Monday, 24 February 2014

Has London 2012 Really Improved Stratford? The Tale of Two Cities

My boyfriend is currently completing his dissertation on the economic impacts of London 2012. Last weekend, I went down to Stratford with him to survey the local business owners about how their company has been affected by the Olympics. We spoke to business owners and store managers in both Westfield's and the surrounding area.

What we found was very two different sides to Stratford. The new shopping centre is a huge, glossy lit up building, with marble floors and even an alfresco area. As you can imagine for a Saturday afternoon, it was heaving with shoppers. The food court spread itself across the three floors of the centre: one level with your larger, and more well known fast food outlets, such a Mcdonald's and KFC, the second level a world food village with outlets specialising in cuisine from all over the world, from Mexico to Japan. The top level had restaurants such as TGI Friday's and Pizza Express. Not only were all customers catered for in the food department, but the extravagant range of shops fitted all kinds of budgets, from Primark to Mulberry. There's no denying that the new centre has bought thousands of new customers to Stratford. 

On the other side of the Train tracks is Old-Stratford. The Stratford Centre has existed there as long as I've lived. After winning the bid for the 2012 Olympics, local business owners told me about how much they looked forward to having their area regenerated in preparation for the millions of tourists that would flock there. However, the much anticipated regeneration of the area did not stretch further than the tube station. The Stratford Centre had a fair amount of customers that Saturday afternoon, but as the business owners told us, those were just the regulars. As one guy told me, 'you wouldn't have known the Olympics had been down the road at all, we've had no new customers during or since the games.'

This is probably because the original area of Stratford had barely been touched as a result of the games. The local businesses were run down and were a stark contrast from Westfield's, a mere 10 minute walk away. Some of the local owners even complained how there were potholes in the road and a high rate of crime. A lot of the shops are boarded up and closed down. Many business owners told us that the cost of owning a business in the area had rocketed, even though the influx of customers hadn't.

Stratford High Street during the Olympics
Of course, there have been some benefits. Leyton High Street has famously had a fresh coat of paint, but of course, that is because it is along the walking route from Leyton Tube Station to the Olympic Park. 

And Westfield's Presents is a nice idea. The event is organised by Emerging Icons, a group who promote raw, emerging musical talent. Every Saturday and Sunday, unsigned musicians have the opportunity to play in front of a half decent crowd. Playing that day was 16 year old Ryan Green, an unsigned musician playing to the thousands of shoppers. He had all the equipment he needed, and was hooked up to sound systems that meant he could be heard over the bustle. However, it was essentially glorified busking.

Ryan Green playing at Westfield's Presents

What was most revealing about the 'two Stratfords' was how the old Stratford was treated during the games. All of the business owners I spoke to noted how tourists were 'shepherded' from the Olympic Park to the Westfield's centre, deliberately away from the shops that had always been in the area. The owners told us how they had experienced a drop in trade during the two weeks of the Olympics, as no tourists were coming in and locals were deliberately avoiding the area. A man who owned a family fruit and veg stall that had been running since 1929 said that he even complained to the mayor and the stewards. Unfortunately, he said they were 'only doing what they were told to do'.

My boyfriend's dissertation question is 'What are the economic impacts of the London 2012 Olympics on the local area?'. After speaking to local businesses, the question can be answered quite easily. While there has been an influx in jobs (most of which have not been given to locals) and customers in one small segment of Stratford, the rest has been left untouched and unloved. The government has only split this small town into two parts, rather than regenerating the whole area to benefit the locals. 

This study may come prematurely, but I can't see the two halves of Stratford coming together any time soon.

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