he did not want continue his career on the silver screen. He says it was because of missing his friends and family, who he did not see for the three-months of filming.

But now that he is back at school in Stoke Newington, he has changed his mind: “Seeing as I’ve had loads of press now – well, not that much – and some nominations, I reckon I probably want to be an actor now.”

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Job Centre blues

The Job Centre on Barnsbury Road presents a bleak prospect. Inside the packed reception, an air of resigned despair clouds the room that no amount of neon lighting or brightly-coloured wall designs can dispel.

Set back on a small side street off the Barnsbury Road, the Barnsbury Job Centre Plus stands like a testament to ‘Broken Britain’; outside, teenagers in hoods skulk around, smoking and shouting. Ironically, cutbacks forced the other Job Centre on Upper Street to close last year. PD*26001897

Islington has been hit hard by the downturn in the job market. Job Centre figures show that there were nearly 1,500 redundancies in the borough at the end of last year – 20 per cent of the London total. The number of vacancies on offer is at its lowest level since records began in 2001, according to the Office of National Statistics, offering the unemployed little hope for the future.

Ben White, 32, from Barnsbury, used to work as a manager in a local accountancy firm. Six weeks ago he was made redundant due to severe cutbacks and he has been unable to find a suitable job since. He stares at the floor, sucking hard on his cigarette. “There’s just nothing decent out there,” he says adamantly.

“I used to make a good salary and enjoy my job. In there [the Job Centre] there’s nothing but shit.”

A trawl of the Job Centre computer system confirms his claim. Of the 2,957 jobs advertised in the local area, the majority offer between £7 and £9 an hour and at least a third bear the grim maxim “exceeds the national minimum wage”, the legal pay requirement of £5.73 an hour for workers aged over 22. Even these vacancies at the bottom of the pay scale require extensive expertise.

An advertisement for a council PA not only demands that the applicant “MUST have relevant experience in the public sector”, but also shorthand, advanced IT skills and audio typing. Another for a Construction Design Manager, which promises to pay only “above the minimum wage”, requires a degree in engineering or equivalent, a mandatory four years at university.

At the higher end of the scale, there were a few vacancies for plumbers and electricians, although the hourly wages on offer were between £10 and £15 an hour, a tenth of the £100 plus an hour wages offered a year ago. The future looks bleak, even for those with essential skills. Unemployment in Islington rose by 0.5 per cent above the national average at the end of last year to 6.6 per cent, aggravating an area already divided by wealth.

Bridget Fox, a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, warns that this trend could have long-term effects. “One of the biggest challenges is the growing social exclusion of some young people,” she says. “The longer they stay out of work, the less suited to and able to cope with work/hold down a job they may become.”

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May 2020