‘It all started when I was 14’: Independent Hackney mayoral candidate Vernon Williams looks back on his life

Vernon Williams

Vernon Williams - Credit: Vernon Williams

Vernon Williams tells Emma Bartholomew how his education began after he left school – and why he’s the only independent mayoral candidate on next week’s Hackney Council ballot papers

Vernon Williams

Vernon Williams - Credit: Vernon Williams

Independent Hackney Mayoral candidate Vernon Williams decided to “change his life” aged 14, when he took control of his own education after being ousted from secondary school.

The 60-year-old lived in Jamaica until he was 11, when he came to join his mother in Hackney where she had moved six years before.

“I was left with my grandmother and she wasn’t really able to provide me with the parental control that I needed,” he told the Gazette, “so I would run away most of the time, going to strange places, and exploring the countryside.”

Having absconded from school he found it hard to catch up at Upton House, where City Academy now stands, and the head master “persuaded him staying on wouldn’t benefit him”.

“My education started when I left,” he said. “I started working in a hotel and during that year I was away from school and I decided, “I’m going to change my life”, and that’s what I did.”

The age of 14 was a memorable one for Vernon as he also walked from London to Glasgow for charity. “I remember some people writing to the Gazette saying, “It’s not advisable - this boy will damage himself”, but I did it.”

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Within three years Vernon sat his O-Levels, and he went on to take four A-levels and study politics at the City of London Polytechnic where he “got involved with the radical groups immediately”.

He joined the Labour Party in 1984 because he “really believed in its principles”, and by 1998 he was elected a councillor in Hackney. However by 2001 he was struck off, because he didn’t attend any council meetings for a year.

“The reason I did not attend was as a councillor I was getting side stepped by the Labour party,” he said. “I was working and voting with the Conservative party, and that wasn’t really pleasing to me even though in the council those Conservatives were pretty decent.”

He believes he would have beat former Mayor Jules Pipe when he stood as an independent candidate in Kings Park in 2002 if he’d “had more resources”. He stood in Queensbridge in 2010 and got 130 votes, and 132 in 2014 when he took the council’s returning officer to the High Court on the basis the count could have been interfered with.

So why does he want to now stand as Mayor? “One, I simply don’t have the resources to do a ward properly, and as a mayoral candidate I can get my piece in the booklet. Number two is that I really believe there are strategic things that are wrong in Hackney.”

If Vernon gets in he would like to see the homeless housed in 500 chalets at the edges of the borough’s parks.

He would also like secure an apology from the government for the slave trade, which he sees as being responsible for the youth violence epidemic.

“It caused great psychological harm and resulted in serious cognitive dissonance with its destructive patterns including self-hate and violence to each other,” he said.

“I would like to see the community and society as a whole talking about slavery. Black people have it welled up in them and it’s driving a lot of the behaviour in the young and even in the old,” he said. “You get this feeling of helplessness.”

Vernon will join five other mayoral candidates at the Gazette hustings on Monday at 8.15pm, in the Old Fire Station Community Centre, Leswin Road.