A year of campaigns, closures and clowns
PUBLISHED: 12:58 31 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:49 07 January 2015
2014 brought stories of hope alongside cutbacks in Hackney
A year characterised by cutbacks and spiralling rents got off to a sad start as Kingsland fire station shut its doors for good. The station which first opened in 1894 before being knocked down and rebuilt in 1973, was named as one of 12 to be shut a year earlier by London Fire Brigade as part of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plans to save £29m.
“Choked up” firefighters left Kingsland for the last time on Thursday, January 9, as 10 stations across the capital shut their doors for good.
Members of the public, MP Meg Hillier, councillors and the Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe joined fire fighters to mark the end of an era for the station which had been on-site since Victorian times.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson was criticised for not getting his priorities right after bailing out Olympic bosses to the tune of £12m to bankroll the London legacy Development Corporation to achieve its aim to provide non-construction jobs, apprenticeships, affordable housing and to encourage people to use the park.
The Gazette revealed Hackney Council was subsidising a trendy pop up café to operate rent and rate-free in the prime Narroway business spot, prompting a protest outside. Angry traders – who felt the café was receiving an unfair advantage and had seen their own rents rise and rates more than double – gathered outside Hackney Heart, where the rent was costing the taxpayer £16,000 for six months, while the council insisted it was a not-for-profit initiative run as part of its regeneration plans for the recently-pedestrianised shopping area.
Clowns from as far afield as Norway turned up to join in an annual quirky church service dedicated to their art in February. Around 40 members of Clowns International turned up at Dalston’s Holy Trinity Church on Sunday, February 2, in their full garb to remember the father of modern clowning, Joseph Grimaldi, the first gagster to paint his face white.
One girl’s mission to fulfil a homeless man’s wish to return home to Jamaica raised more than £4,000 in less than a day. Jenny Baker’s selfless appeal began on February 8 when she got chatting to the 64-year-old man she only knew as “Michael”. He told her he had come over to England with his mum but had become homeless after she died, and wanted nothing more than to go back to Jamaica. Ms Baker put out a plea online and received an overwhelming response.
A school superhead, described as one of then education secretary Michael Gove’s “magnificent seven”, was issued a letter of dismissal following a suspension from his post six months earlier. Greg Wallace was suspended while the council investigated allegations over financial irregularity and the awarding of lucrative computer contracts thought to be worth in excess of a million pounds to a company reportedly owned by his boyfriend. Teaching unions GMB, Unison and the National Union of Teachers criticised the council for failing to publish a full report revealing how much taxpayer cash was involved.
Tributes poured in for a teenage girl and Urswick school prefect whose life was cut tragically short in March after she was shot in the neck. Shereka Marsh went to a party when she was shot with a firearm her killer had been keeping for an unnamed criminal. A 15-year-old boy was cleared of murder later in the year but convicted of manslaughter and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.
Tightrope walkers, trapeze artists and acrobats were elevated to the same status as ballet dancers and opera singers in a groundbreaking decision to grant their school national status. Circus Space, based in a former power station in Coronet Street, was renamed the National School for Circus Arts and offers the only BA in circus skills in the country. The art form has enjoyed resurgence with shows like Cirque du Soleil.
The UK’s first ever Bitcoin ATM was installed in March in the heart of Tech City to cater for the digital currency’s popularity there. The ATM can be found in the Old Shoreditch Station café which was the first business in the area to accept the currency as payment for goods.
Fans that followed the fate of Hackney singer Jermain Jackman were delighted as he beat the bookies’ favourite to win BBC primetime singing competition The Voice. The results of the public vote were announced on April and more than seven million viewers tuned in to watch as Jermain put his head in his hands in disbelief as his name was announced by host Marvin Humes. The singer and political activist has now released his first album.
A police station in Lower Clapton Road that closed in 2013 and was bought by the council for more than £7m was taken over by squatters in April. The building, intended for use as a free school in Stoke Newington, was entered and occupied by squatters saying they had no other alternative due to the lack of affordable housing available to them. While squatting inside residential properties is a crime, doing so in non-residential buildings is classed as a civil matter. As the station is not residential, the Olive School were advised to apply for a possession order within 28 days of discovering the squatters in the hope of getting a court order for their removal.
Friends and teachers paid tribute to a “popular” and “inspirational” student, Lucas Drummond who fell to his death in a tragic accident while climbing in Costa Rica. The 16-year-old former Stoke Newington School pupil had been studying in the Central American country after he was offered a place at the United World College in San José, a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering an educational programme to young people.
Local election fever hit the borough as results determined mayoral and council seats. Labour defended their seats to secure a landslide victory in Hackney’s mayoral and council elections - but the most interesting outcome of the night was the emergence of the so-called fringe Green Party as the people’s second favourite choice. Although they were second choice in 80 per cent of Hackney’s 21 wards, the Greens failed to secure any seats on the council because of the first past the post system.
A “dopey” bike thief was traced by the bike’s owner who he unwittingly contacted to ask for a charger. Ben Jaconelli’s locked Go Cycle was stolen on Kingsland Road in Dalston. But after contacting police, bike shop owner Mr Jaconelli, 30, received a call from a man asking for a charger for a Go Cycle. When he realised the bike the man was referring to in fact belonged to him, the disgruntled cyclist sprung into action and traced the thief, even going round to the thief’s house in a 1970s army tank.
The mission to grant a homeless man his wish of going home to Jamaica which touched the hearts of hundreds went awry after the man could not be traced. Jenny Baker had launched the appeal in February after chatting to the man and in less than five days generous donations had amounted to £10,000. But Miss Baker had to give the money back after repeated attempts to find the man, who she only knew as “Michael”, failed.
Managers of a popular swimming pool, gym and salon announced its insolvency after 22 years of trading leaving 13 staff members redundant and subscribers who faced losing hundreds of pounds. Redundant staff and users of the club – which counted singer Leona Lewis and MP Diane Abbott among its members – shared their shock on a Facebook group, Sunstone Survivors. Later in the year the council awarded the gym a community asset status.
Businesses and politicians slammed the government’s plans for Shoreditch’s Tech City after it emerged a third of its businesses were still without high-speed broadband following a two-year battle. Labour MP Meg Hillier branded the issue a “national embarrassment.”
Temperatures soared in July which prompted messages of staying safe in the sun not just for people but for animals too. Heroic police officers who smashed a car window to save a dog left inside on the hottest day of the year received an award from animal rights group PETA. Hackney’s Brownswood Safer Neighbourhood team won the Hero to Animals Award after Sgt Richard Berns rescued the suffering canine from the locked vehicle as temperatures hit 32C.
The first of the government’s flagship university technical colleges in London closed its doors to new students just two years after it launched. Hackney University Technical College (HUTC) was one of 17 set up in the country to train the future workforce in technical and scientific subjects. The college was just yards from Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout, and youngsters were invited to tap into Tech City’s growth and gain valuable work experience there. But just 29 out of the target 75 pupils applied to join this September, leading governors to decide to close.
The first set of adults with learning disabilities graduated from a groundbreaking course. The course is run by Hackney-based theatre group Access All Areas, in collaboration with one of London’s best drama schools, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The first 15 students, who have disabilities including Downs Syndrome, forms of Autism, cerebral palsy and Williams syndrome graudated with degrees in performance making.
Wraps of crack cocaine and cannabis were found stashed away in cooking pots containing food and bins at a Caribbean restaurant in Dalston. A premises closure order which was to stay in place until November 4 was issued after police said they discovered the Class A and B drugs at Casablanca in Sandringham Road.
The suspected head of the notorious London Fields Boys gang was put behind bars after armed police caught him and an accomplice driving the streets of Hackney with a loaded gun. Darren Brissett, 33, of Shafton Road, South Hackney, was caught with fellow gangster Mark Griffiths, 35, of Banister House, Homerton High Street.
‘Hackney Heroine’ Pauline Pearce made national news again with her comments about the class tensions in the borough. The voice of the London riots, who stood up to youths ransacking her neighbourhood warned the council was not doing enough to help residents in the face of spiralling gentrification. In the same month she launched a food seasoning company aiming to provide employment opportunities for the community.
Residents were outraged after the appearance of posters in Stamford Hill telling women which side of the road to walk on. The notices were taken down after multiple complaints to the council about the posters which read “women should please walk along this side of the road only” in English and Hebrew. Jewish group Shomrim, which supports policing in the borough, said the posters had been put up by an orthodox Jewish group to separate genders during a religious parade as physical contact is avoided between the opposite gender in Orthodox Judaism.
The “shocking” number of maternal deaths at Homerton Hospital prompted yet another review after four women died at its maternity unit in the space of eight months. A group who dubbed themselves the “Unhappy Midwives” flagged up concerns about several unspecified serious incidents at the hospital, two years previously, claiming women and babies were being exposed to poor standards of care and of a culture of racial discrimination.
A controversial restaurant idea which proposed to charge clients £50 for a five course feast of some of death row’s “most interesting and popular last dinners” was cancelled after the organiser received threats. The event was being promoted with black and white mugshots of people, apparently prisoners, displaying their last meal wishes on menus draped around their necks.
In October questions were asked about the security of a Hackney psychiatric unit, the John Howard Centre, after a child snatcher went on the run during a trip outside the unit. He was deemed so high risk he was with two escorts when he gave them the slip. Over the year, a convicted murderer and convicted rapist also absconded.
Pub-lovers who fought to save the historic back-street boozer where comedians Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield used to write sketches celebrated after a landmark ruling decreed it could not be split up into flats. A planning inspector recognised The Chesham Arms’ status as an “asset of community value” under the Localism Act in what was thought to be a legal first.
A father, Dwight Denis, hit out at “cold” Hackney Homes staff who he said insisted he move his young daughter back to the home where she witnessed her mother’s death in a road accident. The situation received messages of overwhelming support from readers.
Halloween celebrations at a school in Hackney took a tragic turn as a nine-year-old boy died after falling ill at a party. The celebration at Berger Primary School on October 23 was the first that Rasharn Williams, who was born with a hole in his heart, had attended alone. His mother demanded to know what happened after confusion about his condition led to delays in Rasharn getting life saving help. An inquest has since been opened into his death.
New Era estate tenants celebrated after finding out they would not be evicted at Christmas. Their campaign was backed by the council and high profile figures such as Russell Brand after the 93 households potentially faced eviction when the US investment firm who bought their homes threatened to treble in rent. Protestors took to Downing Street and New Era was recently sold on to an affordable housing provider.
Hackney schools were shamed during an exams probe which found evidence of maladministration during SAT exams. The test results were annulled at Southwold and De Beauvoir primary schools after an investigation found maladministration, which implies a lack of honesty, care or judgement.
In December the owner of the London Fields Brewery was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion following a dawn raid at his home. Former public schoolboy and convicted cocaine smuggler Jules de Vere Whiteway-Wilkinson was detained at his house in Stoke Newington by HM Revenue and Customs officers.
A massive council blunder meant sensitive personal details of 15,000 Hackney residents – including address, sexuality and rent accounts – were leaked online. The private information was publicly available for 11 days before the error was noticed as a botched Freedom of Information request, which was inadvertently published in full on the website What Do They Know.
A dog rescued from a life of misery in Serbia who went missing in Hackney the day after he was rehomed in the borough, was finally traced six miles from where he escaped a week before. Volunteers from dog charity Serbia’s Forgotten Paws, which rehomed the 18-month-old Husky Labrador cross, Oscar, came from as far as Portsmouth once they realised he had gone missing, and were out looking for him day and night.
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