East Enders is a well-researched and human account of the lives of almost 100 families living in the London boroughs of Hackney and Newham. The book is about the relationship between neighbourhood environments, community relations and social conditions from the point of view of the residents, who are often least heard in policy debates and yet have the strongest interest in their locality.
The picture that emerges is complex, revealing alienation and loyalty, decay and regeneration, uncertainty and change. Many families survive on very low incomes and nearly half are lone parents, making them vulnerable to unexpected crises. They struggle with high levels of crime, and mothers worry about raising their children in these neighbourhoods.
Most families live in council housing and are socially affected by the environmental conditions they feel powerless to change.
Yet these families rate living in their neighbourhoods positively and are aware of improvements achieved through regeneration programmes, especially in education and housing. This is because, despite many problems and maybe partly because of them, community matters a great deal to these families.
Contact with relatives, almost daily contact with neighbours and friends locally and involvement in local services, connect families in ways that allow them to feel supported and to develop a sense of belonging.
The area is rapidly changing, with families, often from other countries, moving in and out of what used to be white working-class neighbourhoods.
Almost all families are aware of the changing nature of their locality. The majority have friends from other ethnic backgrounds and most believe that living in a multiracial area is an asset, particularly for their children's future. But competition for space and scarce resources generates pressures and sometimes results in ethnic or racial tensions.
East Enders provides an insightful perspective into constancy and changes in inner-city areas. It highlights the importance of community for East Londoners. Despite environmental and social constraints, these neighbourhoods are not on the brink of collapse but rather are being transformed.
However, links at local level may be broken by external public action, unless coupled with more transparent allocation of public resources. The authors argue that the causes of social tension are found beyond these neighbourhoods, and that communities cannot single-handedly control the improvement of the neighbourhood conditions they face.
Katharine Mumford and Anne Power's recommendations are clear and powerful. There is a need for more active policing of crime, more support for parents, a frontline, community-oriented style of management of council estates, more care of basic conditions, control of nuisance and the enforcement of public standards. Only if these developments occur will residents' lives improve. East Londoners occupy spaces that offer a vital resource for the future of cities worldwide and, therefore, the findings of this research can inform international debates on the development of urban spaces.
East Enders is a valuable tool for students and academics.
Giorgia Don is senior lecturer in social sciences, University of East London.
East Enders: Family and Community in East London
Author - Katharine Mumford and Anne Power
Publisher - The Policy Press
Pages - 316
Price - £50.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 1 86134 496 1 and 1 86134 497 X