Hackney Citizen

Gentrification and the battle for Clapton’s soul

Clapton is changing fast as rising house prices in other parts make this once run-down area increasingly des res. But is an influx of newcomers creating tensions with existing residents?

Chatsworth Road traders

Chatsworth Road traders old and ‘new’: Omar Nissar, manager of Carnival Cards, which has been trading for over two decades; Venetia Strangwayes-Booth, owner of Venetia’s and and Rémy Zentar, owner of L’Epicerie@56.

Gentrification is an uneasy word. Some people tend to shy away from it – tucking it between apologetic air quotes, others use it to congratulate an up-and-coming area, while some use it to criticise the way that areas such as Clapton are changing.

Regeneration, gentrification, urban sprawl – whatever it is, things are changing and it’s got people talking.

Guy Nicholson, Hackney council cabinet member for regeneration and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, has said: ” A new generation of citizens identify with all that Hackney has to offer and wish to become part of that. This inevitably brings with it profound social and economic changes, often described as gentrification. These changes bring a new set of values that inevitably find their way into our daily lives.”

The future of Clapton has been the subject of particularly frenzied debate, with magazines like Time Out seemingly agog at how this locale has switched from being ‘Murder Mile’ to a hive of young professionals. However, not everyone welcomes the change.

“The less affluent and less educated who live in these areas don’t give a damn about uppity eateries they won’t be eating at, or hipster clothes stores they will not be buying from,” said one online commentator. “Their focus is on staying employed, getting employed and making their low wages and no wage go a long way. While they are trying to stay afloat, their neighbourhood as they know it is slipping away.”

The Offmarket Collective squatters’ group, which until recently graced Lower Clapton Road, describe gentrification as a force that “pushes out long term and low income residents and small businesses”. And with its revitalised Sunday market and vocal Chatsworth Road Traders and Residents Association (CRTRA), Chatsworth Road is at the epicentre of this controversy.

“Everybody always talks about gentrification,” says CRTRA chair Diane Cunningham. “It’s not necessarily gentrification, but it is change. And it’s about how you manage the change for the benefit of everybody.”

The CRTRA, originally set up to deal with shop front trading problems, is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers. Its role is multifaceted and looks as though it will evolve over time, but for now it is perhaps best described as a lobbying, community driven body working with the council to revive Chatsworth Road and the Sunday market in particular.

Euan Mills, a local resident and member of the CRTRA’s executive committee, is helping to create the Chatsworth Road Neighbourhood Plan – a scheme he says is aimed at finding out what residents’ priorities are in order to guide planning policy and, crucially, to influence land values. He says he has consulted widely with council tenants, religious leaders at churches and mosques and many other sections of the community. The plan emphasises five aspirations: local, diverse, accessible, sustainable and distinct.

“There’s two sides of gentrification,” he explains. “There are good things: it brings some investment and attention and activity. If you look at Chatsworth Road now compared with ten years ago, it’s a lot more vibrant. But gentrification does also have lots of pitfalls. It increases property prices, it displaces local communities. It does make the existing community possibly feel alienated. The whole purpose of the CRTRA at the minute and the Neighborhood Plan is to try and deal with that. We don’t want the neighbourhood to become a middle class enclave nor a ghetto but a place where people of different ages, races and backgrounds can feel at home.”

However, he admits such a project is “difficult”.

Diverse and accessible are the two of the aspirations that come under question by those sceptical of the market, but Cunningham and Mills seem genuine and determined for Chatsworth Road and the surrounding area to be both things.

And to a large extent this appears to be the case already. A stroll down Lower Clapton Road, and along Chatsworth Road to Brooksby’s Walk highlights Clapton’s diversity. There are both tidy and scruffy Victorian houses, council homes, bedsits and student flats. And there are cafes, betting shops, a French deli, a pound shop, a greengrocers, fast food outlets and charity shops. You’ll see old and young, black and white, rich and poor, families, hipsters, students and professional types.

While outright opposition to organisations such as the CRTRA and initiatives like Chatsworth Road market and the Clapton Conference (run by the Clapton Pond Neighborhood Action Group) is minimal and seems largely confined to anonymous posts on online forums and blogs, there are people in the area who feel either ambivalent towards things like the new market, dismissive of some of the initiatives or excluded.

“They’re only interested in the market at the moment,” Winston Laws of Brooksby’s Snooker and Community Hall says of the CRTRA. “They haven’t been helping anyone else. They don’t come in here to see what’s going on, they don’t try to bring us in. Except when they wanted a spot to have meetings.”

Laws stepped in to manage Brooksby’s four years ago and is in the process handing the 30-year-old business over to newcomer Marina Francis. The centre is open to anyone and hosts wakes, christenings, birthdays and other events.

But Laws feels he is being pushed out, saying the pressure is coming from the council and a few neighbours. There is development interest in the community hall site, he claims. “They want our building so they’re trying to give us a bad name,” he says. “We’re not misbehaving. They’re changing Hackney, so all of our premises that we used to have will be taken away. Shoreditch, Kingsland Road, Church Street – I’m one of the last ones [black-run clubs] standing.”

Bobby Campbell, who has worked at the Brooksby centre for 20 years remembers working on the old Chatsworth Road market at the age of 11. She says it was different then, a “proper market” where people would do their shopping.

But some locals have no problem with the market’s latest incarnation. Fidan Altun, whose family has run Altun Food Store for 25 years, says she wishes the market was bigger and on more often. And Nicholas Blanchette, who runs A Taste of Reality in Chatsworth Road, likes the fact the market attracts more people to the area.

Jean Perrin who owns E5 Florist thought similarly, “it’s mainly a place to go and buy breakfast, it would be nice if it were more like Dagenham.”

There are a lot of people in the area who are excited and proud of the market and the other changes to the area. Nicholas Blanchette, who runs A Taste of Reality on Chatsworth Road is happy about the market and likes that it attracts more people to the area.

Venetia Strangwayes-Booth, who runs Venetia’s Coffee Shop, spoke to the Hackney Citizen in November last year after the first trial market day, she said: “I sold over 300 coffees on a day when I’d normally sell 70. I think it’s about community, I think people are beginning to get a sense that they’d rather shop locally and be part of the local community.”

Ian Rathbone, one of the councillors for Leabridge ward and an active member of the community, said: “When I was first elected in 2002 I set out to bring culture and life back into Clapton and to restore people’s faith in political culture.”

Over the years he has born witness to many failed efforts yet many notable successes. He said the closure of the Palace Pavilion club in 2007 had a “spectacular effect on reducing crime, showing people that change is possible.”

Rathbone believes that to call what is happening in Clapton ‘gentrification’ risks over-simplifying the issue.

According to Euan Mills from the CRTRA, there are no simple answers to the gentrification conundrum. “You can learn from the way that other areas have changed,” he says. “For example, Broadway Market is an example of the bad way that change can happen because it creates problems such as the displacement of some of the local population. Our role is to make sure that doesn’t happen here.

“We are trying to make sure that people are not being marginalised or priced out. We are trying to be representative of the whole community, all of the varying shops and members of the community. We can sit back and let change happen, or we can see if there is a way to influence the change.”

Remy Zentar, owner the L’Epicerie deli in Chatsworth Road and another CRTRA volunteer, says that if the makeup of the group’s committee is less reflective of the diversity of the community than it could be, that is merely an unfortunate result of the fact that some people have more “disposable time” than others.

He said: “People who are part of the committee spend a lot of their time trying to make this market work and to regenerate the whole area. They have lots of commitment in the sense that they might have to wake up at 7.30am on a Sunday and spend evenings answering emails. It’s true some people who live here now might be a bit more well off and have more disposable time to take care of that and get involved in the committee.

“We have had a number of public meetings trying to get as many volunteers as we can. We are sadly short of volunteers, very short of them – people who can spend time to help set up the market, drive the vans to pick up the stalls and so on. Whatever colour you are, it doesn’t matter – we need you.”

Mr Zentar says it is wrong to characterise new arrivals to the area as rich.

“My neighbours, the newcomers, are not really well off,” he says. “They bought their house on a shoestring and are redoing it all by themselves. Yes, most are young professionals who are pretty well educated, but they are not coming with millions from Chelsea.”

However, he is worried about profiteering landlords who he says are a growing problem and risk making Clapton unaffordable for local people.

“All of a sudden landlords who don’t live in the area hear about Chatsworth Road and the proximity of the Olympics and decide it is time to up the rent,” he says. “Some of these landlords don’t even know where their properties are. I employ 15 people, all of whom live locally, and for them rent rises are a big problem.”

It is hard to deny that Chatsworth Road market on a Sunday, the new Saturday markets and events like the first Clapton Festival held recently are anything but positive developments. They bring life to the area, they feel safe and there does seem to be a sense of community.

The well-acknowledged challenge is to make sure this goodness continues and spreads. It seems the majority of people in the area do want to work together to see inclusive change, benefiting as many members of the community as possible, but it’s clear this will take sustained action and persistence.

Note: an edited version of this article appeared in our September 2011 print issue. The full version here was published on this site at 12.00pm on Sunday 25 September 2011.

Related: Chatsworth Road grapples with plans for growth

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23 Responses »

  1. skinny jean freak show

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  2. Even if ‘gentrification’ is a bad thing I’m not sure how you would stop it short of introducing pass laws. It’s the attitude of the authorities to this change that is more important. If all they ever do is build flats for the gentry rather than satisfying local need, as in the case of Dalston Square, that’s when the resentment starts.
    Hackney seems to be motivated by the idea that the only solution to all our problems is to attract money into the area. They are such breadheads!

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  3. When does a newcomer become an existing resident?

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  4. At risk of stating the obvious, gentrification starts because less well-off middle-class people find an area in which they can afford to live, which is run-down but is attractive in other ways (such as the housing stock) and seems to have potential. The current influx to Clapton is nothing new: it’s been going on for a couple of decades now.

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  5. @Andrew Boff: I agree that Hackney Council’s planning decisions deserve some serious scrutiny.

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  6. Great. More obnoxious knobs with Kayne West sunglasses and faux northern accents to improve the area.

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  7. @Antitwat: you forgot to mention camp-macho shoulder rolling, hogging public space and talking loudly about total strangers when they’re clearly within earshot. ;-)

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  8. No one has been displaced on Broadway Market, Euan. Maybe it’s time you revisited the street to see our flourishing grocers’ shops, all-week fruit and veg stall, post office, pie and mash restaurant, chipper and “proper” caff. One of these did not exist when the Saturday street market was revived seven years ago. Others were dying in a near-deserted street of boarded-up shops. The market helped to make the street a destination. It has contributed enormously to reviving Broadway Market as our local High Street. There is room here for everyone, whatever their income. Revitalisation – not gentrification – has brought new employment possibilities. Yet again, a chunk of near-derelict East End has reinvented itself. Many will be surprised that as a town planner of considerable repute, you do not know this.

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  9. @Andrew: well said (‘though in London, it’s ‘chippie’, not ‘chipper’); average middle class people bring economic life to a borough like Hackney, without destroying its soul or driving out working class residents.

    The people who are really sucking the life out of Hackney are the Blairites, who appear to have a megalomaniac urge to recreate everything in their personal image and likeness (preferably with a publicly-floated corporate sponsor and an inflated price tag). Oh, and the Shoreditch Twats…but they’re simply camp followers, in the final analysis.

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  10. All this upmarketing of Chatsworth road, by self appointed egotistical wannabes, is fracturing an already strained community.
    We are here, were here before the influx of “bank of mum and dad” New bloods, and we will be here when they all leave the area once they have sucked it dry.
    Local residents open your eyes.!!!

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  11. braodway market is white middle class hell on earth,lol nobody can bear to go anywere near the place on a weekend its just to full of white middle class assholes,lol wot are you talking about welcomes everyone regardless of income ..no it dosent you get nothing but white middle class snotty shit attitude and its not a high street yeah it would be great if it genuinly was inclusive but its not ..be real man..its become a white middle class rich enclave and a no go area for the rest of us

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  12. Pie and mash restaurant!!! Ha ha Andrew where do you come from? I bet you’ve never been in the pie and mash shop or the chip shop opposite. Broadway cafe has been in place for years

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  13. its a sad fact that most middle class whites are assholes ,spitfull ,greedy ,meanspirited assholes and they will gentrify hackney to death they want all of hackney for themselves ..thats how they opperate there greedy cunts and if they cant profit from you and your of no use to them then your gone i mean just go down hackney road ..there everywere there like harmfull toxic bacteria they will have you out ..just look at hammersmith fulham brixton claphan ..all white miidleclass dead zones lifeless

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  14. Damo, are your ‘findings’ the result of an exhaustive survey of all the white, middle-class people living in your neighbourhood of Hackney? And if “nobody” can bear to go anywhere near Broadway Market at the weekend, how comes it’s so busy and popular? :-P

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  15. And you’ll find that the word is ‘arsehole’ in Britain – A-R-S-E-H-O-L-E.

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  16. becouse its full of white middle class creeps and idiots …just like you

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  17. i may sound harsh on you people but gentrification is killing hackney you people buy up everything that isnt nailed down pushing us the locals further and further out and yes you do though not all of you have a shit atttitude like you own the place which of course you do now if you want to have a good community then give something back we were here first this place dosent belonge to anyone yet belonges to all of us yet you people think its only yours attitude snotty attitude attracts attitude ..give back for once smell of brute or whatever you name is go back to the provincials your much better suited there ..dear

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  18. Damo, do you imagine that venting your racism and class prejudice in a near-incoherent fashion on a public forum is going to suddenly bring gentrification in Hackney to a grinding halt?

    If you REALLY want to curb the more negative effects of gentrification, take time to find out who stands to profit from planning decisions and council grants, instead of lashing out at the nearest target and making your self look stupid in the process.

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  19. Cllr Dawood has submitted a question concerning Mare St small traders to be aired at Full Council meeting on Wednesday 27th February

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  20. 200% agree with Candice. we don’t care about £1.90 coffees and £5 crepes. We don’t care about vintage clothes and cupcakes. we just want employment and our community back. oh wait, that can’t happen – we’re being pushed out.
    Community and green space/quietness from the city buzz were the 2 good things that hackney had 6 years ago: now both of them are being ruined.

    Gentrification as a response to lower crime rates is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard: first of all, if crime rates were that bad there would be NO gentrification (yeah that’s right, however fake lefty-patronising some hipsters may be, a lot of them are uneasy around lower class people. I don’t recall any hipsters moving into Brixton in 1981). Second, crime is just being displaced to another area, it is NOT being solved. It’s probably actually making the problem worse as families loose their ties with the community when moving areas, communities which probably helped more than the police with consequences of crime.
    Also gentrification feeds into crime because of rising frustration and sense of envasion.

    The major argument being that people are reluctant to change is only partly true, people were reluctant to new waves of immigration since the 1910′s because there were issues of race which have now been lessened with modernity’s slightly more tolerant views. The issue of social status and income however is a different ballgame altogether. And no, gentrifying an area does NOT help working class locals improve their status and their communities’. It forces them out of the area.
    Gentrification can be compared to mass tourism: people destroy what they came for in the first place. I’m sure Ibiza was nice 20 years ago. Now look at it.

    I HATE what’s happening to Hackney, I’d rather have the old Hackney back anyday, crime rates and all.

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  21. ‘me’:

    “[W]e don’t care about £1.90 coffees and £5 crepes. We don’t care about vintage clothes and cupcakes.”

    You’re attacking the symptoms of gentrification, not the causes. And in the process, you’re overlooking the machinations of politicians and developers which are REAL reasons why life is being made impossible for ordinary people in places like Hackney.

    “I don’t recall any hipsters moving into Brixton in 1981″

    Possibly because hipsters didn’t even EXIST then. But gentrification was certainly happening in Brixton in the eighties, even before the days of multinational coffee chains, iPads and compulsory ‘i-ron-y’. The process take decades, and is usually invisible at first to all but those of us who pay attention to the increasing number of skips.

    “Also gentrification feeds into crime because of rising frustration and sense of envasion [sic].”

    A bullshit excuse, which confuses cause with effect.

    “The issue of social status and income however is a different ballgame altogether.”

    Because class prejudice is fashionable, right?

    “And no, gentrifying an area does NOT help working class locals improve their status and their communities’.”

    Think back to how Hackney was 30-40 years ago and try saying that with a straight face!

    “Gentrification can be compared to mass tourism: people destroy what they came for in the first place.”

    Your first halfway-sensible remark. But what you say is only relevant to the LATER stages of gentrification, i.e. when the developers, property speculators and multinationals have sniffed out the latest ‘up-and-coming’ area.

    I refer you to my remark to Damo, about lashing out at the nearest target, and suggest that you take a better look at the forces shaping the ‘New Hackney’ before pinning all the blame on middle class incomers.

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  22. “You’re attacking the symptoms of gentrification, not the causes. And in the process, you’re overlooking the machinations of politicians and developers which are REAL reasons why life is being made impossible for ordinary people in places like Hackney.”

    –> so what would those reasons be then ?

    “Possibly because hipsters didn’t even EXIST then. But gentrification was certainly happening in Brixton in the eighties, even before the days of multinational coffee chains, iPads and compulsory ‘i-ron-y’. The process take decades, and is usually invisible at first to all but those of us who pay attention to the increasing number of skips.”

    –> the process does indeed take decades but is more offensive at its later stages, it’s all about balance, (growth/speed of this change) which is being lost in Hackney at a very rapid pace. Also, hipsters have always existed, they’ve just been referred to in different ways and by different names. You say they are ‘consequences only’, well I think that statement is a bit easy. Maybe you could try playing the ‘It’s not me, it’s them’ card in a primary school playground. Might get away with it.

    “Also gentrification feeds into crime because of rising frustration and sense of envasion.”

    “A bullshit excuse, which confuses cause with effect.”

    –> not really, look up theories of relative deprivation (Jock Young) and you’ll see what I mean. A part from saying ‘bullshit’ you really don’t argue your point. I am not for the ghettoisation of neighbourhoods (like you seem to want to believe)but I do believe there are other ways to solve an area’s ills than to literally pour in middle class businesses and incomes.

    “The issue of social status and income however is a different ballgame altogether.”

    Because class prejudice is fashionable, right?

    –> Never said it was. You’re making a pissy judgement on mere intent. I’m saying there are far more factors involved in class conflicts rather than race differences which make cohabitation difficult. One again your snooty remark resembles that of someone with the IQ of an oyster.

    “And no, gentrifying an area does NOT help working class locals improve their status and their communities’.”

    Think back to how Hackney was 30-40 years ago and try saying that with a straight face!

    —> Really don’t see your point once again, since local shops that have been there for 20 years or so are being forced out of the area. One again, I’m sure there are other ways to improve a neighbourhood. You’re being fooled by ‘the way hackney looks now’ and ‘the way hackney looked 20 years ago’. Crime is being displaced, not getting ridden of.

    “Gentrification can be compared to mass tourism: people destroy what they came for in the first place.”

    “Your first halfway-sensible remark. But what you say is only relevant to the LATER stages of gentrification, i.e. when the developers, property speculators and multinationals have sniffed out the latest ‘up-and-coming’ area.”

    —> If ‘up-and-coming’ was a stage that wasn’t so temporary I probably wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it. The problem is, as I previously mentioned, that the acceptable balance between gritty and trendy is very limited in time only to lead to the destruction of what the area was previously known as, to become something that I’m sure none of us want.

    You have a tendency to make middle class incomers sound simultaneously like the saviours of the ‘ghetto’ and like victims of ‘the big bad evil behind it all’. You say one of my remarks was halfway-sensible, sorry I can’t return the ‘compliment’.

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  23. DAMO
    is using “white middle class” again and again and again as a term of abuse. Is this a rasist comment? I am an original Clapton resident born and bread AND white middle class. Some of us do exist you know, a tiny cohort whos familes moved here when the area was first built up in the 1870″s. I dont really fit in with any of the new arrivals of the last 50 odd years but have to admit, dislike the obnoxious/ yuppie/hipster types least of all

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