Gentrification is sweeping through London with relentless zeal and Stoke Newington in Hackney, affectionately nicknamed ‘Stokey’ by its residents, is currently experiencing its second wave of change.
Church Street gentrified and established itself as the centre of Stoke Newington during the 80s and 90s and now the nearby Stoke Newington High Street is showing signs of gentrification, provoking the questions: Is the High Street stealing Church Street’s lime light, or is there still a place for both roads?
Alan Denney, a photographer who has documented Stokey since moving to the area in 1974, gave his perspective on the development he’s witnessed. Back then, the area was “impoverished working class”.
The middle class moved in and populated around Church Street. They were motivated by Stoke Newington’s closeness to the City and cheap rents. Independent shops and restaurants sprang up “to serve the population”, transforming Church Street into an upmarket, central strip.
Nick Perry, a trustee of the Hackney Society and member of a number of other local organisations, moved to the area in 2000. According to him, the area gentrified again about ten to 15 years ago.
Perry says the predominant reason for Church Street’s popularity is “physical”. Being able to leisurely amble up and down the roomy pavements amongst quirky shops and upmarket restaurants was more attractive than its sister street.
Stoke Newington High Street’s contrasting assortment of bargain-basement shops selling three rugs for a fiver, worn-out independent supermarkets, one-way traffic system and narrow pavements could not compete. Perry adds that the comparatively lower business rents on the High Street meant older businesses stayed and “stabilised”.
In recent months, however, the arrival of multiple new businesses has given Stoke Newington High Street a face-lift. Along with a new gallery, cafes have opened to create social spaces, including Bienvenue, Lazy Social – complete with indoor parking for bikes – and The Haberdashery.
But why have these businesses chosen to open up on the High Street and reject the affluent panorama offered by Church Street?
For The Haberdashery’s owners Massimo Bergamin and Greg Buckasovich, who opened their cafe in September 2013, the High Street was chosen because it is more “edgy”. Bergamin loves the street’s mixed demographic, which he says has “so many different characters and is a real reflection of London”.
Bergamin maintains that the “family-orientated, very cute and very safe,” Church Street is still popular though: “When you say Stoke Newington, people always think of Church Street.” The High Street however, where “there’s always something new and interesting”, could be catching up.
High Street newsagent owner Hamdy Shahein, who opened his shop in 1979, says the road has welcomed so many new businesses because it offers cheaper business rents in comparison to “cosmopolitan” Church Street.
Shahein also highlights what he views as a negative aspect of gentrification – how it can unwillingly draw in corporate chains. He says chains are targeting the relatively unsaturated Stoke Newington market because “there is money here”. There are rumours of a new Foxtons coming to Church Street and official proposals for for a Sainsbury’s superstore on the High Street, both of which would steal business from smaller independent businesses.
Perry sympathises with the likes of Shahein, agreeing that gentrification can unsettle residents. He said: “People feel like [the area] is less like the place you moved in to. It becomes tempting in the face of increasing property prices to sell up, whether home or business. When some trendy cafe operator is offering you over the odds, why would you stay?”
Perry concludes: “Gentrification is a London phenomenon, places change. In modern society, you cannot expect a place to stay the same.”
As to whether the two streets can coexist successfully, Denney believes they “are still two different worlds” and that “the streets will never merge” as the middle class still mainly frequent Church Street.
Few would disagree with Perry’s view that the “unique offering” of independent business in Stoke Newington is “worth preserving”.