I like my corner of London

Royal Victoria Docks, Silvertown
Royal Victoria Docks, in London’s Silvertown

I like my corner of London.

It might not be very exciting, and sometimes I feel like it lacks character of other places in the east end — and it is like a foreign country compared to west and south west London. Just the same, I like it here.

I live in London’s Docklands — the more recent incarnation of the docklands.  It was one of the world’s most thriving docks at one time, and probably important for a very long time given the right combination of tides and places to unload.

Due to its importance, the area was heavily bombed during the second world war — while wealthier parts of the city in places like Kensington were left almost untouched by the war.  The inevitable march of technology all but killed the docks — bigger ships could no longer reach this part of the river, and the rise of shipping containers meant that fewer people were necessary to unload ships; the job could be done by cranes instead.

Docks closed and the area all but died out, until it became a new financial district in the later decades of the twentieth century.  But this isn’t intended to be a history lesson: to learn about the Wapping dispute (newspapers moving from Fleet Street to Wapping) and the Docklands Light Railway, you can visit the excellent Museum of London Docklands.

Some say that multiculturalism in Britain has failed.  I expect the people that say this are the people that want it to fail, the people that say that “immigrants” will never successfully integrate into the society’s where they settle, and everything is a powder keg of unrest and distrust.

I don’t see that here.

While you don’t exactly have large multicultural groups all holding hands in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” like Joan Baez, it is also one of the most diverse places I have ever known.  On a sunny day in Thames Barrier Park, you will see people of all creed, colours, races and religions sharing the space in friendship — and there’s no clear line where any one group of people starts and another ends.  Sunny and warm evenings around here encourage everyone to open their windows and doors, and what you get is a fantastic combination of cultures — music, televisions, even calls to prayer — all mixing together in the air.  You might call it noise pollution, but we reserve that term for the nearby airport.

Romantic visions of cultural melting pots where everyone mixes together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts may not have ever quite proved true — after all, most people tend to stay close to friends and family and the things they know — it does happen.

I’d like to see Docklands mature, beyond what is currently either big media companies and large financial institutions or islands of housing. They’re trying — whoever they are.  London Pleasure Gardens has recently opened in Silvertown — an area that has been largely forgotten since the decline of the docks, but still has so much of the history that I love, including old cranes by the water, vast warehouses and monolithic grain silos.  I’d like to see more community though, the things I like in other parts of the east end — where every third or fourth shop is a local grocer, old theatres (even if they are now cinemas), reminders of what places once were written in the brickwork above the buildings.

You can’t manufacture something like that, it has to come on its own.  While you can’t just make a place’s history or character (and it looks terrible when new buildings try to copy the style of older existing ones), maybe you can sometimes do something to encourage one.