Category Archives: Community

The Kindness of Strangers

Image by Bernadette Russell/ The White Rabbit

Image by Bernadette Russell/ The White Rabbit

Last summer, I eavesdropped on some exceedingly good deeds being done by a creative and kindly Londoner, one Bernadette Russell. I won a commission for the PRX Global Story Project run by the American Public Radio Exchange, so turned the audio into a documentary featurette. It’s since been bought by the NPR stations KUT in Austin, Texas and KHSU in Arcata, California and just in time for Valentine’s, it led to Bernadette being invited onto BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live as a guest- alongside the Milkman of Human Kindness himself, Mr. Billy Bragg. Please read on for the full spiel, or better still take a listen to the 6 minute, 15 second sound story here.

Image by Bernadette Russell/ The White Rabbit

Image by Bernadette Russell/ The White Rabbit

During the leap year of 2012, Bernadette Russell embarked on a mission to complete 366 Days of Kindness. Her efforts were prompted by the riots that spread through her adopted home town of London and across English towns and cities, between 6th and 10th August 2011.

Bernadette has left sweets in phone boxes, books on trains, £5 notes on buses. She has given away balloons, cakes, flowers and lottery tickets, written letters to a soldier returned from Afghanistan and offered her socks to the homeless. She practiced ‘targeted’ rather than ‘random’ acts of kindness but she says she ‘expected nothing in return.’

Bernadette is now turning her 366 philanthropic experiences into a stage play, in collaboration with Jacksons Lane Theatre in London and with support from Birmingham Rep and Forkbeard Fantasy.


Mmm is for mocha, muesli & Mouse and de Lotz

Read how I bravely conquer my NIMBYism over a bowl of nourishing oats, under cover for The London Review of Breakfasts in Dalston’s pioneer cafe- Mouse and de Lotz.

After the Riots

Having made the headlines as a riot hot-spot on Monday 8th August, Hackney’s Clarence Road made reparation for the damage done to businesses and wellbeing with a vibrant show of community spirit.

I wrote about the street tea party a week on from the trouble in the Hackney Citizen.






Four days later I was back in Clarence Road to report the reopening of the Convenience Store, otherwise known as Siva’s shop, 11 days after it was ransacked.






Shopkeeper Siva Kandiah & daughter with Meg Hillier MP

The WI Gets Hip

If you’ve 7 minutes to spare, have a listen to my City MA Radio Project, featuring none other than the world-renowned feminist and academic, Professor Germaine Greer.

NB. Best enjoyed with a cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg, as these were the circumstances in which it was conceived!

The Dalston Darlings Tea Tent at Field Day in Victoria Park, London 2011

96 years of ‘jam and Jerusalem’ is a hard act to follow for the Women’s Institute. But armed with cupcakes, hot pants and pedicures, it seems the WI is finally getting hip. Kirsty McQuire reports… 

It wouldn’t be the WI without a Victoria Sponge

Market Forces

It’s on those wretchedly wet weekends that we’re so prone to in this oft grey and unpleasant land, that you console/ torment yourself with the vision of a fine spring day (as you clasp your hot water bottle in broad daylight, for fear of losing feeling in your extremities). A day which you might spend wantonly skipping through a bustling street market, making idle chatter and gathering rosebuds and frippery while you may, satisfying your every whim with each passing stall… I can smugly and contentedly report that this weekend I revelled in just such a day, eschewing housework and coursework to go and gape at the handiwork of other, more enterprising folk for whom Sunday is just another daily grind. 

Sunday 20th March marked the eagerly anticipated return of Chatsworth Road market for 2011. It had all the buzz of a neighbourhood favourite (or Notting Hill Carnival, as one of my accomplices put it, getting ever so slightly carried away), despite this only being its fourth ever outing since the series of trials before Christmas.  The Traders and Residents Association of Chatsworth Road E5 waged a long and vocal campaign to win the right to reinstate a weekly market after over 10 years of absent pavement trade. In 2009 I interviewed spokesman and architect of the early plans Ashley Parsons, when approval from the council was still an uncertain prospect.

Fast forward 18 months and the handsomely proportioned Victorian thoroughfare is gratifyingly alive with ambling feet, discerning eyes and perusing hands, as leisurely shoppers saunter in from Clapton, from Homerton, via the streets of Elderfield, Rushmore, Glenarm and Dunlace. A residential artery of East London connecting Lea Bridge Road to Homerton Road, Chats Road is a fiercely independent high street, albeit less well-heeled than Stoke Newington Church Street or Exmouth Market (the campaign argued that bringing a market back to the community could have a positive impact on social deprivation). With incremental expansion in size and scope (growing from 20 to 40 stalls) the market now boasts everything from gourmet cheesecake to artisan beauty products (with the odd sausage roll and sugar cane shot thrown in). The plan is to run fortnightly markets until September and move to a weekly set up thereafter, pending review.

Turning the corner off the main drag on to Glenarm Road, punters could also happen upon the main market’s smaller sibling- Hackney Homemade, itself making a comeback after a bleak mid-winter break. Nestled in the cosy courtyard behind Book Box independent children’s book shop, there was a distinctly domestic feel to the wares on offer. Locally-based travel writer Jane Eggington felt there was room for homegrown vintage and craft items alongside the mainstays of fresh veg and coffee and cakes, so gathered a collective of creatives to set up shop with their latest finds and creations.

Spilling out of the yard and on to the street were all the dressing up box delights a gaggle of over-grown girls could wish for, and after a minute or two of polite cooing over the rails we had a good rummage through crocheted cardies and tea dresses galore. Thankfully there appeared to be no ‘look but don’t touch’ policy. One of our number showed incredible restraint in passing up an All Saints black pencil skirt trimmed with gold piping that she’d spotted with magpie-like swiftness, which was surely snapped up as soon as our backs were turned. Among Irregular Choice canary yellow heels, swathes of print scarves, an enticing MOMA brand wristwatch and a gloriously kitsch purse emblazoned with amorous pairings, I settled on a pair of metallic-pink flower studs (yes another pair), that I felt struck just the right balance between Barbara Cartland and Bjork. For 3 quid, I’d rather choose my Christmas cracker gems off a blanketed-flagstone than out of a locked cabinet any day.

Once inside the mini market square we enquired about an elegant wooden lamp stand from stall of collectible and vintage homeware and furniture, and lusted after a matching pair of silver candlesticks until we remembered the mantle piece was already awash with tea lights.

We had a chat with Adam Cobbold about the exotic provenance of his exquisite blankets (Morocco, Iran, Cambodia and India) and admired the cushion covers handmade from his grandmother’s collection of early 20th century screen-printed fabrics. Student budget constraints prevented us from investing in these textile treasures but its gratifying to know they’ll be soon be adorning another elegant living room, just as grandma intended.

I now wish I’d bought one of jewellery designer Hazel Thomson’s funky laser cut plywood and acrylic pieces- all art deco geometric shapes and angular avairian beauties that would have been perfect for a friend’s birthday this week. Oops. More classic tastes were catered for by the ropes of amber and peridot beads, cut-gem pendants and bracelets glistening in the pale March sunshine at the far end of the yard.

Hidden behind pin cushions and foil wrapped chocolate eggs, Hannah in the house provided me with just the striking piece of statement jewellery that will do the job for Mother’s Day- a pistachio coloured ceramic broach with embossed lace detail for only £8. Shh…

It’s safe to say the selection on offer was heavily swayed towards the feminine, but the Manga-esque hand printed hoodies of White Monk were a nod towards more masculine, monochrome preferences.

Cursing myself for already falling prey to L’Epicerie deli, I saw that Evi, the only pit-stop stall in the yard, had been doing a roaring trade in traditional Greek foodstuffs- Cretan courgette pie (kolokithopita), spinach pie (spanakopita) and moussaka. Lots of crumbs by the time we’d worked our way round. 

But it’s not all sheer-indulgence. Hackney Homemade and the Book Box have pledged to donate a stall to a good cause at each market.  This week’s was Akany Avoko, selling a rainbow array of bags, baskets, shawls and toy cars made from recycled tin cans. All profits go directly to supporting abandoned babies, children and young people in Madagascar.

Still in its infancy, the compact Hackney Homemade is a charming concept proving that E5 can do vintage chic and quirky design just as well as your Spitalfields and your Broadways (and cheaper, with more elbow room). Don’t go expecting acres of choice, but do go with an eye for bargains hand-picked or hand-crafted on your doorstep.

Photographs by Kirsty McQuire

Hear This

Friday night saw the official fundraising launch of Hackney Hear at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, which really is full of East End Promise. The next incarnation of the Hackney Podcast, Hackney Hear is a bold innovation in the medium of audio production- a GPS-enabled smartphone app that will sonically-enrich the journey of any given listener, as they wend their way through the borough. In case you missed it, you can hear founder and director Francesca Panetta speaking about the genesis of the project in my interview with her from February.

The production team need to raise £5000 to develop the technology to get the free app up and running in time for the Olympics. They’re casting their net wide, joining the growing pack of arts organisations appealing to and empowering Everyman generosity via crowd-funding. The well-attended Rivington Street shindig sparked the imaginations of an animated bunch of industry professionals and local enthusiasts alike; the hope is that as the word spreads, so will the urge to dig deep. Bard of the borough Michael Rosen set the example by turning out his pockets of small change for the cause, live on stage.

Whilst aiming to fill the coffers, the event was also an opportunity to revel in the inimitable hotch-potch of Hackney. Upon entering the unexpectedly cavernous space of Red, guests were enveloped by the characteristic sights and sounds of EC2 to N16, with postcode cupcakes by Violet bakery honouring the turf. The podcast archive was deftly remixed by sound artist Word the Cat and a selection of homegrown, critically acclaimed short films were shown- Iain Sinclair’s Rose Red Empire, Emma Williams’ Under the Cranes and Shehani Fernando’s Night, inspired and soundtracked by the HP edition of the same name. Thoughtful party-goers were also invited to pin their favourite Hackney sound on a wall map of our boomerang-shaped borough. The party game culminated in the judging of the winning sound, deemed to be the sonorous bells of St. Peter’s heard fleetingly from a passing bike.

Next up were a series of performances by some of the great and the good of the neighbourhood. Charged with manning the DVD projector in the chilly white-cube screening room, I was glad of the body heat as expectant listeners crowded into the nerve centre of the venue. We were treated to the psycho-geographical soundscapes of the cross-legged vocalist Paper Dollhouse, Rob Gallagher AKA Earl Zinger’s zany acoustic set and Michael Rosen’s glorious ‘baigel’ call and response routine. Shane Solanki proved an exuberant host and delivered an aptly- chosen rap on smart-phone mugging, moving masterfully from the anecdotal to the surreal, with much hilarity.

There’ll soon be an app for that; listen out.

You can donate to Hackney Hear via IndieGoGo. And yes it is me in the promo (I hereby declare a charitable interest).

Olympic Ambitions

Since the bid was settled in 2005, politicians and pundits have been promising that the Olympic boroughs of East London will inherit the legacy of aspiration and investment conferred by London 2012. For our assessed TV news package at City, Anisa Kadri and I went on the trail of small businesses attempting to cash in on the kudos of the Olympic Games. Are they merely resourceful entrepreneurs or opportunistic ambush marketeers? The Olympic  Games Organising Committee and Newham Council have the deciding vote on which local venues have to re-brand before the tourists arrive.

Filmed 23rd February 2011.