Monday, September 05, 2011

London through its charity shops #14: Dalston, E8

Once upon a time, not so long ago, well, 2009 to be exact, the Guardian called Dalston the coolest place to live in Britain. Hipsters, musicians and artists, attracted by the cheap rents and happening night life, had moved there from overpriced Shoreditch in droves, nestling quite happily with the predominately Turkish and Afro-Caribbean communities living there.

Since then, two things have happened: the East London extension line opened and the Olympics were suddenly less than a year away. Dalston's property prices boomed, in sharp contrast to housing in many other parts of the capital. And ubiquitous, hideous 'luxury' blocks of flats started popping up all over the area. Current Dalston looks like one big building site, with Barratt Homes erecting half a dozen unaffordable blocks, mostly to be bought by Asian and Middle East property investors to remain empty for years or rent out (in Barratt's prospectus there's a section for investors – how much return they'll get by renting out the flats; there's not even any pretence these are for first time buyers). Apparently 'breathing life back into the heart of Dalston' (according to their website) to me it seems to be doing the exact opposite.

A few years ago Dalston's famous circus building, along with fine Georgian houses, were demolished to make way for Dalston Square, Barratt's tower block development. The circus building saw many uses apart from a circus: it became a theatre, a cinema and finally a nightclub, playing host to Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley amongst many others. It would have been a listed and protected building if the council hadn't left it rot for years.

Still, let's look on the bright side*. There are still a few good charity shops here. The famous Oxfam at 514-518 Kingsland Road (formerly one of Dalston's dozen cinemas) is called either the best Oxfam in London, or the best in Britain. An 'Aladdin's Cave of bargains' is how one reviewer described it, and indeed it does seem to be both cheap and plentiful, as well as achingly hip, the shop has hosted music gigs and book fests. It also has two blogs – one by a DJ who uploads obscure cassette gems bought in the shop.

From Oxfam, heading towards Shoreditch, is a charity shop called Diamond Life. Small and cluttered but quite interesting. Further along is St Vincent. Spread over two shops, it's as large as Oxfam if not as interesting. A sign outside says 'Vintage and Retro department' but I'm not sure if it's ironic. Inside, clothes are well-arranged by colour. Records and CDs are plentiful, though the two CDs I was going to buy had the CDs missing from their cases. Books didn't seem to be very interesting. Some furniture too.

There used to be an Age Concern at 22 Dalston Lane but it seems to have closed down.

Read the Open Dalston blog for lots more information about the regeneration of Dalston.

Oxfam Dalston blogs: music and shop.

Finally, Everyone in Dalston is Weird.

*It's not all doom and gloom in Dalston – have a look at Fashion's Most Wanted post from last year (she starts by quoting the Guardian article in full; well, she's friends with the journalist, of course). This isn't the Dalston of crime, poverty and dodgy Turkish restaurants but of gorgeous Georgian and Victorian terraced houses, sun-drenched gardens, pubs and restaurants owned by friends, fishmongers, delis, florists and bookshops… she makes it sound more of a village than Wimbledon or Highgate village or even, you know, a proper village. Another post is all cycling round town in vintage bicycles, picnics, rooms with views, rocket salads, squirrels, rainbows, magnolias, bumping into friends constantly and dating 'The Actor'. (To be fair to her, she has lived in Dalston since 1997 and had her fair share of shit... she just seems to make her life sound like a Richard Curtis movie.)

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