Drug dealers get the message: don't mess with Silla

BY ANNE AUDEN ON leaving Silla Carron s home, one can see across the road the former basketball pitch that was one of the first areas that this one-woman dynamo managed to transform on the Clarence Way Estate in Camden. Formerly blighted by late-night noise, drug users

ON leaving Silla Carron's home, one can see across the road the former basketball pitch that was one of the first areas that this one-woman dynamo managed to transform on the Clarence Way Estate in Camden.

Formerly blighted by late-night noise, drug users and troublemakers, the pitch and its current use mainly for football is now controlled by the Clarence Way Tenants' Association, which was started by Silla in October 1999.

This good neighbour, who won Neighbour of the Year in last year's Pride of Britain Awards, believes in "pride in what you're doing and where you're living".

Through vigorous campaigning she has been instrumental in enabling her community to clean up and take control of their environment, as well as putting pressure on Camden Council to set up a drugs task force.

Seeing a "druggie injecting himself as I took my grand-daughter to school six years' ago", Silla decided enough was enough and started up the TA to push for a better deal for all tenants and residents of the estate.

By December, with the help of the Gospel Oak District Housing Office, she had secured a capital award of £3.5m for new windows and doors, upgrading of security and, with the help of the police, started to 'design out' crime.

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A play area and crazy golf for the younger kiddies followed a few years later. The local Clarence Hall, which is also run by the TA, is now used by diverse community groups, bringing vitality to the area.

Silla, 58, was brought up in the austere post-war period, in a home where rules and regulations were held in high regard by her sergeant-major father. Her feisty character and cheeky manner were apparent from an early age and caught the eye of a wealthy lady in the next road, in whose home she was delighted to be treated once a week to tea and TV.

Informed at the age of 11 that she was adopted, it wasn't until she was 30, when her real mother sought her out, that Silla discovered that she was Jewish.

Her busy home is open house to her family, friends and neighbours, as well as local children seeking welcome drinks after their football games, and is a testament to how much Silla is at the heart of this community. All are welcomed, and are amiably inspected by the family dogs, Cher ("from my favourite film, 'The Big Easy'") and Mersey.

She is a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, whom she admires for her "toughness and straight-talking''.

When Silla sets her mind on doing something, she will succeed. Her family are immensely proud of her achievements, but have feared for her safety as she has bravely taken on the drug-users and gangs. Despite many threats and damage to her car and home, she remains undaunted.

Over three decades Silla has helped around 30 kids get onto the right path, often taking them into her own home to give them support. But equally she has arranged outings for those children who don't get into trouble "as a reward for good behaviour", as she believes it is important that good behaviour must not go unnoticed.

Of the host of awards and nominations she has received, including the aforementioned Pride of Britain, Respect's Taking a Stand and a special police commendation, Silla says "Although I do appreciate winning, the nomination itself is the award. Knowing that someone has noticed what I have been doing." She has met Tony Blair five times - nobody fazes this fearless fighter!- and her advice and valuable experience in fighting drugs and crime is sought by politicians of all parties.

When she was 15, Silla was a pillion passenger in a motorbike crash, sustaining a serious injury to her pelvis. At 21, the birth of her daughter broke her pelvis and she was told that she could expect to be in a wheelchair. The doctors reckoned without Silla's determination. She soldiered on with the pain for years - only 15 years ago did she eventually 'give in' and take medication to manage it.

In the summer, Silla will be introduced to a wider audience through her participation in the BBC's "The Estate We're In", filmed on a problem estate in Plymouth.

Despite considerable ill-health most of her life, Silla has demonstrated a strength of character and steadiness of purpose that eludes many people in full health.

In person she has a slight, neat frame, an open face and a firm, confident handshake. Her animated, genuine and friendly manner would put any visitor at ease.

But beneath this soft exterior is a woman of true grit, who affirms her intention to continue to fight fearlessly for and on behalf of her community.