Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tears for Hackney

We moved from London in December and I periodically find myself getting wistful about our previous life in lovely London Fields. The seemingly endless pieces about how our old road, Wilton Way, is an increasingly hip hangout, combined with the excitement of the coming Olympics, and the sheer variety and dynamism of Hackney, make me pine for what we had there.

The pictures from yesterday are so shocking, it's almost as if they were from another country. Yet it's one that I'm strangely familiar with after 11 years of living there. Mare Street was a stone's throw away - probably not the most appropriate description in the circumstances.

Clarence Road, where the evening's standoff took place, was near my son's nursery. We'd often come walking back from Pembury Nursery down that road to go to the shops in the Narrow Way. It was one of the poorest shopping streets in a poor borough - mainly second hand and cheap stores. The grocers that was looted was probably the biggest business along there. There was also a second hand book shop run by a local lady who supplied the nursery with any children's books that came her way.

Did many of these businesses have insurance? I doubt it. If the book lady's shop window was put in, I can't see how she'll get up and running again.

Ironically, given its image as an underprivileged area, the Pembury Estate, which seemed to be the centre of things yesterday, has benefitted from a great deal of investment in recent years. It is by no means a sink estate, and consists of tidy and quite appealing looking flats. It is also round the corner from Mossbourne Academy, one of the most successful academy initiatives in the country, and a non-selective school that many hard working local children attend. A large swathe of un-used land is slated for a major housing and retail developent - Pembury Circus.

Of course, that's not the whole picture. Pembury Estate was raided by drugs police a few weeks ago as part of a major swoop on dealers in the area. The surrounding streets have also seen the deaths of too many young men in recent years.

Hackney has always enjoyed an edgy reputation, but in all the time I lived there, I don't think I ever felt as if I was living in a scary area. I doubt I'd feel that now, especially with two young children. How must parents in the area be explaining to their children what's going on, and when it's all going to stop.

If all of this makes me sound like one of those people who suddenly 'disses' London as soon as they leave, that's not the intention. I loved living in the capital and might do again one day. It really is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and it is full of the people of the world. And Hackney, in some ways, is like a miniature version of London.

What has happened seems to sad and pointless. I don't know why it happened, and I don't know what will make it stop. There are plenty of theories flying around - it's the bankers, it's the cuts, they're just criminals, it's family breakdown, it's all down to the police ... I'm sure we've all got our own pet favourites, but do any of us really know?

Answers on a postcard please.