In a London borough facing poverty and inequality, locals remember the Queen as one of their own | TBEN radio

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The current21:47Locals in Newham, East London, Remember Queen Elizabeth II

In a library in Newham, east London, local residents gathered this week to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a monarch they believe had strong ties to their own lives and community.

“She was sober,” said Jo Phillips, who attended coffee morning at the Canning Town Library, where people told stories and signed a book of condolence.

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“She’s very much — she was much rather — a working person, a working-class person,” she told TBEN Radios. The current.

When asked how the royal family’s immense wealth contrasted with life in the East London borough, Phillips replied that “a lot of people are rich, but that doesn’t make them all snobs, does it?”

Newham resident Benjamin Ansah signs the Queen’s condolence register at Canning Town Library. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Write in a condolence book, which reads Dear Queen.  You have been queen for a long time and we will miss you.
Local residents left messages in the Canning Town Library condolence register, including this short message from a child. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Newham is located north of the River Thames, about five miles east of central London. With a population of about 350,000, the borough faces significant poverty and inequality problems, with about half of all children living below the poverty line, and nearly 17 percent of those on unemployment benefits, according to the London charity Trust.

A Church of England priest sits on a bench, she wears a cassock and speaks into a microphone.
Rev. Canon Ann Easter was one of the Queen’s chaplains during her lifetime. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

“There is great poverty here, and I would be foolish to deny that … it is quite poor in many places here in Newham,” said Reverend Canon Ann Easter, a Church of England priest who was born in the Area. .

Despite this, Easter said there’s always been “a feeling where the royal family was one of us,” even if they “liked a little bit of bling, you know, a little bit of pomp.”

Easter served as one of the Queen’s few dozen chaplains, a role where he occasionally met the monarch and preached once a year at one of her favorite churches.

She said the Queen and her family have visited Newham over the years, opening new hospitals and churches and even attending local football matches — and those visits showed the community that they mattered, Easter said.

“They were humble. They showed an interest in us… They didn’t stay aloof,” she said.

A sign above an open-air market reads Queen's Market
Queen’s Market has been a shopping hub for the Newham community for over a century. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Piles of fruits and vegetables at an open-air market, while people look around.
The partially sheltered market sells everything from clothing to fresh food. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Newham is diverse but ‘like a family’

Cheaper housing and easy access to greater London means newcomers from all over the world have long been drawn to Newham, creating a diverse population.

Rahim Rahmani came to London from Afghanistan in 2005 and has been working as a fishmonger in Queen’s Market ever since. The open-air street market is over a century old and boasts over 100 retailers selling everything from fresh food to clothing to fabrics and haberdashery.

“I really like Newham,” Rahmani said. “They are all so friendly… like a family.”

Rahmani said he thinks diversity plays a role in how close-knit the community feels, with neighbors from different religions celebrating holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Diwali together.

“We celebrate all cultures in different clothes, different food, different days,” he said.

But as a company, Rahmani sees its costs rising due to inflation. It’s a concern shared by Rita Patel, whose family has run G&A Haberdashery at Queen’s Market for nearly 50 years.

“For example cotton, every time we go there is another 10 percent [increase] — so we need to pass that on to the customer now,” she said.

A man stands behind a fishmonger's stall at a market.
Rahim Rahmani moved to London from Afghanistan in 2005 and works as a fishmonger at Queen’s Market. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

A man guts a fish
Rahmani guts a fish for a customer. He said community ties are strong in Newham. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

As a result, “customers only buy what they need to buy, everyone tightens their belts,” Patel said.

“Even at home, we learn to turn off the electricity, you know, turn off the lights — so tighten the belts all the way.”

The cost of living crisis comes just as businesses are trying to recover from the pandemic. Considered a non-essential business, G&A Haberdashery was closed during the UK lockdowns and received some government support. When it reopened, Patel said social distancing measures meant fewer visitor numbers, and the extra “running around” that came with restricting trade to curbside pick-up.

“It was really hard. Really, really hard,” she said.

A composite image of a woman at a haberdashery and the buttons she sells.
Rita Patel’s family has been running G&A Haberdashery in Queen’s Market for 47 years. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Stock at the G&A Haberdashery in Queen's Market, Newham.
The haberdashery trade has suffered from the pandemic and is now slowing down due to the cost of living crisis. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Queen seemed ‘very, very distant’ to some

To the north west of Newham, the Stratford area was refurbished to host the 2012 Olympics, and now has a luxury shopping center with shops, bars and restaurants, as well as sports facilities in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where many of the Games took place. ‘ events.

For local student Arnas Stupuras, there is a clear disparity in the area’s rejuvenation.

“I think they recently started closing the entire mall at night just to keep homeless people from actually hiding there,” he said.

“It’s a real dichotomy between the monarchy and here, you know, where people have to go wherever they can to find shelter.”

His feelings were shared by other students who spoke with The current.

“Of course our lives are very different. The Queen, she seems very, very far and far away,” said another student, Evelyn, who did not give her middle name.

Evelyn said she acknowledged that the Queen had important responsibilities and duties, but added that “it seems like she will always be on that pedestal…not even getting the sense of despair that people in our community are getting right now.” faced.”

Three students, two boys and a girl, pose for a photo outside a train station.
Shiraz Khan, Arnas Stupuras and Evelyn in front of Stratford Station in Newham. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Not all of the neighborhood’s younger residents are equally critical of the late Queen – fishmonger Rahmani said his younger children fell in love with her after platinum anniversary celebrations earlier this year, marking 70 years on the throne.

“They loved the way she dressed, they loved the way she walked and how she interacted with horses everywhere,” he said.

He said he and his family will be wearing black on Monday, the day of the Queen’s funeral.

“We will really miss her very much. And that will be the day we will never forget,” he said.

Easter, one of the Queen’s chaplains, said many Newham residents think they knew the Queen and were in a relationship with her.

“I think there will be a lot of people here who have met her who thought they were known to the Queen,” she said.

“Of course not by name or anything, but just that feeling of, you know, she recognized me, she valued me, I was someone who mattered.”

A woman points to a photo that shows a group of caplains posing for a photo with the Queen of Englnad.
Easter points to a photo of gathered clergy with the Queen. As one of the prince’s chaplains, Easter has met her several times. (Sylvie Belbouab/TBEN)

Audio produced by Alison Masemann, Julie Crysler and Lara O’Brien.