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

Present21:47Locals in Newham, east London, pay tribute to 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 say is closely linked to life and their community.

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

“She’s very much – rather – a person of a working class, a person of the working class,” she told CBC Radio’s Present.

When asked how the royal family’s vast wealth contrasts with life in the east London borough, Phillips replied that “a lot of people are rich, but that doesn’t make them all snobs. , right?”

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

Written in a condolence book, it says Dear Queen.  You have been the Queen for a very long time and we will miss you.
Local residents left messages in condolence books at the Canning Town Library, including this short message from a child. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Newham is located north of the River Thames, about 8 kilometers east of central London. With a population of around 350,000, the region suffers from serious problems of poverty and inequality, with around half of its children living below the poverty line and almost 17% of the population receiving benefits. outside of work, according to charity Trust for London.

A Church of England priest is sitting on a bench, she's wearing a cassock and speaking into a microphone.
Canon Ann Easter served as one of the Queen’s chaplains during her lifetime. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

“There is great poverty here, and I would be foolish to deny it… it is quite lacking in a lot of places around here in Newham,” said Father Canon Ann Easter, a priest in the Church of England, people born in the area.

Even so, Easter said there’s always a “feeling that the royal family is one of us,” even if they “like a little bling, you know, a bit of swagger and circumstance.”

Easter served as one of the Queen’s several dozen chaplains, a role that involved meeting the monarch occasionally and preaching at one of her favorite churches once a year.

She said the Queen and family have visited Newham over the years, opened new hospitals and churches, even attended local football matches – and those visits have shown the community that they are important, Easter said.

“They were humble. They cared about us… They weren’t aloof,” she said.

A sign above an open-air market says Queen's Market
Queen’s Market has been a retail hub for the community in Newham for more than a century. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Heaps of fruit and vegetables at an open-air market, as people shop around.
The partially covered market sells everything from clothes to fresh food. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Newham is diverse, but ‘like a family’

Cheaper housing and easy access to wider London mean that newcomers from around the world have long been drawn to Newham, creating a diverse population.

Rahim Rahmani came to London from Afghanistan in 2005, and has worked as a fishmonger at Queen’s Market ever since. The street market is more than a century old, with more than 100 retailers selling everything from fresh food to clothing, fabrics and jewelry.

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

Rahmani said he thinks diversity plays a role in how the community feels together, with neighbors of different religions coming together to celebrate holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Diwali.

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

But as a business, Rahmani is seeing its costs increase due to inflation. That’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 will be 10% more [increase] – so now we have to pass it on to the customer,” she said.

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

A man with a fish
Rahmani picks up a fish for a customer. He says community ties are strong in Newham. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

As a result, “customers only buy what they need to buy, people tighten their belts,” says Patel.

“Even at home, we’re learning how to turn off the lights, you know, turn off the lights – so fully tighten the belts.”

The cost of living crisis comes at a time when businesses are trying to recover from the pandemic. Considered a non-essential business, G&A Haberdashery was closed during the UK shutdown and received some government aid. When it reopens, Patel said social distancing measures mean reduced footfall and further “running around” comes with curbs on curbside trading.

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

Composite image of a woman at a needlework stall and the buttons she sells.
Rita Patel’s family has run G&A Haberdashery in Queen’s Market for 47 years. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Available at G&A Haberdashery in Queen's Market, Newham.
Garment store sales have been affected by the pandemic and are currently slowing down due to the cost of living crisis. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Queen seems ‘very, very far’ to some

To the northwest of Newham, the Stratford area was refurbished to host the 2012 Olympic Games, and now boasts an upscale shopping center with shops, bars and restaurants, as well as restaurants. sports facility at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which has hosted many Olympics. ‘ event.

For local student Arnas Stupuras, there is a marked inequality in the rejuvenation of the region.

“I think they’ve recently started shutting down entire shopping malls in the evenings, just to prevent real homeless people from taking shelter there,” he said.

“That’s the 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 Present.

“Of course our lives are very different. Queen, she seems very, very distant and aloof,” said another student, Evelyn, who did not give her second name.

Evelyn said she realizes the Queen has important responsibilities and duties, but adds that “she seems like she’s always going to be on that pedestal… not even getting the sense of despair that everyone feels people in our community are facing right now.”

Three students, two boys and one girl, posed for pictures outside the train station.
Shiraz Khan, Arnas Stupuras and Evelyn in front of Stratford Station in Newham. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

Not all of the district’s younger residents are critical of the late Queen – fish hunter Rahmani said his young children fell in love with her after celebrating her platinum year earlier this year, marking 70 year on the throne.

“They like the way she dresses, they like the way she walks and the way she likes with the horses everywhere,” he said.

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

“We will really miss her. And it will be a day we will never forget,” he said.

Easter, one of the Queen’s chaplains, says many locals in Newham feel they know the Queen and have a relationship with her.

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

“Obviously not by name or anything, but just that feeling, you know, she recognized me, she valued me, I was the most important person.”

A woman points to a photo, depicting a group of capitals posing for a photo with Queen Englnad.
Easter pointed to a picture of the clergy assembled with the Queen. As one of the monarch’s chaplains, Easter met her on a number of occasions. (Sylvie Belbouab / CBC)

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

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