Clapton’s Gentrification: At what cost?

Chatsworth market stall holders

If there is a blue print on how to gentrify a down heel area, it would read something like this:

  • Find low income area blighted by crime (must have period houses, boarded up cheap abandon warehouses and boarded up storefronts. ) Buy cheap and renovate.
  • Hope to hell that enough like-minded souls do the same to make your speculation increase in value.
  • Sit tight and more genteel, artsy, professionals will follow.

Such is the case in Clapton. An area a few years ago, so tainted by violent crime that the media referred to it as “Murder Mile”.

Fast forward 5 years, fewer corpses, less shootings, stabbings and muggings, you will find young professionals, and the chattering middle class are flocking to the area.  Now there are cafes like Venetia’s Coffee Shop, who encountered reluctant landlords who didn’t think much of her idea. Chatsworth Kitchen a delightful British diner whose emphasis is on home style cooking  and even the absence of a website hasn’t been a hindrance, thanks to word of mouth and local chatter on social network sites. On the corner of Chatsworth Road and Glenarm is L’epicerie, a fancy French-Moroccan deli.

There are two independent book shops, Pages of Hackney and the Book Box that hold regular literary events. A new Creperie has just landed on Chatsworth Road as well as a very daring venture called Russell of Clapton, a trendy boutique B & B that took some chutzpah and forward thinking. If you ask me it’s just the beginning of a new Chatsworth Road.

Thanks to The Chatsworth Road Residents & Traders Association (CRTRA) a bi-weekly market has been launched. They claim “a weekly market will help regenerate the high street at a time when it is under threat from global recession and expanding supermarkets.” They say it will “bring the community together” and constantly throw words like ‘diversity’ around.

However there is nothing diverse about this bunch, instead it appears to be lip service paid in their quest to gentrify the area beyond recognition. Since the word gentrification has other connotations, they use words like ‘regeneration’ to feel better and assuage their guilt.

There is nothing wrong with regeneration and you can’t blame anyone for wanting a “good life” and a “tribal” sense of security (which is enhanced by homogeneity) but, it’s always at someone else’s expense it would seem, as in the case of Broadway Market.

The same businesses, CRTRA claim will benefit from it will eventually be forced out when rent and council tax goes up, besides the only businesses that benefit from the foot traffic of a Sunday market are the ones that cater to the type of people the stalls attract. Let’s face it, it’s not catering to shoppers like my mum who goes to Ridley Market every week.

Last Sunday, I asked the Asian owner of a convenience store, if he saw an increase in customers on market day.  He shrugged: “Not one bit. Our customers come here for Caribbean goods. The market is for white people”. Across from the convenience store I spoke to the West Indian owner of another business who told me the same thing, “It really makes little difference”. He went on to say, “in the beginning they [CRTRA] bombarded me with information, they pushed letters and leaflets through my door, they talked to us, so I went along to some meetings.

“Now they have the market up and running, we don’t hear from them. They got our signatures, support and completed surveys.”  He said he wasn’t “plugged” into social networks  or the internet, when I told him CRTRA had a strong online presence.

While I don’t for one moment believe there is any deliberate segregation of  Chatsworth Road market, it is what it is. It’s still early days but you can tell where the market is heading.

Home baked cake stalls dominate the market

Handmade costume jewellery, bags, cutesy cup cakes, home made pies, vegan food and just about everything with the word ‘vintage’ attached to it. With some stall holders dressed in period clothes, a music ensemble and people drinking coffee and tea, as they huddled up in groups, it appears more like a neighbourhood street party.

Neighbourhood Pioneers

What concerns me, is the make up of those involved in transforming the neighbourhood. A close look at some of these Clapton based groups, show a lack of “Black and Minority Ethnics” (BME) representation and several of these ‘neighbourhood pioneers’ were involved in other groups that overlapped each other. They sit on committees or are members of groups and trusts set up to oppose one development after the other. Even more confusing and misleading, are the various groups with several plans in development that overlap and contradict one another. While there are lots of groups which makes it look as if there’s lots of local engagement, there are only a few of the same people who make decisions.

As one Clapton resident recently said to me:  “I’m not opposed to the development of an area action plan as long as it can clearly demonstrate it’s been developed in consultation with all of Clapton’s communities, not the same handful of people sitting on loads of committees they’ve set up who want to oppose every development that comes along, and want to channel scarce resources on their pet projects.

“I’m also not opposed to Clapton’s gentrification as long as it benefits those who are less well off and not just those with middle class elbows. But I’m far from convinced this will be the case. He added “although some of the folks making the decisions refer to diversity – I don’t believe they are committed to it or really understand what it is.”

I notice some names show up everywhere. David White, a Clapton resident has several websites he uses to promote his graphics/art work and to promote Clapton Arts Trust (CAT) and Clapton Residents Panel (CRA) two groups he sits on as Secretary.

Euan Mills describes himself as an Urban Designer and is very involved in CRTRA and a member of CAT. He does a lot of his campaigning for CRTRA via Twitter, Facebook and his pal Emily Webber’s hyper-local web site. Webber was and is still very vocal about the newTesco in Lower Clapton Road, where they ‘dared’ to open an express store.  Her web now spans Hackney with a site that promotes fellow NIMBY projects.

In all this is, the ‘big daddy’ in the sky – Hackney Labour councillor, Ian Rathbone, who seems to be involved with, all of them. He sits on the sub-committe of CRTRA and also on that of CAT.

Writing on the wall

It happened in Clapham, in the Broadway market area and now it look like people will get shafted in Clapton the more gentrified it becomes.

According to author, researcher and former University of Glasgow research fellow, Rowland Atkinson, “displacement through gentrification occurs when neighbourhoods change such that inflated rents and prices push out the low paid or the unpaid. In a more subtle way the process may involve large influxes of professionals which alter the characteristics and services of an area so that resident’s social networks change and the cost of living rises.”

Just as worrying is what will happen to the existing traders who don’t fit into the ‘trendy hip mould’ or can’t afford the rent when it sky rockets?

Rowland Atkinson has some interesting research in his article.

Displacement through gentrification: How big a problem


About Remi

Remi Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday, who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned happy to put an unconventional and risqué past behind her. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and runs a London based pet sitting business. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.


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18 Responses to "Clapton’s Gentrification: At what cost?"

  1. Christopher  09/04/2011 at 10:46 am

    I have been keeping up with this on your forum and elsewhere, and notice that they have been quiet and when vocal, all they can muster is a smug “why don’t you start your own ethnic stall?”

    Fortunately for them they can afford to be smug and shameless because as one of them pointed out, there is little anyone can do to stop the effects of gentrification on minorities or the poor, in a free market.

    But you’re right the committee does appear to be a group of friends who now appear to be alienating even their most ardent supporters and volunteers. Hmmm.

  2. Hackney Hive  09/04/2011 at 4:18 pm

    You will find more comments on the community forum.

  3. David McCulloch  30/09/2011 at 2:26 pm

    I agree that it’s important to ensure that gentrification doesn’t occur unchecked, but I do feel it is unreasonable to expect that an area should remain static as time progresses. I can understand the gripes that certain people can have with the committees but is that not the case with all committees? The point is that if you disagree with how they work you join and change things, recruiting more people who have similar beliefs or you create another committee that presents your viewpoint. I think actively complaining but with passive real-world actions, seems to be un-constructive and reeks of an unwillingness to engage that seems to be a more destructive process and could by cited as a large contributor to troubles that have blighted Hackney for years.

    It’s good that committees are questioned and scrutinised but rather than bolstering an already held viewpoint — that people are being shafted — maybe it would be prudent to speak to the committee members themselves and having some soundbites where they can discuss their viewpoint as a counterpoint to further flesh out your argument?

    Just for some perspective, when economic migrants first began to populate the area, I imagine the ‘original’ inhabitants who were consequently and arguably displaced by an increase in levels of crime & a lack of wilful integration by the newcomers would have had a very similar opinion to the writer of the article. This is NIMBY territory but just from another viewpoint. I’m not really seeing much difference here — why should people be disallowed to move here and open businesses because they are caucasian or receive criticism for actively involving themselves with their local community?

    Regarding the market, I think the BME issue is a bit of a straw-man when scrutinised … if you were to ask the Nationality of the various market holders, you will find a diverse range of people from a diverse range of backgrounds. By judging people by skin-colour alone, you are missing the ‘Minority Ethnics’ part of BME. There are many people from various backgrounds trying to give back to a community they love and respect in a constructive manner and the vast minority who have stalls in the market are not British Citizens, I’ve spoke to most and there are people from all over the world.

    A reply to the ‘Asian owner of a convenience store’ feeling that the market is for ‘White’ people — maybe that says more about his own bigotry than anything internal to the market itself? Would you defend the position of a person that said, after ‘BMEs’ began to inhabit Dalston, ‘their market shouldn’t be there, it just caters for Black people and Turkish’. I think that you would be incredulous and would point out that the market is there for all and market forces will dictate the rest.

    Also, your choice of stalls and imagery is biased to present your argument. Where is the picture of the okonomiyaki stall? Where are the Kimchi burgers?

    You misplaced these images:×224.jpg

    I guess this is the worst thing, people just seem to dislike those who are different to themselves, one of those boring facts of life, but as the haters hate, those involved in ‘gentrifying’ the area can enjoy contributing to their community and meeting new and varied friends through their engagement, rather than sitting down and grumbling about their fellow Clapton residents.

  4. Benjamin Counsell  01/10/2011 at 8:09 am

    Yes David, change is inevitable. But I don’t think anyone was arguing that “people be disallowed to move here and open businesses because they are caucasian”!!
    But when some residents and their friends, principally affluent, set up “committees” that pupport to represent the area, and then interfere with the market by trying to block developments that provide services for generally poorer people, a line has been crossed, and residents – such as the writer of this article – are right to complain.
    Examples of this are CPNAG and its attempt to block the opening of Tesco Express on Clapton Pond. “Clapton Pond Says No to Tesco” they claimed. (So presumably they don’t consider the people who daily queue up in the now-open store to be of the Clapton Pond community?).
    Or the fuss these people (and they nearly always are the same people) kick up when a betting office opens. Now I’m no fan of gambling, but I recognise that it is legal and that there is obviously a local demand for these shops. Again we see these people targetting businesses that generally cater to less affluent residents – and yes, that often means BME residents.
    Or look at the campaign to keep a chicken restaurant out of Stoke Newington Church St.
    Or the campaign to block the development of a disused toilet block in Chatsworth Rd for some much needed housing. The possibility of new homes has been lost for the sake of a childish – not to mention unsavoury – notion of a cafe/toilet that will only be open a few hours a week!
    And now you have the audacity to suggest that people shouldn’t complain about these self-appointed “committees” and instead have some sort of moral obligation to join them!! As if they are some new tier in local government!
    My advice would be to complain about them. Point out that they represent a tiny section of the community. Point out that they alienate poor and often BME residents with the aim of “gentrifying” an area. Point out that these self-appointed “urban planners” often haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about. And perhaps most importantly, complain to the council – who should be our real representatives – about these groups of divisive, self-appointed, non-representative, committees, and urge the council to ignore them. Because David, contrary to your assertion that these groups are “actively involving themselves with their local community”, they are in reality creating a community within a community, a clique of affluent (and yes, usually white) residents who then try to take the reigns off local planners in order to shape the area to suit the ends of that clique, which is often at the expense of less affluent (often BME) residents.

  5. Remi
    R Makinde  03/10/2011 at 2:20 pm

    David, good grief how far did you have to dig to find photos of Black people at Chatsworth market? Kinda scraping the barrell won’t you say?

    I compare your decision to show how “diverse” Chatsworth Market is, by scraping for these photo’s, to the person who proclaims “I’m not racist my maid is Black or my gardener is black or we have a Black guy in my office. Your actions are vomit inducing.

    And the photos proof what?

    Photo 1. A few people were grabbed off the street to pose? I recognise one as an Asian shop keeper.

    Photo 2. Oh woop de doo a Black fella with his own Hot Dog stand. And your point is?

    Photo 3. A Black guy (most likely minimum wage) serving up coffee for a Broadway Market based trendy Coffee shop, who now have a stall at Chatsworth Road

    What do you expect me to do David, f*****g cartwheels?

    Then there is your condescending view of others, including me whom you feel are “different from you” even envious. Really? Could it it be that some people just view things differently? After all even “people like me” visit non ethnic establishments on Chatsworth Road.

    Just like you, others involved in the planning have suggested I get involved. I tell you if the rest are anything like you and Katie (who provided you with one of the photos) I’d rather dig my eyes out with a rusty spoon.

    This was written by “What Katie Did” and was deleted from Chatsworth Road Face Book page (it was later deleted) :

    “Nicole, you can’t stop change. it happens all the time. some people don’t like change, but that’s life. hackney used to be an affluent middle class suburb before the war, but that changed. i might consider that quite sad….. but i don’t b…ecause that’s just how it is. no one is going specifically out their way to gentrify the area, or disclude people. everyone is welcome to get involved in these great events that are happening. i think what’s happening is inspiring …. far more inspiring than the bullet holes in the local chinese! the market will take a natural course, and become whatever it’s meant to be without people having to sht this ‘gentrification’ thin”[sic]

    As for the Asian shop owner, he wasn’t being bigotted..just calling it the way he saw it.

    And a little reminder. The “original inhabitants” of the area were not not driven out so much because of crime and the “lack of wilful integrations”, but because of a phenomenon known as “white flight”.

    What I haven’t said Benjamin’s post below pretty much covers.

  6. David McCulloch  05/10/2011 at 11:31 am

    Hey Benjamin,

    If this blog post or article were written by you, my reply would have been mostly in agreement, as your points make absolute sense and the reasoning behind them is solid. Having a minority in an area dictating the businesses that the majority have access to, mostly dictated by a different mind-set or cultural perspective, is something that should be fought against. I had a similar opinion about the ban on massage parlours and sex shops in Hackney. I wasn’t aware of these activities and I’m glad you’ve pointed them out and I’m glad there are people that can act as a counterpoint to this.

    I wasn’t being audacious by asking people to join them, I was just being a little idealistic. I can be a bit old-fashioned with this kind of thing and alway hope that people are able to communicate with each other reasonably and forge some sort of resolution that doesn’t involve vilification or turning others into caricatures. As a question, have you chatted to anyone on these committees? I think your voice would be really useful.

    Regarding the clique issue, I think the grouping of so-called BME’s (not a distinction I would personally make) together into a single group as a counterpoint to the more apparently more affluent people isn’t necessarily productive or true of the dynamics within the area. Hackney is full of cliques that do not integrate with each other, as are all cities. It’s a bit of a red herring and implies that these two groups (BMEs vs Gentrifier) are two sets of naturally opposing groups. The main problem is that a lot of the BMEs are not poor and are happy for their properties to increase in value, while the so-called gentrifiers are actually low-income migrant workers looking for an area of London where they can afford to live and pursue their creative aspirations. If we were to stratify each of these groups more granularly, I think we’d find that the closer we got to real people’s lives, the more pointless the distinction becomes. I think the problem with this is that it’s easy to create caricatures for discussion or debate but that’s not necessarily the reality of the situation and this kind of grouping can really muddy the point — that point being that certain minorities are trying to dictate the business landscape of clapton and this should not be allowed to occur unchecked.

    We all live in Clapton and are happy to have some places to get a good coffee but everyone I know (those BMEs we keep talking about), would be the first people defending the rights of shopkeepers to sell what they want — but we would never think of complaining because there isn’t enough ethnic diversity in the customers of a certain business or that a certain local event only catered for a certain minority group. That’s why I disagree with the points regarding the market. I can’t see why we should be criticising a market by pointing out the racial characteristics of the people that it serves.

    Hey Remi,

    On that note, you come from a pretty angry place and as such have mis-interpreted most of what I have written. There is a psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias, where people only read or interpret information in a way that reflects the opinion that they already hold. I think it’s come into play here and unfortunately, nothing that I say will be interpreted by you in the way that it’s meant but I’ll give it a go!!

    The reason I googled the images of some non-caucasian people from the market was to point out that it’s very easy to bolster a racially derived argument with a few photos, but it’s disingenuous and a bit ridiculous to do so. At no point have I pulled the “I’m not racist but I have a black maid” argument, you are making a causal leap and imposing your own prejudices/issues onto the information I have presented.

    Reading your reply, I’m not sure entirely where I have shown a condescending view of you or of others? I didn’t mention any people who are different from me or any issue of people being envious. You’re projecting a whole host of issues at a reasonable reply to your blog post — I’m just discussing the issue from my perspective that’s resulted in me understanding the issue in more depth (thank you Benjamin) but since you are so incensed for some reason, you didn’t read my reply properly.

    Regarding ‘arguably displaced by an increase in levels of crime & a lack of wilful integration by the newcomers’, I used the word arguably for a reason, it’s certainly not my opinion. I should have made this clearer, but what I’m saying is that the people who were here had certain preconceptions about the people who migrated to the area (mostly judging those from external characteristics such as clothes, money, race) that caused them to feel alienated and displaced but if they were to try to understand each other and communicate, rather than judging others and indulging their own insecurities, things would have been better for all of those involved.

  7. domjc  10/11/2011 at 1:10 pm

    you should remember that these middle class ‘gentrifiers’ are often pushed out of neighbourhoods they would once have chosen to live in (clapham, islington, camden) for the same economic reasons you say will affect the clapton locals. Areas always change over time – notting hill has gone up and down and up in the last 100 years – and seeking a canute-like static london is pissing in the wind.

    where in london should middle class people who can’t afford to live anywhere else go, if not neighbourhoods like clapton?

  8. Benjamin Counsell  11/11/2011 at 1:27 pm

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that middle class people should be prevented from moving into Clapton – or anywhere else.
    There is a problem however when these people then try to engineer poorer people out by pretending to represent “the community” and then blocking developments that generally cater to less affluent people.

  9. gavros  15/11/2011 at 10:16 am

    I’ve followed this with interest, and recently saw in the Hackney Citizen an article that followed the same sort of reasoning. I’d just like to add a few points. As suggested earlier in this thread, I think it disingenuous to suggest that the gentrification of Clapton is negative and that the “BME” community is somehow united in opposition to it. Further, and as usual, the white working class is thoroughly omitted from consideration, as if it doesnt exist.

    Nevertheless there is an issue with what’s going on right now. I dont know if gentrification is the right word for it – if anything, the hipster wave that has come into Clapton as Dalston becomes more expensive positively revels in the fact that this is a deprived area, as if that burnishes their credentials. As a result, you see an inverse snobbery going on that is designed in part to prevent economic gentrification in favour of maintaining the status quo. It is, if anything, more insidious than your typical gentrification – at least that raises house prices and general living conditions. This is instead a selective gentrification; one that loves the fact that the Turkish shop on the corner sells overripe plaintain and cassava, but nevertheless one where disposable income is spent of 2 quid cucakes and 3 quid organic coffee at the market.

    I am also well aware of the slightly dangerous assumption that some of these people have about what is and isnt allowable, and their understanding of economics. For example, the venomous opposition to Tesco opening in Clapton Pond was remarkable. Not only do these people want to restrict choice (particularly of poorer people who tend to shop there), but they also failed pointedly to understand that Tesco would bring network benefits – so that, say, someone buying some chicken there could then pop into Palm 2 to get some more exotic vegetables. Another more recent example is the wailing against Starbucks opening in Dalston – as if people will simply have to buy their coffee from there rather than elsewhere. Mind you, when the alternative is that 3 pound organic coffee, who can blame them?

  10. gavros  15/11/2011 at 10:18 am

    Ps why does my icon look like a bell-end? Did you suss me that quickly?

  11. Hackney Hive  18/11/2011 at 9:31 am

    Maybe 😉

  12. LongTimeResident  01/05/2012 at 11:59 am

    How many of you above that have written about Chatsworth Road Market remember when it had a hardware store, school outfitters, travel agent, post office, shoe repairer, and could you name them and place their location. Chatsworth Road was a busy thriving market and you couldn’t move on a Saturday as it teemed with people in all weathers, when prices were reasonable and everybody knew everybody. The “Market” these days is over-priced especially the “second-hand” items, all thanks to the influx of so-called “gentrified persons” who seem look down their noses at, dare I say it, “us local people”, people that have lived in the area for more than five minutes.

    As for Chatsworth Road being a “whites only”, well, all I can say is Dalston/Kingsland has Ridley Road.

    The people on the “Committee” for the market all meet in the local which goes by the name of The Elderfield , personally, I preferred the pub when it was called The Priory, run by Mick & Yvonne, a delightful couple who made you welcome at anytime as they were always working behind the bar.

  13. Movedout4good  09/07/2012 at 4:05 pm

    Look at the Bronx, in the USA its inevitable. Poor people are being moved out to the Thames corridor in London and then asked to pay extortianate fares to come back and service the whims of the richer classes. All because the middle classes are moveing back into London because of our changing economic shift to office jobs in city skyscrapers away from outskirt businesses and also a want for something of a different lifestyle than their parents had (The suburban dream of the 70s and 80s!) The kids of this lot of Gentrifiers will no doubt reverse this trend eventually and move back to the shires once they hit 30, so its an ever turning circle, Hang tight and it will all return to our lovely inner city poverty trap again one day!!!

  14. jjj  09/07/2012 at 8:54 pm

    the clapton arts trust (CAT) thing came out of the campaign to revent the loss of 70+ jobs in one of the last mixed industrial sites in Hackney.. which Hackney planners, after declaring it a Priority Employment Area then granted the developer permission to knock it down… misrepresentation seems an easy thing to do… added to by naming some ppl who live in the conditions who you suggest Tesco somehow alleviate….

  15. jjj  09/07/2012 at 8:59 pm

    and the campaign to save the jobs and tramdepot site was a campaign joined in by all working their regardless of their mixed ethnic/religious/class backgrounds…..which the council you suggest are somehow benign had no interest in at all….. its annoying that this particular history is somehow made to look like its part of the chatsworth bollocks….

  16. lizzie  26/07/2012 at 10:44 am

    The Hackney Hive is just so good at advocacy journalism…. love it.

  17. lizzie  26/07/2012 at 11:03 am


  18. The Duchess of Hackney  26/07/2012 at 11:22 am

    Hmmmm…I wonder why…… 😉

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