Many people wouldn’t think twice about revisiting their childhood home – a place which typically symbolises happy memories of family members, playing with friends and growing up. For 30-year-old Yinka Bokinni, however, it’s taken her 20 years to return to the now-closed North Peckham estate on which her childhood friend, Damilola Taylor, died aged 10 in 2000.
“It’s weird standing steps away from the road that holds my happiest and my worst memories,” she says in her Channel 4 documentary, Damilola: The Boy Next Door, whilst stood on the street where he was killed.
The film, presented by radio DJ and presenter Bokinni, marks the 20th anniversary of Damilola Taylor’s murder on the Peckham estate, a tragic event covered extensively in the media at the time but one which Yinka, and many other childhood friends of the late Nigerian-born schoolboy, are only just confronting for the first time.
“For a long time I denied knowing Damilola Taylor,” Yinka reveals to a former neighbour, who she hasn’t seen since the North Peckham estate was demolished shortly after Damilola’s death. “I don’t know if it’s worth denying all those good times to just pretend that I didn’t go through something bad.”
Throughout this raw and poignant documentary, we follow Yinka as she remembers Damilola as the carefree and fearless little boy who “was always grinning” through interviews with former neighbours, friends and family members, from rapper Michael ‘Tiny Man’ Bademosi, the last person to see the school boy before his death, to Damilola’s father Richard Taylor, who has dedicated the last 20 years to tackling youth violence.
After years of hiding away at the mention of Damilola, Yinka makes sure to provide a more in-depth, well-rounded account of the fun-loving schoolboy, who many people only remember as the victim of a senseless crime.
Whilst learning more about Damilola through these fond memories of him, we’re also given an intimate glimpse into Yinka’s childhood on the estate, growing up in a close-knit community with her Irish mum, Nigerian dad and six siblings.
In one particularly emotional scene, Yinka watches a Panorama interview filmed shortly after Damilola’s death, featuring herself as a 10-year-old, her brother and her late mum, whose voice she hadn’t heard for over 10 years. “When you’re 11 and you’re told that your friend has been murdered, you don’t know how to process it,” she says, as we watch her younger-self talk about the death of her friend.
We also watch as Yinka tries to reconcile her rose-tinted view of the safe, joyful childhood she remembers with events which occurred on the estate. Visiting her older sister Shade, Yinka is reminded that while they lived in a kind-hearted community who looked out for each other, there was a dark side. “I remember the landing stinking of urine and s**t, I remember the cockroaches,” Shade says. Speaking about the violence in the area, she adds: “That environment wasn’t going to be safe for anyone. Especially not a little boy.”
These realisations hit home in one heart-breaking moment, in which Yinka is looking through old newspaper clippings which describe the North Peckham estate as a “no-go”, “hellish” area full of “squalor” and finds one report, written three weeks before Damilola’s death, urging the council to close the estate, reading: “What are they waiting for? Someone to die?”
Damilola: The Boy Next Door is not only a fitting tribute to Damilola Taylor which remembers him as the person he was – as illustrated by those who knew him – and not just the figure seen in the media, but also a compelling look at how it affected, and continues to affect, those who lived on the North Peckham estate.