The times they are a changin’

A newcomer to Walthamstow speaks to locals about how the area is changing

Sam Billington

Sam Billington recently moved to Walthamstow

My wife and I moved to Walthamstow a year ago. We’re originally from the north of England.

The area is changing and changing fast. New independent shops and cafes are popping up, a bigger shopping mall and expanded tube station are planned, and big redevelopments are on the horizon. The tides of change are in full flow.

We moved here as we were looking for somewhere to buy a flat and lay down some roots. We needed somewhere we could afford to buy, where we could get into town quickly, and that had a strong sense of community. After months of exploring London and talking to friends, one place kept coming top of the list; Walthamstow.

There’s good cafes, restaurants and shops; yoga schools and somewhere for me to do martial arts; a great sense of community; a diverse and genuine friendliness. Walthamstow seems to have everything and is described as ‘up and coming’. Of course, this is also code for increasing property prices. In a word, it means gentrification.

Walthamstow does have its problems of course; there’s anti-social behaviour, gangs, and gun and knife crime. But my first impressions were very good, and I wanted to speak to some of the entrepreneurs and creatives who make Walthamstow what it is.

Caroline, who owns The Every Space in Hoe Street, always wanted to own a local business here. She describes Walthamstow as having a unique vibe: “It’s a place for creatives and makers but also families. There’s a real community connection and enthusiasm for new ideas, which makes it perfect for independent businesses.”

This was echoed by Leyla, who has recently opened Bloom Of The Block in Hoe Street. “I’ve felt a lot of support from independent businesses here, which have helped me out from the start.”

Leyla describes the “strong sense of community in Walthamstow” and how this differs from the other areas of London she has lived in.

Entrepreneurship and creative industries seem to be a big part of the area’s future. Waltham Forest Council is actively encouraging creatives and entrepreneurs and using planning powers to make sure developers include workshops in their new developments. Blackhorse Lane is now being called a ‘creative industries zone’ – while almost 3,000 new homes are being built.

But what do all these big redevelopments mean for Walthamstow and its sense of community?

Leyla from Bloom Of The Block talked about the risks and what the big chains and brands might do to the area. “The balance needs to be right,” she told me. “It would be nice to see the High Street and Hoe Street keep their independence.”

I couldn’t agree more. Big developments should be done at the right pace. The tide of change must be gentle and carry everyone along with it, not a flood flushing out the heart and soul of the place.

Fawad Akhtar owns a local company called Structural Engineering and Design Consultancy, based in Forest Road. He said: “We thought of Camden as the edge of London only a few decades ago. Walthamstow was a part of Essex. Now Camden is central London and Walthamstow is part of London.”

Walthamstow is indeed being gobbled up by London and has received the ‘up and coming’ baton from places such as Shoreditch and Brixton. Walthamstow is being gentrified – and I’m part of it. I wonder what others who have lived here all their life feel?

I recently met a chap at a tea shop in Epping Forest who grew up here just after the Second World War. He talked about how new theatres and posh shops made Walthamstow “the place to be” in the mid 20th Century.

As sure as taxes and death, places like Walthamstow will always change.