Woke up late on Sunday. I was stirred from my slumber by the buoyant beat of a soca tune. We just can’t resist a carnival beat. It may have rained, and it may have been cold but we still danced in the streets.
Hackney is one of London’s most ethnically diverse boroughs. Like many parts of east London, and due to the cheaper rents, the area was attractive to immigrants who moved to UK seeking new lives. As a result Hackney has been a melting pot of cultural influences over many years.
Recently Hackney has been going through rapid gentrification that has made me look at my neighbourhood in a different light. It saddens me deeply that so many longtime locals are often side-lined and pushed aside in favour of the demands of the new blood in the area. New businesses are cropping up frequently in Hackney. On the surface this may seem as though it is assisting in a much needed regeneration of the area. However, these new trendy local businesses tend to stick together in networks that support each other yet in many cases exclude long-standing local businesses. These older businesses in many cases are unable to keep up with the changes around them and marketing themselves to a new market is just such a foreign concept. The result is that these truly local businesses benefit very little from the gentrification of Hackney and as people who have lived here for generations move away because they can no longer afford the steep rents, these businesses actually have begun to lose even their loyal customers. Many of the stall holders in the Ridley Road market illustrate this point. The string vest man, the African fabric vendors, they have all told me that business is “too bad these days”.
I have always counted it as a blessing that I am able to stumble out of my front door into a Turkish supermarket where I can pick up olives and freshly baked bread. I can stop by the Jamaican grocer and buy some Ital ingredients along with my grapefruit Ting. I can buy a hot fresh roti from the Trini mumma’s stall in the market and be back home in under 10 minutes. Our days in this country are numbered and when we finally do leave, it is this cultural diversity that I will miss more than anything. Hackney has been a wonderful place to live because of these people and if they go….it will lose its soul and lustre. I wish more people realised that it is the PEOPLE that make a place what it is.
So when on Sunday, we awoke to reggae, soca and roti and the dancing smiles of locals, old and young, it was like a hug from Hackney….real Hackney.