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.
Shoreditch 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 – how times change.
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.”
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.
“Gentrification sometimes can be a little bit difficult for people to understand,” Saif says. “Often, we don’t think that there’s a collective impact on particular groups.
“This year I did a scholarship to do my masters at UCL Bartlett and I looked at, in particular, this nexus between the Bangladeshi East End heritage politics and the ‘hipsterfication’ of Brick Lane and around this area.
“What I found was that there’s a very unique Bangladeshi culture which is not happening anywhere else in the global West. But it’s happening in Brick Lane, and that’s being eroded.”
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.
“It became more mainstream and trendy as we were opening,” he says. “I think the main thing is about Shoreditch, it became trendy and people started to visit, and then these companies saw it as mass traffic so they started to build these things.
“I think it’s just been changing year after year.”
Brick Lane, perhaps more than anywhere else in Shoreditch, has become something of a tourist trap. Naglis says that this influx of visitors has also contributed to the change in the area, but that he sees most of the transformation as positive.
“I’ve not seen any negativity,” he says. “The only negativity maybe I’ve seen is towards Bethnal Green and towards Brick Lane and that area – that place is filled with tourists.
“If you walk past Brick Lane, that has nothing to do with the locals here, only the people who own the businesses and the people who work there.
“The people who actually shop and walk through there, none of them are locals. It’s all just people who come from who knows where. They throw rubbish everywhere, they’re the ones who cause trouble and everything. The locals here, there’s no issue with them.”
He adds that although new buildings are being built, The Edge bar and other venues are protected by their listed status.
“As long as the building is being looked after and protected, I don’t see a major issue,” he says.
“So when these buildings come in, as long as they’re keeping heritage there, for me it doesn’t cause any issue. Because I still see people from that side, people from that side and everyone coming in here and mixing. I have not had any negativity yet from any of this.”
Ameli Lindgren, owner of vintage clothing shop Nordic Poetry on Bethnal Green Road near Brick Lane, has also witnessed the transformation of the area.
“Since moving to London 20 years ago I have seen a huge change in Shoreditch,” she says.
“In the last 11 to 15 years there have been a lot of changes, new trendy bars and shops popping up, and Shoreditch became the place to go to and live.
“Of course that has had a bad impact on rents, property prices and has made it not affordable for the local community and may have forced people to move out . Of course that is not a good thing.
“However gentrification has not only happened in Shoreditch, it is happening worldwide and is hard to avoid, and some positive things do come out of it. Like myself and others , when I started my business, Shoreditch was still [an] affordable place to find a commercial space and that has helped my business to flourish.
“However I do think the government need to protect local people with rent caps so they can enjoy the community as much as people who can afford it.”
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.
“We’ll use the word avoiding deliberately,” he says. “Because we haven’t been brought in in any of the other stages of planning.
“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 staged a demonstration against the Truman Brewery Development last Sunday entitled ‘Last Chance to Save Brick Lane’.
The site hosts community events such as art shows, an annual pancake race and food festivals. 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.