Today I feel like throwing in the towel. My idea to provide our community with a space to connect and chat, amplifying the friendliness that is here in an inclusive way is not working for everyone.
Although I am talking to a diverse range of people, for those who are already feeling marginalised and angry, the statement ‘Hackney is Friendly’ provokes the opposite reaction.
“Hackney is not friendly to the black community, which is over 50% of the people,” heckled someone today. Again citing the cuts to youth projects. “It’s the summer holidays and the youth have nothing to do.”
What I am doing on the street is perceived by some as “pretentious” and promoting “gentrification”. I am also seen as a representative of the council and the decisions it makes.
In the aftermath of the heckler’s protest someone came to talk to me. “What you’re doing is working, because you’re getting a reaction. Everyone has been friendly to me today. Don’t get disheartened.”
I had no idea that being friendly would be so controversial.
Later, the sound of ‘Hackney birdsong’ announced the arrival of the police in several cars, and some young black men were stopped and searched…demonstrating another flash point for local young black people.
Others talked to me today who felt more positive about Hackney’s “melting pot”, and the challenges of rising prices and people moving into the borough, “we all just have to make the most of what we have.”
Someone else said, “I moved here because it’s creative and it’s friendly.” Another person frustrated asked, “Why is it so slow to change, still one of the most run-down boroughs?”
Discussing the influx of newcomers “selling up in Islington and moving here”, I asked one man, “What does it take to become a Hackney person?” He replied, “To be a Hackney person you have to involve yourself in the activities of Hackney. You don’t have to change your accent, but be engrossed in Hackney not just sleep here.”
Familiar faces came to say hello. “I just know you as the pink happy lady”, said one. I’m not feeling so happy now, but I am definitely a Hackney person.