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Roger Mosey | 16:07 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

I'd never been to Canary Wharf before I had this job. Now it's a regular part of life to pitch up at the skyscraper housing Locog, and I know every twist and delay of the Jubilee Line as it goes through the rebuilt docklands: further out to North Greenwich and the O2, or back to central London through Canada Water and Bermondsey.

But I also can't remember ever previously visiting some of the Olympic host boroughs. I'd been out to Dagenham once to watch Bradford City, but Newham and Hackney weren't much on the map - and Tower Hamlets and Greenwich are places visitors go to principally for sights like the Tower of London and the Royal Observatory.

So it's been something of a revelation - and a pleasure - to spend time where the Olympics will be staged next year.

When I've said this to friends and colleagues, some of them are mystified by the idea of liking parts of the East End.

Its Wikipedia entry may give a clue why. It says that in Victorian times "the East End became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, disease and criminality"; and although the Olympic zone and the East End are far from being geographically the same, and time has moved on, its boroughs are still light years away from the affluence of the West End.

Hackney, for instance, was officially the second most-deprived borough in the whole of England and much of its media profile was for the wrong reasons as a crime hot-spot.

It didn't feel like that, though, on a pleasant March day when I was sitting having a coffee in the square outside Hackney Town Hall, watching a celebratory African-Caribbean wedding party emerge from the Registry Office.

As with the other core Olympic boroughs, this is a strikingly diverse part of London. The East End over the centuries was where immigrants came to the UK, and a constituency like East Ham nowadays has well over 40% of its inhabitants born outside the country.


Street market in Stratford with the Gherkin in the background

The Olympic boroughs are culturally diverse. Picture: Getty


Irrespective of the political debate about multiculturalism, this is a place where people from a multitude of backgrounds co-exist; and the video submission from students in Tower Hamlets for our World Olympic Dreams project captures what that can look and sound like.

Talking to the councils in the area, they're conscious they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase what's good within their communities and to deliver lasting benefits.

They point to the way East London has already changed, with the fashionable areas of Hoxton and Shoreditch and the regeneration going on alongside the Olympic Park in Stratford - most notably the arrival soon of a Westfield Shopping Centre.

There's no doubt they want to hold the Olympic organisers and the wider political establishment to account for their promises on the legacy of the Games; but, having in some cases shed their reputations as failing councils, they know they too have to deliver in 2012 and beyond.

One official said to me there was a lot of pride in their area that they would be the centre of world attention during the Olympics.

But the message going back to residents was they had to play their part in making sure it was the right image and that everything went like clockwork.

And that points to one of London's gambles in going for the Games: it didn't stick with the safe and tested, the equivalent of having the main stadium at Wembley and an athletes' village somewhere central.

Instead it opted for promises on regeneration and legacy, and for a base outside tourists' London.

We in the BBC and the rest of the media will keep a keen eye on how well those promises are delivered.

And when you wander down Mare Street in Hackney or along Broadway in Stratford, you realise these aren't abstract debates. They're about communities who've experienced tough times and for whom this is the chance of a better future.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    So it is now obvious that this isn't the UK's Olympics. It's not England's Olympics. It's not even London's Olympics. It's the east end's Olympics. But don't worry the rest of us will pick up the bill when it goes belly-up and meanwhile those friends and colleagues who are sniffy about the East End will find it a nice place to invest and colonise soon enough. Perhaps the best that can be claimed for the 'London' Olympics is it is a 'World' Olympics on the basis of it's location in an ethnically diverse area and I suppose that for now, at least, is no bad thing.

  • Comment number 2.

    Mr Mosley, you are flogging the Olympics to death and its painful to read.

  • Comment number 3.

    One of the interesting issues about 'regeneration' is what it should actually look like.

    Is it about clearing derelict sites, bringing in more affluent people and moving the poorer folks on?

    Or is it actually about working with what you've got and helping them improve the lives in the place they already call home?

    Politicians usually choose the former. It's easier, it's shorter-term, there's something definite they can say they did. And usually no-one asks awkward questions.

    The latter is far tougher. It takes far longer, takes far more commitment and a much stronger commitment to resolving conflict along the way.

    I wonder how much contribution to 'legacy' and 'regeneration' the actual people of East London have been allowed to make.

    The more the better I say. Although that doesn't mean bowing down to them, it means engaging with them.

    Time will tell I guess...........

  • Comment number 4.

    Probablyknot in #1: well, the research shows that people's expectation of benefits from the Games is certainly higher in East London than anywhere else. But I guess the argument is that it's better to deploy Olympic investments in the East End than contribute to further price inflation in Knightsbridge and Chelsea. You're right that the impact on the UK as a whole needs to be watched very carefully.

    Max in #2: you're competing with Brekkie and Foxes as one of my most regular commenters, but they're more fun.

    Rjaggar in #3: nice to hear from you again, and you make some good points. The one thing I'd be relatively confident about is that the physical legacy of the Olympic Park will be a decent one: it's shaping up very well in what used to be a contaminated industrial wasteland.

 

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