Since exploring the hidden side of the Olympics for Hackney Wick locals and creating a Feminist polemic walk in Stoke Newington, since 2012 Hackney Tours has gone about being a commercial operation entirely the wrong way.
The tours haven’t been regular, the subject matter hasn’t stayed ‘safe’. Offers from developers to help sell houses by showcasing an area have been turned down. It’s occasionally been an ethical minefield but also a tremendous creative journey: one where everything you learn leads to something else. It’s been like opening an internet tab and then finding in no time you’re crashing your system with 30 of them.
Part of that journey has been learning how to tackle serious history and complex subject matter without taking yourself too seriously and keeping the fun and playful elements. So tours at events like Stoke Newington Literature Festival have tackled religious persecution, fake news, gender inequality and the contentious politics of space in modern East London.
Some events have been more like low key standup, or artistic/storytelling experiences. Of course, there have also been straightforward walking celebrations of nature and the pure enjoyment of local history on walks for Hackney Council and other local organisations. To explain Hackney’s history of dissent, you have to know your 17th Century story.
It’s been quite the journey: sous les paves (beneath the paving stones) there really is another world. Tapping into centuries of amazing characters in Hackney and telling some of their stories has given me a much richer appreciation of this unusual borough with its highly unusual history. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
Going abroad has also been less important, after setting out to find wonder on our doorstep here in East London. Everything is connected: from air quality in London to bigger environmental issues. Travel can’t continue as if it exists in a vacuum. How long can we fly like there’s no tomorrow?
So with a renewed appreciation of East London (see for example the #ExtraordinaryE5 Instagram tag) and a deep sense of gratitude that I’m alive now and not in Dickensian times (history is quite good for giving you a sense of perspective and, in that way, can improve your sense of wellbeing) there’ll be more walks this summer and Autumn in and around Hackney.
In the short term, we’ll be marrying a sense of literary love for all things bookish and philosophical with an Edinburgh Fringe-style walkabout on Sunday 12th in another collaboration with award-winning indie bookstore Pages of Hackney (see here). Or this Wednesday morning the new Mobile Museum will make another outing, this time with families in Hackney Wick. Meet by the play area on Well Street Common on Wednesday at 11am.
See you on the streets. Walking, cycling, running. You never know what you’ll find or where the journey will take you. Keep on exploring.