Tottenham is changing and Franklin Boateng embodies the creative spirit on the move like few others.
This is a man who’s been harassed and legally challenged by big business – and won. Who helped shape the way the 2011 riots were reported in the mainstream news. A social media wizard and local entrepreneur who embraces the philosophy that “if it’s not out there and you want it – create it”.
We meet in the courtyard of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, which hosts the 37-year old’s latest venture, the monthly Artisan Market. The market’s Christmas edition is coming this weekend, on 3 December.
Previous months have featured a host of different stalls from culinary hot sauce to children’s textiles. By keeping the cost of the stalls low, he aims to open opportunities for local traders who may lose out through regeneration taking place across the area, while also providing an opportunity for independent creatives to get started selling.
“I’m not against the regeneration in Tottenham but hopefully they can provide spaces for local people to sell.”
The market was born out of opportunity – this seems to be a theme running through Franklin’s timely achievements.
His girlfriend, Natalie, was frustrated by the shortage of places to sell handmade soy and coconut wax candles through her company, Mink Candles. And Franklin felt the courtyard at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre was being “underused”.
So after a conversation in July this year with the centre’s chairwoman, Sarah Ebanja, plans for the market were set in motion and they launched in October. Win-win.
“I want the market to become a go-to destination for Tottenham and its visitors,” says Franklin.
The man who makes things happen is refreshingly unassuming. He doesn’t mind taking a call from his mother in the middle of our interview – “mum, I can’t talk now, I’m in a meeting” – and displays no false modesty as he tells me he is sometimes stopped on the streets by kids who know him from social media and want a selfie with him.
He is, after all, the biggest sneaker blogger in the UK, with 127K followers on Instagram – a passion which developed over several trainer buying trips to the US during his childhood.
Then in 1999 Franklin started playing around with the idea of using his childhood nickname, the King of Trainers, for a business. He bought the domain and dabbled with a website. Later social media came about in full force, and he registered the KingofTrainers Twitter handle.
“I had it and was just talking about trainers, at that time I didn’t have many followers on there”, he says.
A friend suggested he link up with JD Sports who were using King Of Trainers as their tagline. But instead of cooperation, they threatened to sue him.
“They wrote me cease and desist letters and laid it out to me as if they owned it all. But I’d done my research, I knew they hadn’t registered the name. In the process of taking me to court they realised, ‘this man could possibly win’.
Their lawyers were kind of shocked. So they got back to me and said, ‘you know what, you can do whatever you want with the name.’”
Franklin the “social influencer” found overnight notoriety during the 2011 riots, when he started posting on Twitter using the hashtag #TottenhamRiots.
“I knew Mark Duggan (the man police killed, triggering the riots), I grew up with a lot of those guys in Broadwater Farm. Friends were messaging me from the streets with what was happening in real time, so I started tweeting.”
“My first tweet was something like, ‘I think a riot’s gonna happen’. I hashtagged #TottenhamRiots, people picked up on it and I started tweeting so much that the news outlets began reporting my tweets. It changed the way they reported the riots. The BBC picked it up and they came to interview me.”
Franklin went on to co-found Benn Boateng, a social media for business and brand management consultancy firm, based in the Enterprise offices at the Bernie Grant Arts Center.
He’s The Social Media Man, giving seminars and masterclasses on using social media to grow your business. He runs @Fabsnetwork for all things social media and he’s a twogger (I’m not being rude, that’s a twitter blogger).
In 2014 he was named one of the top ten most promising local entrepreneurs by the Made in Tottenham initiative and in 2015 he gave his TEDx talk, “A Social Media Mind”.
He’s passionate about teaching social media safety and awareness in schools – with a vision of making it part of the national curriculum. And as the father of a two-year old boy, he is also mindful of the responsibility to educate the next generation on using social media wisely.
“Things on social media will follow you throughout your life. Employers will search your social media, sites like Social Mention can pull comments made about you. Teachers in schools aren’t aware of a lot of the issues and they need to be taught alongside the parents and school governors,” he says.
“Unless the government steps in and does something there’s going to be a crisis with issues like cyber bullying.”
Franklin keeps strong links to Tottenham, despite living in Enfield now. His Ghanaian parents still live in the West Green Road area and he’s around Seven Sisters for much of his time.
“I love Tottenham”, he tells me, “and I love the community aspect of Tottenham”.
And it’s here where the epicentre of his immense transformative capacity lies.
“You’ve only got one life, and you’ve got to do as much as you can. If you have an inkling of a capacity to get it done, just get it done,” he enthuses.
And those are words he certainly lives up to.
Words by Clare Flaxen.