10 Mar 2015

Research on changing London borough reveals mixed reception for gentrification by its young inhabitants

Editing the short films on London

Editing the short films on London

The gentrification occurring in the London borough of Hackney is just one of five themes captured in documentary films created by a team of young people working with The Open University

The five short films, shot within the borough, are part of an ESRC-funded project Creating Hackney As Home (

The project employed five young people from Hackney to make their own films, mentored by researchers from the Department of Geography at The Open University. Their key task was to explore what it means to call a place ‘home’ when it is rapidly changing around them, to express how they experienced redevelopment in this part of London, and to represent the area in the way they wanted to.
The result is a series of short stories drawn from across the borough, exploring themes of growing up and moving out, cultural diversity, a history of style and the impact of gentrification.

Senior Lecturer in Geography and principal investigator Melissa Butcher, who co-authored the project with the OU’s Luke Dickens, research associate in Social Sciences, said the research picked up an underlying sense of disruption and anxiety over changes created by the current regeneration of Hackney driven by its proximity to the Olympic site, the financial centre of London and the Tech City hub.

Dr Butcher said: “For the young people who have grown up in Hackney and who have seen its population change and new middle-class homeowners moving in, they see the ensuing gentrification as a cause of overarching anxiety, generating feelings of displacement and sometimes exclusion. This is mixed, however, with a degree of ambivalence as the increased security and better facilities that are part of the redevelopment are seen to have positive side effects”.

“Young people have relatively little power in planning and negotiations over redevelopment, and yet, as substantial users of public space, urban change can impact on their sense of well-being which has implications for social cohesion” she added.

“Not only did the research produce films, but the young people were also involved in photographing and documenting the space they call home, generating data that is designed to help local authorities take young people’s experiences and points of view into account. The films were used as the basis for further discussions and data collection.

The films have proven to be an emerging resource and starting point for discussion with youth groups, council, Hackney residents and other filmmakers and researchers. Not only do they depict life in Hackney from a young person’s perspective, raising topics of class and race, they also shed light on what it means to live in the complex spaces of 21st century cities, said Dr Butcher.

The films have been widely shown, both online and public screenings in London, including in March to coincide with the release of the project report. A key recommendation of the project is the need for research into the at times problematic relationship between new and existing residents in gentrifying areas.

The Creating Hackney as Home project
Creating Hackney As Home: Young People as Participatory Researchers and Public (2013-15, Open University, PI: Melissa Butcher). It was collaboration between the Department of Geography (Open University), and youth arts organisations Immediate Theatre and Mouth that Roars.
Find out more:
Creating Hackney as Home website:


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