Gentrification and the Enduring Spirit of Communities

Gentrification and the Enduring Spirit of Communities

As rents continue to rise and quirky fried chicken restaurants pop up across more and more of London’s boroughs, the effects of gentrification have well and truly made a dent into the capital’s geography. Places characterised by market stalls selling everything at a bargain price or fry ups at the greasy spoon have now been transformed into hipster playgrounds selling artisanal breads and craft beers.

Of course we’ve all been warned about the curse of the hipster for quite some time, but it seems that we didn’t start taking it quite so seriously until it began to affect our local neighbourhoods. Poking fun at the regeneration of Shoreditch and its surrounding areas was perfectly fine so long as the cereal bars and organic coffee stayed within those parameters. Now that it’s spreading across the city, the threat to our local communities becomes larger and harder to prevent.

At least that’s the impression one is led to believe when they witness real estate developments popping up in Wembley and articles proclaiming Peckham to be the centre of all things current. Not to mention the numerous pieces by journalists expressing their reasons for breaking up with the city and finding homes in other parts of the country such as Brighton and Bristol (ironically enough, places which have also seen a dramatic rise in both house prices and the number of trendy restaurants). Despite the bleak outlook, community spirit can still be found thriving in the local cafés of neighbourhoods across the capital.

Instead of benefitting a single demographic, community cafés seek to provide a service to nearby residents without charging obscene prices or promising cultural capital. While it may be trendy to advertise yourself as a vegetarian establishment or one that concerns itself with being organic more so than it does affordable, community cafés pride themselves on selling healthy and hearty food that doesn’t discriminate. This is especially true for their staff who often come from backgrounds involving prison time, addiction or unemployment.

An example of a successful community café is the Morningside Community Centre Café found in Hackney. Functioning on the premise that customers pay what they can, the café offers an inexpensive alternative to the boroughs more fashionable eateries as well as filling food targeted directly at residents from the local estate. Another East London establishment that aims to deliver comfort food is Clapton’s Nana café. Staffed by volunteers made up of women over the age of sixty, the café provides the women with a purpose alongside the opportunity to socialise and put to use their many years of cooking knowledge. Volunteers are also able to take a portion of the profits every three months instead of relying solely on their pensions.

Establishments such as these are challenging the popularity of Champagne + Fromage and MEATliquor as well as the rise of glass panelled buildings that accompany them. Indeed, regeneration need not always be an oppressive or unwelcome notion. London has always been evolving and it would only be the city it is today thanks to the multicultural elements it has absorbed. However, a community is not solely made up of the neighbourhood’s hipsters and yummy mummies. A collective of people from all walks of life who happen to share the same postcode are what make a community unique and allow it to thrive with passion.

The Kitson Road Living Project embodied this passion through its communal structure and fierce protesting against the city’s rising rents. Home to tenants of all kinds, both long-term and short, the project combined the traditional hippie commune of the 1960s with that of a post-YBA London in which parties were thrown and exhibitions were held. Having now developed into the Fernholme Road Living Project since moving to a new property, the project has been documented in a book which captures stories from all its inhabitants.

Whether a commune or a café, the spirit of a collective lies in the different stories of the individuals who make up it. Instead of decrying the continuous effects of hipsterdom and middle-class affluence, we should focus on strengthening local neighbourhoods and covering community projects that are authentically concerned about uniting residents rather than pushing them out.

 

Written by Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell

Images via: hollowaylife.net, Nana, Ella Jessel, Artie Vierkant, www.alamy.com

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