|Session 4 Regeneration in the East End
The urban landscape of the East End has been shaped by the aims and aspirations
of different waves of migrants, social reformers and investors. Property
has a longer lifespan than those who build it or live and work within
it; thus its physical presence often outlives its social usefulness. Either
the building is adapted to meet the changing demands placed on it, or
it descends into a state of decay and dereliction. Some of Spitalfields'
old buildings have survived to fulfil new purposes, while others have
been demolished to make way for modern buildings that in some cases are
designed to meet old needs in new ways.
The Soup Kitchen in Brune Street
was erected by the Jewish community in 1902 to provide charitable support
for Jewish immigrants to the area. Its ornate fašade testified to the
wealth of some sections of the Jewish community, offering inspiration
to their less fortunate co-religionists that with hard work and determination
their living conditions could be improved. The poor of the area were not
the only constituency for whom this building was intended. It also testified
to East End Gentiles that the Jewish community could provide for its own,
acting as a rebuttal to accusations that each new wave of Jewish migrants,
fleeing the persecution of the pogroms, equated to an extra penny on the
poor rates. Once their economic prospects improved and many Jewish migrants
had moved away from the area, the building stood empty for years--a ghostly
shadow, quietly reminding passers-by of the earlier residents of Spitalfields.
In the late 1990s, however, a commercial developer spotted the potential
of the Soup Kitchen, realising its elegant fašade and proximity to the City
provided a prime location for exclusive and expensive flats. Thus this old
building has a new message about the community of interest between investors
seeking development sites in and around the City and highly paid City workers
who have discovered the convenience of Spitalfields as a base from which
to walk to work. Whether such schemes will aid the regeneration of this
area in the medium to long term, however, depends on the extent to which
the relative affluence of these new residents can be shared with the majority
of the existing community descended from the previous waves of migrants
to the area.
of an East End Soup Kitchen.
Soup kitchens were common in the East End of London. The
were mainly run by charitable organisations such as the
Salvation Army or individual Jewish charities. The Soup
Kitchen in Brune Street was erected by the Jewish community
in 1902 to provide charitable support for Jewish immigrants
to the area.
Old Jewish Soup Kitchen, Brune Street
The ornate fašade
of the Soup Kitchen testified to the wealth of some sections
of the Jewish community, offering inspiration to their
less fortunate co-religionists that with hard work and
determination their living conditions could be improved.
Today, the elegance is being exploited in favour of highly
paid City workers, looking for somewhere to live.
Regenerating the community
Bangladeshis make up over 60 percent of the population of Spitalfields,
an area in which there is an unemployment rate of over 30 percent. Without
employment, the newly discovered desirability of the area is a mixed blessing
for existing residents. Demand for housing from affluent young-professionals
and demand for sites for commercial development combine to force up property
The Manhattan Loft Corporation
has purchased a group of buildings, including the former Catholic Shelter
for the homeless in Gun Street, as part of a redevelopment scheme to provide
office space close to the financial heart of the City. While such schemes
may contribute to the local economy in terms of the need for local food
and office supplies, they may only provide direct employment for a limited
number of the unemployed residents of the area. A significant minority
of the Bangladeshi community lack the qualifications and language skills
required to gain the comparatively high-paid office jobs needed if they
are to afford to live in newly desirable developments such as the Brune
Without careful management, redevelopment schemes can act as a divisive
force, creating inequality not cohesion. This is the potential paradox of
regeneration: investment in the area may encourage migration to the area
from more affluent groups, raising prices and thereby placing good property
even further beyond the reach of the existing population. Regeneration is
thus a multi-agency task that needs to include voluntary and public sector
agencies to ensure that residents are provided with the skills and resources
they need to seize the economic opportunities that may be provided by private
sector investment in an area. To this end, the local authority, central
government and the European Commission are all working with community groups
and private investors in this small part of the East End.
Brune Street Estate
Opposite the old Jewish Soup Kitchen on Brune street is
the Brune Street estate: modern council housing for East
Enders. Regeneration has overhauled the soup kitchen on
the other side of this road, which also provides accomodation
for wealthy private investors. Nevertheless, the new more
privileged occupants of the soup kitchen have a constant
reminder of how most live in their area.
of the Bangladeshi community
The Bangladeshi community
came to the East End and settled in large numbers in the
1970s and 1980s. For the most part they took over existing
residential and industrial structures, carrying on the
tailoring workshops of the previous Jewish settlers. Bangladeshis
make up over 60 percent of the population of Spitalfields,
an area in which there is an unemployment rate of over
While some old buildings have been
granted new leases of life by switching from commercial to residential
use, or vice versa, the continued need to provide low-cost housing in
the area has resulted in the demolition of many old dwellings to make
way for new housing.
The economic factor
Economics is therefore one determinant of whether a building lives or
dies in the long run: Does it cost more to pull it down and start again
or to refurbish and adapt? Property, however, is more than simply a financial
investment: it provides shelter that shapes the lives of those who dwell
and work in and around it. This dual dimension of property--its characteristics
as both an investment and consumption good--may result in conflict between
the competing interests of capital and community.
Spitalfields Market provides us with a prime example of the difficulties
inherent in meeting the competing interests of commerce and the community.
There has been a market on this site for centuries; the present building
was opened in 1928 as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, supplying
food for the East End as Covent Garden did for the West End. As with Covent
Garden, this market relocated out of the centre of London to connect to
the transport infrastructure needed to meet the needs of the geographically
dispersed population of London. The building left behind was gradually adapted
to fulfil a new use, providing arts and crafts shops, bars and stalls, a
sports pitch and the venue for an annual arts festival. These facilities
are enjoyed by the local community and others who flock to the bustling
market which again occupies this site at weekends.
- To what extent do
you think social problems are social constructions?
- Do you think social
problems are combated most effectively individually or as part
of a wider policy against social exclusion?
However, the City Corporation,
as the freeholder, also has designs on Spitalfields Market. To consolidate
its position as the financial heart of the City, in the light of the threat
posed by the development of Docklands, plans have been drawn up to provide
new offices and trading floors for the institutions of the City, including
the London International Financial Futures Exchange. Local residents and
others who enjoy this community space have objected to the demolition
of the market buildings and waged a campaign to save Spitalfields as a
community market, rather than develop it as a financial commodities market.
Recognising that some degree of redevelopment may be inevitable, they have
commissioned an alternative plan to erect a development above the existing
buildings so that both the City and the community can continue to enjoy
this space. Some argue that the costs of such an adventurous design may
be more than offset by the benefits this design could bring to the local
community, maintaining and enhancing the social and cultural life of the
area while still meeting the needs of their neighbours in the City. Thus
regeneration of the area involves a careful balancing act if both social
and economic conditions are to be enhanced.
Sarah Leach, LSE
The area around
Spitalfields Market has witnessed considerable regeneration. The
reflection in the office blocks opposite the community market,
shows land being cleared for construction of yet more office blocks.
The local residents who make
use of this space have objected to the destruction of the market
and set up a campaign to save Spitalfields from what they perceive
to be the wrong kind of regeneration.