Feeling the Heat

Many conversations today started with the weather. It was hot! Too hot for some. I stood on the sunny side of the street to make the most of it. I chatted again with several people who passed by last week, and was encouraged by others who said “Good outfit!” or “This is really fun”.

Although I do not seek to push a particular agenda, I am discovering what a political act it is to stand in the street open for communication. Today alongside the positivity, I felt the heat of anger, dissatisfaction and fear.  On public display my white skin and “middle class vibe” make me a target for some who are disgruntled.

Our city is divided. Divided by opportunity or lack of it. The same geographic location can have very different meanings and perceived levels of friendliness according to colour, class, age and culture, amongst other things.

I have lived on the Pembury Estate, albeit a long time ago, and for me it was a good and friendly place to live. A teenage girl shouted at me today,  “Hackney is dangerous, very dangerous. If you go to that estate, you will die.” One woman who lives there said today, “The riots were bad, but they woke Hackney up. I talk to people now that I never knew before.”

A conversation with one chatty woman revealed her unwillingness to be limited, as she described a conversation where she was ridiculed for using a “big word”, that was “very Broadway Market”. She values learning.

A very angry and articulate community worker incensed by the cuts and the failure of much needed youth projects to be adequately funded was outraged by the  ‘Hackney is Friendly” project, as an attempt “to put a smile and flowers on the face of Hackney.”

I am not a politician, I am just an artist; but I am here to listen, to witness and to be a conduit between the street and the page. I see the need even more strongly for bridges in communication between the different groups of our community to make connections with each other. Many voices in the neighbourhood go unheard.  I am lucky to have the opportunity to have a voice, and I happen to say it with a smile and flowers.

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