Three years ago, I shouted down young men as they burnt cars on the streets of Hackney, where I live. Now they come in beards and bobble hats instead.
Places such as Kingsland Road and Mare Street have become the trendiest places to be, but that has brought unrest of a different sort. The people who live here are not happy.
There are a lot of issues with the social cleansing that is becoming increasingly evident around here.
I try to keep away from the word ‘hipster’, and call them trendies instead. But it all means the same: gentrification. This means cleaning an area up and saying if you can’t afford to be here then you have to leave.
Basically, the smart bits of Hackney are getting bigger, but sadly a lot of locals are being shifted out. All of a sudden, we’ve got lots of new bars, which is good for progression and moving with the times. But those who were born and bred here simply can’t afford to live here anymore.
It has caused real problems for the youngsters. A lot of them don’t know where they should go now, or where their real communities are. Many of the venues they would have enjoyed in the past have shut down. Instead, we’ve been left with these trendy places that nobody can afford to go to.
You go into a coffee shop and it is £5 for a cappuccino. I could go into the supermarket and buy the milk, sugar and coffee and have a hundred cups for that.
Now, if you walk along Kingsland Road on weekend nights, there will be several dozen people standing outside the retro bars and clubs, and, I’m sorry to say, they are all white. It’s impossible not to notice. If the same number of black people congregated on a street, they would be told to move on.
My friend has a business by Dalston Junction, on Balls Pond Road, and she has to come out in the morning and wash down her shopfront because these people are vomiting and peeing and all sorts. This is the other side of hipster Hackney.
The riots began because people felt marginalised. They were unhappy and thought things were just always getting worse for them. The shooting of Mark Duggan was the spark that lit the tinderbox. Could it happen again? Never say never.
There are still young men out on the street late at night because there is nothing else for them to do. All the areas that we did have, especially for the ethnic minorities, have gone.
Money has come in since the riots, and that is all well and good, but it is not benefiting the poor people. The regeneration funds given to the council have been spent, in part, on a fashion hub. How is that helping the youngsters in the borough?
I’m no brain surgeon, but what I do know is that it’s not right. Build a massive community centre instead to integrate all the estates. If we’re talking about the need for a fairer society, we should look into things which can do that.
For me, since I made that speech that evening, it has been a three-year journey and one that has been very difficult at times. I have sometimes wished I’d just kept my mouth shut altogether and continued on my way home.
What made me speak up was when I saw the rioters burning somebody’s car, just an innocent person who had parked it in the street overnight. I asked why they were doing it and they said it didn’t matter because they probably had insurance. How is that a justification?
When I look at my community now, I still don’t see anybody speaking up. What we need to do is say we are all one and we need to make it work together.
London belongs to all of us. Not just those who can afford to pay £5 for a cappuccino.