Newham has been facing waves of gentrification ever since the 2012 Olympics. The borough used to have one of the highest rates of poverty, low paid employment and ethnic diversity in the country. I have not checked the statistics since 2012, so don’t quote me on that. Stratford especially has been seeing rates of investment and development that would have been unprecedented in East London even 15 years ago. The amount of glass towers around Stratford station especially is an interesting sight. I say interesting and not “great” or “awesome” on purpose. One, because most of them are soulless, not to say ugly, blocks of flats which feel completely at odds with the rest of the borough and the people who live there. Stratford City, which is near the Olympic park, and on the other side of the train tracks, feels completely separate from the rest of Newham (and since it has a different postcode, by old-school rules, does not count as Stratford). This boom is perhaps partially associated with the expansion of Stratford station, which now has the DLR, Overground, Central, Jubilee and National Rail services. The gentrification has not been a happy process for its residents as rents and house values have gone up (again, especially in Stratford) and more people are being pushed out to the outer regions of Newham and East London, where transport links are not that great. This is as neutral a conversation about gentrification as I can manage to have, so let us move on to the good and interesting things about the borough that may make you want to visit.
Actually one of my favourite side effects about living near the Olympics site. The gigantic Westfield shopping centre was built together with the Olympic village, do not ask me what that says about our modern consumerist culture. The shopping centre is overwhelmingly big, with an M&S and John Lewis encasing its two ends. There is a range of restaurants, including Wahaca, Giraffe and other middle class favourites, as well as three food courts for more informal eating which have all the fast foods, pizzerias and casual dining places your little hear may desire, and a bread and cupcake shop. Shops are mainly focused on clothing, but there is quite a rotation so if you have a favourite in mind, check on their website. When planning your trip use the Westfield Stratford website, not the Westfield Shepherd’s bush.
The Stratford Shopping Centre nearby (cross the bridge and walk down the steps) has a market which is quite good for everyday fresh produce needs, as well as a few fast-food places, clothing shops etc.
You will not be bored in Newham, you might just have to travel a little bit. The libraries in the borough are especially active when it comes to events and community organisation, offering everything from salsa classes to film clubs and living in the UK advice. There is a range of cinemas,and the Stratford Picture house seems to be one of the last cinemas in the country to not be overpriced.
Theatre Royal Stratford East has an incredible pedigree. It was designed by architect James George Buckle in 1884. In the 1950’s it was associated with Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop of the “Oh, What a Lovely War!” fame, and is presently under the directorship of Nadia Fall. You can see a range of new theatre, interpretations of classic plays as well as musical events there. In spring of 2019 King Hedley II will be performed here, featuring Lenny Henry.
However, for “being at one with nature” you might want to venture further out into Wanstead Flats, which boasts great views and lots of space perfect for a sunny day out. A picnic is recommended. Walthamstow Wetlands are equally attractive, and great spot for relaxing walks and birds-spotting!