Darling, you are the gentry


(photo from the Windsor Castle’s Facebook page)

I’m bored of middle class people complaining about gentrification. Especially when those same middle class people are the first to flock to a trendy new coffee shop in Bethnal Green, or gallery in Clapton – soaking up the culture that comes with it.

I had a neighbour who, on first meeting me, bemoaned the influx of yuppies; sharing her dislike of local houses being spruced up (this was relayed from the doorway of her very nicely done-up period conversion flat) and explaining her dismay at how gentrified the area was becoming.

“Darling,” I wanted to say to her: “you are the gentry.” But instead I said that the new pub around the corner, replacing the club that gave Lower Clapton its ‘murder mile’ nickname because of all the shootings and so had to be shut down, was a vast improvement. And told her about the lovely newly-opened coffee shop across Hackney Downs. I saw her ears prick, “nice coffee?” she thought, “Mmmmm, I like nice coffee.”

Throughout the year-long period we spent as neighbours, I saw her in that same new pub I’d mentioned at least a handful of times, as well as in another new, classic east-London-artists’ hangout. She was drinking, eating, laughing with friends and no doubt tossing in the odd comment about how much she despises gentrification, before taking another swig of her over-priced beer and reaching for a handful of chilli-stuffed olives.

What these middle class people, who maybe move to an area near the beginning of the gentrification (not pre-gentrification) don’t care to admit is that they keep that gentry ball rolling. You see, it goes like this: artists move to a cheap area of London so that they can afford a studio space as well as a living space, a few interesting, creative spaces appear soon after (galleries, coffee shops, vintage clothes shops) so people with a bit of money – but not that much – move there to enjoy living amongst creatives and using these trendy cafes / galleries / shops. Aforementioned neighbour falls into that last category.

These people consider themselves locals. They feel like they own the place and have been there forever. But they don’t, and they haven’t. They buy properties, settle down, have children, continue with their city jobs and voila! You have an area like Stoke Newington. More cafes and restaurants follow. More people with money move there. And then those people who’ve been there three years and stake ownership on the entire borough get all touchy about it.

Now, there are other people who reap the benefits of these ‘up and coming’ areas (like Clapton), who get stuck in, drink coffee, engage with the art, street parties and sour dough pizza restaurants and shut the f up about gentrification because they’re under no allusion that they are anything but gentry.

We were meeting a friend in a pub last week. We told him that we were in the newly-renovated Windsor Castle. “Oh really,” he said, “that used to be a real shithole – must’ve been gentrified” – with a hint of comedy – and without a hint of wrath. An old failing pub had been taken over, a bit of money spent, and it’s now a thriving local business.

Of course, the problem with gentrification is the fact that rent rises, and so do property prices, eventually pricing people with less money – who are actually from the area, not just pretending – out of the market. And this is a problem. But with evermore demand for property in London this is also inevitable.

My conclusion is this:

People who are less well off, who are being forced out of the area they grew up in because of gentrification – moan away. You have a right to be angry.

People with dosh (yuppies, students, anyone able to afford to rent privately / buy in London) drink your artisan skinny latte and shut up.

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