Two young people return from university to find their hometown a different place
Katie Randall, aged 21
Returning to Walthamstow after three years of studying in Nottingham, I felt like I had come home to a completely different place to the one that I’d left. Hoe Street was not the Hoe Street that I remembered. No longer just the home of kebab shops and greasy spoon cafés, I found an influx of coffee shops, blackboards outside their doorways featuring witty quotations, burger joints that served actual burgers, and, although I’ve yet to pay a visit myself, a shop selling beard oil.
The Bell, a pub my mum warned me was ‘a bit dodgy’ is now one of Walthamstow’s most highly recommended pubs on TripAdvisor, and my beloved Walthamstow Pool and Track where I learnt to swim and conquer fears by launching myself off a five-metre diving board on Sunday afternoons has been rebuilt and renamed as ‘Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre’. There is even now an industrial park with microbrewies! How things change.
When I moved into my university halls in 2013 and told people that I was from Walthamstow, no-one had ever heard of it. Since then, because of places like God’s Own Junkyard putting it on the map, less often can people look at me with puzzled faces. Walthamstow is now ‘cool’.
With cost of living soaring, it is near impossible to consider renting, let alone buying
There are now more places that might appeal to your average twenty-something, back from university and living with their parents again. It has made the transition smoother than I had expected. Young couples move here to start families and my friends from other parts of London aren’t as averse to coming out to visit me all the way at the end of the Victoria Line.
All this being said, Walthamstow is not somewhere I would, or even could, consider living in future. With the cost of living soaring ever higher, it would be near impossible to consider renting, let alone buying here. For my parents, who bought in the Eighties, it seems inconceivable that their three-bedroom, one-bathroom terrace house could now sell for nearly half-a-million pounds. This is the price that many will pay, literally, for Walthamstow becoming cool. By making the area more appealing to someone like myself, it also excludes me, and many other young people from considering the area as a feasible place to live.
There is also the worry that Walthamstow’s charm will disappear. Will haunts for hipsters, such as over-priced coffee shops, replace traditional pubs and family-run coffee shops? I wonder too if Walthamstow will become just another Shoreditch, Hackney, or Brixton. The things that I love about Walthamstow haven’t, for now, changed. It remains diverse, something that really stands out after three years in Nottingham. There is a huge mix of people, something best represented by Walthamstow Market. Different accents, food, and fabrics, from all over the world.
Gregory Robinson, aged 20
I never realised how significant the place you came from was to other people until I moved to the West Midlands from London to continue my education. I told people I was from Walthamstow knowing the other person, usually from outside London, would have no idea where it was: “It’s in East London. Near Stratford, not Shakespeare’s Stratford, Olympic Stratford!”
Moving away has indeed made my heart grow fonder for Walthamstow, as I am now able to look at the area with a fresh perspective. Revealing where I am from is something I now willingly tell people as often as possible. Walthamstow is, of course, one of the most culturally significant areas in East London, and it is changing at a faster pace than I had previously thought.
In the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, Walthamstow and other nearby areas such as Leyton and Leytonstone received slight makeovers, including refurbished roads and buildings, in order to welcome the world into a more ‘polished’ East London. But the changes were even more substantial in the years that followed. One only has to walk around Walthamstow Village to see how many roads have been transformed to resemble Amsterdam. The High Street has also changed, with new shops, restaurants and a cinema.
While many of these changes appear to have a good impact on the local community, there is always the looming fear of Walthamstow possibly changing too much from the area we all love. The rejuvenation of Walthamstow High Street is one which I did not realise was needed until I moved away and now has made the area an even more attractive hang-out for young people with money to spare. Most of these shops, and the Empire cinema in particular, are still affordable for local young people including myself and do not seem to have made too much of a change on the cultural roots of our area.
Walthamstow is, of course, one of the most culturally significant areas in East London, and it is changing at a faster pace than I previously thought
Despite the changes, one thing which has never changed since I moved is its diversity. Walthamstow is a very culturally diverse area in which people from many different continents, countries and cultures come together, live together and work together. In comparison to my university’s campus, which despite the brochure has a serious problem with diversity, it is always refreshing to see so many different types of people in Walthamstow. Diversity makes our everyday lives more intriguing and richer. When I walk the length of Walthamstow Market, I can find the best of what the world has to offer.
Two other features of Walthamstow which many take for granted are transport and affordability. My university can often feel isolating despite it being relatively close to the city centre, and many places outside London often feel like the middle of nowhere despite them actually being far from it. The tube and bus services here are now things I have a new-found appreciation for.
But as property prices become unaffordable for many people who already live here, it would pain me to see a divide along class lines. The gentrification of many of London’s historically working class areas is an issue which continues to be relevant and I would hate for Waltham Forest to change beyond recognition. It is imperative residents and the council work together in order to maintain the aspects of Walthamstow which make it such a central part to the culture of East London.