In every city there's an area where you can feel a buzz: a few streets with their own distinctive character which become vibrant towns within towns for those who live in them. Jenny Turner checks out urban village life in London, Birmingham and Manchesterthe portuguese district, stockwell, south London
"It wasn't so much that I wanted a better life," shrugs Amadeu Rocha. "I just wanted to see the world. I wouldn't have minded going on to America, but then I got offered a job in a printshop. And then I had children. And they think of themselves as British, and so ..." "It's not hard for us to settle, because we are European," chips in Olga Maria Pimto, who moved to London in 1969. "We just get jobs and pay our National Insurance like everybody else."

In the late 1960s the first port of call for a Portuguese coming to London was bedsit land around Camden and Ladbroke Grove. But gradually, people started drifting southwards. Maria Coelho has run the Sintra deli in Stockwell Road for the last decade. Her fellow Portuguese, she says, have been coming to Stockwell in large numbers ever since Portugal was admitted to the EEC in 1986. Why Stockwell? She doesn't know, but it's relatively cheap and central and has a diffuse stretch of council flats and rooming-houses nestling between Afro-Caribbean Brixton and the posher Clapham to the west.

"Yes, sometimes you can be in Stockwell and almost think you are in Portugal," says Mariana Vieira Serrao, aged 16. Within 100 yards of Sintra there's O Cantinho de Portugal and Cafe-Bar Madeira.

Back in the 1970s London's Portuguese used to meet a Portuguese-language mass in Camden Town. These days, people get together in one of the many Portuguese social clubs which offer decent bica coffee, and proper pasteis de nata custard tarts, and live Portuguese football. Football is a great passion: this month, the Centro Desportivo E Cultural Portugues in Landsdowne Way will take 1,000 supporters to Sheffield for Euro 96. The boardroom has a wall covered in trophies and pennants, and photographs of footballers and strips for the Centro's amateur teams. "Just because we come to the clubs doesn't mean we don't integrate," says Daniel de Sousa, aged 30, who arrived to visit his brother in 1986 then got a job in a restaurant and stayed. "My brother prefers to lose himself in the city. But I need the football. And proper olive oil." You know `proper' Galo olive oil because it has a cockerel on its label.

``Sure, the kids at school used to tell us to go back home to Portugal," says Mariana. "But that's kids, isn't it? But I was so disappointed when we got here," she adds. "Back in Madeira, we had a big house, and you could spend all summer at the beach.'' Mariana came to London when she was eight. She says she still nags her mum constantly to move back home. "It's all right, but I'd hate to die here. Your cemeteries are so horrible. Going to Madeira from London is like going from night to day."

"I still think of Madeira as home, I guess," considers Joao Abel de Abreu Moreira, 48. For this reason, most Portuguese in London still carry Portuguese passports. "And I go there every summer, but you know what? For the first week, I love it. But by the second week, I'm just bored."


LOCATION: From the Brixton end of Stockwell Road to Landsdowne Way at Clapham North.

PLACES: Sintra: 146 Stockwell Road, London SW9 (0171-733 9402) 9am-10.30pm, daily. Cafe-Bar Madeira: 130 Stockwell Road, SW9, (0171-737 4785) 8am- 11pm daily. O Cantinho de Portugal: 137 Stockwell Road, SW9 (0171-924 0218) 1Oam-midnight daily.