Why shouldn’t Walthamstow be good?

Two days after moving to Walthamstow I got happy slapped. I was walking along Blackhorse Road and two kids were cycling towards me on the footpath. As they passed by, one of them stuck out his hand and whacked me square in the face. As I sat at a bus stop nursing a bleeding nose, I remember thinking to my self “Oh god, where the hell have I moved to”. If you have read any of my posts on this blog, you will no doubt realise that my relationship with Walthamstow has improved dramatically since then. Over the 15 plus years I’ve lived here, the place has taken hold of me. The best way to describe it is to say I feel rooted, I feel like part of the place and the place feels like part of me. But as I often discover, not everyone is happy with Walthamstow.

IMG_1197

Not so long ago I was stood near the bus station waiting for my other half. There was a pretty impressive sunset, so I reached for my phone, took a photo and put it on instagram. I wasn’t the only one to have the same idea, instagram is the natural home for sunset photos, as I scrolled through my feed I could see sunsets galore. My instagram browsing was interrupted when an email popped in to my inbox. I could see from the subject line that someone had used the contact me button on my blog. I get a mix of emails coming in from the site, some positive and some not so much. It’s safe to say that this one definitely fell in to the not so much category. The opening line of the email read “Walthamstow was much better when it was shit” The author even provided a bullet point list of things he didn’t like.

  • People thinking this is Hackney (It isn’t!!)
  • Mini Holland
  • Estate agents
  • Idiots who think Walthamstow is brilliant (It isn’t!!)
  • Coffee shops
  • Idiots in pubs w***ing in to real ale
  • Nonsense about community (you people have no idea what that means!!!)

His main point was that the old Walthamstow was dead, it had no character any more and the idiots were to blame for its downfall. There was a jokey tone to his email, but he was very serious about one thing, he didn’t like what Walthamstow had become. I’m not singling him out, in fact he gave permission for me to use his bullet point list in this post. I’m just using this as example, because he isn’t on his own in feeling that the change that has come to Walthamstow, has not been a change for the better. A quick gander at some of the local facebook groups, or a read of my inbox shows that there are lots of people who think that E17 has been ruined, or that it has simply disappeared up its own backside.

Walthamstow Stadium

It’s true that change has come, and in recent years change has been rapid. There are of course side effects and challenges that E17 has to face. Property prices and rents are high and out of reach of many. There have also been some unfortunate planning decisions made, the loss of the dog track and the development by central station being just a couple of examples. Change has also bought good things, a new cinema, the William Morris Gallery redevelopment, a range of new local businesses, and thriving pubs are just few that spring to mind. I loved the Walthamstow I first moved to, happy slapping incident aside, and I love the Walthamstow I live in now.

I absolutely don’t have a problem with people who don’t like E17, I clearly don’t agree with them, but not liking E17 is as valid an opinion as liking it. But I do struggle with the opinion that in order to remain true, Walthamstow needs to be shit. Why is that the case? why shouldn’t Walthamstow be good? and why shouldn’t it change and evolve and be different. The implication that it needs to be shit in order to be true Walthamstow implies that it was shit to begin with, which is another opinion I don’t agree with. This is my home, and I like it for what it has been, what it is, and what it has the potential to become.

 

 

 

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8 comments

  1. Well said, I have lived in E17 for around 15 years now and generally the changes I have seen in that time are for the better. I still think it retains much of the old Walthamstow, but to survive it has to move on with the times. I don,t want it to become a sterile area as some other parts of East London have become, with the rich living behind their gated developments and the less fortunate booted out to make way for another exclusive block of apartments. Walthamstow needs to keep its rich mix of cultures and lifestyles, if it manages that then I for one will be here for many years to come.

    1. Hello John

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      You are right, everywhere needs to move on with the times in order to survive, and hopefully Walthamstow can retain enough of the old to balance the new changes that will no doubt come. I have always loved the mix of cultures and people that call E17 home, makes it an interesting place to live.

      Thanks again for your comment

      Bill (Walthamstow Diary)

  2. It’s not shit but it has lot its east end character. Go down the market now. All the proper shops and variety of stalls have gone replaced by eastern european men sitting en masse outside coffee shops. No indigenous pensioners and diverse mix there used to be but including english, irish, east enders, etc.

    The place looks grotty. Not everyone is turned on by the William Morris Gallery and neon God’s own junkyard signs. ..bad planning, multi culturalism and corrupt councillors have let some real eyesores go up all over the borough whilst huge chunks of the place go undeveloped for years.

    The pubs and eateries aren’t what they were: they’re for middle class lefties who like to boast they live in an authentic working class area. In fact the place is now either immigrants or middle classes, old working class have moved out. Most of the middle classes who go on about ‘Awesomestow’ the most cringe inducing moniker ever never go outside Walthamstow ‘village’, the most overrated place ever, or Lloyd Park.

    Finally, you used to feel you lived in a borough. Leyton, Leytonstone, Chingford too. They had different things to offer, pubs, more or less nightlife, football and cricket grounds, differing ethnic mixes. Now down to our silly mp and her mates, it’s just ‘Awesomestow’, there’s little feeling of belonging to Waltham Forest.

    All in all not shit but nothing to be as smug as some people are either.

    Successive, complacent councils (mostly Labour) have done away or not helped retain things that made the borough unique: two lidos, the high street in its old form that people came to visit, proper swimming pools with a history, the Dogs, and much more.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree with some of what you say. It is a shame we have lost features such as the lidos and the old swimming pool (I presume you are referring to the old baths on the High Street). I also agree that some of the new builds and developments that have sprung up around E17 are not really in keeping or complimentary to the area. The high street as indeed seen decline, this isn’t just an issue for Walthamstow though, high streets across the UK are struggling. My parents live in Derbyshire, and two towns near them (Heanor and Ilkeston) have all but lost their markets and many shops have closed. Our market, whilst it may have changed, is still going strong. I Visit it most weekends and always try and support the traders. It is difficult though, modern life doesn’t easily accommodate the market shop, or allow time to visit multiple shops. A few years back we spent a month only shopping in high street shops and the market, so not chains. A trip that would have taken 30-40 minutes to Sainsburys would easily take 1.5 or 2 hours which may people just don’t have time for. The council did try the Saturday at St James Street Scheme a couple of years ago, stalls selling different goods than the usual fair, but the customers simply didn’t come in large enough numbers. Having said that though, I still stick to my point that the market in E17 is fairing much better than in other areas of the UK. It does of course need as much support as possible to keep it going.

      I agree that the William Morris and Neon aren’t everyone’s thing, but they do bring people to the area and something to be proud of. Both Morris and Chris, the creator of Gods Own Junkyard are Walthamstow boys, it’s great that people want to come here and look at what they have achieved. And of course anything that gets people here to visit is a good thing because they spend their money here so help boost the local economy.

      Walthamstow has always been a part of the UK that has been home to people from across the world. I don’t agree that multiculturalism is a bad thing. In fact I think it is the exact opposite. In my opinion, and it’s only that, Walthamstow is a more interesting place thanks to the variety of people and cultures who call it home. The world is getting smaller and nations mix on the streets of most places now, yes different cultures bring changes but this has always been the case throughout history.

      I partially agree with you about the Village, there is a lot of emphasis placed on it, but again that doesn’t make it a bad place. I don’t live in it myself but I do visit, just in the same way I visit the market, marsh and other bits of Walthamstow. I’m sure there are people who live in the village that only see that section of E17. I am equally sure there are people who live in other parts of Walthamstow that only see the bits of E17 between their house and the tube. Walthamstow is a big place and there is nothing to say that people have to embrace all of it, but many do, and I don’t think people are as cloistered as you think. But again, that’s just my opinion.

      You are right that the pubs have changed, and I would argue that they changed just in time. A huge amount of pubs were lost in E17, in fact they were closing at a rate of knots. Look at the chequers for example, it was closed by the police, if new owners had not have saved it who knows what would have happened to it. I think the pubs just changed to match what people wanted. Vast swathes of residents were travelling outside of E17 to spend their money in pubs and restaurants outside of the borough. Many of those people now spend their money locally in some of the newly re born pubs, which again is nothing but a good thing. I get that they are different, but they changed because they had to in order to survive.

      Yes there are grubby bits, and yes there have been bad decisions and underinvestment, and yes awesomestow is a bit grating. But, the things that are wrong will only improve if people engage with the area in which they live, if a silly hash tag on twitter encouraged people to do that then so be it. I’ve lived in many places in London, and thanks to a previous life as a touring stage manager I’ve lodged and lived temporarily all over the UK, and I can happily say that I am smug about living in Walthamstow, it is a good place to live, not perfect but good. I just don’t see what’s wrong with celebrating the good but at the same time trying to find a way to fix the bad.

      I completely understand that Walthamstow has changed, but it has always changed. From being a farming community in Essex, to the mass arrival of people when the railway arrived right though to now. Change can never be stopped, but residents can at least try and shape that change and point it in the right direction. I suspect that you and I would never agree 100% on any of these points, which is what makes the world interesting. But I hope we could agree on this, Walthamstow is worth fighting for.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment

      Best Wishes

      Bill (Walthamstow diary)

  3. I have been reading your blog for awhile now ( admittedly not in full ), but felt compelled to comment on your Walthamstow ‘nay sayer’ or for lack of a better nickname; ‘Sour Grapes’.
    I am a resident from across the pond, marrying into the United Kingdom rather than right of birth.
    City life was familiar to me as New York City was my former stomping ground,so the diversity, although up and coming when I took residence which is coming up to 15 years now, was quickly on the rise- but the edgy, urban-ness was intact, although certainly ‘foreign’ in its London-ness, it quickly became home.
    Our first trek to the local park was a glum and dank alternative to the lively parks of Brooklyn, yet the local school where my children would grow -up in, had a long established community feel and welcomed us with open arms.
    Both children have now left their local Walthamstow Secondary Schools and moved on to different pastures, just as the evolution or metamorphosis of our town has occurred.
    The diversity has morphed, from a strong Indian/Pakastani demographic to an Eastern European one, especially in our schools. You could debate the good or bad points regarding this, but as a former New Yorker, I embrace the aspects of various cultures and feel it can strengthen a community.
    A few years ago, my husband and I debated whether to sell and move to a larger home to accomodate our growing children; to offer them space and us ,quiet.
    After a six -month search and weighing the options, we decided to build on the property we owned. Walthamstow still had so much more to offer us; quick access into central London via over-head or tube; lively community, plus the promise of a new cinema and mall ( great for teenagers)- the longest market in Europe,plus grocery shopping a stones throw from our doorstep.
    How could moving out of this vibrant town make our lives better?

    As it turns out, it was the right decision to stay; at least from our perspective. Our children can enjoy a young adult life, without relying on a car chaperone, plus countless benefits from Walthamstow’s new face-lift. I am able to go to and from work- car-less- , coming home to a tree-lined street with neighbors that I’ve know for many years- something money cannot buy.

    As my daughter and I recently walked through the local park, the one she had frequented after school when she was in Primary School, we slowly took in the sight.
    What once was a neglected, antiquated, rotting arena-stood shining, new and manicured. ‘Wow, she said, it certainly didn’t look like this when I was a kid’, but I still loved it; do you think that Walthamstow is getting better?’
    I was reluctant to answer, as their childhood, to me, was such a lovely time- memories,golden -hued and innocent- ‘Yes’ in some ways it is better’, but you had a great time here, you’ll always remember that- the great time you had’…

    I think some people just don’t like change. They hold on to the accounts of their youth and the venues , streets and people that starred in their life as valuables, something they can store and visit to remind them of themselves- you know the kind I mean- the ones that refuse to part with their VHS player or acknowledge any music post the 80’s.

    Life is about process. Just as we grow older, the life around us ages as well.
    Communities will come and go- embrace the change I say- or you can sit in your local Greggs and scowl at the world…

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      People are afraid of change, but it is inevitable. Walthamstow as a place has always changed, from its time as farm land to the railways arriving and the E17 of today. Change can be good or bad, but it’s coming and nothing can stop it. I would rather try and shape that change than sit back and complain about it. Walthamstow ins’t perfect, but it is a good place to live and a place worth fighting for.

      Thanks again for your comment

      Bill (Walthamstow Diary)

  4. Interesting post. I grew up in Ilford and worked I Walthamstow as a teenager. I think gentrification (which seems to be what your emailer is objecting to) is separate to house prices. I don’t see anything wrong with the former but it’s shit when people can’t afford to live in their home town.

    1. Hello Brendan,

      I agree, change and house prices are two separate issue. The idea that an area has to be terrible for house prices to be affordable is wrong, as is people not being able to afford to live in an area. I know many friends that have left Walthamstow because they can’t afford prices or rent. I also have met a few people at the shelter I volunteer at that have ended up on the streets thanks to combination of high rents and terribly paid jobs. Housing is a difficult situation to solve.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment

      Cheers

      Bill (Walthamstow Diary)

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