Hackney is Friendly?

The pedestrianisation of the Narrow Way divides opinion. A couple of shopkeepers say hello, at a loss at falling trade, they shake their heads forlorn. “I really like it, it’s nice without the buses”, said one woman. “It’s good to see this road open for what people want to do”, said someone else. Then there are mutterings, “our tax pays for this rubbish,” said one woman to no one in particular.

My own dilemma is that I am now concerned that the statement “Hackney is Friendly” may be perceived by those who see the banner without investigating further as a categorical statement, a dividing line, rather than a starting point for exploration and a celebration of our community spirit (often found in the face of adversity). I thought that it would be a win/win campaign. If you think Hackney is friendly, great, if you don’t, perhaps you can have a conversation about it and experience friendliness here. “Your problem is you’re an optimist”, said someone today.

I have made a new addition to the banner. My hope is that it will allow a broader sense of inclusion, and allow the subtleties of more ambiguous experiences to be expressed; but perhaps I am arranging deckchairs on the Titanic?

“Why is there a question mark?” a young woman asked. “So that people can share their experience whatever it is”, I replied. I have no wish to inflame discontent, but to foster communication.

My assumptions were challenged about the people I met this afternoon. Incredible stories unravelled before me, the ups and downs of long journeys from rich to poor, east to west, and then to now.

One man remembers, “Before the war then after, this area was completely different. There used to be a market down here. There used to be shops all the way up Clarence Road.” I’ve lived around here for 25 years, but for the 10 years before that I came to visit regularly. I remember the shops on Clarence Rd, especially all the yarns and ribbons tied to the outside of “Ries Wools”. Many of the shops have now been turned into residential properties and the traders hope for more customers.

I fell in love with Hackney then, had a lot of my “first” times here. My first samosa, first bagel, first goat curry, first meeting with a rasta, first hearing of ‘Kind of Blue’, amongst other things.

One person talked to me today about the harsh consequences of loss of livelihood. “The world’s your oyster, and then it’s not.” Someone else spoke passionately about being here. “People here don’t know what it is like behind the steel curtain. I love hackney, in London I feel free!”

I am getting to know the characters who drift around the area and often hear real street wisdom. “Are you a Hackney person?” I asked in one conversation, “No, I’m a Hackney personality.” Another apologised, “Sorry, I don’t have words. Language doesn’t matter, you just need heart.”

Parked near St Augustine’s Tower, there is a band playing. People are taking turns throwing toy ducks into a toilet. A curious collection of people are dancing together – many of whom I have chatted to. I direct some Burberry shoppers to Morning Lane. A rapper jams with the band, giving us some positive flows, and he nails it, “I love this random Hackney stuff!”

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