How Dalston’s Emblematic Gillet Square is Resisting Gentrification

Meet the Gillet Square Dalstonists: a Caribbean community who is the past, present, and hopefully, future of a neighborhood in metamorphosis.

Gentrification has changed countless parts of London, and East London is one of the most glaring examples. In the 1980s most of the middle-class incomers feared the eastern boroughs, but now, they have consumed them. Property developers quickly realized that East London was going to be a profitable spot, and since then, Dalston has been at the front of the radar.

They can get rid of us, but they can’t erase the culture

The buildings of Dalston Square, built on the foundation of the Afro-Caribbean nightclub Four Aces, are a flagrant illustration of this gentrification. And last year, Passing Cloud, Dalston’s African-global music club, was closed after finding out it had been sold to a property development company.

King Cliff © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

King Cliff © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Amazingly, Dalston is still a diverse, fascinating, and culturally rich neighborhood. Different communities blend and mix in peace. Gillet Square, just off the Dalston Kingsland station, highlights this social and cultural cosmopolitanism that typifies the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s survival has been under pressure recently. In July 2017, private developers put in an offer to purchase the square, but the Hackney Council turned them down. The square is home to London’s most vibrant Jazz venue, the Vortex Club, and to the independent radio station NTS.

Marlon © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Marlon © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Tony © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Tony © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Everyday, dozens of local Caribbean ‘Dalstonists’ hang out at the Vortex Club. They gather to play chess, cards, drink, converse, or smoke.

“It’s our social place,” Garfield tells me.

Garfield - Dalston Gillet Square by Sarah Ben Romdane

Garfield © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

In the early evening, skaters join the party and use the square to practice their moves. The coupling of the Caribbean and younger communities happens smoothly. There is no disturbance.

When did you start coming here?

Garfield: A long time ago. We started coming here at least 20 years ago. We used to hang out somewhere else, next to Ridley Road Market [in the heart of Dalston], but they closed it down a while ago.

Kieth: Yeah man, we’ve been chilling here since I can’t even remember. This is home to us.

Kieth © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Kieth © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Where did you guys meet?

Garfield: We both met around here a long time ago, just listening to music, chilling, having a good time. That’s how we all know each other here. We come here and share moments together.

How do you feel about the white, middle class, young professionals moving to Dalston?

Garfield: I am personally all about peace. If you’re a good, open-minded person, who is going to include yourself within the neighborhood, instead of segregating us, then I don’t mind you coming. Look around us, there are white, old, young people. But they have accepted to be a part of it, not against it.

Curry: I don’t have a lot of sympathy for wealthy white people moving here. But I know I shouldn’t reduce someone to their appearance. If the person is cool, generous, and caring, I will be respectful and happy to get to know him or her. Otherwise, I don’t even want to see them around here.

Curry © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Curry © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

But what happens if you can’t afford to live and spend time around here anymore?

Garfield: Well, for now, I’m okay since I live in a council estate. But if we have to leave the square, that’s fine. We’ll go somewhere else. They can get rid of us, but they can’t erase the culture. So we’ll go somewhere else, and reconstruct everything again. And we will do that over and over again.

Do you fear gentrification? Are you afraid to lose “possession” of the square?

Garfield: I am not scared of gentrification, no. It can’t kill us, it can’t kill our history, it can’t kill what we stand for. Our culture won’t die.

Terrence & Samson © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Terrence & Samson © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Daniel & Kevin © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

Daniel & Kevin © Sarah Ben Romdane/HEREYOUARE

This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness

Sarah Ben Romdane is a multimedia journalist, born in Paris of a Tunisian father and a Syrian mother, raised in London. Most of the time denouncing mainstream politics or listening to hip-hop, if not taking pictures or daydreaming.
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