Insecurity, crime, unemployment… these are the characteristics of a neighbourhood under the surveillance of more than 1500 security cameras. The rise in housing costs is forcing many residents to leave their homes for other areas.
August 2011, Hackney burns. Hooded citizens take to the streets of this London suburban district. The events are repeated in other areas of London.
A crowd of people, with their faces covered, confront the riot police. The chaos that the city is experiencing is the centre of attention for the world’s media.
Vehicles in flames, smashed windows, acts of vandalism, and an ‘integration’ into a multicultural city put, once more, in doubt. The mishaps experienced in different districts maintain true links with the reality that is experienced on its streets.
The East End, historically a lower middle-class immigrant district, is characterised by the high level of unemployment of its residents and by insecurity.
The statistics show that this district of more than 240,000 residents has registered an unemployment rate of 11.7% and, 2012 has finished with a 2% increase on the previous year.
Moreover, it is the second area in the UK with more residents under the age of 20 and one of the cities with a high rate of youth unemployment.
In the last year it is estimated that in North Hackney some 155 youths between the ages of 18 and 24 have not worked for more than six months. This figure increases to 420 in South Hackney.
The unemployment of Hackney citizens is connected to problems of marginalisation, poverty and crime in one of the districts that is currently experiencing a marked process of change in the identity of its residents.
Many of these people live on state benefits. The budgetary cuts that the Government implemented concerning these aids were one of the fuses that ignited the social unrest that has now been going on for nearly two years.
Diversity of roots
A journey through the different establishments that occupy the streets of this district identifies those that live in the area.
According to the latest figures, 17% of pupils who attend schools in Hackney are from families with Afro-Caribbean roots.
On its streets 6% of its residents speak Turkish, ascitizens who mostly came to the UK for political and economic reasons and, in some cases, under the protection of refugee status.
The Vietnamese are another community with a high influence; it is estimated that there are about 5000 of them, although the figures are statistical data, allowing for a high percentage of illegal immigration.
Mobility among the immigrant population is one of the characteristics of the inhabitants of London, as testified by MRN.
Many of its current residents came to Hackney to be in a district that is relatively inexpensive in comparison to the rest of London. There they opened their businesses and created their families. Self-employment is one of the economic motors of the district.
However, Hackney is experiencing social change. Many of the immigrants that have journeyed its streets for years have left their homes because of the rise in housing costs that has been felt in the district. Now they are looking for more distant districts with lower rents.
The British themselves have started to move to one of the so-called ‘fashionable’ districts. Since its beginnings, Hackney has housed artist workshops and the atmosphere that these have lent to the area has altered the housing values.
The new resident is characterised by having an above average purchasing level and by not needing State support to pay for their accommodation.
In spite of the cultural diversity of its people, arrived from a conveyor-belt of countries, one statistic shows that 78% of the residents believe that in the neighbourhood “people of different roots get on well”.
Historically Hackney, without factoring in today’s official figures, has housed one of the most important Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual communities in the UK. This is a test of the open and modern character which the area has acquired.
Integration versus ills
Currently, according to the council Government, they have had approved a series of economic aids aimed at promoting projects that advocate equality for all Hackney residents.
Work to avoid marginalisation in a multicultural neighbourhood such as Hackney has been undertaken by different groups, one example being the foundation ‘Black and Ethnic Minority Working Group’.
However, the real revitalisation is largely through the effort of its residents. On the one hand, artists that have opened their design workshops have given modernity to the area, but also the agreement signed by the council, associations and private companies for the construction of social housing.
St. Mary’s Village is the best example; 200 properties whose letting profits are allocated towards social work, such as supporting play areas, community centres and their own doctor’s surgery.
In the kitchen of one of the Mexican restaurants that add colour to the streets of the Hackney neighbourhood, Florencia Aranda is again cooking typical dishes from her birth country for her diners.
In her establishment, pancakes, black beans and nachos are served among other succulent dishes, to be enjoyed by people from all over the world. This woman, 44 years of age, arrived in London like other immigrants with the aim of “finding a better life”. Here in London she had the chance to work and receive economic benefits, according to what she tells The Prisma.
Like Florencia Aranda, Peruvian Juan Meza de Ducly has set-up his own business in the neighbourhood. Both of them work in the hostelry sector and agree that they are lucky because of the change that has happened in the area. They put their faith in the area a while ago and now the district has been re-valued.
Many of the immigrants have set up small businesses in the area. There is an abundance of restaurants in the façades of buildings. This has created support for the families themselves and for the Hackney economy.
“I arrived in London from Peru, I had little money, I started to work and, alongside three partners we have established this business. Hackney was a very cheap district and at the time it was of ill repute, but it was the only place where we could open with our budget”, states Meza de Ducly.
He adds that “Hackney has always been seen as a place with little security, where you can be robbed on any corner, but things have changed for the better. Now we could not start with how expensive everything is”. “Two years ago I had riot police in front of my business, but life has continued for the better”.
(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)