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A Moment in Time

These images of young people in Hackney Wick from 2011 couldn’t fail to make me smile. See Studio, (now part of the Pearl) had arranged for them to visit an exhibition about the Olympics, grab some food, and meet the artists. At the time, we were desperate to engage young people in the discussions and opportunities that were emerging, but were aware of the isolation that they might have been feeling. There was certainly excitement that they had been included and welcomed into what was otherwise an ‘adult space’ and profoundly part of the developing trend of newness and regeneration that was growing every day. They were in awe of the arial photography of the growing Olympic Park on display and spent ages, while eating pizza, asking the artist questions, and studying the images. They bundled themselves into the designated dark space, posing as only young people could, when given the opportunity to have their own photographs taken. I recall their impatience at having to wait for them to be developed. There were other works on display which did not appeal to any of them particularly, but it got them talking and interacting with each other and the artist community. There was certainly a buzz in the area. 

I was interested to know what these young people are up to now, so I welcomed the opportunity to track them down. Some have moved away, found new interests, and forgotten Hackney Wick altogether. Some were not keen to be identified but happy to contribute when I asked them a few questions about how they felt at the time and now about the Olympics and the area.

I learned that Ryan, who was keen to ‘get people off the streets’ back in 2011 is now living in Manchester, having graduated with a Sports and Exercise Science Degree, and is about to embark on an MA in Biomechanics of Human Movement. He sent ‘big love’ to the Wick where his family still live and explains that he works ‘recycling memory chips for future reuse, saving tonnes of energy, material and harm being caused to the environment’. Paige, who wanted there to be ‘music activities for the community’ is no longer in the Wick but is still in Hackney and is nearly-qualified as a teacher in alternative provision. She recognises the enormous changes that she has seen in the area since she was a teenager. Zack, who wanted to ‘get rid of bad people’ also no longer lives in the Wick (although his family do), He works in cyber security and has just won the league with Cheshunt FC. Others are still living in the area, two as parents of toddlers and one ‘thinking about what to do next’. All of them trigger in me a sense of pride – they made it, and aren’t they doing well! 

All of them described a kind of ‘vibe’ about the Olympics; a buzz as Paige puts it that “seemed more exciting than it actually was.” Ryan, recalls the moment Usain Bolt broke the 4 x 100 metres, turning the volume down and hearing “everyone in my area going crazy
for Jamaica.” Everyone talked about the Olympics with a fondness but also with an element of resentment – they had been promised things that didn’t materialise such as training, employment, and ‘better opportunities’. Their nostalgia for the Wick was heightened when they talked about their life as teenagers and the friends they hung out with. They verbalised a lot of love for this neighbourhood and described themselves as the Original Wickers.

All of them said they sensed at the time that change was afoot for Hackney Wick, although it was notorious for not being very cool, trendy or even safe, even when the Olympics encouraged people to visit. As Ryan says this “saw the beginning of the Hackney Wick Renaissance,” moving away from the social and economic wasteland it once was. Those who still live here admitted that things are now expensive. Coffee, drinks, lunches – especially with children – were sometimes out of reach and there was little time for clubs or bars. They enjoy the reaction they get from people when they say where they live, but the reality is different; they can’t afford to take part in the classes and activities as much as people who live in the new houses. Spending four pounds on a loaf of bread, I am told, is ‘ridiculous’. For those who have become parents, the new and exciting venues and opportunities have become inaccessible. One of them said “we just keep ourselves to ourselves and get on with it. I don’t need frothy coffee and it don’t need me”. 

However, we view the changes, there was definitely a particular energy around when the original photos were taken, and it remains in the young people who were pictured to this day. Thanks to all of those who took part in this, and those who didn’t. Hackney Wick is proud of you. 

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