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Photograph: Christopher Andreou

How Ridley Road’s community has become more important than ever this year

Locals have always come together on Ridley Road, but throughout this year, Londoners have shown the true power of supporting each other on this Dalston street and beyond

Isabelle Aron

Whether it’s walking the same local park loop you do every day or getting hooked on fancy pastries from the bakery down the road, Londoners have been getting to know their local areas in intimate detail in 2020. In some ways, our worlds have become smaller, and as a result, something else happened too. Communities across the city have come together to properly support each other. Mutual aid groups have grown into community-run food banks, people have ditched big supermarkets to support indie shops and, against all odds, Londoners have even befriended their neighbours.

That kind of community spirit has always been found on Ridley Road in Dalston, but it has grown stronger this year. This photo (above) shows local seamstress Elvine Ohlala, wearing clothes she made with material from the market. The image is part of ‘Ridley Road Stories’, an outdoor exhibition by artist collective Future Hackney. The group’s founder, Don Travis, grew up in the area and wanted to document the road’s community. ‘Ridley Road is an iconic public space. There are no Café Neros, no Costas: it’s completely independent,’ she explains. ‘It’s a social space that caters for everybody. It has such a diverse range of cultures, particularly African and Caribbean. I think that is London’s essence –a place that welcomes people from everywhere. We need to retain that and to document it.’ 

Ridley Road’s sense of community has become increasingly important in this Very Weird Year. ‘It’s a space that’s become more relevant since Covid,’ says Travis. ‘People have said to me that it’s a space where they feel safe and can meet people from their own communities.’ During the pandemic, Ridley Road locals have come together to support each other. ‘There’s a guy called Abraham who’s run a food stall there for years. Throughout Covid, they’ve had families come to them that can’t afford food, and they’ve given them food baskets,’ says Travis. ‘To me, that is community. You won’t get that in Sainsbury’s.’ 

‘Ridley Road Stories’. The Red Cross, 92 Dalston Lane. Free.

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