Hackney; once described as Britains most undesirable borough, now resembles a pubescent teen. New-build, rent-to-buy flats prong up like adult teeth in its already over-crowded mouth, as her hyper-hormonal growth spurt encourages a rash of costa coffees over her face. Rigid with growing pains, estranged tower blocks and estates scream through his infant body, before being muffled under the flesh of a new community. The process of gentrification;
Definition: To renovate or improve (a house or district) so that it conforms to middle class taste.
Feet weighted by Dr Martens and a buttoned up check shirt, I adventure into my new Hackney. My undesirable town, once plagued by poor housing and high crime rates, is now sporting a fresh get up. Renovated and improved. While my uniform follows the fashions of the new community, my bank balance and class threatens to burn up my outfit around me to reveal my secret. Whilst running from the flames that lick my heels, Hackney’s new price tag muffles my voice as I scream out “that this extensive regeneration was not for me”.
“When I was young I could’ve never imagined Hackney would look the way it does today. The worst part is they’re pushing us out, the middle class people. It seems they’re trying to get rid of us, especially poorer people like me”
Barry Leaning (Clapton Road)
With the economic boom that’s happening within the borough, cost of living has soared higher than ever, forcing the hands of working class tenants to seek homes outside of their borough. Due to the demolition of what David Cameron describes as ‘Sink Estates’, thousands of tenants are now in need of rehousing. Mr Cameron went on to say that “For decades these Sink Estates – and frankly the people who lived in them, had been seen as something to be managed”. In 2015 17,150 tenants were temporarily housed out of the area, up from the 5030 tenants in 2010. Over 90% of these placements were made by London authorities, who said that the decisions were made due to high rents, housing benefit caps and affordable housing strategies.
Local, independent and family run businesses are also feeling the heat. Hackneys revamp has made the borough a haven of economic opportunity, threatening to smoke out those small business from the changing community. It was reported in April the governments plan to revalue businesses based on property prices. Hackney had the highest increase of all the borough’s, soaring at an average of 46%. Campaign co-ordinator for Hackney Green Party, Mustafa Korel, reported that his mothers council flat in Hackney Central was recently valued at a staggering £339,000, when it was originally purchased at a modest £70,000, 15 years ago. The correlation between growth in property value and business value has resulted in many local and family-run stores feeling the pressure of selling out to huge corporate franchise’s.
Paul Gardner, of Gardner’s Bags at 149 Commercial Street, has had one of the highest increases in rateable value, from £18,000 to £40,000. As one of the UK’s top 100 small businesses, he was invited to Downing St; After meeting MP Margot James, he expressed the pressure and struggle the rate increase has had on him and his family. He went on to share his disappointment at other local businesses having to close and the prospect of his family business, of 147 years, facing this fate also.
“Unless there is action to tackle these root causes of poverty, London could be put beyond the reach of families on modest incomes. At worst, the city will become home only to the wealthy, the childless and families living in or close to destitution”
-Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress.
The most peculiar sight is watching my Nan walking down Hoxton market; her hips rolling with each slow and measured stride as she drags her trolley through the tide of checked shirt, beanie wearing in the summer time, hipsters. Once I even saw her in the Beyond Retro on Stoke Newington High street. When I asked her what she was doing here, she replied “What mi cyant shop? Dere’s clothes, innit?”. Age and ignorance has hardened my Grandmothers resilience and she has successfully integrated into her portion of the revamped community. Her robust nature to venture into the evolving Hackney with entitlement, despite her age and class, inspires my own walk. However, though she may be reaping the fruits of the harvest, those who’ve joined her barely lift their eyes from their smart phones to meet hers or lips from lids of their soya chai lattes to share a smile. She’s invisible. Though I wear the same get up and enjoy the same dairy-free refreshments, my bank balance, class and knowledge of the old towns diversity and culture, isolates me. My clothes and taste doesn’t make me anymore visible. Unfortunately, I now can’t afford to live in the borough that raised, educated and nurtured me. Unbeknownst till now, I have fallen victim to the change. Gentrification, upon reflection, is not a bad thing; However, it comes at the expense of the existing community. A community, no longer apart of the vision, who’ve carried and cared for the neighbourhood when it was at its worst; isolating them from opportunities and replacing them with ‘middle class’ locals. Their class being their only crime, serving their sentence in solitary.