Gentrification could risk damaging what makes Shoreditch special, fears Hackney artist

Residents say the night-time economy is shifting away from Old Street Roundabout towards areas like

Shoreditch High Street - Credit: Holly Chant

Shoreditch is one of London’s trendiest and most iconic areas, but this status has come at the cost of increased ‘gentrification’ in the area.

The district overlaps the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, both of which have undergone huge economic and social transformations in recent years.

Historically, the area is home to what is believed to be the first social housing estate in the world. 

This rapid change and its consequences have alarmed many from the area, but has brought economic benefits too.

Saif Osmani, an artist and designer who was born and works locally, says many are concerned that gentrification risks damaging what makes Shoreditch great.

He said: “Gentrification has arrived really fast into parts of the East End and areas like Brick Lane.

“Which are culturally very important, and give people from the East End, and migrants in particular, a leg up into the city.”

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He adds that these opportunities are “very much under threat as a result of the city creeping in”.

Tower Hamlets has experienced more gentrification than any other London borough between 2010 and 2016, while Hackney was also included in the top five most gentrified boroughs, according to a report published by the Runnymede Trust and CLASS recently.

The report explains that while gentrification can bring a cash boost into an area, some of its traditional poorer communities can find themselves forced out.
The end of ‘Banglatown’?

For decades, the area has been home to Bengali and Bangladeshi communities that have helped to put the area on the map for its cultural vibrancy and famous curry houses. 

These communities gradually earned the south end of Brick Lane the nickname ‘Banglatown.’ 

But the fear that gentrification might erode these communities and their history led Saif to help found the Bengali East End Heritage Society. 

Saif is currently holding an exhibition on Princelet Street in Shoreditch called ‘Framing Banglatown’ which examines Brick Lane’s Bengali and Bangladeshi history.

‘There’s no class difference’

Shoreditch’s location, sandwiched between some of London’s most deprived areas in Tower Hamlets and the financial hub of the city of London, has made the area a social and economic crossroads.

Naglis Miniauskas, general manager of The Edge Beer Garden on Shoreditch High Street, says that his pub’s clientèle come from all areas of society.

“This is like a meeting place, there’s no class difference,” he says. “There’s no division, as I feel. I think we’re in a prime location for that.”

Working at the bar since it opened in November 2016, Naglis has seen the surrounding area transformed by new flats and offices.

He adds that although new buildings are being built, The Edge bar and other venues are protected by their listed status.

Truman Brewery protests

Gentrification in Shoreditch has been encapsulated in recent weeks by a controversial proposal to develop the Truman Brewery into a shopping centre and five-storey office building.

Many locals, including Bengali and Bangladeshi activist group Nijjor Manush and Saif Osmani, have organised protests against the development under the Save Brick Lane campaign. 

Residents have raised concerns that the development could damage the culture of the area, and that little or no consultation has been given by the site’s owners.

Saif Osmani says that the owners have been “avoiding” consultation with residents by developing “piecemeal” sections of the Truman Brewery. 

“That’s a big site – that’s 10 acres, which is the same landmass as the Bishopsgate goods yard, and we were always promised Community Housing of various kinds and long-term living on [the site].”

The Save Brick Lane campaign was set to stage a demonstration against the Truman Brewery Development on Sunday (July 18).

The site hosts community events such as food festivals and an annual pancake race. It also offers low rent to market stalls and restaurants.

Jason Zeloof, one of three brothers who own the Truman site, assured a council meeting in April that the current uses would continue with an expanded commercial space and micro business offering if new plans were approved.

The plans were deferred in April by Tower Hamlets Council and are set to be heard again on July 22 by the authority’s planning committee.

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