We speak to the team behind the east London-based radio station about their thoughts on the local changes of the area they have founded themselves in
This month, Dazed tackles the debate of whether 'East London is dead' in our current issue. Continuing the discussion online, we spoke to those behind the institution housed in Wilton Way Cafe that is London Fields Radio. We asked the team about their memories of the area as it continues to go through integral changes since the last 15 years. Join the debate by uploading your memories of east London on the 'A Secret History of East London' project, mapping your own personal involvement.
The Shoreditch that we used to love (and take the piss out of) may have been swamped by hen parties and Essex lads, but clubbing creatives have moved up towards Dalston and into Clapton, out into Hackney Wick and down into Peckham and Deptford
Dazed Digital: Who are you and what do you do for a living?
London Fields Radio: We are London Fields Radio, Hackney’s micro-radio revolution, broadcasting – or, rather, podcasting – from a booth in the window of the Wilton Way Cafe. David McHugh and Dominik Prosser are co-owners of London Fields Radio and the Wilton Way Cafe; Eleni Thoma is cafe manager and programmes its gallery and events; and Kate Hutchinson and Sarah Bates work in journalism and PR respectively and run London Fields Radio.
DD: Where in east London are you based?
London Fields Radio: You can find us all at the Wilton Way Cafe at 63 Wilton Way in Hackney. The road runs alongside London Fields and links the Dalston suburbs with Mare Street.
DD: What first attracted you to the area and how long have you been working here?
David: The artist Chris Mew and photographer Jørn Tomter showed me the delights of south Hackney, so I moved here six years ago and set up the café and Toppers of Hackney, the hairdressers, next door. The atmosphere and landscape is fertile for new ideas and you can do things in east London that wouldn’t work elsewhere. It’s a laboratory of sorts – and LFR is a case in point.
DD: How has east London changed the most since you’ve been here? Why do you think that is?
Dom: Much like west London 15 years ago, east London has changed to reflect the people that have moved here. First, it was the artistic communities, then the students and new media and, eventually, young middle-class families. New businesses have opened in the area to reflect the new demographic and its aspirations. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the change doesn’t alienate the existing communities and as long as it makes the area a better and more inclusive place to be. We are very much about small businesses run by people that live in the area, rather than multi-national corporations that take all the profit away from the area and replicate all the other high streets in the country.
DD: What is the most exciting part of your local creative community?
Sarah: It’s the energy and enthusiasm with which people are working and creating. The sheer volume of local businesses, collectives and individuals in the area is outstanding, and you realise that, for most people, they’re doing what they love to do. In London at least, tough times encourage people to be the most creative they can be. We have a minimal budget at LFR but everyone pitches in for free and works hard to create something worthy and unique.
DD: Has the area informed your creative work at all and if so, how?
Eleni: It can often be a challenge to find underground artists and create something different in east London, but through the exhibitions and LFR we hope to make people aware of the talent and the characters that exists in Hackney. Since the café opened in 2009, we have exhibited work by Le Gun, Camille Walala and The Daily Twit; likewise, our radio shows are inspired by the true locals and arts that make the community tick, whether that’s a show presented by a drag cabaret performer from Bistrotheque or a show about how Hackney City Farm is supporting female refugees through yoga. Our street parties also serve to help build a strong community and bring people together – we are currently collaborating with local businesses, artists and musicians for a forthcoming party over the Jubilee weekend.
DD: Is it possible to say ‘Silicon Roundabout’ aloud without laughing?
Kate: Stifled laughter, perhaps. I can understand what they’re trying to do but it doesn’t really register on our radar.
DD: What's your favourite East End hangout?
Sarah: Wilton Way, of course. It feels makes me feel at home. There’s a really lively sense of community on the street, which is reflected in the businesses and the people. It’s also hard to keep me away from the Rio Cinema and a double bill on a rainy Sunday.
DD: Does anything annoy you about the area? If so, what?
Sarah: Too many pay-for-use cash machines in the places you most need them. I must have given them a small fortune.
Kate: The strangling licensing laws for nightclubs and bars. Residents and the council are quashing the very thing that stimulates creativity and brings money into the area.
Dom: The queue for the Lido during summer and the ridiculously overcrowded London Fields.
Eleni: The arrival of some of the big-business chains in the area will damage small local businesses.
David: Some of its locals can be too smug or cliquey, which can grate.
DD: What are you going to do during the Olympics – stay or flee? Why?
Eleni: It will be an interesting summer for Hackney but we’re staying put. Even if you’re not into sports, the area will be practically exploding with exciting cultural events and we’ll be attempting to reflect and add to some of that in our radio programming and with our street parties on Wilton Way. David, however, will be looking for holes in the fences to get into the stadium!
DD: Is east London dead?
Kate: Definitely not – its boundaries are just expanding. Pre-London 2012, Stratford was just a blip on London’s central line and now it’s a UK-wide destination for shopping and, soon, a worldwide destination for sport. The Shoreditch that we used to love (and take the piss out of) may have been swamped by hen parties and Essex lads, but clubbing creatives have moved up towards Dalston and into Clapton, out into Hackney Wick and down into Peckham and Deptford. Exciting new spaces to explore are opening up all the time. The sheer volume of alternative and interesting shows that we’ve had on London Fields Radio over the past two years is testament to the fact that east London is still overflowing with people with stimulating ideas, a wicked sense of humour and, most importantly, a drive to support the DIY.
Dazed Digital invites you to map your east London memories on our timeline, 'A Secret History of East London'. Get involved HERE!