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Clapton: Frontline of class cleansing in the East End

Some water spraying into Clapton pond. Photo: Sarflondondunc

Some water spraying into Clapton pond. Photo: Sarflondondunc

Formerly known as ”murder mile”, Clapton was infamous for its gun and drug-related crime rather than its crêperies and coffee houses. Now, dubbed the frontline of Hackney’s gentrification, Clapton has undergone dramatic change. Absorbing the overspill from its increasingly gentrified neighbours, Dalston and Stoke Newington, E5 has been dramatically “yummified”.

2014 has witnessed the invasion of even more independent cafes catering for an incoming class of babycino-buying, flat-white-sipping mothers. Yet another coffee shop, Hub Velo, is about to open in place of Nollywood unisex hair salon.

With an increasing number of young creative-sector types making the move East, houses in Clapton Square now sell for £1.5 million and more. This change would have been unimaginable half a decade ago. However, the rise in house prices is probably more of a testament to the successes of Mossbourne and Clapton Girls Academy than to E5’s unchanging Victorian architecture. Parents are now paying a premium to get their children into the catchment areas.

These new Claptonites have generated a fresh set of businesses: the sourdough pizza restaurant, wine-bar and boutique B&B are all tokens of rising affluence. In fact, things are changing so quickly on Lower Clapton road that it has become difficult to remember where old establishments used to be. Cycling past “Hairdo corner”, the parade of Afro-Caribbean barbers and beauty salons opposite Clapton Pond, I notice the amusingly named God First Unisex Salon, has been replaced by a retro milkshake bar.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that these trendy establishments continue to be surrounded by William Hills, Dixy Chickens and payday loan shops. In actual fact, it is probably this avant-garde juxtaposition of pawnshops and pop-up galleries which make Clapton so sought after. However, one must ask how long Clapton will be able to walk the tightrope of hip deprivation before ascending into Church Street-scale luxury.

While it is undeniable that Clapton is changing, the changes fail to benefit the majority of its residents. In a predominantly low-income area, fancy cheeses and cutesy cupcakes are out of most people’s price range. What’s more, even if these new food delicacies were distributed fairly, would London Fields lager and organic kale chips really help a family having their housing benefit slashed? Local residents may not feel cool or comfortable enough to join the self-satisfied sea of bearded hipsters tapping away on their Macbooks.

While the new Claptonite enjoys the luxury of fretting over whether to buy wine from Sussex or Chile, the choice between hunger, heating and transport remains a reality for many. Despite the official rhetoric of “trickle-down” regeneration, Clapton continues to be overrun with social problems. Last week’s figures reveal Hackney to be the third worst local authority for child poverty in the UK, with a figure of 39 per cent.

As the coalition government continues to dismantle the welfare state, the polarised nature of Clapton’s gentrification has become increasingly visible. While bearded artists sip on their nude espressos, local residents walk the breadline, struggling with day-to-day living costs, in-work poverty and a brutal sanctions regime. The fast-changing transformation of Clapton symbolizes a tale of two cities as London continues to be overwhelmed by the tide of gentrification.

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8 Responses to Clapton: Frontline of class cleansing in the East End

  1. T. Craig

    February 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Erm.. but as your intro points out, before Clapton was ‘yummified’, it was infamous for its gun and drug-related crime. Having lived here for 15 years and seen both versions, I know which I prefer. If the choice is between ‘Chimes’ Nightclub and the Clapton Hart, give me the Clapton Hart any day.

    You also seem pretty comfortable throwing lazy stereotypes around, such as ‘the self-satisfied sea of bearded hipsters’. Would it be ok if someone wrote a piece parodying those on low incomes? Would East London Lines print it? If not, why not? Snobbery is snobbery whichever direction it comes from, and whoever it’s aimed at.

    Oh, and like it or not, aren’t the ‘bearded artists’ now ‘local residents’ as well? By contratsing the two, you imply they’re not. Would you apply the ‘we were here first’ criteria to international immigration to the area too? I look forward to your next piece, bemoaning the influx of East Europeans, and mocking them with stereotypes… No?

  2. Rooks Fringes

    February 1, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Whenever I read an article on gentrification, I always sense that the author is implying – however faintly – that better-off newcomers to a formerly down-at-heel area are somehow deliberately trying to push out longer-established, worse-off residents; that this is deliberate rather than an unfortunate byproduct of a capitalist housing market; and that gentrification is somehow malicious in its intent.

    Sadly, this piece is no different. I’m sure that no one who is moving into Clapton can fail to be aware of its recent history nor the borough’s current social problems, but are they supposed to feel guilty somehow?

    The reality is that Clapton’s gentrification is happening due to the absurd and obscene nature of London’s current housing market as a whole, where public stock was depleted as a result of right-to-buy and never replenished; where private stock is increasingly treated as a global reserve currency and successive governments take a hands-off approach for fear of making Britain seem ‘closed to business'; where there is a shortage of properties of all sizes and tenures, and where properties are graded for Council Tax according to banding that is as old as the idea that Bryan Adams might spend 16 whole weeks at no.1.

    There is grounds for anger, undoubtedly, but it should be directed at all of that, rather than the newcomers and the businesses emerging to cater for them.

  3. Lucy Lu

    February 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Rooks Fringes. I’m a reasonably successful early 30s woman who works in the creative industries in central London. I don’t have a massive budget so can’t afford to live in any of the established areas that seem to be deemed ‘ok’ for middle class people to live (and I’m not sure I’d even want to).
    Where would this blogger, and others who write along similar lines, suggest I should live? I mean this in all seriousness. The only conclusion that I can draw from the arguments of people who complain about middle class people moving into poorer areas is that there should be some kind of separation: one area for (comparatively) rich, one for poor.
    Yes, I’m well aware that there are horribly unequal divisions of wealth amongst different socio-economic groups and that this causes huge pain and misery for a great deal. But ghettoising the have and have-nots into different areas makes no sense to me at all.

    So, if anyone can provide an answer as to where it would be considered ‘acceptable’ for me to live, where I wouldn’t be made to feel guilty by writers like Maya, I’d love to hear it.

  4. Drax WD

    February 3, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Rooks Fringes… I totally ‘respectfully’ disagree… I live in such an area & I will not imply what you are saying faintly. I shall say it blatantly: Better off newcomers are 100% trying to push out The ‘Original residents’ of areas they move into. Why exactly would ‘well off’ people that have just spent a huge amount of money on purchasing an expensive property want to spend their weekends in the local park surrounded by drug-addicts, dealers, people with mental health problems & single mums with out of control children? When they could spend it in somewhere like, for example ‘London Fields?’. Truthfully! I’m not blaming them for that, but to suggest it isn’t happening is blinkered. I mean absolutely no offence to you but if you are not from an ethnic background or a member of the white working class then you simply do not feel the alienation that these people (I’m sorry for the casual tarnishing of a whole group of people. It’s just a generalization & I don’t have the time to elaborate)bring with them. Say for example if you have a pub! Firstly you stop selling anything that encourages the ‘former locals’ to attend your establishment. These people (More generalizing) don’t drink craft ales & mulled wine! Another example; I’m a graffiti writer/street artist/whatever. Gentrification decides what street art is acceptable or not. Images of funky dudes partying in the Bronx are deemed un-acceptable. As this placates the wrong type of audience. Birds & plants are deemed OK, but how exactly do they represent the inner bowels of London & its ethnic diversity? Again! The all pervasive hand of gentrification waves it’s deciding hand. Gleefully egged on by those that do not want to ‘join a community’ as much as they want to ‘create their own’ & then all too often bugger off when the colonized enclave that they have fermented becomes a cliche, like the gentrified cliched zone that they left when they moved to this area ‘wherever it is’. Yes! The property market drives this behavior. People naturally want to move into an area that they feel is safe. But who decides ‘what safe is’? & where do they expect the people that are alienating to go next? & who’s to say that won’t become the next place that they want to turn into a pseudo film set from the TV show Brideshead Revisited, All vintage bikes & picnics in the park. This isn’t the Cotswolds. It’s inner London & it will be inner London when all ‘these people'(there I go again with that generalizing shit. I apologize for that)have decided that the whole of London doesn’t fit with their ideas of ‘somewhere they want to live & convert into ‘their idea’ of what inner city dwelling should look & feel like, do the offski to somewhere else & attempt to turn that into ‘what they want it to be’.

    I apologize for some of the generalizing but it is not true to say that the practitioners of Gentrification do not have an agenda! They most certainly do & I for one….Feel it!

  5. Lucy Lu

    February 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    @Drax WD – I have two questions for you. Firstly, do you honestly believe that the majority of the ‘original residents’ you refer to like being surrounded by drug addicts and dealers too? I think you do them a disservice by implying that all ‘ethnic’ or white working class people were quite happy to be surrounded by the types of issues you mention.

    Secondly, I’d be interested in your answer to my question: if I, as a white middle class person, want to buy a house and can’t afford a ‘rich’ area, where do you suggest I live? Would you rather London was ghettoised?

  6. Martin

    February 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    @Drax WD, your point abouyt the pubs doesn’t quite ring true. I have lived in Clapton since 1997, and the pubs were basic , I drank in the Crooked Billet, it had no real ale, basically sold Stella,Kronenburg, Carling, a couple of ciders,and John Smiths.I asked several landlords to put a real ale on , they didn’t seem interested.

    Despite this, I liked the Crooked Billet, found it very friendly, and drank there a couple of times a week. When it was taken over I thought they would whack the prices up to stop the old regulars going there as they wouldn’t fit their idea of who should drink there. This didn’t happen, the prices were increased (about 60/70p a pint) but the old locals kept coming (I include myself in that description) . They don’t get their old drinks, they seem to have embraced new lagers and ciders.

  7. Martin

    February 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Oh and when I bought my flat in Clapton in 1997, people thought I was mad as it was seen as a really rough area,which was reflected in the price and the ease of buying, I think we were the only people to make an offer.

  8. Drax WD

    February 6, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Lucy. I totally respect your right to live anywhere you want to & you should not be expected to ‘feel guilty’by anyone. My original post is not supposed to be an attack on rich people or even middle class ones. It’s an attack on what I consider to be the negative aspects of ‘Gentrification’.

    I live in Islington where people of all classes have lived side by side, cheek & jowl for a long time & I love it! BUT! In recent years the word ‘Gentrification’has become prominent.. & to me ‘maybe incorrectly’ it has become synonymous with a kind of alienating of people that don’t fit in with it. I do not blame any individual, but in some places the local council, estate agents, some business owners & yes ‘some’ property owners have a vested interest in turning the area into ‘their vision of how they want it to look’. This is done with casual disregard for anyone that is not ‘part of the plan’.

    Sometimes it is simply ‘inconsiderateness’ but often I feel it’s also cynical. I do not have the time to explain all of what I mean & of course I’m guilty of making mass generalizations, but I’ll give you a small example … Not far from where I live there’s a park ‘Shoreditch pk’ It used to have 2 football pitches. They were in disrepair but they were still regularly used & they served some purpose to the community (Football being the most popular sport in this country). In recent years they have been grassed-over & in close proximity to where they were there is now a large rock ‘for rock climbing’& a cindered area for that French sport that looks like bowling (I’m sorry I don’t know the names). Nobody will ever convince me that somebody somewhere didn’t make a decision to ‘alienated’ football playing ‘types’ from the park & replace the pitches with ‘nonsense’ that virtually nobody embraces. This is not France & I have never seen Bear Grylls jogging around the park in search of a ‘plinth’ to mount. No doubt somebody will chastise me for these comments! well Those are the type of people that I have a problem with. They are self consumed with the fact that maybe ‘they like rock climbing’ or think obscure French sports are cooler & more ‘hip’ than sports that people ‘actually play’ in any numbers. Personally I’d have a massive wall that I could do graffiti on, but I realize that’s not appropriate or ‘fair’ & I accept that the park should be for ‘everyone’ & if you’re going to have a sports facility don’t bow to pressure from some niche group, have a facility that ‘statistically’ a lot more people (from all classes & ethnic groups etc) would embrace. Seemingly little things like this are what I hate about the gentrification phenomenon. It is not simply a case of people with money moving to a down at heel area.

    Lucy. If you have never campaigned to force your ‘possibly marginal-possibly not’ ideas on to an area (that you are new to) then my post was never aimed at someone like yourself. The middle class & the uber rich have far more clout than the poor when it comes to lobbying local politicians or influencing the qualms of local business people. Thus when they move to an area they have more power than the poor to ‘change it’. I dislike that miss-use of ‘influence’ especially when I feel that it is eroding the social fabric of the area in which I live.

    Another small point (& example)! Cyclists have made the Regents canal towpath where I live ‘un-walkable’. Most of these cyclists are of the ‘new gentry’so it’s unlikely that anything will be done about this intrusion on other peoples ability to enjoy the canal-side. If however the presence of fishermen/anglers were to disrupt this towpath cycling it’s pretty likely that a ‘snide’ underhand campaign would get canal side angling banned.

    This ‘to me’ is the nature of gentrification & it is why I posted the above. I totally respect your right to live & be happy & safe anywhere that you want to & I hope you succeed in doing so.

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