Historically, the London Borough of Hackney was renowned as one of the poorest areas in Britain, plagued by widespread poverty, unmanageable social tensions and tormented by an endemic of criminal activity. From the derelict-stricken housing estates to the considerable deficiencies within the borough’s schools and hospitals, throughout all walks of life its residents encountered incredible scenes of marked deprivation. However, since the turn of the century Hackney has emerged as a vibrant centre of affluence, propagated by the booming property market in the area and a growing incentive by local government to address the wealth inadequacies – supported by the advent of the 2012 Olympics. With that said, an influx of middle class “voyagers” have solidified in Hackney coinciding with the flourishing atmosphere within the borough, submerging with a working class population well aware of the relative indigences of yesteryear. Ultimately however, it would be difficult to argue against the fact that the emanation of the regeneration and gentrification of Hackney has not only revitalised the borough, but removed Hackney from its incredibly ruinous past.
Over the last two decades Hackney has made a considerable effort to purge the economic and social shortcomings. Initiated in the late 1980s, the Council planned to rid the borough of its “sink estates” resulting in the demolition of Trowbridge, Clapton Park, Nightingale (right), Holly Street (where 80% of residents had applied for a transfer) and the Kingshold Estate. The Woodberry Down, Haggerston, Kings Crescent and Pembury Estates are also currently facing reconstruction. In its place more traditional low-rise housing has appeared, along with a plethora of privately-owned developments. Moreover, since 2006 under the Decent Homes programme the Council have invested over £184 million in renovating thousands of existing homes.
The closure of Hackney Downs school, Kingsland school and Homerton College of Technology due to the below-par performances of its students and recurrent behavioural issues stimulated the emergence of innovative academies, commenced by the Mossbourne Academy in 2004. This, along with the Learning Trust’s dominion over education in Hackney has led to the rebuilding of all secondary schools and the implementation of constructional improvements to primary schools across the borough, decisively improving education. From 2006 to 2013, GCSE results (5 A*-C) increased from 50.9 % to a staggering 79.6%. Corroborated by the advancements in health care and transport – particularly with the expansion of the London Overground subsequent to the completion of the East London Line, ultimately the fortunes of the borough have taken a considerable turn for the better. There have also been increased attempts by the Metropolitan Police (and more specifically Operation Trident) to tackle the eminence of gangs in Hackney after the ill-fated riots of 2011.
Undoubtedly, the recent trends in Hackney have not only statistically reduced crime and poverty rates across the borough, but more importantly have been effective in dissolving the established adverse reputation of the borough. The Metro newspaper recently ranked Hackney as the 2nd best borough in London – remarkable considering Hackney was perceived in the past as the worst place to live in Britain. Furthermore, benefit claimants have reduced by 6% since 2006, employment rates have steadily risen in the same period to 63.7% and across Hackney deprivation has seen a sharp fall, particularly in the Haggerston, Clissold and Lordship wards. These factors have intertwined with the shift in the demographics in the area from a low-income, impoverished community to a prosperous and blossoming place to reside and visit.
Whilst it would be difficult to suggest that the regeneration of Hackney can completely disguise the remnants of poverty in the borough and avoid an ‘indigenous’ population grieving with antagonisms towards the appearance of wealthier newcomers, it generally has had a positive impact in rescuing the borough from further distortion. How long will the social prosperity last? It is difficult to estimate, however what is for certain is that there is evidence to suggest that gentrification has conserved my place of origin from returning to the social horrors it was once accustomed to.