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Dalston’s ‘Home’ project set to answer: ‘How has Hackney changed over the last 70 years?’

PUBLISHED: 14:50 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:10 22 August 2016

Film maker Ashton John outside the Bootstrap building in Ashwin St, Dalston (Photo: Polly Hancock)

Film maker Ashton John outside the Bootstrap building in Ashwin St, Dalston (Photo: Polly Hancock)

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Filmmaker Ashton John has captured four people’s memories of Hackney dating back as far as 70 years. Emma Bartholomew previews his exhibition which will be showing at the Bootstrap building in Ashwin Street.

Alice Burke who is taking part in the Home project Alice Burke who is taking part in the Home project

How has Hackney changed over the last 70 years?

The bigger things are obvious – demographics, housing, transport, nightlife. But whether those changes are good or bad is another matter, and that’s the question documentary maker Ashton John has set out to answer.

Ashton made short films showing four people who live in Hackney talking about the changes they have witnessed – and whether they plan to stay put or move out.

The four-minute movies, whose subjects range from 26 to 92 years old, will be on show from September 6 at the exhibition Home. It’s at the Bootstrap building in Ashwin Street, Dalston.

Betty, who is participating in the Home project Betty, who is participating in the Home project

That night, Ashton hopes to assemble politicians, housing bosses and some of the participants for a debate in the roof garden.

Ninety-two-year-old Betty, who hasn’t left the Mare Street home she shares with her son for the past 16 years, is the project’s eldest participant.

“It’s interesting how she’s cooped up in her house and she has these fond memories,” Ashton begins. “She’s been in her house since the 1940s. She explains how it was in the war and how the area was bombed, and how there was more of a community spirit back in the day. She also speaks about the ’60s and ’70s when you had the Caribbean community come in, and what that was like.”

The 32-year-old has been making films for seven years. One, about manners, won the Channel 4 Britdoc award.

“Going into her house was like you walked into a time warp,” he adds. “They had a mini-bar in their living room which threw me back, but what’s extraordinary is she has a Macbook Air computer, which she uses to communicate and keeps her really busy.”

Other residents involved in the project are 26-year-old fashion designer Honey, 50-year-old Ken whose house in London Fields has shot up in value since he bought it 20 years ago, and local celebrity Alice Burke. Alice won a Pride of Britain award last year for helping make the Nightingale Estate a safe place again after muggers, prostitutes and gang members had turned it into a “no-go zone”.

Ashton, who grew up in Homerton and went to Daubeney and the Urswick schools, believes the main change Hackney has seen is community cohesion. “A few years ago community was quite strong in Hackney but we are becoming distant and that’s reflected in the interviews with residents,” he says.

“When I was growing up in Hackney I would know who my neighbour was and who lived on my road but I think that’s changed because of the influx of people coming in and out.”

The exhibition is interactive and people will be able to share their thoughts about changes to the area too. Ashton’s “big dream” would be to take the project to other London boroughs. “It’s very intimate to be welcomed into someone’s home and sit on their sofa and they allow you to turn the camera on,” he says.

“I felt privileged. I feel I’m making some history here. Betty is one of those residents you wouldn’t know is living here. What’s nice about the project is it gets to expose a story you wouldn’t hear unless you were talking to a fellow neighbour or someone who knows her. People will say in the future: ‘There’s a film on Betty.’ For anyone who wants to know what it was like to be a resident now, it won’t be lost.”

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