Last week I went home. By home, I mean back to the London Borough of Newham which is where I come from. This is where my Hakim and Arnold series of books is set and so I went to do some research for H and A no 5 (published 2017) as well as to catch up with mates.
The previous week had seen the last ever football match at the Boleyn ground where West Ham United have played continuously for over a hundred years. Situated in Upton Park, which is my part of the borough (or ‘Manor’), the Boleyn ground has provided entertainment and work to local people for as long as anyone can remember. Home games brought thousands to the area to watch football, eat local food, drink in local boozers and even eat local sweets. Now all that has gone, so has a vast amount of revenue. Although not everyone is too upset. An Asian friend of mine said how nice it will be in the future to be able to walk down Green Street, where the Boleyn ground is situated, and not have the word ‘Paki’ shouted at her by a drunk. I agree, that is a big plus and one that is impossible to down-play. No-one should ever have to put up with that. But, possibly, more effective crowd control by the police, including harsher penalties for racist behaviour would have been better still, I think, because the shutting of the Boleyn ground has some massive down-sides for all residents of Upton Park. Not least of which is the new housing development on the site of the old football ground.
To put this new development into context, it’s necessary to look at what is happening in Newham at the moment. In a nutshell, house prices are rocketing which means that long-time residents are selling up and new, wealthy residents are moving in. The old hospital where my late grandfather was a frequent visitor back in the 1960s has been turned into luxury flats with eye popping price tags. Even rental properties are beyond most people. We’re being gentrified and the proposed Boleyn Ground estate will be no exception.
Because you see, in spite of the fact that what Newham needs more desperately than anything else is more affordable housing, it ain’t gonna get none. The Boleyn Estate will only be available to the rich. So if you’re a single mum on minimum wage currently living in one room, tough shit.
And there will be knock on effects. I doubt very much whether the new residents of the Boleyn Estate will want to live next door to the traditional West Ham boozer that is also called the Boleyn. Far better are yet more flats or, even better, a coffee shop. The local market, the Queens, may survive for a while based on the fact that it sells a wide variety of fresh food from all over the world. But it will change. People on the Boleyn Estate won’t need two knock-off tee shirts for a fiver and they will actively avoid the burger, hot dog vans and the bloke who sells sweets outside his house on a Saturday. I’m thinking of opening a book on which old building will become a high-end gym. Will it be what was the jewellers? One of the halal butchers? What remains of the old cinema maybe? Down the road, in Plaistow, the police station has become funky flats and so anything is fair game. Even much needed public toilets don’t escape. I know of at least one that has been converted into a restaurant – and I don’t mean a burger bar.
When the new football season begins, West Ham United will have moved to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Still in Newham, this is nevertheless a different world. Savagely gentrified in 2012 for the Olympics, the Olympic Park and its environs doesn’t strike me as a place that will appeal to tanked up football fans. For a start you have to go through the high-end Westfield Shopping Centre to get there. No hotdog vans or cheap sweets around there. OK if you want a meal at a restaurant or a bit of shopping at Waitrose or if you fancy a pair of Jimmy Choos…
Maybe it’ll be more successful than I think. After all most people appear to be completely sheep-like in their obeying of rules that only serve the few. As long as the mobile phones, the coffee and the cars keep on coming, it’s all good. Maybe I’m just an old, bitter and twisted luddite. Well, I am. But I’m also truly worried about housing and jobs for ordinary people. Because the way this turbo-capitalism works means that there is no end. First they came for Kensington and Chelsea, which had always really been theirs anyway, but then Islington fell followed by places like Stoke Newington and Southwark. Now capital demands that the working class heartlands of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham be sacrificed. I live out in Essex these days and they’re moving in here too.
I could no longer afford to buy the house I currently live in and that isn’t good. No really. It isn’t good because, contrary to popular myth, not every working class person wants to be middle-class. I am one of them. I’m happy where I am. I don’t want dinner parties and golf and coffee shops. I’m from Newham! We like pies, chips, curry and tea. We are multicultural and really a bit loud and we can be bad to each other. But we rub along. And we’re losing all that and it makes me want to weep. Goin’ ‘ome, eh? What a terrible fucking thing that is.