19 April 2023
“Before you enter the estate, you’ll notice there are two lampposts – the functions of these are ‘sometime-y’: works one at a time; doesn’t’ work at all or dim yellow lighting”
The lamppost at the corner of your street, lighting the way as you go about your evening - Like air, light is so essential you forget you need it till it’s missing. In Gascoyne Estate, people are always aware of the importance of light, safety, and rubbish-free corners because they are frequently missing – “sometime-y” as Lorraine describes it.
For Lorraine, this is linked to Gascoyne Estate being a lower-income housing area. Unlike the bright lights, well-maintained facilities, and clean spaces she often sees in higher-income neighbourhoods, Lorraine felt that infrastructure in Gascoyne Estate suffered from poor maintenance and inadequacy. Poverty leads to sometime-y spaces, as fluctuations and lulls in institutional care, attention and funding become reflected in the patchy infrastructure and environment of social housing estates.
Lorraine describes her experience of walking through Gascoyne Estate at night:
"Walking home through the estate in complete darkness and having to use the light on my phone to go through. All the landing lights were off. I enter the estate from the front (Harrowgate Road entrance) to find that the two lamp posts aren’t working or partially lit
The effects of dim lighting and disrepair were especially worrying for young women like Lorraine, who feared for their safety. Lorraine spoke to another young woman in her community, who recounts growing up with poor lighting:
"The lighting in Gascoyne Estate has always been an issue, my mum was never comfortable with me being out at certain hours of the day”
Boy weren’t spared either. Young men had to be careful of theft, stabbings, and physical violence as they walked through the estate late at night. For young people in Gascoyne Estate, dim lighting and high crime rates go hand-in-hand. The menace and potential danger of the dark is always real because of the stories, newspaper headlines and neighbours they know who were robbed, assaulted, stabbed.
Lorraine’s favourite place in the world is her room, because, as she explains: “it’s a space for me to be creative, it’s a space for me to rest, it’s a safe haven for me”. Lorraine’s sense of goodness rests heavily on her sense of safety – the safety to create, to explore, to rest, to move about and to be. She defines the good life as “a safe space that can be roamed without uncertainty or constant caution”. Growing up in Gascoyne Estate and having lived there all her life, it is easy to see how safety could have plays such a major role in shaping Lorraine’s worldview. Like air – the absence of which is life-changing - a lack of safety has shaped much of how Lorraine experiences the world.
Lorraine speaks of not feeling safe enough to walk alone around her neighbourhood. She finds that this impacts both her physical and mental wellbeing. Walks help her to reset at emotionally overwhelming moments in her life. Moreover, Lorraine explains:
"As someone with a chronic health condition, walks are often my best mode of exercise as they are simple and effective”
The terms health and safety are often bandied about for regulatory reasons, but their mutual importance to each other and a deeper sense of what safety means is often missing. Lorraine’s experiences reflect the importance of safety to health. Moreover, the way she talks about safety reveals that it means more than just protection from harm or injury. For Lorraine, safety is also linked to “roaming”; to choice and freedom.
“Living there was mainly about community. A lot of people that lived there went to the same school, so it was a bubble of familiar faces”
“Growing up there was very busy and lively, I’d play out all the time, I developed pretty close relationship with my neighbours. Now it’s a lot quieter because a lot of people have moved out and moved in”
Although Lorraine and the people she interviewed cherished Gascoyne Estate’s strong sense of community, being able to stay and move felt like decisions outside their control. Lorraine and Isabelle describe growing up with close neighbours and familiar faces, but Lorraine also spoke of how the community has grown quieter with people moving out in recent years. Isabelle herself had recently moved away. For Lorraine, being able to choose where to move to feels like a luxury, since social housing options are limited and private housing costly.
When describing what a good life meant to her, Lorraine also defined it as “having choice”. Ultimately, the inability to choose; to “live freely” and “roam”, which comes with the limiting conditions of poverty, contributes to Lorraine’s unsafe surroundings as well as the negative impacts on her health and well-being,
For Lorraine, poverty isn’t just a lack of income, it is a poverty of choice, freedom, safety, heath, well-being, and ultimately, a chance at a good life.
"Think further, understand the nuances of prosperity and what that means to the people their actions impact. Spend more time on the ground so more effective decisions can be made to make life better for many”.
Lorraine is a resident and citizen social scientist from Gascoyne Estate, Hackney. Lorraine recently finished her Sociology degree at the University of Leicester and currently works for a youth culture agency that has a mission to transform the lives of young people through culture, community and storytelling.
This zine was jointly conceived of by Lorraine Owusu and Gillian Chan, based on research that Lorraine conducted. The findings, images and content are Lorraine’s, the wording, editing and design Gillian’s. This process would not have been possible without the guidance and support of: Dr Saffron Woodcraft, Dr James Shraiky, Dr Alessandra Radicati di Brozolo, José Izcue Gana and David Heymann. The study was co-designed with members of the London Prosperity Board and is jointly funded by: Royal Docks, Lendlease, London Legacy Development Corporation, Hill Group, Poplar HARCA, and the London Boroughs of Hackney, Waltham Forest, and Barking and Dagenham.
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