Shoreditch is the new home of Acem in London. As part of my work with Acem to develop our base in London, I thought I should try and find out a little more about the area. I should start by saying I’m not someone who enjoys ‘tick-box’ travel. By that I mean visiting places to be able to tick them off a list, I’ve never seen some of the wonders of the world but I have walked the streets of London many times and have been fascinated by how each street feels different, an emotional texture that is something to do with where I am and where the others I walk past are, the impact of the visual on me and my interactions is a wonderful thing to observe. So yes I’m one of those slow walkers who gets in the way of everyone else who thinks walking is get from A to B!
Back to Shoreditch. Shoreditch is in the London Borough of Hackney and is the area of London immediately north of the square mile (The City of London). The first thing I noticed when I walked from the shining streets of the square mile across the railway into Shoreditch was that it’s quite distinctly not part of the City. It doesn’t shine, it doesn’t gleam and it feels somehow more honest. I don’t know exactly what I mean but whilst the City is beautiful with its leading edge sky scrapers and show off architecture, Shoreditch suddenly feels like the younger sibling, it feels a bit like it just can’t be bothered to keep up, it’s not so showy, it’s not trying hard, it just is. I stopped for a second and paused to look both south into the city and north into Shoreditch, I felt more comfortable with the view to the north. That’s good I thought.
Names are important, words can tell us so much, and Shoreditch comes from the words Soers Ditch which was a reference to it being a particularly boggy area that was key to draining water from the City of London out to the River Walbrook. Whilst a drain doesn’t sound exciting, I smiled to myself that our location in London was previously simply part of a journey from London to the River. Maybe there is something in that, the concentrated attitudes of the hard working City to the freedom of the River via Acem on Boundary Street? Maybe my mind wonders too far… but there is something in our proximity to the city but not being in it that I like.
Shoreditch was historically a very working class area with silk weavers providing goods to the nearby Spitalfields market. Later it became the heart of London’s furniture building industry. I inwardly smile again as I realise this. We have had a lot of debate about the right meditating chairs for the new Acem flat; it may be possible that the very space we meditate in was previously used to build chairs! I guess we are just about 200 years late. By the late 19th century Shoreditch fell into decline and became an area of great poverty, prostitution and crime. This is very difficult to imagine now, with the area now a centre for creative arts and dot com businesses. Its old factories and run down streets have turned into cafes, bars and tiny little creative shops.
I am trying to have tea in every tea shop in Shoreditch as part of my understanding of the area, just sitting for half an hour listening to the conversations that go on is incredibly revealing about an area. I guess it also sounds a bit like meditating, sitting and listening for half an hour, but I think it’s more that I’m just nosy. I have for one learnt that if you want to know anything, you ask the lady who runs the launderette. She is well respected and knows who and how to get things done. I thought about sitting in the launderette and washing some towels from the flat but felt a little scared when I looked through the window, not sure why it all looked very friendly. Anyway maybe for another blog…
Right opposite the new flat is the Boundary Estate. It was the first social housing built in London in 1890 and is still London’s biggest estate. It seems to me to be an important aspect of Acem here that we reach out to this big community on our doorstep, I find the arts centre and the community centre both closed but I will be back. I’m not quite sure how we do it, but letting them know we are here would be a good start.
I note on a blue plaque that in 1576 the first ever play house in England was built here in Shoreditch, called simply “The Theatre”. I thought that was interesting two, will one day in the distant future someone put up a blue digital sign that says 2010 the first Acem house in England. How many people will know of Acem in 500 years? I wonder with a sense of excitement.
Walking back from the flat to the new Shoreditch High Street station, I pass two big buildings, former factories I guess, on one wall 3m tall painted graffiti spells ANTI – ANTI – ANTI in big angular letters and on the other side in much friendlier letters it says PRO –PRO – PRO. As I walk down the street I am reminded of meditating and for some reason I thought I would walk down the middle of the road so I could be halfway between anti and pro, I strangely felt a little pleased with myself at my physical integration of these two extremes and thought of some great photos for the flat taken on this street. My thinking was interrupted when a big blue car drove round the corner and beeped its horn loudly making me scamper to the ANTI side. As I pulled myself together and finished my journey I reflected that maybe something in my sub-conscious had chosen the ANTI side, I hope the driver picked up on this oblique message.
I sat on my train home full of thoughts for the future, I have learnt about some history; I have learnt about the launderette, I have learnt about the Boundary Estate, London’s biggest estate and a lot about my feelings towards the area. This has for me been a few more baby steps on the learning of how Acem and Shoreditch might integrate with each other.
If anyone out there knows the area and would like to help with promoting Acem locally, or indeed has any observations about Shoreditch then please get in touch.