Will the 2012 Olympics save East London’s multicultural community?
Clifford Farrell is thrilled he has secured a relatively well-paid job as a security supervisor at the London 2012 Olympics. Before he landed this gig, he was unemployed. So for the 49-year-old, the games are a temporary solution to make good money.
“This job is a lifesaver,” says Farrell, a native from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat. “I’ve got work till September, but with my experience I wouldn’t be surprised if the security company, G4S, keeps me on.”
Farrell, a Hackney resident, is just one of many east Londoners hopeful the Olympics will give the communities hosting the Games the same chances as residents in other London Boroughs.
The London Borough of Newham, the main setting for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is one of the most deprived in England. According to recent estimates, the borough has one of the highest ethnic minority populations of all the districts in the country.
Tower Hamlets, one of the six host London boroughs for the Olympics, has an unemployment rate of 13.2 percent, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics (January 2012). About half of the total population in the borough is from black and ethnic minority communities.
In fact, a key element of the city’s successful bid was the promise to transform east London and create jobs for local people. The official line is the long-term regeneration of east London is at the heart of the Olympic plans.
Organizers say the games have played a major part in east London’s resurgence, from improved transport links to the creation of 2,800 Olympic apartments that will be converted to affordable homes once the Games are done. They also point to jobs earmarked for residents at the gigantic Westfield Stratford City mall, as well as a lasting legacy of the new world-class sporting facilities.
“Over the last seven years, the east end of London has undergone unparalleled regeneration,” says a London 2012 spokesperson. “With 75p in every £1 spent on the construction of venues being invested in the long regeneration of the area, the Games have brought a generation’s worth of investment in just a few years.”
“From the outset, we were clear that this wouldn’t simply be about a few weeks of sport – it would be about leaving a real social, economic and sporting legacy which people could benefit from for decades to come.”
Indeed, former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who was a member of the city’s Olympic committee in the ‘90s, says mega sporting events are an opportunity to close the gap between the privileged and underprivileged.
She says the 1996 Atlanta Olympics did much to bridge the economic divide and to fully engage African Americans, women and other minorities in the games. “In the construction area, minority and female business represented 35 percent in design and construction related contracts.”
“The Olympics presents us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to inspire our residents and spark real change in our community,” says Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of the London Borough of Newham.
However, there is still a level of cynicism. Some east Londoners feel detached from the Olympic project and the opportunities on offer. Evidence of this frustration was seen during the riots in London last summer, where in Hackney, some expressed anger at the lack of employment opportunities promised by the Olympics.
“They [the Olympics] have brought with them jobs, although in an area of high unemployment, some East Enders feel not enough were created,” says Sarah Shaffi, Olympics news editor of Archant London, an independent regional newspaper group in the UK.. “Many of the roles which the Games have created are temporary, but offer people skills and experience they can take on to other posts.”
But there have also been casualties. More than 300 companies were forced relocate to make way for the Olympic Park at Newham’s Stratford City and associated sites. An employee from one of these businesses, who did not want to be named, says “a lot of those businesses didn’t relocate and were just worn up.”
However, the real legacy of the Games won’t be seen until after the competition is over. “Those coming to Hackney or Tower Hamlets or Newham in 10 years’ time will be truly able to see what hosting the ‘greatest show on earth’ has done for the area,” says Shaffi.
“If east London is flourishing the Games will have succeeded, and be viewed in a positive light, even by those who were initially cynical. If the area is plagued with high unemployment, low wages and dilapidated surroundings, there will only be bitter feelings towards the Games. It’s a true case of time will tell.”
Professor Iain MacRury, School of Arts and Digital Industries, from the University of East London, says any such lasting effect will depend on “active policies on the ground to consolidate and institute engagement and opportunity for the most deprived, through sport and education.”
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