Hackney Travellers campaign to move back to Olympic site
Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Daniel Mongan
It’s just under a decade since London hosted the Olympic Games, and the roar of the crowd and excitement of the medal haul has long faded away.
Some Hackney families, though, are still living with the legacy.
Twenty Travellers families were told they would have to move from a Hackney-licensed site on Waterden Road because the land was earmarked for the Games.
The government’s London Development Agency said at the time: “The Travellers live on an area of land that is crucial to the Olympic Park and the legacy development.
“The regeneration of the area can only happen if we relocate the Traveller families to new sites ahead of the Games.
“The regeneration plans for the area will bring long-term benefits to the local community. There will be new state of the art sports facilities, new parkland and thousands of new jobs and homes as part of the Olympic Legacy plan.”
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As London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) engagement officer Mena Mongan explained, it was not as simple as that.
It meant splitting up 20 families, as they had to move to several sites across Hackney, which caused a lot of upset and pain.
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“We were where the stadium is right now,” Mongan said. “We were aware that we were right in the middle of the Games and we would have to move. The worry of it and the stress – even though we were happy about the Olympics coming.
“Travellers have been in Hackney for generations.”
The Games promised to transform some of the poorer parts of London, and Stratford and Hackney Wick saw phenomenal change with thousands of new homes and world-class sporting facilities.
However, it meant transforming the land.
The Manor Gardens allotments, and the Travellers in Waterden Road and at a site in Newham, were moved. They got support from LGT to try to find the best solution.
They were not far from the old Hackney Wick Greyhound Stadium which closed in 2003 and was demolished to make way for the Games’ Media Centre – which is now the home of business and universities.
Mongan said the group of Hackney residents were happy where they were because it was an out-of-the-way, secluded spot. Before that they had camped out in the borough.
Princess Anne, an Olympian herself, had been instrumental in the creation of the Waterden Road site.
As part of her role with Save the Children, she met Travellers at a meeting at Lower Clapton Health Centre and said: “Families need homes.”
Mongan lived there for 17 years and recalled: “It was a nice open space. Families were frightened of coming back into the middle of London.”
Not all the alternative sites they were offered were suitable, and in the end the group of more than 100 people were split between three sites.
Mongan was one of the last eight families to move and at first her group were moved to a temporary site in the Olympic park with building work going on nearby.
She said: “We were on the Olympics whilst the noise was going on, we were right here and the cranes, the noise, the lorries, everything was behind us going on. It was unbelievable. We were there for one full year.
“We had to leave caravans, everything behind. We had temporary community blocks.”
Her move four years later in 2009 took a bit of getting used to.
Now near Springfield Park on a former bin depot site, she said: “We were overlooked by high rise blocks, it was like Big Brother.”
Travellers are now campaigning to get back onto the site and have been in touch with the Mayor of London for help.
There are hopes for a new nine-pitch site on a plot of land owned by Transport for London, but there have been concerns that it could be thwarted by a survey’s findings of pollution there.
She said the Olympics and what came after it changed a way of life and meant young people lost part of their culture they did not get a chance to experience.
“We were proud the Olympics was going to east London, but it did not bring anything for the Travellers," Mongan added.