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Posts Tagged ‘Leytonstone

The Olympics is over, but the venues are being transformed ready for the Paralympics in a couple of weeks. The Olympics was undoubtedly a success from a sporting perspective, but how was it for those of us who live within a mile or two of the venue?

The good:

  • Our high streets have been improved. In Leytonstone the High Road was redone which meant pavements repaired, new street trees, ramps at the entrance to every side turning making a smooth path as you walk down the main road, and basically the whole street scene looks better and is nicer and easier to walk or drive along. In Leyton businesses had new shop fronts and a lick of paint so the whole street looks smarter. And in Stratford itself there was “Operation hide the concrete shopping centre from the 60s” as colourful shapes appeared in front of the more ugly buildings. I doubt any of this work would have happened so soon or so comprehensively if it was not done to make the area look attractive for the Olympic visitors.
  • There were local events inspired by this being Olympic year. As a choir member, I’ve never known so many opportunities to sing! I’ve performed at a music festival in Waltham Forest, at a council run Christmas “Winter Wonderland” and even in the Olympic Park itself, singing opera in the media centre. Many of these opportunities involved singing with local school children, in the vein of “inspiring a generation”.
  • There were some free tickets available to local people. For example Waltham Forest council gave away tickets to over 60s. I’ve also heard of free tickets for some local schoolchildren.

And good things about the Olympics themselves – as well as being a wonderful event, the army were charming and friendly while undertaking security checks, the volunteers were happy and helpful, and free travelcards were sent with every ticket, a great idea. It all made a good impression of London, and hopefully showed that East London is a great place to be.

The bad:

  • The army put a missile on a tower block near my house! This was ostensibly to shoot down a hijacked plane if terrorists should try to attack the Olympic venues in that way. As a pacifist, I find this kind of thing frightening and unnecessary. I don’t want to see the army in my neighbourhood streets.
  • Parking – every residential street has had a permit parking zone imposed upon them. Although residents can register for a free permit, it’s only for the specific area in which you live. And although people in my neighbourhood have largely got to grips with this, when the bays for these parking zones were created, some of my neighbours were given parking tickets if their car was in the way. Apparently the council put notices on cars and through letterboxes, but not everyone received one.
  • Police with machine guns at stations and near the Olympic Park. This might not be a surprise to people from other countries, but in the UK our policemen don’t routinely carry guns, nor do members of the public, so it is always a small shock to my system when I see one.
  • The Leyton “Olympia Market”, set up to provide food to passing Olympic visitors, has been a complete flop. None of the designated walking routes to the Olympics went past it! The traders have lost thousands of pounds as a result.
  • The cost and difficulty of getting tickets. I was desperate to see some of the sport on my doorstep, and I’ve already detailed my Olympic ticket marathon in an earlier article.

It was also difficult to get to Stratford: as a wheelchair user I can’t get on the tube at my local station. I have to get a minicab to Stratford to begin my journey – Olympics or not! However, police were forbidding any vehicles from stopping to set down, even when I explained I am a wheelchair user. So we couldn’t stop at my usual place and instead I had to be dropped some distance from the station. You’d think a drop off point for disabled people would have been made available.

But some things haven’t been nearly as bad as expected. The traffic was terrible on day 1 of the restrictions, but Transport for London reacted and made changes so that it was manageable thereafter. Even when there were queues going down the High Road, these were clearly not local drivers, because the rat runs were clear and I could quickly get around the queues via back roads.

On balance, I’d say the Olympics has been good for the area. Improvements to the area will remain long after the Games has finished. The Olympic Park itself should become a lovely place to visit, and the Athletes’ Village will provide new homes in due course. We just have to brace ourselves a little longer, while the Paralympics takes place.

What do you think? Do you live near an Olympic venue? Have your experiences been good or bad? I’d love to hear your views.

This weekend the Stratford shopping centre, Westfield, has been closed except to visitors with an Olympic ticket, for fear of overcrowding. Yet neighbouring areas Leyton and Leytonstone don’t seem to have any extra visitors – even though they’ve been spruced up for the Olympics. If you’re visiting east London, here’s why you should try shopping just a mile or two from Stratford…

Leyton is almost walking distance from the Olympic Park. I lived there for many years and yet I don’t recognise it nowadays. Shops have been given a facelift and the buildings are coloured and attractive. To be fair, Leyton doesn’t have a huge heap of reasons to recommend it – it is just another suburb of London, with all the shops that you might want along with a trading estate, so you’ll find at least one large supermarket, clothes stores like TK Maxx and Next, and a few cafes. There’s also a pop-up pub in the Town Hall, where you can watch the Olympics on TV. If you’re staying nearby and need to stock up, you could do worse than Leyton. It’s a friendly area with plenty of “blitz spirit” where the older neighbours still chat to each other on the street. There’s also a temporary market which is complaining of being quiet – why not give it a go?

Leytonstone is a little further away, two stops from Stratford on the Central line. It’s where I have lived for a decade and an area about which I am passionate. This is where everyone should be coming! We have high street stores such as Argos, Boots, Superdrug, Primark and Matalan, a big Tesco, and lots of independent traders. My favourite is the Engine Shed, a Hornby and modelling shop. However I understand that Olympic tourists may not want to go home with a toy train! We also have some fantastic cafes – I recommend Horizon on the High Road, with hot chocolate to die for and a wide range of patisserie and main meals, as well as Cafe Montmartre in Church Lane, which sells homemade chocolates. Both of these are within 2 minutes walk of the tube station.

”Peace There is also a thriving arts scene in Leytonstone. In Church Lane you can visit Stone Space Gallery (currently showing an inspirational group exhibition called Wandering Rocks, open Thursday to Sunday), and next door is a window display space displaying a series of colourful prints inspired by a hospital stay. Not enough art? By the tube is Stone Space Projects, a temporary gallery, currently exhibiting a Peace Quilt with squares contributed by children, one from each of the countries participating in the Olympics. The North Korean square was snuck out of the country, and there is even one from Iran. The whole thing is inspirational and well worth viewing (until August 10, 11-5 daily).

Need to stop for food in Leytonstone? I recommend The Olive, a wonderful Turkish restaurant near the tube station, which provides affordable and delicious food (my favourite is Mucver, feta and courgette fritters served with tzatziki). Need a drink? Stop at CAMRA’s East London pub of the Year, the Red Lion, which has real ale, a beer garden, and provides highchairs, dog biscuits, and disabled access. Fancy a walk? We can offer green space in the shape of Wanstead Flats and Hollow Ponds, both a part of Epping Forest. If you fancy testing your athletic prowess, you can hire a rowing boat on Hollow Ponds or enjoy a 5km run on Wanstead Flats.

To be honest, you will get much more of a feel for the East End by visiting Leytonstone (and to a lesser extent, Leyton) than sitting in a soulless hotel in Stratford. The council has spent a lot of money revamping our streets and pavements – the least you can do is come to visit!

Written for Waltham Forest Guardian where I am a blogger. 

2011 has been a tough year for many people as the recession bit, but in Leytonstone there were some signs of hope and a couple of fantastic additions to the area.

First came the reopening of the Red Lion, as a community local which attracted me, my friends and neighbours. Often when I drop in, I’ll run into someone I know, and that for me is part of what a good “local” should be. The pub has some great ales, and holds live music events, so there are plenty of reasons to visit. At last there is somewhere to meet friends and to pause on the way home – just what the area needed.

Second came the new art gallery, The Stone Space. Run by many of the people who organise the annual Leytonstone Art Trail, along with a number of keen volunteers who invigilate during opening hours, The Stone Space is a wonderful venue which has already hosted a number of interesting exhibitions. They change roughly every two weeks. For more information see http://thestonespace.wordpress.com

Next door to The Stone Space is Slate, an art display space in the windows of what used to be Waltham Forest Direct. To mark its new name the display boards have turned dark grey. It’s overseen by artists from The Stone Space, and I’m the co-ordinator. Exhibitions change every 6 weeks, and currently on show is a show of woodblock & linocut printmaking, and jewellery, by Somhairle Kelly. http://www.slate-arts.com/

So it’s not all doom and gloom. We end the year with some new venues which have much to benefit Leytonstone – and hope for 2012.

Wherever you are, I wish you a Happy New Year!

My part of Leytonstone has been subject to power cuts recently. The first happened at dusk, as people were drawing curtains and putting on room lights. Suddenly, we were opening the curtains again.

People go out into the street to see if any other houses are affected. There I saw neighbours wandering around, and others staring out of the window, mouthing “You not got power? Me too!”

Friends ring to find out the latest – one encouraged others to report the fault to UK Power Networks as they were saying it was “just him”! Their helpline told me I could sign up to text updates, or ask them to call me back with information, which was good – I soon learned that the fault was at the substation in our street.

Neighbours check on each other – have you got enough candles? I had, but no matches so I visited my local corner shop, who were hurriedly closing in the dark – they made time to pass me a box for free. Community spirit was showing itself.

I was reminded of the last power cut I experienced, when living in a dingy flat on Whipps Cross Road – the evening was spent under candlelight at the Alfred Hitchcock pub, where bills and change was calculated on paper, where we relied on bottles from the fridge. It seemed that everyone had made a beeline for the pub so it was busy but had a strange air of excitement. I ran into people who I’d previously only known to say a passing hello – now we could begin to chat and had something in common. Here, too, a power cut had brought people together.

Back in my street this week, again I spoke to people who would normally only offer a brief nod in greeting – the youth from down the road, lads from round the corner – and now they were genially chatting about how to cook dinner without a microwave!

Of course technology plays a part in daily life now, and neighbours were exchanging notes about the outage on Facebook, connecting from mobile phones, while remembering not to run the battery down until they could recharge!

The power was out for nearly three hours and in that time I had several friendly chats with neighbours and got to know a few more a little better. But there was one other person I remembered to speak to – just after the lights came back on, I wandered over to see the engineer. He told us that a switch had come open, probably due to old age, but he had closed it again. I remembered to say thank you – to the forgotten man who inadvertently got people talking.

This post will also appear on Waltham Forest Guardian‘s blog section, where I am a writer.

There is a saying that the best gifts you can give to your child are roots, and wings. I suppose I am rooted in Somerset, as that’s where I grew up, but I accepted the wings and left for London as soon as I was old enough. I went to university here and haven’t stayed at home since. But wait – why am I saying I haven’t stayed “at home” since then, if London is truly where I belong?

As a teenager I used to save up and visit London on day trips, catching the bus for a four hour ride, half a day in the Big Smoke, and then four hours home again. I’d do it as often as I could, and I always felt as the coach reached the Hammersmith flyover and entered London that somehow I was coming home. When I moved here for university I knew I belonged straight away, and have lived in Waltham Forest, an east London borough located between the inner city and the Essex countryside, for fifteen years. I fell in love with the place, from which the centre of town was just half an hour away yet Epping Forest was practically across the road. It was easy to forget Somerset, a lazy and retrograde place where the buses stopped at 6pm and where it seemed I had few friends but everyone knew me.

Growing up in Somerset was dull. Public transport was minimal (just an hourly bus during office hours) and my friend and I would often end up sitting in a historic high street with pizza and cider. Everything looked pretty while the pace of life dawdled – in fact Taunton is one of only two towns in the UK where more than a third of the population are OAPs. Somerset is more care home than carefree.

In 2006 something happened to throw me off kilter: I honeymooned in Iceland, a country I’d longed to visit. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love.

There’s a lot I shouldn’t like about Iceland – it’s cold, isolated, and there are no trains! However, the weather is both its best and worst feature and I came prepared. Disabled access was pretty good (outside Reykjavik people tend to build out and not up) so I had little to complain about. Scenery was absolutely breathtaking with a waterfall, glacier or mountain around every corner, and for the first time I felt truly safe in the countryside. It seemed to me that this is where I was destined to be – I had finally come home.

Of course, it was only a week before the dream ended and I had to return to my real home but now I was confused. I had Somerset in my background, east London as my current location, but perhaps Iceland was where I should aim for in the future?

It’s hard to compare like with like, because Somerset has half a million people, the London Borough of Waltham Forest has a quarter of a million, while Iceland has just three hundred thousand people in the whole country. In my area, there are 5700 people per square kilometre. In Iceland, there are three.

Each place has its own beauty: Somerset has quaint, historic buildings, and strange village names such as Queen Camel. East London has a more purposeful pace and is wonderfully multicultural (meaning there will always be a shop open on Christmas day when you’ve forgotten the stuffing) and there is a feeling that the world is on your doorstep. Yet Iceland offers northern lights, surreal lava plains, and an astonishingly low crime rate – a recent national headline was “Baby Goats Born at North Iceland Farm”, something which might not even have made the local news in Somerset or Waltham Forest.

However it strikes me that, common to every area, in the best places people know their neighbours and look out for each them in a villagey environment. In the worst of each location there will be areas where people shut their doors on each other and view you with a slightly suspicious and hostile manner. Perhaps contentment depends on finding the best place in your own locality, rather than looking further afield.

I would be happy to forget Somerset, but for the fact that I have family there. I adore Iceland, but don’t yet speak the language, and perhaps the gloss would go if I lived there rather than just visited; the food is awful for vegetarians and there is no such thing as online shopping, instead you have to visit several stores to find everything you need each week. So I suppose I should be content to stay in London for the foreseeable future, which is just as well, because this is where my support network, and my husband’s job, is located. For now Somerset is just a place I visit when I want to see family – and sadly moving to Iceland is still just a pipedream… but I can’t let go of the fantasy.

This is not the article I intended to write.

I had planned to analyse how well each of my local parliamentary candidates responded to a question I sent them – but that hardly matters now.

A fortnight before last week’s general election I emailed each of the candidates to ask for their policies on health, home care and the future of my local hospital. Only one (the Conservative Ed Northover) engaged with me – an independent referred me to his leaflet and then followed up with spam, and the others didn’t bother to respond. The BNP and UKIP candidates didn’t even advertise an email address, so they were out of the loop from the start.

I had been genuinely uncertain which way to vote and hoped that my candidates’ responses would help me decide. I was surprised that so few made the effort to answer. However at the end of the day it made little difference – our safe Labour seat remains in Labour hands (though how safe they might be, I don’t know).

Instead, I find myself rocked by the results from the local elections. Somehow, despite opinion polls showing national support for Tory and Lib Dem, there has been a swing to Labour – believed to come from people who are scared of the Tories taking over, trying to defend themselves against this possibility.

Previously a borough under No Overall Control, my area (Waltham Forest) now has a majority of Labour councillors. I think our council has operated quite well in recent years and I’m concerned that now one party has a majority, policies, planning applications and spending cuts can be rushed through and rubberstamped without adequate debate in the Town Hall.

What has really shaken me is the loss of the most effective councillor in my area, Keith Rayner, beaten by just a few dozen votes. After 20 years of service, getting things done with his effective but friendly manner, he has been rejected by the electorate – my own friends and neighbours.

I don’t mind admitting that I cried at the news, and I hear that I’m not the only one. Now residents are questioning themselves, wondering which neighbours played Judas. The situation is upsetting, and uncomfortable.

So this may not have been the article I intended to write, but it still has a point to make. If you value someone, vote for them. Put your X by the name of someone you actually want to see in power, rather than being sucked into nervous tactical voting. It looks like we may soon be facing another general election, and hopefully this time people will be brave enough to follow their guts, and the results will put the country in a position for real change at last.