When I told the poet Daljit Nagra about the Every Minute ethnography with Richard House he was keen to show his support. Daljit, who used to be a teacher and is of Punjabi heritage, made this short audio especially for us. It is about the ideas and inspiration behind his funny and poignant poem ‘In a White Town’. The poem is about Daljit’s mum and about a child’s negotiation of different heritages.
“She never looked like other boys’ mums./ No-one ever looked without looking again/at the pink kameez and balloon’d bottoms….’
‘Look We Have Coming to Dover’ (2007, London: Faber and Faber)
When I ask people about their favourite places in Newham I was often pointed towards the new Westfield Centre or the Olympic parks.
“Newham? There’s nothing to see here!” It was apparent that for some of the people that I was talking to on a weekday, Newham was a transitional space, somewhere to pass through rather than stay.
Then I stumbled across Grassroots, after being drawn to a picturesque grass hill with beautiful window boxes and the only ray of sunshine in the vicinity.
Their project “It’s a Newham Thing” is an innovative enterprise. It aims to produce a picture of Newham that doesn’t necessarily involve remnants of the Olympic dream. Grassroots has contacted people who have a ‘history’ in Newham and are building a social map of the area. Take a look at their website where you can see the map and hear some stories from Newham residents.
A boxercise class at the Memorial Park near West Ham station. People come along, participate and leave with no money being exchanged. The teacher was enthusiastic and energetic, greeting each person with a hug that was followed by a rigorous workout on the field.
“I want to improve the fitness of people in Newham…A healthy body is a better mind”
“Before you wouldn’t believe it, because of the post code war people were scared to walk across the park… Now we have set up football. We bring people together”.
The instructor, born and raised in Newham, is intent on improving the sense of community in the area by improving the health and fitness of local residents. Something other boroughs could learn from?
A Great grandfather of five, he has worked at the market all of his life.“Literally raised behind that counter there since I was four. My mum would bring me up here, 9-5…”
Queens market has changed over the years. It used to cover a single street and has now become a flourishing site of business. Any fond memories? ” It’s like a dog on a chain. I don’t know any different. It’s where I brought my family up”
‘The High Street has really changed. The big chains have gone. There are so many pound shops. No matter how much money you have everybody wants a bargain don’t they?’ ‘
You must talk to our neighbours’ the sisters say. ‘They have lived in our street since before we were born. They are like our agony aunts.’
‘There is no sense of community. No-one takes an interest any more’ Sunny says. He is originally from Malaysia. Rose came to East Ham from East Africa in 1976. Her father died at St Joesph’s hospice in Mare Street. As soon as you say ‘hospice’ no-one wants to know. Death is still a taboo.’
When the rain finally stops at about 4 o’clock, some of the market traders are beginning to pack up. The garden plants stall has been there since 1946. “The best thing about Newham? The bus out of here at the end of the day!’ A new flower shop has opened in the market 3 weeks ago. Bonnie’s mum owns the business and Bonnie is beginning to learn about the flowers. A few stalls down is the emptiness of the greengrocers. The stall has closed down this week after nearly fifty years of trading.The butcher has a wide range of Polish goods as well as pork pies and cold cuts. There are handmade robes in rich African fabrics.
On the corner of street the call of two Punjabi men at their stall enlivens the afternoon.They are happy to talk and to be recorded.
Click here to hear the call of their trade.
Their main stall is in Queens Market. ‘You’re not going to film us and put us on Youtube’ one laughs.They have the One Pound Fish Man in mind http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20899524
The rain has finally stopped and the sun is smiling on our ethnography. We have heard about the joys of the Russian baths, how the best flowers are Gerberas and about flying a father home to die in Pakistan.
Shefina shares a story about the healing power of stones
We have our first map of Newham from Sairah! It’s a beautifully crafted map that not only conveys the places that are important to Sairah but also the different times in her life. At Forest Gate she writes ‘Priceless Memories of my later Grandma’. There is the caption ‘Story books, Revision and Time Out’ to mark the Town Hall and library; ‘Prayer + reflection = Peace’ is how Sairah captions her drawing of her local mosque.
At Central Park, we find ourselves some twenty years away at a momentous occasion ‘My first swing on a swing and ride down a slide – Weee!’. Newham College is a place bursting with text ‘No doubt college days were the best: Amazing teachers; Warren, Kate…, Day dreaming in the ‘Link’, Passing notes around the class on (wait for it…) STARBURST wrappers lol’
The map has lifted our spirits. And perfect timing. We are having the briefing for the research team this afternoon.